We read the news of the Orlando massacre on our smartphones as we were driving back to the Midwest from a week of profound spiritual teaching and encounter in Maine. It brought the four of us in the car crashing down to earth-reality after a mountaintop experience. What happens when you come home is always a test of the validity of the spiritual experience you get in a retreat setting.
We didn’t have to get all the way home to get this brutal reminder of the state of the world. As if to rub in the horrible news, our route took us right by the big green exit sign for Sandy Hook, Connecticut. It has happened again. And again. And again.
I am not the first to comment on the shootings and I will not be the last, but nevertheless I will add my words for what they are worth, because I suspect that it is not what any individual has to say that makes a difference but the mass outcry, even in its cacophony, even its despair, even in the blame and defensiveness and divisions; even if nothing new is said; even if nothing immediately comes of this latest in the series of horrors.
Because here is something I learned in that week on the mountaintop, a “Wisdom Ingathering” with the spiritual teacher and writer Cynthia Bourgeault, which focused on the thought of the great priest-scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
It is that this turning, churning, pressure of thought, the clamor of voices, the collective grief and anger are the fuel of change.
Change that Teilhard would call evolution. Not the narrow, “survival of the fittest” definition of evolution but the dynamic of everything that has ever happened in the universe, that is still happening, and that will continue to happen. The arena for the next dramatic shift (Remember atoms to molecules? Molecules to biota? Biota to animals to mammals to humans?), according to Teilhard, will be human consciousness itself.
I can’t do justice to Teilhard’s thought. Read The Human Phenomenon (preferably after listening to Cynthia’s four-lecture introduction to it, to which I will post a link when it is online if any of this intrigues you). But I am obsessing over the predominant dynamic of that change, which does not happen in a tidy progression but in fits and starts, pressured by what Teilhard calls enroulement. There is no single English equivalent to that word. “Folding back on itself,” like a long airport security line, is how Cynthia described it. Things crowding together, confined, interacting, churning around, repeating, until there is a breakthrough into a new form.
You could say obsessive thoughts are a kind of enroulement. As is obsessive chatter over the Internet. This collective mulling over, not in unanimity but often in opposition, dialogue, thesis-antithesis-synthesis, that is going on now. Even the gunman’s obsession, even our obsession over the gunman–could it be that these are fueling the next shift in human consciousness?
Although Teilhard’s arguments and observations are based on science, he sees God in that dynamic. God is the dynamic. In some off-the-scale way, in all its chaos, at the macro and micro level it is the dynamic of love. God is love and, over the eons, is slowly, slowly, and sometimes suddenly, pulling everything to himself.
If this is true, evil represents failure and error but it is not the ultimate outcome. The movement toward love is irreversible, Teilhard says. And if this is true, we have a thrilling invitation to participate in that slow, slow, and maybe sudden movement toward love.
I don’t have anything to say about the shootings that hasn’t been said, and that’s okay. But the week pondering Teilhard has left me with a profound gratitude for the outpouring of words and feelings. Yes, ban guns. Outlaw hate. But let’s also keep up the chatter, because this is where consciousness is changing.