The HOURS of the UNIVERSE: Reflections on God, Science, and the Human Journey, Ilia Delio, Orbis Books (Maryknoll, New York), 2021. 251 pages including index (pages are annotated). ISBN: 978-1-62698-403-5
For the past several years I have been pondering the question: How do we reimagine (re-image) Christianity in a way that embraces both post-modern culture and the findings of science while remaining Christocentric. One direction this pondering has taken me is that of looking at the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit, trained paleontologist and philosopher.
As I have pondered the question, I have become more and more convinced that part of the answer lies in re-thinking the meaning of the Incarnation. [Teilhard adds much to this endeavor.] In doing so, I’ve been drawn to the Liturgical Hours, as well as the Liturgical Calendar. It seems to me that in some way, the Liturgy parallels a cosmic liturgy of sorts, one that is a forever-spiraling, forever-expanding, forever-evolving. If this is true, how does this change our understanding of God?
Ilia Delio and her expansion and application of the forward-thinking idea of Teilhard were not new to me, but how could I not be drawn by the title, The HOURS of the UNIVERSE, especially when I’ve been thinking along liturgical lines? And I am glad I was. The book is both provocative and meditative. Quite a feat to accomplish.
The Center for Christogenesis website lays out the basic thought of Teilhard, along with Delio application, with four distinctions:
God-Omega – The unescapable, absolute power of love. Omega is the revelation of God as the fullness of love, the heart of the universe – the heart of all creation.
Spiritual Evolution – If evolution is the story of physical reality, then evolution is essential to our understanding of God and God’s relationship to the world. Thus, physical and spiritual reality are intertwined.
Continual Creation – The universe is incomplete, as are we as humans. The process of evolution continues, and through it, we can change, grow and become something new. The website asks the question: “We have the power to do so, but do we have the will?”
Cosmic Wholemaking – “Love is the fundamental energy of evolution. Love is a consciousness of belonging to another, of being part of a whole. To love is to be on the way toward integral wholeness, to live with an openness of mind and heart, to encounter the other—not as stranger—but as another part of oneself. When we enter into the heart of love, that integral wholeness of love that is God, we enter into the field of relatedness and come to see that we are wholes within wholes.” The challenge for Christianity is to center herself in love in such a way that allows science to inform her stories, while at the same time, offer to scientific reductionism a creative vision for the world.
The book’s subtitle, Reflections on God, Science, and the Human Journey, assures us that each of these “distinctions” are explored and connected in The HOURS of the UNIVERSE.
The book’s title, The HOURS of the UNIVERSE is meant to convey the idea that the universe is the new monastery, “the place to find God (p. xvii).” The recitation of the Hours (used to divide sections) reminds us of the work of God in our lives, that the new monastery is the Cathedral of the universe. Each recitation of the Hour is a poetic meditation that expands the Trinity into the “arc of the universe.”
The book is a collection of essays, written over the years, offering a new theological vision that gives new meaning and purpose for today’s world. Written for a broad, general audience, this book is the perfect introduction for those unfamiliar with Delio’s work, Teilhard, or Christogenesis.
The vision that Delio offers is fresh, yet Christocentric. Her writing recovers and restores to Christian theology that which has been pushed aside and ignored, even negated, by our prevalent Scholastic Theology—The related disciplines of science and philosophy. Once, both were disciplines of Christian thinking.
I don’t like marking up books. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of it, and The HOURS of the UNIVERSE is one of those books being marked, lots of underlines, side notes/questions, and exclamation points.
Some of those markings fall on the pages where Delio distinguishes the thinking of Teilhard from Darwin on evolution. Even though some make Teilhard out as a Darwinian Evolutionist (a prevalent thinking among some Christians), he was not. For Tielhard, Darwin’s theory did not account for novelty and transcendence in nature. He believed that the phenomena of evolution is “something more than and very different from the mere genesis of animal species (quoted from Teilhard’s “The Energy of Evolution,” p. 16 in “Hours”). Following along the thinking of Henri Bergson, Teilhard developed the concept of God-Omega in which God is not supernatural, but supra-natural. This concept is central to the work of Teilhard, and thus that of Delio.
Now is a good place to comment on the charge that Tielhard’s thinking is pantheistic (Chap. 9). To claim this is to misunderstand Tielhard. Not only was Tielhard a scientist and philosopher, he was a mystic. And we must view his thinking through that lens. If as the Apostle Paul writes, the God of Jesus Christ “fills all things (Eph 1:23),” then God must be found in all things. In this sense Tielhard is a pantheist, but not in traditional sense of the material being God.
I can honestly say that every chapter both challenges and inspires my thinking. Two chapters in particular helped crystalize my thinking in terms of reimagining Christianity. “The Cosmic Chrtist” (Chap. 15) and “Christ the Future” (Chap. 16).
In “The Cosmic Christ,” Delio draws upon Richard Rohr’s The Universal Christ, the Celtic Latin Franciscan theologian, John Duns Scotus, and Teilhard to explore the idea of the Cosmic Christ. Christ in the Trinity becomes the symbol of a communion of love. Not an abstract symbol, rather the communion of the divine community of love (“persons-in-love” p. 105) expressed in every personal form of reality. Thus, one does not have to be Christian to know the Christ. Born out of the love of God, every one of us expresses this love in our personal form. Jesus is the “’thisness of God, so what Jesus is by nature, everything else is by grace (divine love) (p.104).” And because Christ is the Christ, every human is already reconciled with every other human in the “mystery of the divine.” Christ therefore is more than Jesus alone. Christ is the whole of reality bound together in love.
This is the message that humanity needs to hear. It is a message that Christians need to learn to practice. It is Christianity reimagined. Delio expands upon this in “Christ the Future.” Delio ends that chapter with these words:
When we awaken to the realization that the meaning of Jesus Christ is somehow the center of reality, that our porous humanity is open to divine reality, we find that our life must be reordered to correspond to that realization. Through the human person a new reality emerges, born out of new structures of consciousness. Humanity becomes a new creative center of God’s self-involving love (p. 110).
This is the Incarnation. It is Christianity reimagined.
The question then, as Delio asks in her closing words, “How well did I love today? For in the evening of life, love alone will determine how we shall live forever (p.242).”
In Chapter 4, Delio asks, “Can we discover God anew?” The answer is an unqualified, YES!
Ilia Delio has been called, “One of the most creative thinkers on the dialogue between religion and science. I would add that she is a master of leading us to reflect creatively on the gift of creation, our humanity, and our ultimate destiny, and all that evolves along the way. The HOURS of the UNIVERSE is a delightful gift to be read, to be meditated upon, to be a challenge to how we live as Christians. I recommend that we read it—again and again.
Ilia Delio, OSF, PhD is a Franciscan Sister of Washington, DC and American theologian specializing in the area of science and religion, with interests in evolution, physics and neuroscience and the import of these for theology. She currently holds the Josephine C. Connelly Endowed Chair in Theology at Villanova University and is author of twenty books and the CEO and Founder of The Center for Christogenesis (https://christogenesis.org).
© Frank A. Mills, 1997-2024