Ilia DELIO, OSF, editor. Personal Transformation and a New Creation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2016, pp. 230. ISBN: 9781626982093 (pbk.). Reviewed by Joseph A. Bracken , S.J., Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH 45207.
The essays in this book are dedicated to the life and work of Beatrice Bruteau, an independent scholar who primarily dedicated herself to publication of books and articles on the life and thought of the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Bruteau emphasized in her writings the way in which Teilhard combined natural science (paleontology) and religion (a mystical approach to Christian spirituality). She herself was likewise heavily influenced by the work of the Hindu mystic Aurobindo Ghoso and contemporary Vedanta Hinduism. As a result she was drawn to a sense of cosmic oneness rather than an emphasis on diversity and difference among the entities of this world. She identified this sense of oneness with the feminine (as opposed to the effeminate) side of human nature.
In what follows, I give in succession the name of each contributor to the volume, the title of his/her essay and some brief statement of its thesis. Ursula King’s title is “Searching a Feminine Mystical Way for the Twenty-First Century.” She first establishes a connection between feminism and mysticism and then seeks to provide a via feminina for contemporary women and men, using the writings of Beverly Lanzetta, Thomas Berry and Richard Woods. Barbara Fiand titled her essay “Personal and Cultural Maturation: A Revolution in Consciousness,” and notes how Bruteau distinguished three levels of personal and cultural maturation in human history: “paleo-feminine” with its emphasis on group consciousness and tribal unity; contemporary “masculinity” with its emphasis on competition and the satisfaction of individual needs and desires even at the risk of loss to the neighbor; the “neo-feminine” in which material “things” lose much of their value and a sense of bondedness with others takes over. Cynthia Bourgeaut titles her essay “Teilhard, the Trinity, and Evolution.” Therein she indicates how Bruteau tried to supplement Teilhard’s focus on the “hyper-personal” and the Cosmic Christ with a more consciously Trinitarian understanding of cosmic evolution (cf. below). Kerrie Hide wrote on “The Ecstasy of Agape,” reflecting Bruteau’s comments in God’s Ecstasy that “God’s ecstasy creates the world, and the world’s ecstasy realizes God. And you are right in the midst of it.” Besides her introduction to the volume, Ilia Delio wrote “Evolution toward Personhood,” the move from thinking of oneself as an individual distinct from others to a person identified with others. Delio also sees in quantum entanglement as articulated by physicist David Bohm an unexpected new insight into Jesus’ precept to love one’s neighbor not only as much as oneself but as oneself. Brie Stoner, herself a member of the millennial generation, offers reasons why she and like-minded other millennials characterize themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” and so non-churchgoers. But, if church life embodies a more up-to-date theological world view based on personal and cultural evolution such as Teilhard and Bruteau propose, then millennials will presumably start going to church again. The final three essays are grouped together under the subheading “Teacher, Mentor, Friend.” All three authors recollect their first meeting with Bruteau and then indicate how her person and writings have subsequently influenced their lives. John Shea found her inspiration invaluable in his work with Christian teachers and preachers on how to use Scripture in their ministry. Carla de Sola, an expert in liturgical dance, explains how Bruteau taught her how to communicate her inner self in and through liturgical dance. Finally, Joshua Tysinger, at the time a student at Wake Forest Divinity School, details a three-way conversation between himself, Bruteau, and Dr. Rudolph Hwa, particle physicist at the University of Oregon on the interplay of science, religion and mystical experience.
In Rediscovering Teilhard’s Fire (Philadelphia, PA: St. Joseph University Press, 2010) I published an essay comparing the philosophy/theology of Teilhard and Alfred North Whitehead in which I argued that their cosmologies complemented rather than contrasted with one another but that both ultimately failed to articulate a fully developed metaphysics of universal intersubjectivity as foundation for their philosophical/theological reflections. What I found interesting in this volume was the way that Bruteau herself, at least as reported by Cynthia Bourgeault, resisted Teilhard’s focus on the “hyperpersonal,” human incorporation into the all-embracing personhood of the Cosmic Christ, and focused instead on the Trinity as a philosophical principle rather than an article of faith, i.e., a paradigm for the way the universe is internally structured as the corporate image of God. I could not agree more. I would only add, in line with Whitehead, that consciousness presupposes subjectivity, but not vice-versa. Subjectivity is also minimally present in the cells (perhaps even atoms and molecules) of the human being and other sentient animal species. Thus the sub-personal actively shares in the life of the personal. Otherwise, there is no possibility of resurrection of the body or of the New Creation (2 Cor. 5:1) prophesized by Paul.