#1. FULLER BEING IS CLOSER UNION
I begin my reading blog with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s THE PHENOMENON OF MAN. I can do no better. The New York Times called it “A profound book . . . A great work by a great man – one of the most spiritually erudite of our time.” The book was also voted the ‘best spiritual book of the twentieth century’ by the Best Spiritual Writing Series Poll.
I am not one to go by reviews or polls. For me the test is in the pudding. As soon as I picked up the book last night and read the phrase in the title of this entry, which occurs a few sentences into the Foreword, I knew this was the book I would spend reading and re-reading for the next few months, and keep it in my library to review over the years. It also constellated for me, after many months of mulling over my blog and not quite knowing what it would be on, the vision of this blog. When a book does that, you know it is central to your being. I hope it will become central to yours.
What sort of book does that? I will use de Chardin’s own words to clarify that, since I cannot say it any better. The title of his Foreword (and I have only read this so far), is SEEING. The books that become central to your being are books that help you SEE.
Let me tell you what he means by ‘Seeing’: He says, ‘the whole of life lies in that verb.’ ‘To see or to perish is the very condition laid upon everything that makes up the universe, by reason of the mysterious gift of existence. And this, in superior measure, is man’s condition.’
Seeing leads to ‘fuller being,’ which leads to ‘closer union.’ ‘Union increases only through an increase in consciousness, that is to say, in vision.’ So, by ‘seeing’ he means, ‘vision.’
What sort of vision? To answer this question I have to backtrack and tell you a little about de Chardin (and I know very little about him, except for what I learned from his brief biography at the beginning of the book. I mean to research him and share more of it as time goes by): he was a Jesuit Priest, a naturalist, paleontologist who co-discovered the fossils of the famous ‘Peking Man.’ Essentially, a scientist. He says that when scientists ‘reach the end of their analyses they cannot tell with any certainty whether the structure they have reached is the essence of the matter they are studying, or the reflection of their own thought.’
Man, he continues, ‘finds his own image stamped on all he looks at.’ This, he says, is ‘a form of bondage . . . for the observer is . . . obliged to carry with him everywhere the center of the landscape he is crossing.’
The following, and I quote fully from him, is the definition both of Vision and the Union he speaks about.
“But what happens when chance directs his steps to a point of vantage from which, not only his vision, but things themselves, radiate? In that event the subjective viewpoint coincides with the way things are distributed objectively, and perception reaches its apogee. The landscape lights up and yields its secrets. He sees.”
A good book, then, is one that facilitates such seeing in which objective and subjective is married. This is only one, though a supreme, of the gifts of reading.
More of THE PHENOMENON OF MAN follows in the days to come. My hope is you will buy the book and read it for yourself.