16 October 2018

Retreat with Sister Ilia Delio at Santa Sabina Center

I returned from a weekend of retreat Sunday afternoon. I had ridden with another Sister to Santa Sabina Center, a ministry of the San Rafael Dominicans, in order to hear Ilia Delio, OSF who gave five sessions on the new cosmology and the coming to human wholeness which is both an evolutionary drive rooted in God Who is the depth dimension of all existence and the result of life in the risen and cosmic Christ.  I like Sister Ilia's work generally but in the last number of years have spent more time on books like, Franciscan Prayer, The Humility of God, Ten Evenings With God, Saint Claire, Compassion, and Simply Bonaventure than I have with books like A Hunger for Wholeness, or The Unbearable Wholeness of Being, etc. Well, it's time to catch up!

My systematic theological foundations are strong and I was delighted to find the work of Paul Tillich pervading (though usually implicit in) the discussions this weekend. My own teacher introduced me to Paul Tillich as an undergraduate (my senior majors' project was his Systematic Theology vol 1-3) and I did more work on Tillich as a doctoral student (his theology of the cross).  And now, the theological insights of Tillich, especially his focus on ontology, his method of correlation and his notion of God as Ground of Being and Meaning will help carry theology into the future of an unfinished and evolutionary universe. At one point during the retreat Ilia quipped that those with degrees in theology would need to go back for another degree -- the demands of  the new cosmology would require it! That does not tempt me, nor is it necessary. My major professor saw clearly I think, the place of Tillich in the future of theology and spirituality --- and the capacity of his theology to transcend the boundaries of new theological paradigms. I am feeling very grateful John Dwyer assigned Paul Tillich to me all those years ago; it was providential and far-seeing of him.

So this was exciting for me this weekend, but even more exciting was seeing the importance of who I am and what I am about in a fresh context and even more intense way. All of the Sisters I know are committed to being a contemplative presence in our world as well as to providing ways to deepen the contemplative dimension  of the lives of those they work with or otherwise touch. We know God not as A Being, but rather as being itself and as the source, ground, and/or depth dimension of all that exists. This is not a new theological idea, not even for Tillich (though he pretty much came to own it) but it conflicts with some traditional theology which treated God as A being --- though the most perfect and superior being. Unfortunately, as Tillich and others (including Ilia this weekend) point out, if God is A being, no matter how powerful or perfect, that God will come in conflict with other beings. It is inescapable. If, however, God is the ground and depth dimension of all that exists, one truth is that to the extent we are and become truly ourselves, God will be allowed to be truly God (and vice versa). The only conflict that will exist, to whatever degree it does exist, will be between authentic and inauthentic, loving and unloving, and that which is rooted in life vs that which is rooted in death.

Physicists representing the new cosmology have come to the conclusion that there is an underlying ground, dimension, or field to reality which can be described as consciousness. Theologians and contemplatives know this dimension, ground, or field as God; they know we participate in this ground, that, in fact, it is the deep dimension of ourselves which gives us ourselves as call and task at each moment of everyday. They know that increasing consciousness, a growth in awareness and community in and through this ground we also know as love-in-act is precisely the essence of the contemplative (and profoundly human) vocation. Traditionally contemplatives describe this increasing awareness and growth in consciousness, this coming to oneness in and through the Love-in-act which/Who is God as "union with God." Traditionally, we also know that growth in union with God will result and manifest itself in increasing union with others and all of creation. In the NT we hear this as the eschatological goal of everything -- it is described as "New Creation" and "God becoming all-in-all". But in all of this we may not hear as clearly as we need to  that this New Creation is coming to be as we speak and that we are responsible for allowing it to occur in fullness.

I have often written here about heaven (God's own life/love shared with others) interpenetrating and transforming or transfiguring this world of space and time. I have written here about God as a constitutive part of our own being. Similarly I have written about hermits (and all persons, really) not merely being called to pray but to become God's own prayers --- the embodiment or incarnation of God's own life, love, will, dreams, breath and word --- in our world; related to this I have written often about eremitical solitude as essentially communal and to isolation or individualism as antithetical to genuine solitude. Especially I have written about why it is eremitism is not essentially selfish but, in the traditional language of canon 603, lived "for the salvation of the world". What I found being stressed time and again during this last weekend's retreat was a context supporting and calling for all of these ideas, but from a new perspective, the perspective of the new cosmology with a theological dependence on Paul Tillich's work in systematics and more explicitly upon the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. It is one thing to understand one's life as response to a personal call by God, but it is something much richer and more profoundly true to come to see that same Divine call and vocational response as having cosmic implications and cosmic import!

The Camaldolese write about the Sacred Hermitage (Sacra Eremo) in Tuscany as "a small place opening up to [universal or cosmic] space". What I came to know this weekend in a new way was that my own vocation, small, solitary, and relatively singular as it is, is part of  the universe's movement toward an eschatological conclusion --- a critical part of the whole of existence coming to consciousness in God as God gradually comes to be All-in-all. We all have our own small but infinitely meaningful parts to play in this process; in us creation comes to consciousness and more, to articulateness as reality is made Word. It is at once humbling and energizing to begin to look freshly at one's vocation in these terms, to have one's eyes opened in the way my eyes were opened more fully this weekend, and to have before me a whole field of theology I now need to attend to more carefully, diligently, and explicitly --- not simply because it is new (in many ways it is not), but because it is part of the way the dialogue between faith and science and the movement of God to make all things one in and through the risen (and therefore, the cosmic) Christ is taking place --- not just generally, but at Stillsong Hermitage more specifically.