Love: The Catalyst of Spiritual Evolution

Ten CommandmentsWith only two weeks now before the beginning of Lent, the Scriptures appointed for the next two Sundays point to the addressing of the Commandments given to Moses and reiterated[1] throughout the five books of the Torah—the first five of the Bible. During the Sundays of Lent, many congregations recite the commandments as a part of the Sunday worship with a promise that with God’s help they will keep the Commandments.

We know that they tell us what we shall not do, which translates into what we should not and will not do to fulfill the divne and human covenant. But have you ever thought about what they tell us to do? The commandments, as we read them are actually in two parts. The first part instructs the faithful to love God and the second part requires us to love our neighbors. Jesus restates this truth when he is asked which commandment is the greatest.[2]

Note that the active verb in both sides of the Ten Commandments is love.

The Collect or prayer in The Book of Common Prayer for the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany captures the essence of the commandments. The words of the prayer are,

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you.[3]

Therefore, in our prayers, Christians want God to know that we have heard the Commandment to love God first and then love neighbor as we love ourselves. Further, we acknowledge our inabilities to keep the Commandments to love. We also acknowledge that without love all is worthless. This is a strong and startling statement to include in a prayer.

I have thought about the love Jesus speaks of often. For example, one afternoon in 1964, sitting in a coffee shop in Anchorage, Alaska, I was thinking about something that had been said at a conference on Cold War strategies. I was required to attend the conference by my Army superiors. The thought rose out of the steam of the coffee cup was about the evil of humanity; an evil so vast it contemplates the mass destruction of the world. In my simple brain I concluded it all could be summed up in the word “selfishness.” Of course, that is too simple of a thought. What is selfish to one may be generous to another. However, the word did capture for me the idea that selfishness is both a lack of love for God and certainly a lack of love for another. Further, it is a lack of love for the earth—the planet on which we live.

Later in my Army life, as I was contemplating the call to ordained ministry, I bought a series of books on great theologians. The volume I found most interesting and enlightening and gave some depth to my simplistic thoughts in Alaska was one on the life and work of Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, theologian, and scientist. As the Jesuits often can be, he was a controversial and outspoken thinker about the nature of human life and the universe; so controversial, in fact, the Vatican banned his work from publication all of his productive life.

Teilhard de Chardin

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Because he was a man of faith and of science, he believed the created order of Genesis was supported by Darwin’s evolutionary theory. In fact, he believed that humanity, if not the entire universe, was and is still in the process of evolving. However, the evolution of humanity is no longer physical but spiritual.

There appeared to me to be a theological dichotomy between Teilhard’s philosophy and the words of the Apostle Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians. The Apostle Paul warns against being beguiled by the “wisdom of the age,” and by human leaders.[4] Teilhard de Chardin very likely agreed with Paul’s second warning—especially the leadership emanating from Rome. Still, he believed he had a Christian duty to reconcile the emerging new information about the universe and its creation with his faith. His reconciliation led him to theorize that the universe is evolving. In this theory of evolution Teilhard believed he stayed true to both faith and science.

Nonetheless, in Teilhard’s observation evolution has stalled. The cause of the delay in the spiritual evolution of humanity is the lack of love as described in the Commandments given to Moses on the Sinai Mountain. This is my connecting point and the reason I am citing the Jesuit Priest Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard points to the societal problems of isolation and marginalization as huge inhibitors of evolution, especially since evolution requires a unification of consciousness.[5] He stated that “no evolutionary future awaits anyone except in association with everyone else.”  Teilhard argued that the human condition necessarily leads to the voluntary psychic unity of humankind. He also acknowledged that evolution is an ascent toward consciousness and therefore, signifies a continuous upsurge toward what he called the Omega Point, which for all intents and purposes, is God.[6]

Thus, the unconditional love of God and neighbor defined in Scripture remains elusive. Accordingly, the remedy lies in re-connecting with all things. One of Teilhard’s reviewers has written,

It is not necessary to be more religious, but more humble, more a part of nature, responsible for her sustainability, and more careful in all human activity. Humanity must return to the Earth, from which it has exiled itself, and become her guardian. Then the natural contract will be remade. And by also opening up to the Creator, humanity’s infinite thirst would be satiated, and the reward would be peace.[7]

This means the only way to change the world is to turn away from the human-made rules of an “eye-for-an-eye,” and dehumanizing enemies[8] to divine justice of love as described by Jesus. In that divine justice is an understanding that we are evolving creatures—evolving toward God. This leads, in my mind, to the affirmation of the words of the ancient prayer preserved in The Book of Common Prayer that without love everything we do is ultimately worthless.


[1] For example, the selection for the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany in the Revised Common Lectionary is Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18, which clearly is a restatement of what is commonly thought of as the Ten commandments.

 

[2] Matthew 22:36-40.

 

 

[3] The Book of Common Prayer, 1979 (164 and 216).

 

 

[4] 1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23

 

 

[5] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (New York: Harper and Row, 1959),

 

 

[6] Ibid.

 

 

[7] Leonardo Boff. See http://leonardoboff.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/the-ultimate-cause-of-the-ecological-crisis-the-destruction-of-the-universal-relationship/.

 

[8] Matthew 5:38-48.

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3 Comments on “What are we thankful for? A feast day question”

  1. mamajoyx9
    November 22, 2012 at 9:11 pm #

    Beautiful article. Happy Thanksgiving to you.

    Blessings,
    Alyson

    Like

  2. Rosina Harter
    November 27, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    Excellent and well thought out message

    Like

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  1. Thanking God for the Reminder « wordsofhisheart - November 22, 2012

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