Feast Day of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
When I was in high school I took classes in field ecology. Since this was in Jackson, the town bordering Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone, we had opportunities for many marvelous field trips. We went into the Gros Ventre Wilderness to see first hand how moose had overgrazed the willows, visited the Park dump at Moran, where we watched the grizzly bears foraging, heard lectures and raided the library of the research center next to Jackson Lake, studied the micro-climates of the hot pools in Yellowstone, took soil samples and water samples from the far side of the National Elk Refuge, learned about banding elk, watched beaver working and otters playing in the side channels of the Snake River and learned about the diseases of trout and the mating behavior of bison. I loved it so much that for awhile I thought I would become an ecologist.
In the summer after the first year of this gorgeous exploration, my grandfather came to visit us. He was a retired Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor, very staid. He had served small congregations in Wisconsin and Minnesota, in some of which they still recited the Lord’s Prayer in German. He, of course, did not believe in evolution.
I had been reading Darwin. We would argue the concepts, me with the fervor of a young woman defending her newly found first passion and he with the unchangeable beliefs of immigrants trying to preserve their traditions and beliefs in a new and confusing world. We never got much of anywhere, of course.
Though he probably worried about my soul, he never told me that God would turn away from me because of my beliefs. He never closed that door. And because of that I found a way to reconcile the stories of my religious tradition with my understanding of how old the world is, how it cooled from a burning mass of liquid rock, acquired an atmosphere that eventually became what it is today, and then eventually was able to host a burgeoning mass of living things that grew ever more complex over billions of years.
Because, truth be told, though the old Biblical stories never could explain the complexity of living things on the planet, especially the ones now extinct, and how they had changed and adapted one to another and to their environment, the study of ecology could never explain how life had come to be in the first place. And it could also not explain the huge jump that was the evolution of human consciousness.
Imagine my delight when, the very next year, I discovered Teilhard de Chardin. I read his The Phenomenon of Man. Though I didn’t understand it very well, I saw that here was a man who had given his life to his faith and who at the same time believed that Christianity and the study of evolution could be reconciled. This opened the way for my own personal, deep and satisfying life-long relationship with God.
We need our scientific religious, our explorers and questioners. We need to support their edginess, their ability to think around the corners. We need to celebrate them. Especially these days they are bridges over which many of our young people can cross to find God. Remembering my personal indebtedness, on this feast day of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I offer a prayer of thanks for his hard-headed willingness to create a theory and stick to it, and to follow his heart into bold scientific exploration, knowing that no matter how far out we go we will always find more of our Creator.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries.