How can we open the space in our over-burdened, over-worked, and over-scheduled hearts to contemplate the welfare of the earth, and even more ambitiously – how we can give back to the earth?
Last week I wrote about the healing power of laying in grass – a beautiful way to receive healing energy from the earth. This week, let’s look at how we can care for this precious earth!
The earth is worth caring for. I don’t know anyone who would argue against that! But… I know many people who are living their life with the pedal to the metal, and they feel they have too many priorities that outrank caring about the well-being of mother earth. Understanding what is happening with the earth in this age is deep and complex, and can feel overwhelming. For many, this feels like too much to take in.
So how can we open the space in our over-burdened, over-worked, and over-scheduled hearts to contemplate the welfare of the earth, and even more ambitiously – how we can give back to the earth?
I am grateful for meaningful dialog with you. After my grass email last week, I received an email from Paul, a member of this list, that was filled with wisdom and inspiration for how we can care for the earth. It was utterly uplifting!
Paul forwarded to me Drew Dellinger’s beautiful synopsis of the work of Thomas Berry, a man filled with much grace. Berry offers a way for contemporary people to fit love for the earth into our busy lives!
I am passing on Dellinger’s email to you below. I hope you will receive the blessing of Berry’s enlightening approach! You can read the article and leave your comments and reflections on the blog page for this issue.
May this INSPIRE you to love mother earth better!
Thomas Berry 101
In honor of the 101st birthday of ecological and cosmological writer,
thinker, and teacher, Thomas Berry (1914-2009), here’s a brief overview
of some of his ideas. There is much to explore in his works, such as
The Dream of the Earth (1988), The Great Work (1999), or The Sacred
Universe (2009), on Twitter at @EssentialBerry, and on the web at
ThomasBerry.org, but here are six insights from Berry to get you
started: Thomas Berry 101, for Tom’s 101st birthday.
1. THE DEVASTATION OF THE PLANET
For decades Thomas Berry was a tireless teacher and prophetic voice
addressing the ecological crisis, the mass extinction of species, and
the future consequences of our unrelenting and often irreversible
destruction of Earth’s biosphere. The Big News on the planet, as Berry
saw it, was that humans were terminating the Cenozoic Period,
unraveling the last 65 million years of Earth’s evolutionary
flourishing. “We are working with what is perhaps the most precious
reality in the universe–the Earth–and we are spoiling it,” he said.
When Berry spoke about the grandeur of the Earth, and the significance
of what was being lost, you felt it in your soul. At Prescott College
in 1992, he brought listeners to tears as he described the industrial
assault on the planet and nearly whispered in his wavering voice,
“Earth is precious. Species are precious… Reverence will be total or
it will not be at all.”
“The twentieth century has created a serious problem for the
twenty-first century,” Thomas said. “The next ten generations are going
to pay endlessly for what previous generations have done to the water
supply, to the soils, to the seeds that grow the food.”
In Berry’s view, to understand the destruction of the planet, and how
to build a viable future, one had to understand the cultural story of
Western society, and the power of worldview and cosmology.
Tom Berry’s favorite word was cosmology, and he was laser-focused on
the significance of worldview, story, cultural narrative, and religious
orientation in understanding the deep roots of the ecological crisis.
As early as 1978 Berry articulated the eco-social crisis of modern
Western culture by saying, “It’s all a question of story. We are in
trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between
stories. The old story, the account of how the world came to be and how
we fit into it, is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new
In Tom’s view, the cosmos story and the Earth story constitute our new
revelation of the divine. “It’s enormously important for us to know the
story of the universe, and it’s the only way in which we’re going to
know who we are.” “To tell the story of anything,” he remarked, “you
have to tell the story of everything.”
For Berry, it was imperative that modern culture reinvent its
cosmology, honor Indigenous wisdom, and ecofeminist wisdom, and
transform the mechanistic, materialistic modern worldview that, with
its anthropocentrism and radical split between humans and nature, is
destroying the garden planet of the known universe.
Twenty-eight years after writing the essay, “The New Story,” when I
interviewed him in 2006, Berry was still grappling with the
significance of cosmology and worldview. “It’s not easy to describe
what cosmology is,” he told me. “It’s neither religion nor is it
science. It’s a mode of knowing.”
“The only thing that will save the twenty-first century is cosmology,”
he said as we had lunch in North Carolina on a December day. “The only
thing that will save anything is cosmology.”
3. EVERY BEING IS A MODE OF THE EARTH / UNIVERSE
To inhabit Thomas Berry’s cosmological vision is to see the whole
unfolding symphony of species as a unified bio-spiritual expression of
the Earth and universe itself, blossoming into self-awareness and
celebration through manifold forms. When the eyeball evolves, the Earth
is seeing itself. When Jimi Hendrix, Mozart, and Nina Simone reach the
heights of artistic genius, the planet is performing. This is a subtle
but powerful perceptual shift from seeing the ‘parts’ to seeing the
organic wholeness. Every phenomenon on the Earth is a manifestation of
the Earth. The cascading panoply of forms in the universe is a single,
seamless display of cosmic creativity. The Earth flies, swims, and
loves when Earthlings do; the galaxies write sonnets in the hearts of
4. HUMANS ARE THE EARTH / UNIVERSE REFLECTING ON AND CELEBRATING ITSELF
This cosmological context can renew our sense of the human and our role
in the whole unfolding. Thomas Berry defines the human as, “that being
in whom the universe reflects on and celebrates itself, and its
numinous origin, in a special mode of conscious self-awareness.”
Our job is celebration, not war, consuming, or drudgery, but to
activate the capacities of the creativity-filled universe in human form.
5. THE UNIVERSE STORY CREATES A CONTEXT FOR EDUCATION
When Thomas Berry spoke at Prescott College in Arizona in 1992, he
challenged universities to overcome the split between the sciences and
the humanities by unifying their curriculum within the overarching
context of the universe story. College “should be a place that
celebrates the universe,” he said, “that celebrates the deep mystery of
things, in a meaningful way.”
Presaging the current interest in “Big History,” Berry stated, “Human
history has to be put into Earth history, has to be put into universe
history, into a cosmology.”
In a 1991 dialogue, published as Befriending the Earth, Berry states,
“What is education? Education is knowing the story of the universe, how
it began, how it came to be as it is, and the human role in the story.
There is nothing else. We need to know the story, the universe story,
in all its resonances, in all its meanings. The universe story is the
divine story, the human story, the story of the trees, the story of the
rivers, of the stars, the planets, everything. It is as simple as a
kindergarten tale, yet as complex as all cosmology and all knowledge
and all history…. It gives a new context for education.”
6. THE UNIVERSE IS A COMMUNION OF SUBJECTS & EVERY BEING HAS RIGHTS
Thomas Berry often taught that, “Ecology is functioning cosmology.”
Living responsibly in a connected, breathing cosmos requires that we
recognize the sacred rights of every being, and embody reverence and
respect as much as possible in our society. In this way, cosmology
becomes the context and foundation for our work towards ecological
healing and social and economic justice. “Every being has rights,”
Berry taught, because fundamentally, “the universe is a communion of
subjects, not a collection of objects.”