The Divine Milieu
My colleague Jo has a simple phrase taped on the wall above her computer: Trust the Slow Work of God. The words come from a prayer by the theologian Teilhard de Chardin. de Chardin (1881-1955) was a paleontologist, geologist and Jesuit priest. In his lifetime much of de Chardin's writing was censored by the Catholic Church because of his views about original sin, a doctrine he didn't espouse. As a scientist de Chardin believed in evolution; as a theologian he did too.
In The Divine Milieu de Chardin writes, "God, in all that is most living and incarnate in him, is not far away from us, altogether apart from the world we see, touch, hear, smell and taste around us. Rather he awaits us every instant in our action, the work of the moment. There is a sense in which he is at the tip of my pen, my spade, my brush, my needle - of my heart and of my thought."
de Chardin wrote that under the false expectations people conjure up about what it means to be truly devoted to God, nine out of ten practicing Christians feel that their work (as in their job) is a 'spiritual encumbrance.' That time spent at the office or studio, in fields and factories, is time taken away from prayer and adoration, as if in order to be devoted to God one must step out of their human dress so as to have faith in themselves as Christians.
But for de Chardin there was no such thing as a division between the sacred and the profane and that by necessity (most of us need a paycheck), having material cares doesn't impede the possibility that God is at work in all of our work. There are, of course, those nobler moments in a day, like when we pray or receive the Sacraments, but that there is no reason to fear that the most trivial or the most absorbing of occupations should force us to depart from God. "Try, with God's help, to perceive the connection - even physical and natural - which binds your labour with the building of the Kingdom of heaven; try to realise that heaven itself smiles upon you and, through your works, draws you to itself; then, as you leave the church for the noisy streets, you will remain with only one feeling, that of continuing to immerse yourself with God."
de Chardin espoused what he called The Sanctification of the Human Endeavor. "Within the Church," he wrote, "we observe all sorts of groups whose members are vowed to the perfect practice of this or that particular virtue: mercy, detachment, the splendour of the liturgy, the missions, contemplation." But why shouldn't worldly occupations, the bonework of human society (fields of thought, art, industry, commerce and politics), also lead to the sanctification of the world? "Right from the hands that knead the dough, to those that consecrate it, the great and universal Host should be prepared and handled in a spirit of adoration."
In Children's Chapel yesterday we shared the story of the calling of the disciples in the Gospel lesson for the day: "Follow me and I will make you fish for people..." Then I asked the children what they wanted to be when they grew up. A teacher! A movie director! An architect! We thought about those occupations in the light of the story from the Gospel, and how Jesus didn't invite his followers to take on a new occupation but rather told the fishermen to keep fishing but to fish in a new way. When we asked the children to apply that thinking to what they wanted to be when they grew up and what that might mean, the child who wanted to teach said that she could teach people about God, the budding movie director said that he could make movies about God and the future architect said that she could build churches and synagogues!
In the end of the section on the sanctification of the human endeavor in The Divine Milieu de Chardin writes: "May the time come when men (sic), having been awakened to a sense of the close bond linking all the movements of this world in a single, all-embracing work of the Incarnation, shall be unable to give themselves to any one of their tasks without illuminating it with the clear vision that their work - however elementary it may be - is received and put to good use by a Centre of the universe. And, "When that comes to pass, there will be little to separate life in the cloister from the life of the world. And only then will the action of the children of heaven (at the same time as the action of the children if the world) have attained the intended plentitude of humanity.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
- Teilhard de Chardin
Happy Monday and get back to work!