Conversations On the Immense Journey
Conversation On the Immense Journey
by Viola Larson
A Fictional Conversation on Evolution, Mysticism, Pantheism and God
Loren Eiseley sat quietly in the austere room of the old farmhouse in the pleasant fields of the Midwest. The floor of the room was washed in the paleness of twilight. Loren sat brooding over the latest chapter in a book he was writing. The days were long with autumn's peace. All of the earth was going to sleep, that is, all but Loren who longed for human companion-ship. His wife was away, and he relished the thought of taking the ideas and thoughts of his book and sharing them, even evaluating them with friends who also shared a sense of the mystery of life.
He thought of others who might see in evolution or even nature a sense of mystery. He thought of those who might have that certain feel about autumn. He thought of men who were learned and yet knew when to reach beyond reason and feel with the heart.
The room began to feel chilly, and muttering, "at least this old man and house can have warmth this evening," he turned and started to put wood in the old black stove. Something fluttered behind him. Not given to fright easily, he slowly turned. Somehow the whole matter was right. Those three men sitting in the old farm kitchen belonged there, just at that time.
His attention was naturally drawn to the man sitting in a monk's cowl. The man was small, and the hood on his garment was drawn back revealing a serious and kind face. It was another man who spoke though.
"I loved autumn a great deal," the man said, adding, "It was a child's story of autumn that gave me my first sense of something eternal and awesome, I called it joy."
With this C.S. Lewis took a pipe out of his pocket and prepared to enjoy the evening.
"C.S. Lewis, I believe?" asked Loren of the slightly balding, smiling man.
Before he could answer, the small man in the cowl said, "I never really sensed God in the natural world, although I understand that God's creative power is displayed in nature."
St John of the Cross (and they all felt it must be the well-known mystic) went on. "I must say I had a dear friend who could use all kinds of examples of nature to explain her meanings."
The third man who had entered the room, suddenly seemed to come to life. He had been sitting somberly listening to the conversation. A very nice looking man, he had the manners of a priest but the clothes of a scientist.
"I really wanted to have a conversation with you about your article," he said. "I am comforted by your understanding that the mystery is something more than an accident. However," he went on, "I fear you are afraid for scientists to go on with their work."
"No, no, you misunderstand me," Loren said. "I am only afraid of man's pride. If they feel that they have discovered how to produce real life, and how life originated, they may think of themselves as gods and become evil," he explained. "I am also afraid that man will lose his creativeness without a sense of mystery, there may be no more poets, no more metaphors, no need for any."
The third man, Teilhard de Chardin, continued the conversation, "Men must understand," he said, "that it is their work, even the scientist seeking for the reproduction of life, that finishes the work God began with evolution. I, too, fear the possibilities of evil in man's advance. That, however, is one of the products of evolution. We must understand that if this brings failure even the suffering of this failure will produce energy which will contribute toward the Cristo-genesis."
With this comment St John of the Cross was on his feet pacing. "I have been accused of using strange words, but this Cristo-genesis, what is that?" he asked.
"It is the ultimate end of evolution. It is man assisting Christ in reaching his fullness," answered Teilhard.
"Well, we had councils who took care of those kind of ideas in my day, Teilhard," said St John. "However, I must admit I know what it is to suffer because my beliefs were not acceptable," he continued. "I hope we can talk about this another time." Turning to Loren, he said, "There is another part of your book I would like to discuss. Your description of the self descending down through primordial time in search of the answer to life is not unlike my description of man's journey to union with God. Do you find that strange?"
"Not at all, if you could accept the idea that I am weary of the dreary concepts of the modern idea of materialism and its picture of man as a machine. There is surely a way of knowing that has nothing to do with our senses or our reason. And it is a way that is unexplainable," Loren said.
"I was excited with your phrase, 'The secret, if one may paraphrase a savage vocabulary, lies in the egg of night'. Also, your terms 'cloud' and 'veil' remind one of the darkness that must be entered to experience union with God," answered St John.
"The problem, however, is that I find a deep experience in nature, while you must go off to your stone buildings to hide yourself away in order to experience anything with God," retorted Loren.
"Now wait," said Teilhard. "In St. John's time there was no true science. Evolution had not been theorized. You must not be so harsh," cautioned Teilhard.
Lewis, who had been sitting quietly in his chair musing over the others' conversation, felt it was time to jump in.
"There is often a way of looking that belongs to modern science that overlooks. You've been talking about the use God makes of evolution as though that was God's grand design," said Lewis as he forgetfully put his pipe in his pocket. He went on with his thoughts. "I fear you are putting your apologetics, and even the core of your faith.. in only one item and perhaps a shaky one at that. I am reminded of what I once wrote in an essay entitled 'Dogma and the Universe' `the endless fluctuations of scientific theory which seem today so much friendlier to us than in the last century may turn against us tomorrow. The basic answer lies elsewhere.' The substance of my essay was that when we come into the presence of God, all of our ways of seeing how God is will fall away, and the point in that is -since that contact with God cannot be avoided for long, and since it means either bliss or horror, the business of life is to learn to like It. That is the first and great commandment. Oh, I've done it again," he fumed, as his pocket with the pipe in it started to smoke.
Loren was quick on his feet to grab a wet cloth as Lewis removed the smoking jacket. Teilhard's reaction to this was to start the forgotten fire in the stove, and to return to the conversation. "In a way, Lewis, you seem to have returned to the old way of thinking about the world and God," he said.
"Still, maybe you don't understand that it is my contention that it is in the work we do that we are preparing for that time when we will be in the total presence of God," he clarified.
“Or is Pelagianism too intertwined with your evolutionary tenets?” Lewis asked. "In the classical Christian view works of goodness are considered important results of the act of conversion and are blessed because the Christian is already found in Christ," Lewis explained. "I write with joy because of this."
"Well, I believe we have gone far a field from my paper," Loren said. "St John, you seem to like my paper which I find strange; we are from such different ages. Is there anything you find unprofitable in my paper?" he asked.
"Of course, I would have to have more clarity about the end of your paper," St John answered. "There is that point in union with God where there is nothing that can be said about the experience. Where the house of the senses and faculties are asleep, where God speaks to the soul alone. However, it is still true and my scholastic training has taught me that God is both transcendent and immanent. So I am not sure you have experienced the mystery behind the universe, but you seem to have made Him totally a part of the universe. At least, I believe that is what Hardy would have said."
Loren sat musing over this it was a question he was really not prepared to answer. "Perhaps, I will answer that question another day," he said, turning to Teilhard. "Teilhard, you seem to find God in nature. What do you say to this problem?"
"Well, I will answer this carefully, for some have misunderstood me. In the book I wrote called Christianity and Evolution, I expressed my feelings on this subject. I wrote that all religions desire a wholeness. This is often expressed in a.. pantheism that involves a loss of identity such as the Hindu faith teaches. In its place I have proposed a Christian Pantheism which has a unity of consciousness, but without loss of identity. This is my explanation for the church as the body of Christ, with Christ as the head," finished Teilhard.
Lewis looked at Teilhard with a careful frown, “Teilhard,” he said, “In my book Miracles, I noted that `Platonism and Judaism, and Christianity (which has incorporated both) have proved the only things capable of resisting' pantheism.” I went on to explain that, `If religion means simply what man says about God, and not what God does about man, then Pantheism almost is religion. And `religion' in that sense has, in the long run, only one really formidable opponent-namely Christianity.” “It seems to me,” continued Lewis, “you have let the fox into the hen house!”
The stove had turned red-hot and faded, the stars were crystal on a black, extended universe. Loren sat pondering words and terms into the late night. He thought of words like passivity, super-essential, and omega and also the Universal Christ. He found himself thinking of something else Lewis had said, "There are no real personalities anywhere else. Until you have given up yourself to Him, you will not have a real self. Sameness is to be found among the most `natural' men, not among those who surrender to Christ. How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been, how gloriously different are the saints.”