A new book The Selected Writings on Earth Community is noteworthy at this time of our province life, as our many congregational documents call us to focus on eco spirituality and the care of creation. The book commemorates the hundredth anniversary of the author, Thomas Berry. He would have been 100 years old last November if he were still alive (He died in 2009).
Thomas Berry was a Passionist priest who taught at Fordham University. He wrote six books all expressing his prophetic sense of the sacredness of creation and witnessing to St Thomas Aquinas’s words in the Summa that Divine Revelation comes to us through two scriptures: the scripture of the natural world and the scripture recorded in the Bible. Saint Thomas would go on to say that all of reality participates in God’s being.
The selected readings comprise excerpts from Berry’s books and lectures. It is a rich compendium of his thinking. His vision is knocking on the door of our industrial culture, and our rampant consumerism. He pulls the earth community and all of cosmology out of a merely intellectual scientific study into the very mystery of God.
Berry describes creation as sacred and sees the universe as the supreme manifestation of the sacred. There is a seeming mysticism in his approach to creation — “What is needed is a new spiritual, even mystical communion with Earth …We have used everything … As an industrialized culture we are used to seeing the world as a source of natural resources that fulfills our material needs without end and we have lost sight….”
As early as the 1970’s Berry was already spotlighting environmental devastation in his lectures and in his writings. While conserving resources was a concern, his intention went deeper. “There is now a single issue before us: survival. Not merely physical survival, but survival in a world of fulfillment, survival in a living world, where the violets bloom in the springtime, where the stars shine down in all their mystery, survival in a world of meaning.”
Continued destruction of the environment diminishes a God given means to realize spiritual potential. And more than that, the spiritual vision that Berry proposes integrates the cross and cosmology, social justice and eco-justice. The suffering of Christ and the suffering of planet Earth are one.
Berry’s biography is at the beginning of the book and includes the evolution of his thinking. The biography also describes the key influences of Thomas Aquinas (Berry took his name at ordination) and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Each chapter in the book begins with an introduction into a particular aspect of his writings and is followed by a number of selections that develop them. The selections are short and interesting.
Thomas Berry’s legacy continues through a foundation he established before he died. Hundreds gather for a yearly conference that takes place at the Yale Divinity School. Living Cosmology: Christian Responses to Journey of the Universe was this year’s title.
The details of this conference can be found in the December 5th Issue of National Catholic Reporter. One concern the conference addressed is ongoing education. Videos from the conference will be made available online. Orbis Books will be publishing the panelists’ papers. There is also a website with a curriculum that can be downloaded free of charge at www.journeyoftheuniverse.org.