From my days in college, I realized I was a lover of wisdom (which is what “philosophy” means), and as I have read The Phenomenon of Man by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I have discovered concepts that have stretched my mind and my contemplation … concepts that have sent me on a search to look up both concepts and the vocabulary around these concepts. First, Teilhard’s work is based in the science of evolution, which has it’s own unique challenges in language and comprehension (as I have previous shared). Second, he uses not only scientific language, but philosophical language to talk about reality in ways that sometime seem foreign (if not threatening) to our ways of thinking.
Among the principles is a conceptual way of two forms of energy that is found in evolutionary thought coming from the the early part of the 20th century. These two energies are tangential energy and radial energy. Teilhard writes:
We shall assume that, essentially, all energy is psychic [of the soul] in nature; but add that in each particular element this fundamental energy is divided into two distinct components: a “tangential energy” which links the elements with all other of the same order (that is to say, of the same complexity and the same centricity) as itself in the universe; and a “radial energy” which draws it toward ever greater complexity and centricity – in other words forwards.
(Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, pp. 64-65)
Teilhard then later shifts and uses the word “within” for this tangential energy, and “without” for this radial energy. Then he defines energy, as I have shared in a previous post, as what we call love. It is energy that both pulls inward and reaches outward. As a Jesuit priest, Teilhard would have certainly understood how Jesus spoke of the greatest commandments … the commandments to love God and to love neighbor as ourselves.
In those commandments to love, we experience our loving relationship with God as the experience of being seen by God as we love by trusting God to see us in our most vulnerable, naked state of being. This kind of love is hard because it requires us to see within ourselves both the ugliness of human sin and suffering and the beauty of God’s creation. And that is what leads us to the capacity to love ourselves … not in a narcissistic kind of way … but in an honest kind of way. It is to see ourselves as God sees us.
But this love of self is not enough. If we stop there, it does become narcissistic, and we find ourselves cut off, weakened, and dying. So there is the love that is “without” … the radial kind of love … that leads us to the greater “complexity and centricity” which Teilhard describes.
The energy Teilhard describes as “without” is best described as that love that leads us to greater diversity. It is love that tends toward creativity … toward the creation of community … toward a greater unity than we ever thought possible. It is what gives us the best blueprint for a global peace … and yet.
And yet the world seems ever more unstable as we experience an imbalance in these energies. The energy of within is what breeds echo chambers where only one voice is heard. Or worse, we have stopped with a dualism that leaves us with a simple choice of victory for only one of two sides.
So as we witness Ukraine falling to Russian aggression … racism, heterosexism, homophobia, misogyny, anti-semitism, and so many other forms of bigotry as they arise even from our own state and federal seat of government … the continued push of white supremacists and others to redraw the lines according to race and power … it seems like this talk of a unity and global peace is just a pipe dream.
The typical human response is dualistic. We fight against the aggressors. We take up arms and make an effort to make sure our side wins. But in a day with vast nuclear arsenals and arms readily available on our streets, we finally have to come to the notion that there is no “winning” on a global or a local scale. Increasingly, we are aware that, in a massive armed conflict, no one wins.
We are left looking for an option that is not dualistic. That is the option of love as expressed by Jesus.
Here is the truth of evolution that Teilhard so richly describes for us. Despite these hard times … despite the pushback against this radial energy (love that is “without”) … despite the echo chambers, we are still called to discover that balance … even if only in our own lives. Teilhard believed that the nature of evolution is ever moving us forward.
So I am learning to lean into these two different ways of thinking about energy that is both tangential and radial. I am leaning into the divine love affair with a God who sees me and calls me good … even as I stammer in articulating that to myself. And I am leaning into the love affair with all of creation and with my fellow human beings. These energies, you see, are what become pathways … conduits … for a love that speaks truth to power, that seeks justice, that resists evil, and finally that is capable of seeing and loving even those who do harm.
The balance, you see, is the third way of being. It is rejection of dualism. It is the roadmap put forth by Jesus who says to love ourselves, our neighbors AND our enemies with the same kind of love. It is to hold our suffering without the temptation to inflict suffering upon others. Finally, it is to trust that, we can influence the flow of this energy with the simplest act of love that is both “within” and “without.”
So in these hard times, as hard as it is, practice love. Learn to love yourself, warts and all. Then share it with someone in your inner circle. Then share it with someone outside that circle (even if you don’t like that person very much). And then remember the gospel message: love is finally what wins.