For the past forty years, I have been trying to put Teilhard’s new ideas into common speech as clearly as I can. Some years ago, a person told me that if I wanted to get Teilhard’s evolutionary insights more well known, I needed to apply his ideas to a popular piece of spirituality, such as St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, a retreat format used by all Jesuits and many others.
As a faithful Jesuit, Teilhard had made Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises many times. Noted in his retreat notes, his evolutionary mindset found the traditional Exercises unsatisfying and unchallenging. After all, they were created over 400 years ago, based on a classical static world viewpoint and a Middle Ages spirituality founded on sin and fear of eternal punishment. He said the Exercises needed to be transposed and re-imagined in line with the evolutionary culture we live in today. Unfortunately, he himself never did the job.
Since I had been a Jesuit for thirty years, I too had made the Exercises many times, and felt the same need to re-envision them. Since no one so far had attempted what Teilhard said was needed, I decided to try. I called my book The New Spiritual Exercises in the Spirit of Teilhard de Chardin.
I began by collecting 17 Teilhardian principles of spirituality from his writings. I summarized them and placed them in a front section of the book, so that readers would clearly understand the foundational thought of the book. In the New Exercises, I followed the same four-week structure Ignatius had used, so that people who led traditional retreats would be on familiar territory. I also kept his special exercises, such as the Kingdom, Four Classes, etc. but gave each of them an evolutionary perspective.
For Teilhard, our life on Earth is not simply about avoiding sin and getting to heaven, which was a central theme of spirituality in Ignatius’ day. Rather, it was clear to Teilhard that, in creating an evolving world, God had a divine plan or project in mind for creation, and humans had a role to play in helping accomplishing that project. I called it the Christ Project. It is a Christian term for the work of transforming human life on our planet.
Also, since for Teilhard the most important principle of spirituality is “God is Love,” I put Ignatius’ final exercise, Contemplation for Learning to Love the Way God Loves, right up front. In place of Ignatius’ First Week’s focus on avoiding sin and punishment, I knew that Teilhard would focus more positively on learning to love and experiencing gratitude.
The New Spiritual Exercises was published in 2008 and is slowly becoming a familiar way the Exercises are being re-envisioned and presented, both in retreat format and in the year-long process Jesuits call “Annotation 19.” Many people have expressed deep gratitude to me for writing The New Exercises. I have written over eight other books explaining Teilhard’s ideas on various spirituality topics, such as suffering, discernment, love, morality, and the Eucharist. But the way most people will discover Teilhard and the way he thinks will be with The New Spiritual Exercises.
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