When it comes to the great founders of evolutionary spirituality in the twentieth century—individuals like Henri Bergson, Teilhard de Chardin, Sri Aurobindo, Jean Gebser, and Alfred North Whitehead—we have an inexcusable lack of good biographies to guide our appreciation of their pioneering work. The recent biography, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, by scholar Peter Heehs is one exception. The work of scholar Ursula King is another. King’s book, Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin is a powerful and illuminating work that captures the spirit of Teilhard’s remarkable evolutionary vision and passion. Beginning with his childhood days in the verdant hills of Auvergne, France, she follows his prolific life from France to China, to his travels around the world, all the way to his final days in the gritty streets of New York City. “However far back I go into my memories (even before the age of ten),” Teilhard once wrote, “I can distinguish in myself the presence of a strictly dominating passion: the passion for the Absolute.” Driven by this inner calling, this unique scientist/mystic searched the outer world for ancient biological fossils and plumbed the inner world for new spiritual truths.
King’s Spirit of Fire is a highly recommended introduction to Teilhard’s life and is liberally sprinkled with quotes and observations from his visionary mind. In the following excerpt from the book, King explains why she feels the great Jesuit’s thinking is so salient to our own time in history:
With rare insight, [Teilhard] diagnosed the pulse of the modern world and asked, where is its frantic activity going? What is its ultimate goal? He…felt that many people today lack a sense of purpose, meaning and direction, so that it is imperative to animate and maintain the zest for life, to discover the value of our work and efforts, to strengthen the bonds of human community around the world through the powers of love and collaboration, to find new models of holiness and seek a new spirituality, a mysticism of action, commensurate with the world as we now know it.
Teilhard was a traveler, explorer, scientist, priest and mystic. He was an ardent seeker in love with all of life. Yet for many he is too complex, too difficult a writer, too daring an innovator… The power of his synthesis and vision is not always fully understood, the energizing resources of his life-affirming spirituality are little drawn upon by contemporary spiritual writers. He deserves to be better known, his writing more appreciated and critically studied, his example more followed.