Thomas Berry

Thomas-Berry

Thomas Berry (1914 – 2009) was born in Greensboro, North Carolina where he spent his early childhood and where he returned when he was 80. It was there that he died peacefully on June 1, 2009. Named William Nathan after his father he was the third child of thirteen of which four siblings remain. He entered the Passionist Order in high school and upon ordination he took the name Thomas after Thomas Aquinas whose Summa Theologica he admired.

Berry was third of 13 children. By age eight, he had concluded that commercial values were threatening life on the planet. Three years later he had a mystical epiphany in a meadow, which became a primary reference point for the rest of his life. He later elaborated this experience into a set of Twelve Principles for Understanding the Universe and the Role of the Human in the Universe Process. The first of these principles states:

“The universe, the solar system, and planet earth in themselves and in their evolutionary emergence constitute for the human community the primary revelation of that ultimate mystery whence all things emerge into being.”

He received his Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America in European intellectual history with a thesis on Giambattista Vico. Widely read in Western history and theology, he also spent many years studying and teaching the cultures and religions of Asia. He lived in China in 1948 where he met the Asian scholar and Confucian specialist, Ted de Bary. Their collaboration led to the founding of the Asian Thought and Religion Seminar at Columbia. Thomas authored two books on Asian religions, Buddhism and Religions of India, both of which are distributed by Columbia University Press.

For more than twenty years, Thomas directed the Riverdale Center of Religious Research along the Hudson River. During this period he taught at Fordham University where he chaired the history of religions program. He directed some twenty doctoral theses, including those of John Grim and Brian Brown, as well as many Master’s theses, including those of Mary Evelyn Tucker and Kathleen Deignan. From 1975-1987 he was President of the American Teilhard Association, and it was from Teilhard de Chardin that he was inspired to develop his idea of a universe story. With Brian Swimme he wrote The Universe Story (Harper San Francisco, 1992), which arose from a decade of collaborative research. Among advocates of deep ecology and “ecospirituality” he is famous for proposing that a deep understanding of the history and functioning of the evolving universe is a necessary inspiration and guide for our own effective functioning as individuals and as a species.

His major contributions to the discussions on the environment are in his books The Dream of the Earth (Sierra Club Books, 1988), The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future (Random House/Bell Towers, 1999), and Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community (Sierra Club/University of California Press, 2006). His final two books focusing on world religions and on Christianity were published in September 2009: The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-first Century by Columbia University Press and The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth by Orbis Books.

Author Michael Colebrook describes two key elements in Thomas Berry’s thinking: “Firstly, the primary status of the universe. The universe is, ‘the only self-referential reality in the phenomenal world. It is the only text without context. Everything else has to be seen in the context of the universe’. The second element is the significance of story, and in particular the universe as story. ‘The universe story is the quintessence of reality. We perceive the story. We put it in our language, the birds put it in theirs, and the trees put it in theirs. We can read the story of the universe in the trees. Everything tells the story of the universe. The winds tell the story, literally, not just imaginatively. The story has its imprint everywhere, and that is why it is so important to know the story. If you do not know the story, in a sense you do not know yourself; you do not know anything.’”

Sources:
http://www.thomasberry.org/Biography/short_bio.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Berry

Excerpts from his writings:

“The universe, the solar system, and planet earth in themselves and in their evolutionary emergence constitute for the human community the primary revelation of that ultimate mystery whence all things emerge into being.”

“What do you see? What do you see when you look up at the sky at night, at the blazing stars against the midnight heavens? What do you see when the dawn breaks over the eastern horizon? What are your thoughts in the fading days of summer as the birds depart on their southward journey, or in the autumn when the leaves turn brown and are blown away? What are your thoughts as you look out over the ocean in the evening? What do you see?

Many earlier peoples saw in these natural phenomena a world beyond ephemeral appearance, an abiding world, a world imaged forth in the wonders of the sun and clouds by day and the stars and planets by night, a world that enfolded the human in some profound manner. The other world was guardian, teacher, healer―the source from which humans were born, nourished, protected, guided, and the destiny to which we returned.

Above all, this world provided the psychic power we humans needed in our moments of crisis. Together with the visible world and the cosmic world, the human world formed a meaningful threefold community of existence. This was most clearly expressed in Confucian thought, where the human was seen as part of a triad with Heaven and Earth. This cosmic world consisted of powers that were dealt with as persons in relationship with the human world…

We need to awaken… to the wilderness itself as a source of new vitality for its own existence. For it is the wild that is creative. As we are told by Henry David Thoreau, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” The communion that comes through these experiences of the wild, where we sense something present and daunting, stunning in its beauty, is beyond comprehension in its reality, but it points to the holy, the sacred.

The universe is the supreme manifestation of the sacred. This notion is fundamental to establishing a cosmos, an intelligible manner of understanding the universe or even any part of the universe. That is why the story of the origin of things was experienced as a supremely nourishing principle, as a primordial maternal principle, or as the Great Mother, in the earliest phases of human consciousness…

We must remember that it is not only the human world that is held securely in this sacred enfoldment but the entire planet. We need this security, this presence throughout our lives. The sacred is that which evokes the depths of wonder. We may know some things, but really we know only the shadows of things.

We go to the sea at night and stand along the shore. We listen to the urgent roll of the waves reaching ever higher until they reach their limits and can go no farther, then return to an inward peace until the moon calls again for their presence on these shores. So it is with a fulfilling vision that we may attain―for a brief moment. Then it is gone, only to return again in the deepening awareness of a presence that holds all things together.”

“For peoples, generally, their story of the Universe and the human role within the universe is their primary source of intelligibility and value. Only through this story of how the Universe came to be in the beginning and how it came to be as it is does a person come to appreciate the meaning of life or to derive the psychic energy needed to deal effectively with those crisis moments that occur in the life of the individual and in the life of the society. Such a story communicates the most sacred of mysteries …. and not only interprets the past, it also guides and inspires our shaping of the future.”

“The Universe story is the quintessence of reality. We perceive the story. We put it in our language, the birds put it in theirs, and the trees put it in theirs. We can read the story of the Universe in the trees. Everything tells the story of the Universe. The winds tell the story, literally, not just imaginatively. The story has its imprint everywhere, and that is why it is so important to know the story. If you do not know the story, in a sense you do not know yourself; you do not know anything.”

“The world we live in is an honorable world. To refuse this deepest instinct of our being, to deny honor where honor is due, to withdraw reverence from divine manifestation, is to place ourselves on a head-on collision course with the ultimate forces of the Universe. This question of honor must be dealt with before any other question. We miss both the intrinsic nature and the order of magnitude of the issue if we place our response to the present crises of our planet on any other basis. It is not ultimately a political or economic or scientific or psychological issue. It is ultimately a question of honor. Only the sense of the violated honor of the Earth, and the need to restore this honor, will awaken in the human the energies needed to renew the planet in any effective manner.”

“Both education and religion need to ground themselves within the story of the Universe as we now understand this story through empirical knowledge. Within this functional cosmology, we can overcome our alienation and begin the renewal of life on a sustainable basis. This story is a numinous revelatory story that could evoke the vision and the energy required to bring not only ourselves but the entire planet into a new order of magnificence.”

“It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we are in between stories. The Old Story—the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it—sustained us for a long time. It shaped our emotional attitudes, provided us with life purpose, energized action, consecrated suffering, integrated knowledge, guided education. We awoke in the morning and knew where we were. We could answer the questions of our children. We could identify crime, punish transgressors. Everything was taken care of because the story was there. But now it is no longer functioning properly, and we have not yet learned the New Story.”

“Our present urgency is to recover a sense of the primacy of the Universe as our fundamental context, and the primacy of the Earth as the matrix from which life has emerged and on which life depends. Recovering this sense is essential to establishing the framework for mutually enhancing human–Earth relations for the flourishing of life on the planet.”

“We have a new story of the Universe. Our own presence to the Universe depends on our human identity with the entire cosmic process. In its human expression the Universe and the entire range of earthly and heavenly phenomena celebrate themselves and the ultimate mystery of their existence in a special exaltation. . . . Science has given us a new revelatory experience. It is now giving us a new intimacy with the Earth.”

“If the Rhine, the Yellow, the Mississippi rivers are changed to poison, so too are the rivers in the trees, in the birds, and in the humans changed to poison, almost simultaneously. There is only one river on the planet Earth and it has multiple tributaries, many of which flow through the veins of sentient creatures.”

“All human activities, professions, programs, and institutions must henceforth be judged primarily by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore, or foster a mutually enhancing human/Earth relationship.”

“The basic mood of the future might well be one of confidence in the continuing revelation that takes place in and through the Earth. If the dynamics of the Universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the Sun, and formed the Earth, if this same dynamism brought forth the continents and seas and atmosphere, if it awakened life in the primordial cell and then brought into being the unnumbered variety of living beings, and finally brought us into being and guided us safely through the turbulent centuries, there is reason to believe that this same guiding process is precisely what has awakened in us our present understanding of ourselves and our relation to this stupendous process. Sensitized to such guidance from the very structure and functioning of the Universe, we can have confidence in the future that awaits the human venture.”

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About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have several other sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: http://www.pbase.com/1heart Essays on the Conscious Process: http://theconsciousprocess.wordpress.com/ Poetry and Prosetry: http://feelingtoinfinity.wordpress.com/ Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: https://westernmystics.wordpress.com/ https://freetransliterations.wordpress.com/ Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: https://spiritguidesparrow.wordpress.com/ Thank You!
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