Stroking the tiger’s whiskers…

Remember, I write as though no one is reading… so don’t expect too much from any of this; it’s really just me rambling on…

Twentieth Century Jesuit Priest, celebrated paleontologist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin once accused the Vatican of “stroking the whiskers of the tiger”, careful not to stir anything that would upset the institution and control of the faithful. His writings and forward thinking prevented most of his works from being published until after his death in 1956.

It’s hard to imagine Jesus saying “Here, kitty, kitty…” and it is even more impossible to think of him stroking the whiskers of power or ego of any unjust system, especially one that diminished the promises of God and God’s love for all. Yet, so many institutions of faith founded on Jesus’ teachings have been careful to go too far beyond the whiskers for fear of an over-reaction to their carefully laid plans for expansion, growth and power. Teilhard de Chardin challenged all this and much more. It’s easy to see why a feckless Holy See banished him to China.

Still, Teilhard never lost his faith or his optimism, in spite of it all, even while serving in WWI as a stretcher bearer, face-to-face with the underside “of the beast”, its claws, fangs and all of war that I have never known. (Thank you to all who have served.) Essentially, he never stopped believing that the power of God in humanity would eventually win out over the power of self-serving self-important bloated hubris and ego (that about covers it). I have always appreciated de Chardin’s writings, and especially his prayers. One of my favorites, “Patient Trust” begins like this:

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown, something new.

“…Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give [God] the benefit of believing
that [God’s] hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”

Prayer of Teilhard de Chardin

None of this ever meant that he stopped calling on the Church of Jesus Christ to be the Church of Jesus Christ. It never meant that he put off the needs of the moment for a more convenient time, perhaps one when enough votes for a resolution would be collected to succeed. It never meant that he stepped back and acquiesced to power and dominion, especially when it meant stroking that which needed to be totally disgorged.  His expansive view gathered up his own times, anxious for an acceleration to a future when the embodiment of the Christ in us reached the Cosmic Christ of Word and Logos. It appears that his institution (and maybe some of ours) had forgotten how to nurture that Christ. For the small glimpse of what that might be like and the diluted effort to reach its glory – I am saddened. Still…

I have come to believe that the fullness of who we are created to be is the ultimate goal of any faithful and worthwhile life. A life that is always disturbed by a longing that can only be completed in the final reunion, No wonder we often recognize what Teilhard said about the ongoing nature of the impatience, suspense and incompleteness we feel. That deeply-embedded impatience and longing that resists any call to accept injustice as individuals or in our  institutions. Injustice that marginalizes others. It is an impatience that resists the inability to find a voice in speaking out  in the face of diminishing moral behavior, tolerating silence instead of confrontation as the rail cars rumble on their way to Auschwitz. 

“Who do you say I am,” Jesus asks. Not who did the disciples, historians or contrarian leaders at National Prayer Breakfasts say I am. Who do you, in your time in your day say that I am? Perhaps that is the simple most profound question to be asked next or in any time or assembly in which we gather.

And, until our religious institutions reach beyond those whiskers, it’s hard to see how we will ever get beyond,  “Here, kitty kitty…but not too close.”

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Ray Bagnuolo, Minister of Word and Sacrament
That All May Freely Serve, Chaplain
Validated Ministry of the Presbytery of Genesee Valley
02.07.2020;; 631-827-8611

Currently serving as pastor of
Sayville Congregational United Church of Christ
Sayville, New York