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Sunday, February 18 2018

Teilhard on Love


         Theologian, Louis Savary, and psychologist, Patricia Berne - a married couple – spend much of their professional lives teaching and writing about the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881 – 1955) – a paleontologist, cosmologist, theologian, Jesuit priest, and brilliant, original and far-sighted thinker about the evolution of the universe.  I remember there being much excitement about Teilhard when I was a seminary student in the 1960’s. 


         While Teilhard’s thoughts on love permeate his writing, he did not devote a book to the subject, so Louis and Patricia wrote: Teilhard de Chardin on Love.  I’m happy to share some insights from their book, which draws from many resources and organizes Teilhard’s ideas in ways I find accessible.


         According to Teilhard, the evolution of the universe is inherently relational – driven by the energy of love, the most powerful force in the universe.  “Love is the essential nature of God and the best name for God” (p. 6)


         At all levels – molecular, human and cosmic – love energizes attraction, which leads to connection, which leads to greater complexity and individuation, which leads to the evolution of consciousness.  We naturally move toward connection and communion - and that movement frees us to be more fully individual and more deeply conscious. 


         If we hold on too tightly to individuality and ego identity, thus resisting love’s invitation to connection and communion, we tend to focus on knowledge and personal/tribal/national power in a way that can become competitive and isolating - thus blocking evolution’s natural arc.


         Teilhard sees a synergistic relationship between the partners in a relationship and the relational entity itself, which has its own identity and character, distinct from the individual identities of persons in the relationship.  Teilhard named this relational entity -which could be a marriage, a friendship, a family or a team/organization/tribe/nation – the “Third Self.” This Third Self is a whole that is greater and more capable than the sum of its parts.  That greater wholeness is part of the synergy.  The other part is that the Third Self in a loving relationship elicits growth and capability in each partner – far beyond what he/she could achieve alone.  For example, the Third Self we call the Philadelphia Eagles clearly brought out the best in its players during the recent Super Bowl. 


         As I read Savary and Berne’s impressive book, I feel a confirmation of things I’ve felt, thought and taught for some time.  For example, when I used the term “the third” in a recent post, I had not yet encountered Teilhard’s use – and likely coining – of the term.  I’m also encountering, and still digesting, new and deeper insights from Teilhard about our mysterious universe.


         So, here are some conclusions I am comfortable sharing, based on what I’ve read and digested so far.



1.     Love connects.  Love is the energy underlying the inherent interconnectivity of nature.  In Teilhard’s words,  “even among the molecules, love was the building power that worked against entropy, and under its attraction the elements groped their way toward union.” (p. x)


2.   Love liberates.  Relationship frees up our deepest human potentials.  Surrendering to love and connection frees us to be more fully our unique selves.  Individuals in deep relationship “become differentiated.  They discover their own personal emergent properties.” (p.57)


3.   Love is who we are.  “We are, in the most basic sense, the sum of our loves….We are born out of love, we exist in love, and we are created for the fullness of love.”  God is love and that energy is our spark as well.


4.   Love grows everything.  Love is “the core energy of evolving life” (p. xi) and “the driving force of evolution.” (p. xiv)  It grows us.  It grows the planet.  It grows the universe.  So, if we want anything to grow, we need to love it first.


5.   Love is energy.  For Teilhard, love is not about affection or tender feelings.  It is energy - which he and most scientists define as the capacity to do work.  “Love is energy because it is able to accomplish things, make a difference, transform people.” (p. xiv)  Unlike physical forms of energy that tend to wear down, love is a “second species of energy (not electro-thermodynamic but spiritual)” that can continue to grow and expand in its power to transform.  (p. 12)  Love works!


6.   Love matters.  “According to Teilhard, until we human beings begin to master the dynamics of loving, as we have mastered so many other forces of nature…we will not really evolve as a human species.” (p. 12)  How we love shapes the future of the earth – and, in some small yet important way, the evolution of the universe.  “Learning to love is what our human life is all about.” (p. 5)




         Note:  Thanks to my friend, Dan, for his generous gift of Savary and Berne’s book.


         Final note:  For the next few weeks, I’ll be traveling – mostly in Himalayan countries – and likely won’t post again till mid-March.  May the movement of the earth toward equinox be a movement toward balance for all of us.  Abundant blessings!



Posted by: AT 08:33 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Saturday, February 10 2018

Ove on Love


         The novel, A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman, is a book about a curmudgeon, and it’s a book about love.  During the last third of the story, I was totally unsuccessful in holding back my tears.


         Love, implicit throughout the novel, is explicitly referenced in only a handful of passages.  Here are two.


         “Loving someone is like moving into a house.  At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you, as if fearing that someone would suddenly come rushing in through the door to explain that a terrible mistake had been made, you weren’t actually supposed to live in a wonderful place like this.  Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfections, but rather for its imperfections.  You get to know all the nooks and crannies.  How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it’s cold outside.  Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without them creaking.  These are the little secrets that make it your home.”  (pp. 305-6)


         “Love is a strange thing.  It takes you by surprise.” (p. 326)


         Human love is indeed mysterious and tricky to navigate.  We are baffled and awed.  We are ecstatic and woeful.  I think God must have a sense of humor – inviting us, in this clever way, to participate in the expansion of loving universe, while housing us in human structures ideally suited to profound misunderstanding of each other. 


         Our primary love relationships are often our most primitive relationships – and our most important teachers. Awkward, we fumble and stumble, moving forward and backward, knowing and being known.  Eventually/hopefully, we come to appreciate the unique beauty of our individual houses, along with the beauty of the relational dwelling – and, perhaps even, the divine indwelling - we share.




Posted by: AT 08:50 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Saturday, February 03 2018

Three Approaches to Relationship


         I’ve been thinking lately about three different ways we can orient ourselves in our important relationships – be they with family members, lovers or close friends. 


         We all want to belong and feel connected.  And we all want the freedom to be ourselves.  At some point in our lives, we’ve all felt the tension between those two desires – as if we had to choose between them.  And, at different points in our lives, we’ve emphasized one over the other – emphasized being connected at the expense of selfhood or emphasized selfhood at the expense of connection. 


         One approach to relationship, I call fusion, emphasizes connection at the expense of selfhood.  It attempts to create closeness in relationship by making two people into one.  There’s a pressure toward same-ness – to think and feel and want the same things.  In full-blown fusion, we dishonor individuality, either one’s own or the other’s, and disregard personal boundaries.   In our efforts for two to become one, we often find ourselves clashing over which one we’re going to become. 


         In the fusion approach, one person’s strength and growth toward wholeness can be experienced as a threat to the relationship.  Individual incompleteness is a glue that holds co-dependent relationships together.  I assume responsibility for your wellbeing and expect you to do the same for me.  Because my welfare is in your hands, I invest my energy in control strategies – controlling you and controlling me.


         Ironically, this approach to relationship, if unchecked, eventually strangles the very closeness it attempts to create.



         Isolation is a second approach to relationship.  Often in our early attempts to establish boundaries or in our response to the experience of fusion where the integrity of the self was dishonored in some way, we create walls to protect ourselves.  Deep connection is experienced as threatening to my personal integrity.  In an effort to be responsible for myself and not be responsible for others, I may find that I’m only responsive to me and have difficulty responding to the need of another.    


         Isolation is a stance of exaggerated independence, in which I strive for total self-sufficiency. My wellbeing depends on not ever being vulnerable, not ever needing anyone, not ever relying on others for anything important.  My walls protect me - not just from the risks of close relationship, but also from embracing parts of me I fear might weaken me.


         The irony of isolation unchecked is that the self I’m trying so hard to enhance and protect eventually shrivels from a lack of the nourishment that only deep connection can bring.



         The third approach to relationship, intimacy, embraces both our need for connection and our need for selfhood.  It doesn’t ask us to choose.  We each have our own individuality and we share who we are with each other.  Boundaries are clear and respected, and we regularly connect - emotionally, intellectually, physically, and spiritually.  We take responsibility for ourselves and we are responsive to each other.  We are present with ourselves and with each other.  We are autonomous, whole persons and we are interdependent.  We are free to ask each other for help and, when asked for help, we are free to say yes or no.


         In intimate relationship, we invest energy in two primary activities - knowing and being known.  Whatever the relational situation, I do my best to listen to you and see you clearly and I do my best to reveal myself to you with honesty and care.  Even in conflict, it’s my job to listen and share, to stay open to what I want and what you want, and to look for win-win possibilities. 


         Intimate relationships – between friends, between lovers, between family members – create an energy in their “between-ness”, a synergy perhaps.  Richard Moss calls this “the third”.  I see the third as a “We” that exists between “I” and “Thou.”  From my spiritual perspective, this “We” is the energy of Love – our contribution to an expanding Universe of Love.


         The math of fusion is 1/2 + 1/2 = 1.  The math of isolation is 1 + 1 = 1 + 1.  The mysterious math of intimacy is 1 + 1 = 3.



         Fusion and isolation are imbalanced approaches to close relationship.  We all experiment with them, as we fumble and stumble in our relational lives.  Hopefully, we don’t get stuck there.  Of course, being human, we still find ourselves, now and then, retreating to one of these imbalanced approaches.


         What helps me re-orient toward intimacy is to realize that, in every moment of relationship, I have a choice.  I can invest in control strategies.  I can invest in self-protection.  Or I can invest in knowing and being known. 


         I know which investment I intend to make.  How about you?

Posted by: AT 09:38 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email

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