May 18, 2015:
Last week I started savoring Teilhard de Chardin’s spiritual autobiography, The Heart of Matter. He’s talking about the elements of his early childhood through young adulthood that nourished his universal vision. His ‘pagan ego’ was guided and enthralled by the physical world, by rocks and metals. His ‘Christian ego’ was captured by the Sacred Heart of Jesus (an icon of Christ) in conjunction with his mother’s Catholic devotion. So his whole life and vision were about the convergence and eventual merger of Matter and the Heart of Jesus – an incarnation on a cosmic scale.
Comparing myself with him, I can identify my own primal sources of ego and identity. On the ‘pagan’ side, I was immersed in East Africa – in its peoples, languages, cultures, and ecosystems. On the ‘Christian’ or spiritual side, a book, the Bible, was the icon and ideal of my nascent faith. It was the symbol – that leather-bound volume lying open on a table, with well-worn pages and prolific notes – of my people, of Mennonite piety and relationship to God: a ‘people of the Book’. And yet, full-on idolatry was often avoided by the genuine and organic religious life of my parents, relatives, and church community. The Bible may have been our icon, but we sought through it a personal, living communion with God and man.
But, like Teilhard de Chardin, who for many years felt a tension between the two poles (Cosmic and Christic), I too have felt a tension between my two poles (World and Word). Eventually, he realized that the Cosmic and the Christic were one and the same thing. And I too, during the decade of my 30s, am recognizing that the World and the Word are also the same thing. The ‘word of God’ embodied in the world of East Africa is the same ‘word of God’ textualized in the Bible. And so the rest of my intellectual journey will involve exploring and expressing this simple yet profound truth.