This Advent, Ignatian writers from across the Jesuit Conference are sharing 25 days of reflections on Ignatian heroes. You can receive these reflections directly in your inbox by signing up here.
Day 7: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
By Shannon K. Evans
My family’s home altar is, frankly, pretty weird. There’s a Guatemalan crucifix hanging overhead and a bottle of holy water atop the table, but traditional Catholic imagery ends there. The rest is comprised of our love offerings to and from a God of creation: snakeskins and snail shells and flowers and butterfly wings and hawk feathers and a raccoon skull. Treasures the seven of us have collected in the woods behind our house, reminders of the questions nature begs: Who made this? How does it hold together? What comes after death? Can the source of life be trusted?
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin might have had a similar altar as a child. Raised by a father who encouraged nature studies and a mother who encouraged spirituality, it’s no wonder that this French Jesuit scientist, theologian and philosopher devoted his life to finding God in the material world. “I worship a God who can be touched,” he tells us, “and I do indeed touch him.”
One of the most moving results of Chardin’s passionate study is “Mass on the World,” an essay in his book “Hymn of the Universe.” “Through your own incarnation, my God,” he writes, “all matter is incarnate.”
Incarnation is the heart of our Christmas story, yet we reduce it to only a sleeping baby. But in its essence, incarnation is a celebration of matter: God in earth and hay, milk and donkey, flesh and cave. It’s a declaration that the material is spiritual. Such a story, Chardin says, enables our love “to escape from the constrictions of the too narrow, too precise, too limited.” God in all things, as the Jesuits say – not just the obvious things.
My four-year-old runs through the open back door with a dried wasp’s nest in hand. Look, he breathes, something to make us think about God! By his lisp, I remember Chardin’s words: “This world has become your flesh, my God.”
A wasp’s nest. A goldfinch feather. A smooth stone. These are the sacramentals of a prairie Mass. When the whole world is an altar, such things are incarnations; and our offering, Chardin writes, is “universal becoming.” Until all is complete. Until all is well. Until all, at last, is love.
Reflection: How might you encounter God in a renewed way through meditation on or interaction with the physical world?
Shannon K. Evans is the author of “Rewilding Motherhood“ and the forthcoming “Feminist Prayers for My Daughter.” She serves as the Spirituality and Culture editor for National Catholic Reporter and lives with her family in central Iowa. Find her writing on Substack or follow her on Instagram.