Thursday, 1 September 2011

Teilhard's litany of the Sacred Heart: (2) The World-Zest

‘ Seeing. We might say that the whole of life lies in that verb…. To try to see more and better is not a matter of whim or curiosity or self-indulgence.  To see or perish is the very condition laid upon everything in the universe…’
So says Teilhard at the start of The Phenomenon of Man.

Teilhard passionately believed that we had to see the Sacred Heart in a deeper and fuller way.  The Sacred Heart  is  - as it has been repeated by many Popes – the summary of what Christianity is all about: it is a complete statement of our religion.  And so it is for Teilhard.  But for the Sacred Heart to be a symbol for the future of Christianity, we had to see it in a new and fresh way.   This meant that we needed new ways of conceptualizing what the Sacred Heart represents: we needed new words.    The phrase ‘world-zest’ in his litany (HERE)  is another example of a way of seeing or looking at the Sacred Heart.  And although it sounds rather odd, as we shall see, it gives us a powerful way of understanding the relevance of the Sacred Heart for the 21st Century.  

The Sacred Heart  for Teilhard gives us a ZEST for life: it is nothing less than the zest of the world! ‘Zest’, after all,  is what living is all about – or should be all about.   We say that so-and-so- has ‘lost their zest for life’ or ‘ she has a  great zest for life.’  And by zest we mean enthusiasm, joy, a sense of excitement about life and what we are doing.   In his essay on ‘The Zest for Living’  Teilhard says that:

By 'zest for living' or 'zest for life', I mean here, to put it very approximately, that spiritual disposition, at once intellectual and affective, in virtue of which life, the world, and action seem to us, on the whole, luminous - interesting - appetizing. 'The zest of living' in The Activation of Energy, Harcourt Brace, 1971, p 238) 

And that expresses it nicely.   We have all known people who we see as having lost their zest for life.  Indeed, to be honest, there are times when it is difficult to find that sense of joy in just getting up in the morning and feeling excited about a bright new day.  How wonderful it is to look at a world that is aglow and vivid: luminous with possibilities.  To have a zest for life is to feel alive. To have a zest for life is to have hope.   To have zest for life  is to believe in life.  To have a zest for life is to have a faith in life and a faith in living.  Human beings both individually and collectively can loose their zest for life.  I often think that the real problems of our age are to do with the fact that the world seems to be so tired and lacking any sense of zest for life on earth. 

For Teilhard ZEST was the ‘mainspring’ of evolution itself.  It is the very  energy of evolution!    This is  difficult to grasp until we realize the considerable significance he attaches to the zest for life. In a note written in 1951 he observes that;

Although we too often forget this, what we call evolution develops only in virtue of a certain internal preference for  survival...which  in man takes on a markedly psychic appearance in the form of a zest for life.   Ultimately, it is that and that alone which underlies and supports the whole complex of all  the bio-physical energies...Science and Christ, Collins, 1968: 212-213)

Evolution is not a closed system.  Otherwise, he says, we would be like miners trapped  underground without a way out and we would 'lose the heart to act, and man's impetus would be radically checked and 'deflated' for ever, by this fundamental discouragement and loss of zest.'  But evolution is NOT a closed mechanistic system.  Human beings are conscious of evolution: we reflect on our own evolution. Human beings are conscious of evolution  and because they are conscious of evolution, it cannot be understood in purely mechanistic terms.   Evolution is a system which is OPEN to change  and not closed .  We cannot understand evolution by disregarding the existence of human consciousness. As he puts it in the 'Activation of Human Energy'  
from the moment when man recognizes that he is in a state of evolution, he can no longer progress … unless he develops in himself a deep-rooted, passionate zest for his own evolution. Science and Christ, Collins, 1968: 391)

When we understand that God is working through evolution, and that human beings alone of all life forms on the planet  can reflect upon this fact, evolution can no longer be regarded as simply a mechanistic system.  It is an open system: open to the love of God and open to our capacity as human beings to develop a ' passionate zest' for our own evolution.   It is not a closed system because it is has a direction : it has a point outside itself towards which evolution converges.   The Omega point: the Sacred Heart of Christ who holds 'all things in unity'  ( Col, 1: 15-20)   Hence, we should approach evolution with zest and passion.  Evolution is holy and sacred process in which we humans take an active part.
Evolution, the way out towards something that escapes total death, is the hand of God gathering us back to himself. ( Science and Christ, Collins, 1968: 212-213)

This ' zest  for life' therefore enables us to  chose life, and not death.  And the source of this zest is God.  The evolution of humanity is all about the capacity of human beings to reflect on the meaning  of evolution and believe in their (God- given)  capacity to shape the future and explore all its possibilities.  

As a parents we have a responsibility to nourish our children with good food, but also to nourish their zest for life: to feed and develop their sense of having a future, and giving them faith and hope in the future.  We fail our children when they grow up with no faith in the future and little zest for life and all its possibilities.   People who have a zest for life DO things, make things, achieve things.   And for Teilhard, a zest for life is a vital aspect of human development and progress.  Without a sense of zest humanity  - like individuals – loses its capacity to ACT.  It loses the courage  to DO. 

Individually and collectively we have a responsibility to feed and develop a zest for life.  Human beings can do great things when they LOVE life.   As we look around our world to day we seem to see little evidence that humanity has a sense of its capacity to solve its many problems.  And from Teilhard’s perspective this involves a lack of zest for life and its possibilities.   We despair because our problems are on such a big scale.  Our problems are global in natutre.  We despair because are problems are so complex.  Our problems are increasingly interconnected.  As a result we feel hopeless and lose faith in a future that we can built.  We lose our optimism and sense of capacity.  We lose our zest for life.   

Hence humanity needs, above all else, faith.

what is most vitally necessary to the thinking earth is a faith - and a great faith - and ever more faith.
To know that we are not prisoners.
To know that there is a way out, that there is air, and light,
and love, somewhere, beyond the reach of all death.
To know this, to know that it is neither an illusion nor a fairy story.
- That, if we are not to perish smothered in the very stuff of our being, is what we must at all costs secure.
 And it is there that we find what I may well be so bold as to call the evolutionary role of religions. (The zest of living' in The Activation of Energy, Harcourt Brace, 1971, p 240) 

For Teilhard, this was the great challenge facing Christianity and other religions: the challenge of giving the world FAITH.  A faith in humanity’s capacities to harness a zest for life.

Teilhard is asking us to realize that our religious faith is NOT marginal or irrelevant to the future of  humanity.  Quite the opposite: it is only through spiritual growth that can human beings realize their full humanity.  If mankind is to have ZEST for life and not to be overwhelmed by its global and complex problems it has – of necessity – to  understand that the spiritual resources of the planet are as central to our future as our other physical and intellectual resources.  Indeed, the more complex and global become our problems, the more important do our spiritual resources become.   On this point, I would really recommend Prof. Ursula King’s piece on ‘ Feeding the Zest for Life: Spiritual Energy Resources for the Future of Humanity’, in T. Meynard (ed) Teilhard and the Future of Humanity. Fordham University Press, 2006 -   which explores what this implies. 

More than ever, humanity needs religion - but here is the problem:

We are surrounded by a certain sort of pessimists who continually tell us that our world is foundering in atheism. But should we not rather say that what it is suffering from is unsatisfied theism? Men, you say, no longer want God; but are you quite sure that what they are rejecting is not simply the image of a God who is too insignificant to nourish in us this concern to survive and super-live to which the need to worship may ultimately be reduced? (p240)

And so to the Sacred Heart.   Our idea of God has to be enlarged. Mankind has need of a cosmic God: a God who can ignite a new sense of the earth and of the universe. We must see the Sacred Heart as embodying the need for humanity to have a sense of confidence and optimism in our capacity to love.  It is this which should fill us with zest for life and a deep appreciation of the role of our religious traditions in providing resources to enable us to build a new earth.  The Sacred Heart  - as the symbol of the divine love that is pulling us on towards the future ( the Omega point)  is the radiating source of that faith in the future: it is therefore the  ZEST of the world.   Prof. Brian Swimme sums it up in these terms:

'By the "omega point," Teilhard meant a universe that had become God. He meant God in embodied form. He regarded the omega point as two things. It's an event that the universe is moving toward, in the future. But what he also imagined, which is difficult for us to really conceive, is that even though the omega point is in the future, it is also exerting a force on the present. When we think of the omega point, in our Western consciousness it's hard to escape thinking in terms of a line with the omega point at the end of the line. His thinking wasn't that way; it was that the omega point permeates the whole thing. He imagined the influence of the omega point radiating back from the future into the present. In some mysterious way, the future's right here. Teilhard regarded that the way in which the future is right here is in the experience of being drawn or attracted, or in our "zest." That's his word, and I love that so much. We—"we" meaning anything in the universe—are drawn forward, and this attractive power is what begins a process that eventuates in deeper or greater being. That attraction he regarded as love, and it is evidence of the presence of the omega point. When you experience that attraction, that zest, you're experiencing the future. You're experiencing the omega point. You're experiencing God. You're experiencing your destiny.'  Read here  

To trust in the Sacred Heart of Jesus - as Christ  Omega - is to have faith in the future which our icon represents.  It is to have faith  that the evolution of the universe has a direction.  Life has a point.  And because it is not pointless, or directionless we must discover anew our faith in the possibilities of the future for a world energized by a love which is pulling us towards a divine centre.  And with faith in the power of this energy we can discover , build, and feed  a zest for living in our world today and for zest for the possibilities of life on our planet. Because, argued Teilhard,  we are on the edge of a new stage in evolution.  We need courage. 

The age of nations has past. Now, unless we wish to perish we must shake off our old prejudices and build the earth. (The Spirit of the Earth', Human Energy, Collins, 1962, p 37) 

To build the earth needed mankind to find a new faith and a new zest for for life.  It is a faith in the hand of a God who is gathering us back to his heart.  That is what the Sacred Heart is doing in our icon: calling to our hearts and calling us to have courage and have a zest for life.  

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