Deep hope flows over deep time

From Cynthia Bourgeault, Center for Action and Contemplation

The first of the Teilhardian “road signs” helps us reframe our sense of scale: Teilhard reminds us that deep hope flows over deep time. From his perspective as a geologist and paleontologist, Teilhard reassures us that evolution has not changed direction; it has always been and always will be “a rise toward consciousness.” [1] But rather than the very small snapshots represented in our short lifetimes, evolution’s span is measured in eons, not decades. When we lose sight of the cosmic scale, the result is anguish and impatience. If we measure human progress only by our usual historical benchmarks—the span of a presidential administration, the not-yet 250 years of the American democratic experiment, or the “mere” 2,500 years of Western civilization—we are still only catching the smallest snippet of the inevitable process of what Teilhard calls tatonnement, or “trial and error,” part of the necessary play of freedom on its way to new combinations and creativity.

Teilhard affirmed that even the emergence of human consciousness itself, as it reached its present configuration 125,000 years ago with the stunning debut of homo sapiens [current estimate is 200,000 years], followed a 10,000-year ice age, in which it appeared that all that had been gained prior to that point was irreversibly lost. It wasn’t. Paleontological discoveries reveal that humans kept and refined their skills of using fire and making tools—providing unmistakable evidence that even when hidden by ice and apparent desolation, the evolutionary journey was still unperturbedly marching forward.

“Deep hope” is not, however, an excuse to relax our vigilance in stewardship for the planet Earth. Teilhard does not permit himself to be used that way; his sense of the oneness of the world pervades everything he sees and writes. But he realizes as well that Creation has an intelligence and a resilience that meets us far more than halfway. Over the millennia our planet has endured meteor strikes, the rise and fall of sea levels, ice ages, the continual shifting of tectonic plates, the appearance and disappearance of species.

For sure, we need to fall on our knees every morning and beseech God to help us through this latest dark time of human greed and destructiveness. But our real task at this evolutionary cusp is not to lose sight of what is coming to us from the future, the vision of our common humanity that is indeed “groaning and travailing” to be born (Romans 8:22)

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