S&P's Contributing Editor, Jon M. Sweeney, had an “Off the Page" conversation with editors Kathleen Deignan and Libby Osgood about their book "Teilhard de Chardin: A Book of Hours" on June 7, 2023. Watch the replay video below.
This is a book of prayer and a work of fire and light. Teilhard de Chardin, French scientist and theologian, Jesuit, priest, and passionate Darwinian, was way ahead of his time. These are his words set sometimes as poetry, sometimes as “hymns,” and often simply in the prose in which they were always written, for the purpose of praying with them.
The prayers are designed for use at dawn, day, dusk, and dark (four repeating segments) for each day from a Sunday through a Saturday. Use the book for a week, and then do it again, and again.
Each day carries a theme from Teilhard’s writings. And the words in each of those four segments of each day are chosen directly from those same writings, without additions, except that the compilers of this luminous book received permission to use gender-neutral language in their often fresh translations from the French originals.
The themes from Sunday through Saturday are: Unfolding Cosmos, Evolving Christ, Living Earth, Becoming Human, Building the World, Creative Suffering, and Transforming Spirit. An eighth day of readings for dawn, day, dusk, and dark follows Sunday and is called “Tomorrow,” with the theme: “Toward Omega.”
Teilhard (the shorthand name for him) often faced censoring by the Roman Catholic Church, in which he served as a priest. He died in 1955 at the age of 73, in New York City, and never witnessed the period of time in the English-speaking world when he became a best-selling spirituality author. This happened throughout the 1960s and '70s. In one of his best-known works, The Divine Milieu, Teilhard wrote: “Throughout my life, by means of my life, the world has little by little caught fire in my sight until, aflame all around me, it has become almost luminous from within.” That quotation appears immediately before the table of contents in this volume.
The editors of this book are Kathleen Deignan, a theologian and one of the world’s experts in Teilhard, who we honored in 2007 for Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours with one of our “Best Spiritual Books” awards; and Libby Osgood, a fellow religious sister of the Congregation of Notre Dame who also teaches sustainable design engineering at the University of Prince Edward Island.
There are many readers, still, who know Teilhard’s ideas from reading his books decades ago. This book gives them, but also surely many others for the first time, a fresh way to put those luminous words to work in a daily practice “for those who love the world,” as editor Kathleen Deignan puts it so beautifully in her introduction. These are points of connection with this Earth and universe, pointing toward what Teilhard referred to ever devoutly (and controversially, in his day) as “evolution’s God.”
A short sample of the first four elements of prayer for dawn on Tuesday, with the theme of “Living Earth,” accompanies this review. Remember, as you read those words, that they all come directly from the writings of Teilhard.
Deignan ends her introduction by wishing that their book will be used by many, with healing effects: “May it be a grace for you and for our living Earth through which such healing praise shall quietly resound.”