The Naturalist's CornerWritten by Don Hendershot
Goodbye to a native son
A light has dimmed in the universe. It was a light that shone with gracious comforting warmth yet it was sparked by a lucidity so radiant, so white hot, that it cut laser-like through the intellectual and pseudo-intellectual babblings of science and religion straight to the heart of the universe like a hot knife through butter.
Thomas Berry, born William Nathan Berry in Greensboro on Nov. 9, 1914 left this corporeal universe on June 1. One of 13 siblings, he was surrounded by family, in Greensboro at the time of his death.
Berry took the name Thomas, after Thomas Aquinas, when he entered the Passionist Order of the Catholic Church at the age of 20. Though ordained a priest, Berry chose the life of scholar, teacher, learner, and sharer.
Some books by Berry include The Great Work, The Universe Story, Dream of the Earth and Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community. Two new titles, The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the 21st Century and Christian Future and the Fate of Earth will be released this year.
A glimpse at the light that spilled forth from the mind and soul of Thomas Berry:
From a 2002 interview with Caroline Webb:
“We can’t survive without using what’s around us but we have to do it in such a way that we recognize this mystique of the community of the Earth. It is time to step back and find the human place in the natural world and not think that we can make the human world primary and the natural world secondary. We have got to say to ourselves, ‘Let’s begin to try to understand the natural world and find a way of prospering the natural world first.’ Then find our survival within that context. Because if we think we can put ourselves first and then fit the natural world into our program, it’s not going to work. We have got to fit the human project into the Earth project. That is what I am suggesting with Law. You have got to fit human law into the structure and functioning of planet Earth.”
[And that mystique makes] “All the difference in the world. In other words it’s the mystique of the mountains and the birds, the sea — it’s what makes us sing. It’s what makes our literature. Even though we have worked out a mechanics that is fairly helpful, it doesn’t give us an interior world. The natural world gives us an interior world. It gives us a healing presence, a fulfilling presence. By the term `presence’ I mean that indwelling quality that manifests itself throughout the natural world. We find this awesome presence in the sun and moon and stars in the heavens, in the mountains and seas of Earth, in the dawn and sunset, in the forests and meadows and wildlife. We are immersed in an ever-renewing wonder-world that evokes our music and dance, our poetry and literature as well as our philosophical reflection and our scientific inquiry. None of our industrial productions brings such inspiration as we obtain from these sources.
“So, even if we use solar energy, without some mystique of the Sun and the Earth, it won’t work. We should do away with the light pollution in cities so that children and all of us can see the stars. Our children don’t have the experience of seeing the stars, and they are crippled, emotionally and in other ways. And that’s the danger of putting children into this context of computers and machines, because what we make, makes us. Children don’t have contact with anything natural, they don’t wander through the meadows and see butterflies, fireflies, lizards and frogs and so they do not have contact with reality — they are living in an artificial world. The greater difficulty is not the physical damage to our lungs from industrial pollution; it is what is happening to our souls, our minds and our emotions.”
“Indigenous people still live in a universe, but we don’t; we live in an economic system. We’ve got all kinds of scientists but we don’t have a universe. There is an Earth out there, but for us it’s just a collection of resources to be exploited. It’s got no dignity. But really it is a communication of wonder.
“Let me recite a poem I wrote about children. It expresses what I mean about ‘cosmology’:
The child awakens to the universe
The mind of the child to a world of wonder
Imagination to a world of beauty
Emotions to a world of intimacy
It takes a universe to make a child
Both in outer form and inner spirit
It takes a universe to educate a child
It takes a universe to fulfill a child
And the first obligation of any generation to its children
Is to bring these two together
So that the child is fulfilled in the universe
And the universe is fulfilled in the child
While the stars ring out in the Heavens
The light Berry shined is not unique. We all have that light. What is unique is that Berry could see that light and understand that it is just a small part of the light of the universe.