Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.
The first challenges to Xian dogma as it had evolved by the 19th century were from geology. One of those who struggled to keep science and religion in relationship was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), a Jesuit priest trained as a paleontologist and geologist. (Francis I is a trained chemist.) He tried to develop a concept called the Omega Point which he related NOT to the punishing apocalypse, but the progressive notion that “the increasing complexity of matter has not only led to higher forms of consciousness, but accordingly to more personalization, of which human beings are the highest attained form in the known universe.” Narcissistic, but sincere.
He’s worth reading but he didn’t escape the idea that there was one goal instead of an endlessly on-going process with multiple “Omega Points” nor the idea that human beings are just a stream of changes always leading to something beyond that was different, which may or may not feel “ideal” depending on the consequences to the sensate human. Still, he WAS considering science and evidence even as he insisted on ideas as old as bones, cultural fossils.
The idea of God is gone. Jesus, who can be seen as a interlocutor between God and humans, is also gone, along with the father/son nexus of ownership and sacrifice. Now we think of the female Gaia.
What have we got now? It’s not quite geology, because the “geo” is so expanded. Again it is a narcissism. We’re only one planet in an huge swirling gyre of interacting molecules, but geology is still the best replacement for theology that we have, because it is what we know, what we are part of. We are, as one author put it, "walking rocks" who evolved out of the substance of the earth itself, following along an extremely long trajectory of evolution that began in clay, as the old legends suggest. Or you could also legitimately say that we are stardust. We go deeper and deeper into time and cosmos but we don’t lose meaning -- only expand and vary the connections.
When I found Punctum Books with their openness to these ideas and their willingness to share ideas online, I got so excited that I downloaded two books at the same time and my downloads got mixed up with each other, which caused an interesting dialogue while I tried to figure out which pages belonged together.
“Making the Geologic Now” was edited by Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse. They say, “The idea for this book came from our sense that there is an increasingly widespread turn toward the geologic as source of explanation, motivation and inspiration for cultural and aesthetic responses to conditions of the present moment.” Some of the essays are in terms of photographs, art and poetry.
The other book is “On an Ungrounded Earth: Towards a New Geophilosophy” by Ben Woodard, who speaks of “Wormed Earths” and “Black Suns.” This is written by a single author, a philosopher, whose introduction, “Abyss Lessons,” has two epigraphs. The first one is from Nicola Masciandaro and begins “The geophilosopher is one who philosophically experiences rather than flees the earth . . .” This is a MAJOR difference because philosophy has always built cloud castles of thought through introspection. While claiming that logic keeps it honest, this is often untrue, so it easily becomes theology, which I consider an abyss.
I’m reassured when he quotes Deleuze and Guattari, “Thinking takes place in the relationship of territory and the earth.” My caveat here is that the city casts the rural into the abyss. But research shows that the brain thinks in terms of territory -- up and down, in and out, back and forth. Diagrams. Maps. I am ideally situated to explore the land less settled. I’m here.
But I have spent time going to and fro over the earth, as a child with family and then as a UU minister who served a circuit of four congregations in Montana, a hundred miles between the four, each with its unique geologically based ecology. I am a boundary person, who lives on the border between the Blackfeet reservation and a little irrigation town just over the river; very near the border with Canada. I have served congregations in Canada. Therefore, I welcome the Canadian voices from deeper and higher on the continent.
One of the strong and beloved voices up there is that of Don McKay (1942 and ongoing), a poet who contemplates rather than philosophizing. His essay juxtaposes the Anthropecene with the Ediacaran eras, which are spans of time justified by geological evidence. The Ediacaran is named for South Australia where the oldest rocks on the planet (that we know of so far) formed between 575 and 542 million years ago. McKay says he is writing “geopoetry.” In fact, he’s looking at “the crucial concept of a dynamic planet” that led to the understanding of plate tectonics that created this place where I live. Probably where you are as well. (He credits Harry Hess. 1906-1969) I never met McKay, but knew lots of people who knew him well. I bought a little cache of books by him to read “later.” I guess that’s “now.”
The chapter he wrote is called “ Ediacaran and Anthropocene: Poetry as a Reader of Deep Time.” Before I go deeper in the thought there in a day or so (some reading to do), here’s a poem McKay quotes:
By Earle Birney (written in 1951)
He invented a rainbow but lightning struck it
shattered it into the lake-lap of a mountain
so big his mind slowed when he looked at it
Yet he built a shack on the shore
learned to roast porcupine belly and
wore the quills on his hatband
At first he was out with the dawn
whether it yellowed bright as wood-columbine
or was only a fuzzed moth in a flannel of storm
But he found the mountain was clearly alive
sent messages whizzing down every hot morning
boomed proclamations at noon and spread out
a white guard of goat
before falling asleep on its feet at sundown
When he tried his eyes on the lake ospreys
would fall like valkyries
choosing the cut-throat
he took then to waiting
till the night smoke rose from the boil of the sunset
But the moon carved unknown totems
out of the lakeshore
owls in the beardusky woods derided him
moosehorned cedars circled his swamps and tossed
their antlers up to the stars
Then he knew though the mountain slept the winds
were shaping its peak to an arrowhead
And now he could only
bar himself in and wait
for the great flint to come singing into his heart
And here’s a vid about the poem made by an English class:
There are a ton of discussions and interpretations, but I’ll just note that a flint is a rock, a geopoetic quote, you might say. Probably in McKay's essay location, pink feldspar, which crystallizes out of magma and is related to the more familiar black obsidian.