“The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.” Teilhard de Chardin, 1936
I love this quote because it speaks to the amazing potential of love to totally revolutionize the way we live. But, only if we harness the energies of love with the same fervor and dedication that we have devoted to harnessing the resources of the natural world.
It is so interesting to me that Teilhard predicts we will finally understand the power of love after we have learned to harness space, wind, tides and gravitation. So much of the 20th century was devoted to figuring out how to “conquer space.” Why is it that we use such a militaristic term to describe our desire to explore our solar system? As if we could, somehow, control or contain the vast universe of which we are such a tiny part.
So what does it mean to harness space, the winds, the tides, even gravity? I think that Teilhard, in 1936, meant “harnessing” in the sense of learning about and understanding these things in order to use them in a way that protects the earth.
He viewed gaining knowledge as a step in our quest to understand our relationship to divinity. As a scientist, he sought to understand the natural world and as a priest, he sought to understand our relationship to God. He believed in the continuing evolution of the natural world and the continuing evolution of the human capacity for understanding.
Most importantly, to me at least, he believed that the natural world and the spiritual world are intricately connected. To grow in reverence for one is to grow in reverence for the other. He meant, I think, that the natural world is a manifestation of God’s all-encompassing love. The more we understand the mysteries of nature, the better able we will be to understand the mystery of divine love.
Now, in the early 21st century, we have come to a tipping point of enormous consequence. The natural world faces all sorts of threats caused by our misunderstanding of our relationship to it. We are in danger of depleting our natural resources, as well as eliminating species in both the plant and animal world.
Due to our unrelenting search for sources of energy that come from the earth and our unsustainable agricultural practices, we are in danger of losing the capacity to harness the most incredible and powerful source of energy in the universe – love.
Was Teilhard suggesting in 1936 that when we come to understand space, wind, gravitation and tides, we would learn to how to use them for energy production without damaging the natural world? And was he also suggesting that only when we finally learn to produce energy without harming the natural world, will we be ready to understand the true power of love?
What a mind-blowing concept that is!
We tend to think of love as something that exists for us and in us, despite how we live on the earth. But maybe, the love that we experience is just a tiny fraction of the love that is waiting for us when we learn to live in harmony with the earth. Maybe, there is a love so powerful and energetic that we can’t even imagine it and, maybe, it is accessible, not in some after-life state of being, but here and now… vibrant and living within the natural world, waiting to be discovered and released.
Maybe, we who are living now at this period of environmental peril are the ones who will discover how to truly harness space, wind, tides and gravitation with reverence for the natural world and gratitude for all it provides. Maybe we are the explorers who will discover and unleash the incredible power of love that has surrounded humanity for all of its existence.
Maybe, just maybe, you and I were chosen to be emissaries of that divine love.
Personal note about my discovery of Teilhard when I was a student at Boston College.
Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a Jesuit priest and a scientist. He fell out of favor with the Vatican due to the nature of some of his writings…writings which are now taught in theology and philosophy classes in many Catholic universities.
I came upon this quote at the beginning of the first chapter of the now-classic, Chicken Soup for the Soul. The first chapter is about love. Reading this quote brought me back to my days at Boston College in the 1960s when the Vatican still considered his work to be erroneous, if not heretical. Like many other students, I read his writings with great interest. I was particularly struck by Hymn of the Universe.
Although, I had not really thought about him in quite some time, I believe that his writings have had an influence on how I think about the earth, the cosmos and our place in both. Finding his quote as I was thumbing through Jack Canfield’s book was a revelation to me. There it was so succinct and elegant – a quote that expresses what I feel and believe.
I wanted to find the date of the quote so I googled him and came upon the American Teilhard Association. Its objectives are:
- A future worthy of the planet Earth in the full splendor of its evolutionary emergence.
- A future worthy of the human community as a high expression and a mode of fulfillment of the earth’s evolutionary process.
- A future worthy of the generations that will succeed us.
I might have to join this organization. I think I would find kindred spirits there. I embrace their objectives and explore some of them in my novel I Call Myself Earth Girl and its sequel which I am writing now.