The late Thomas Berry (1914 - 2009) was a pioneer in the advocacy of a "universe story" and the espousal of an Earth-based spirituality. He spent his life studying and teaching ecological living — what he called "the Great Work" of our time — to all who would listen in church pews, library niches, college classrooms, retreat centers, and lecture halls around the world.
Born on this day in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1914, Berry was the third of 13 children. When he was 12, he had an epiphany about unity that you can read about in the Spiritual Practice section below. In The Great Work he describes his life orientation in terms of the simplicity of this vision: "Whatever preserves and enhances this meadow in the natural cycles of its transformation is good; what is opposed to this meadow or negates it is not good. My life orientation is that simple."
Berry's morally stirring vision embraces empathy for the Earth and all living things, setting aside the pragmatic and entrenched view of the Earth as being there only for the personal use of humans. He urged religious communities around the globe to cooperate in modeling an intimacy with the trees, the plants, the clouds, and the snow. He suggested that spiritual people develop new rituals along the lines of Native American initiation ceremonies where infants are presented to the Earth in which they will live their lives.
Berry was the founding director of the Riverdale Center for Religious Research and co-founder of the American Teilhard Association and Green Mountain Monastery in Greensboro, Vermont, where he is buried in the Berry Sanctuary. He believed that, in this moment of Earth crisis, we are poised to adopt a new vision of the world as a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects, a view which could restore us to ecological sanity.
To Name This Day . . .
Reflect upon these quotes from Berry's profound books:
"The time has come to lower our voices, to cease imposing our mechanistic patterns, on the biological processes of the earth, to resist the impulse to control, to command, to force, to oppress, and to begin quite humbly to follow the guidance of the larger community on which our life depends. Our fulfillment is not in our isolated human grandeur, but in our intimacy with the larger earth community, for this is also the larger dimension of our being. Our human destiny is integral with the destiny of the earth."
— in The Dream of the Earth
"The ecological age fosters the deep awareness of the sacred presence within each reality of the universe. There is an awe and a reverence due to the stars in the heavens, the sun, and all heavenly bodies; to the seas and continents; to all living forms of trees and flowers; to the myriad expressions of life in the sea; to the animals of the forests and the birds of the air. To wantonly destroy a living species is to silence forever a divine voice."
— in Thomas Berry: Selected Writings on the Earth Community by John Grim, Mary Evelyn Tucker, and Thomas Berry
"Since the discovery of the universe as an evolutionary process, there is a special need to establish this new sense of the universe as a revelatory experience. Such experience activates a new mode of manifestation of the ultimate mysteries of the universe. Future generations will need to be religious within this context. Traditional scriptures will not be effective in awakening future generations to a sense of the sacred, as they have done in past generations. A radical new adaptation is taking place, a new awakening to the divine not only through the awesome qualities of the universe as experienced immediately but also through the immense story of the universe and its long series of transformations."
— in Evening Thoughts
In The Great Work, Berry writes about the childhood epiphany that became his way of measuring what mattered:
"It was an early afternoon in May when I first looked down over the scene and saw the meadow. The field was covered with lilies rising above the thick grass. A magic moment, this experience gave to my life something, I know not what, that seems to explain my life at a more profound level than almost any other experience I can remember.
"It was not only the lilies. It was the singing of the crickets and the woodlands in the distance and the clouds in an otherwise clear sky. It was not something conscious that happened just then. I went on about my life as any young person might do. Perhaps it was not simply this moment that made such a deep impression upon me. Perhaps it was a sensitivity that was developed throughout my childhood. Yet, as the years pass, this moment returns to me, and whenever I think about my basic life attitude and the whole trend of my mind and the causes that I have given my efforts to, I seem to come back to this moment and the impact it has had on my feeling for what is real and worthwhile in life."
Think back to a moment of clarity in your own life, a time when you realized what was truly important for you. Rededicate yourself to carrying forward that vision.