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!