Energy and the Spirit
01 January 1988
In the green and wooded countryside which skirts Lake Geneva and has been civilized since Roman times, I found a unique juxtaposition. The convent of Fille Dieu sits quietly at the foot of the medieval town of Romont, neighboured by horses and sheep in lush fields. Within its walls, there has been constant prayer since 1253. There I met the Abbess, a French philosopher and nuclear physicist, who for the past 37 years has devoted herself to the life of the spirit.
In the green and wooded countryside which skirts Lake Geneva and has been civilized since Roman times, I found a unique juxtaposition. The convent of Fille Dieu sits quietly at the foot of the medieval town of Romont, neighboured by horses and sheep in lush fields. Within its walls, there has been constant prayer since 1253. There I met the Abbess, a French philosopher and nuclear physicist, who for the past 37 years has devoted herself to the life of the spirit. Her eyes sparkled in a comfortable face, and conversation flowed in the company of an earthenware pot of tea and homemade cakes.
She had found the transition from laboratory to convent a natural one. 'My world was science -a rather exclusive world, because in the way of scientists we were bitten by the research bug. Those years of research were a treasure. I loved my life, and I still feel that I belong to the scientific world. But one day it became clear to me that there is an energy of another sort than nuclear energy, and incomparably more powerful. This energy attracted me, and I had no fear of giving my life to it.
'Then there was a moment when my inner voice said to me, "For you, spiritual research should take priority over scientific research." It wasn't "You must", but "You may". I find now that my life is much more fulfilling. For me, to walk in this direction opens much larger perspectives, and offers space, meaning and depth. And I do think that my life is more useful, because I believe in the effectiveness of prayer.'
I asked where she thought the energy of prayer originated, in us or in God. 'It works in both directions,' she answered. 'God and me, God and us, God and creation. Prayer is the opening which allows us to receive from God the inner energy we need. Since I am a conscious being, I can say, "Give me this energy," then "Thank you for the energy I have received," then "If it is your will, give this energy to every person on earth, and thank you for having given it."
'You can't construct the contact of prayer in advance. If we want to exchange thoughts, I have to listen. I didn't know you when you came in. We started talking, you started asking questions. Communication between two beings is unpredictable. God is infinite liberty, and two liberties facing each other cannot be programmed. All you can say for certain is that in this exchange there will be love, because God only acts in love. He cannot do otherwise, he is love.
'The flower doesn't say to the sun, "Shine on me," -the sun can't do anything else, its energy is permanently on offer. Spiritual energy is invisible but very real, and helps one to enter spiritual space, where a person not only feels secure but can say, "The joy I long for is there, it is growing, and it will come."'
The Abbess understands the fear of nuclear energy. 'Mankind as a whole was made aware of nuclear power through Hiroshima and Nagasaki, appalling catastrophes whose images still live in people's spirits. I think that now it also crystallizes a basic anguish which is particularly strong in contemporary man, because he no longer sees a meaning in life. The deep fear of our age is death, so deep we don't talk about it. Even people of faith experience this anguish, because death represents the totally unknown. It will doubtless be a joy-filled unknown, but the "how" leaves us full of fear.
'There are still many problems with nuclear energy, but I believe that we will master it, as electricity was mastered. However this energy is so much more powerful that it ought not to be manipulated for power politics. We ought to leave aside the factors which divide us and invest all our energies in finding a defence against the plague of destruction. It is the planet which is at stake, so we must search together. But the scientific world is entirely taken up with its own research, with the result that spiritual research is somewhat left behind. And what is needed is for spiritual realities to be more prominent.
'Science is important, because it deals with a fundamental area of the life of man. But in our age, when science has very wide applications, we realize that technology has not changed hearts - it is still as difficult to love other people and to take responsibility. So the young in particular are disillusioned that, in our concentration on science, the great questions of mankind have not moved any nearer to resolution. But scientific discipline has helped me enormously in showing me that energy is also the heart of spiritual research.'