Blog: The Milieu Divin

Luke Oram

During the 1920’s, while Salvador Dali was casting his surrealist vision across Europe, a young Jesuit scientist-priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was beginning to write a manuscript called Le Milieu Divin. The Milieu Divin is a French term that, loosely translated, describes the concept of God being “in the middle” of all things. In the writings, Teilhard offered the idea of a faith that recognised every facet of the world as sacred, something he called the “divinisation of our activities and passivities.”

More than half a century later, we may not see Teilhard’s views as overly revolutionary, but in a lot of ways, the Jesuit was ahead of his time. The church of the early 20th century was one that was still processing a divorce from the world of science, one that had resulted in distinctions between the ‘secular’ world and what they recognised as the things of God.

Teilhard was pushing against this idea. He maintained that by virtue of being the universal creator, God could be found in every aspect of the world around us. “By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us and moulds us.” He wrote, “We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact we live steeped in its burning layers.”

These days, we still find ourselves struggling with Teilhard’s challenge. There are still elements of ‘us and them’ in our Christian language, still that quiet separation between what we deem to be sacred and secular. We are familiar with the Christ’s directive to be in the world but not of it, but we struggle to fully grasp the tension of what He was trying to say.

If we’re ever going to stand a chance of being effective forces within culture, we have to start at the Milieu Divin. If we don’t understand the idea of God ‘in the middle’, we’ll find ourselves relegated to the sidelines.

In his 1968 treatise ‘God in the New World’, Lloyd Geering described the church’s dilemma like this: “The church often sees itself as an army engaged in an orderly retreat to defensive positions from which, when the time is ripe, it will sally forth to win back to true faith those areas of human life, which for the moment are in the hands of the secularist forces.”

While some of Geering’s beliefs still stir controversy in New Zealand, this statement paints a powerful picture of what it can look like when we don’t grasp the divinised world.

Over two decades in the music industry, we’ve seen Christians wrestle with and against the milieu divin. For many years the answer for Christians in the music industry has been to revert to drawing lines, creating an entire parallel industry for Christian musicians. Years have been spent carving out a subculture; replicating sacred versions of the music scene, resulting in record bins of sanctified rock and roll and Christian hip-hop.

Perhaps this speaks of our fear more than anything else.

The entertainment industry is a minefield, where sex is used to sell soda, morality is pliable and integrity is sold to the highest bidder. But the Psalmist still rings true when he says “The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”

Teilhard says it like this: "There is no need for the Christian fear that in plunging into deep waters he will lose his foothold in the Revelation and the Life...the Creator, and more precisely, the Redeemer, are immerged and spread abroad in things to the point where, in the words of Saint Angele de Foligno 'the world is full of God'”

The world is full of God. We like that. It’s an assurance that, if we fully grasp it, will change everything.

Christian pacifist and labour activist Toyohito Kagawa spent his life working with the sick and unemployed in the slums of Japan. He put it this way: “Every task is the combustion of the flame of God. He greets us in the kitchen. He gazes intently upon us at the well-curb. In the bustle and hustle of the factory or when we are hanging on the strap in the crowded car we breathe God.”

As an organisation, we’re not interested in protecting Christian musicians from the big, bad world. We don’t feel called to make a quiet retreat from pop culture, bunkered down in subculture. Instead, we feel the weight of the milieu divin, the idea of God being right in the middle of the music industry, waiting to be discovered and revealed in every corner of it. We want our artists to be ambassadors of the Milieu Divin – in the middle of pop culture, showing the world that He is there to be found.

Read more from the Parachute Magazine Summer 2015 edition.