About Me

Monday, June 5, 2017

Nothing Profane

I was reading a book looking for something else when I came across this short quotation from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  I like much of what de Chardin wrote, although I have not read everything.  And probably most folks don’t know who he is, so let me provide some rudimentary information.
   
de Chardin was a French, Jesuit priest who was born in the nineteenth century and died in 1955.  So, he was dead before I had any knowledge of this amazing man.  He was trained as a scientist.  He also joined the Jesuit order, long known for its intellectual focus and emphasis on teaching.  He developed a significant interest in evolution and wanted to find creative ways to show the compatibility of religion and science. 
   
In 1923, he first traveled to China to participate in studies on geology and paleontology.  He was part of some famous finds of pre-human species that tie humanity further back in the evolutionary history of our world.  Throughout this process, de Chardin was in trouble with the higher-ups in the Jesuit world.  Most of what he wrote, they refused to publish.  Hence, his fame blossomed well after his death when his books finally found their way into print. Oddly, it is only in this century de Chardin is getting his due.
   
His perspective is what I would call a Christian evolutionary viewpoint.  He felt like the world was evolving from its earliest materialistic birth into a complex spiritual culmination he called the Omega Point.  He felt that evolution was a response to a spiritual “pull” that could best be understand from the perspective of Christ.  His theology portrayed Christ as the organizing principle of the entire cosmos or universe.  It was an expansive, inclusivistic view of the faith and the universe.  I find it breathtaking.
   
With this quick background, perhaps you can also appreciate the one-liner I read.  It is simple, but profound.  de Chardin says, “Nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.”  Even if you never heard of this French Jesuit, this should be an appealing quotation.  Even if I am not sure I believe it is true, I hope it is!  I can’t prove it is true, but I do believe it is and I sure hope it is.  Let’s unpack the short quotation and elaborate on its meaning.
   
The first half of de Chardin’s words---nothing here below is profane---is really a statement of faith.  Clearly, if we look at the news any night of the week, there sure seems to be bad, lousy stuff happening all the time.  We live in an era of terrorism.  There are people daily dying of drug overdoses.  And there is a plethora of people I know who are depressed, some despairing and even more who simply find life to be a bummer.  There is poverty, injustice and all sorts of mayhem in our world today. 
   
And if you listen very long---even on traditional media---there is profanity all over the place.  When I was a kid, I would have told you profanity was someone swearing.  With that definition, nearly everyone I know is profane---at least, by my earlier standard definition.  However, when I became a little more educated, picked up some foreign languages and learned some theology, I knew that profanity was a Latin word and was to be put against its opposite, namely, sacred.  Profane is the opposite of being sacred.
   
Literally, the language of sacred is holy.  Holiness is associated with God and all that is God’s.  In ancient days, the sacred place was the temple.  And to be outside the temple was to be in the profane place.  All the development of sacred/profane distinctions go back to this basic difference.  To be sacred is somehow to be with God or within the God-sphere.  And to be profane is to be outside the sphere of God.  With this in mind, we now return to that first half of de Chardin’s quotation.
   
Here below there is nothing profane if the second half of his quotation is true.  That second line says, “for those who know how to see.”  de Chardin wants us to know that if we know how to see, there is nothing profane.  What he affirms is those who know everything in this universe is of God will know there is nothing beyond the pale of the Divinity.  This is a very bold statement.  It is a radical faith statement.
   
I want to have those kind of “eyes to see.”  With these eyes, I will realize here below there is nothing profane.  I don’t think de Chardin was naïve.  He did not deny the level of awfulness that existed in his world nor ours.  But the awfulness of our world is not the ultimate.  It is not the last word or the final reality.
   
His perspective is really a gospel perspective.  It is a perspective of hope based in faith.  He was a theologian of love.  He was not optimistic because he was smart.  He was optimistic because he knew the heart of the gospel and trusted the Revealer of that good news.  He wanted us to know we are primarily spiritual beings.  He had funny ways of articulating it.  He would say we are spiritual beings having a human experience.  Some of our human experiences are lousy and even worse.
   
But in the end, there is nothing profane.

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