We have just embarked on a new year, but I wonder what the "new" is? After all, we still have the same president and the same problems repeated daily on the "news blues." Our New Year's resolutions still harbor the same gripes and opinions.
We want to change, but we cannot seem to get beyond a cultural depression. Although we mark this new year as "2018" maybe we should mark it 4.5618 billion years (the approximate age of Earth) or 202,018, the approximate age of the Homo sapiens species.
According to planetary life, we have been celebrating a new year for a very long time! The fact that we are here after such a long time is simply remarkable and hopeful. It tells us about nature and the power of life to prevail despite massive violence, suffering and tragedy.
Nature is not fixed or static; rather, nature has the capacity to do new things. What drives nature into a new future?
This question is at the heart of a conference we will hold Nov. 9-10, 2018, at Villanova University, "The Inside Story: Consciousness, Nature and Transcendence."
We are realizing today that there is more to matter than meets the eye; matter has an "inside" story, so to speak, and the inside of matter may be consciousness. What is consciousness, and does consciousness drive the formation of matter?
Teilhard de Chardin thought so and went so far as to say that evolution is the rise of consciousness. Consciousness may be the creator and governor of matter, as physicist Lothar Schaefer wrote, and the background of the universe may be mind-like.
Teilhard thought deeply about consciousness and cosmogenesis. He linked these together through the most advanced form of consciousness known in the universe, namely, the human person.
Although he did not leave a structured and detailed understanding on contemplation and cosmogenesis, he intuited a deep relationship between the power of spiritual energy and the energy of cosmogenesis.
Teilhard identified human energy as that "increasing portion of cosmic energy at present undergoing the recognizable influence of the centers of human activity."
Human energy is structurally related to the overall cosmic energy and assumes three distinct forms: incorporated energy, controlled energy and spiritualized energy. In his view, spiritualized energy is the most highly developed expression of human energy.
Thus, human energy in its spiritualized form has an organizing quality of cosmic significance. To put this another way, human energy affects the structural development of the cosmos; it is the spearhead of cosmogenesis.
Teilhard's understanding of evolution was influenced by the French philosopher Henri Bergson and his idea of an élan vital or a "vital impulse" at the heart of evolution.
According to Bergson, nature is conservative. Human societies change very little, he said; the changes they undergo remain at the surface and do not deeply affect their nature.
Bergson suggested that nature resists change and tends toward closed groups. He claimed that the aspiration to be an open society, an inclusive [human] community, is quite literally against nature. The change for an open society or a new level of human community rests on the human capacity for turning against nature, something that can be done only if we know what this nature is.
Paola Marrotti wrote : "Bergson calls for a strategy that aims at countering nature from within, looking for ways to go against natural tendencies, to change and modify their direction with the help of other tendencies or tools. That is, to counter nature with its own weapons, so to speak."
We can go against nature because its stability is conservative but never absolute. Nature's stability is a tendency relative to and dependent on the more essential tendency to change.
Bergson leaned toward a supernatural presence in nature to account for nature's becoming, an idea that influenced Teilhard. Rather than an elusive presence, however, Teilhard identified this supernatural principle in nature as "Omega."
The principle of Omega is the presence of something in nature that is wholly other than nature; it is distinct yet intrinsic, autonomous and independent, yet deeply influential on nature's propensity toward complexity and consciousness.
This Omega principle accounts for the "more in the cell than in the molecule, more in society than in the individual, and more in mathematical construction than in calculations or theorems."
Omega is the most intensely personal center that makes beings personal and centered because it is the attractive center of love that empowers every center to love.
As the principle of centration that is within, Omega escapes entropy so that it is ahead of nature as its prime mover. Omega therefore emerges from the organic totality of evolution and is the goal toward which evolution tends.
Teilhard identified the Omega principle with God and spoke of God at the heart of evolution as its source and goal. God-Omega is the center at the heart of every center, the vital hidden presence at the core of every living entity.
Thomas Merton also pointed to an inner divine presence which is the source of our unity and wholeness:
At the center of our being is a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lies, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it, we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.
Both Merton and Teilhard realized that there is a center of absolute Love, a Oneness and wholeness within us, that is the source of our personal wholeness and the cosmogenic evolution toward unity in love. Each in his own way indicated that contemplation is essential to the active life. The contemplative is one who holds the universe together through the energy of love.
Teilhard placed an emphasis on contemplation as the main source of vitality for cosmic evolution. He believed that contemplative prayer is cosmic power because in some way the contemplative mediates God's creative power.
In his Divine milieu he tells the story of someone who enters a chapel and sees a woman at prayer: "All at once he sees the whole world bound up and moving and organizing itself around that out-of-the way spot, in tune with the intensity and inflection of the desires of that puny praying figure. The convent chapel had become the axis about which the earth revolved."
For Teilhard, this inner power, the power of God-Omega, is awakened through contemplation; it orients all time and space into a unified field of love by which the whole cosmos becomes more unified in love.
The ancient philosopher Plotinus wrote in his Enneads that contemplation has cosmic significance because through contemplation all things are held together. Teilhard and Plotinus believed that contemplation is linked to the organizing processes of the universe. If we want to evolve into a new world, a new cosmos, then we must discover the inner universe.
Humanity has the capacity to evolve to the next level of evolution, which Teilhard called the "ultra-human"; however, it needs "the help of a new form of psychic energy in which the personalizing depth of love is combined with the totalization of what is most essential and most universal in the heart of the stuff of the cosmos and the cosmic stream — and for this energy we have as yet, no name!"
In his article on "Contemplation: Human Energy Becoming Cosmic Energy" Martin Laird suggested that the term "contemplative energetic" could aptly describe the overlapping zones of human activity and contemplative activity, vital zones of energy related to the process of cosmogenesis.
Instead of placing all our stock on science and technology to lead us into a better future, perhaps it is time to attend to the mystics who tell us that meditation or contemplative prayer may be the most important sources of energy for human evolution.
As we embark on a New Year, we continue to be faced by the same problems that are dissipating our energies: global warming, the threat of nuclear war, the migration crisis, racial opposition, political factions and economic instability.
We are worn out trying to solve these problems by analytical means, and we are exhausted by the repetition of these problems that not only perpetuate themselves but deepen. Our human energies are thinned out and we are at the brink of a human energy crisis.
We are exhausting our capacity to centrate our lives in a radiating power of love. The energy that is ours to co-create the world is being squandered on globalized superficiality and fake news; petty ideals that are fueling globalized indifference.
We have the capacity for a new world, and the energy for this world is already within us; it is the presence of God-Omega. Science has discovered some of the secrets of nature, but we do not yet know the secret of our own lives. We have mapped the genome and measured the planets, but we are ignorant about our own interior universe.
We need to discover the vast inner layers of the human person, the realms of mind and consciousness — and contemplative prayer is a good place to start. Perhaps in this New Year we can turn inward by sitting still, meditating, listening to the sounds of silence, comfortable in the dark as we seek the light, stretching toward the One who is the power of all life to bear new life.
It is time we set out our goals on becoming ultra-human.
[Ilia Delio, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Washington, D.C., is the Josephine C. Connelly Endowed Chair in Theology at Villanova University. She is the author of 16 books, including Making All Things New: Catholicity, Cosmology and Consciousness (Orbis Books, 2015), and the general editor of the series Catholicity in an Evolving Universe.]