Teilhard in 1917, wearing two medals he was awarded for valor.
Following up on our post after Armistice Day: serving in The Great War was a pivotal point in the life of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. At the age of 34 it proved transformative for him.
Teilhard’s reaction to the war he was experiencing was complicated.
In his frequent letters to his cousin Marguerite he admits to fear of dying. “It’s indeed the supreme difficulty to be ready to disappear in death, even though it be in the finest of causes and on the most magnificent of stages! ….What I am apprehensive of in death is …besides the suffering, fear of the unknown, of a change of world.”
The iconic fields of poppies celebrated in “Flander’s Fields,” as an image of the blood shed in “The Great War,” still bloom, as these do in Verdun.
At times he savors narrow escape from death: “…in the freshness of emotion I feel as I enjoy the fine wild autumn, the high-banked rivers wandering, flanked by green meadows, through the rust-red woods, it’s a great thing to have the joy of being re-born and living again.”
At still other times he seeks meaning in a life sacrificed: “What fascinates me in life is being able to collaborate in a task, a reality, more durable than myself….If death attacks me, it leaves untouched these causes, and ideas and realities, more solid and precious than myself.”
Sculpture found in the Verdun war museum honoring stretcher bearers such as Teilhard.
But most notable, perhaps, is the way Teilhard could stand outside of his experience, filtering it through the transformative vision of evolution he had awakened to several years earlier. “As I looked at this scene of bitter toil, I felt completely overcome by the thought that I had the honor of standing at one of the two or three spots on which, at this very moment, the whole life of the universe surges and ebbs — places of pain but it is there that a great future (this I believe more and more) is taking shape.”
The four and a half years he served became the crucible from which a new Teilhard emerged. The nineteen essays, along with hundreds of letters, he wrote during breaks from the front reveal a man with a passion for life, a vision of evolution that shaped his view of the universe, a bold new understanding of God in all things, and a fierce determination to do the right thing whatever the cost. The seeds of everything he would write later in life were all sown in that maelstrom.
HELP US COMPLETE OUR FILM.
Quoting directly from Teilhard’s own writings characterizes the approach of our documentary, which will bring his vision to millions of television viewers beyond those of us who already know him.
When you are considering your end of the year charitable donations, we hope you will include The Teilhard Project. We have come so far and continue to move toward the finish line! Your contributions are vital to a timely completion of our work and we are grateful for your past generosity.
For more information, go to www.teilhardproject.com/donations. There you will find links for direct contributions or to partner with entities who enable tax-deductible donations.
Frank and Mary Frost