Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Monday, June 1, 2009
By Rich Heffern
Passionist priest and acclaimed cultural historian Thomas Berry died in Well-Spring Retirement Community, Greensboro N.C, at 6:25 a.m., today, June 1. He was 94. Berry was one the 20th-century's most probing thinkers on the human relationship with the natural world and its implications for religion.
Fr. Berry's remains will be sent to the Passionist province of St. Paul of the Cross for a Eucharistic liturgy and afterward to Green Mountain Monastery in Greensboro, Vt. for final interment.
Rather than a theologian, Berry considered himself a cosmologist and "geologian," an Earth scholar.
He believed the only way to effectively function as individuals and as a species is to understand the history and functioning of our planet and of the wide universe itself, like sailors learning about their ship and the vast ocean on which it sails. "It takes a universe to make a child," he said, adding that he was "trying to establish a functional cosmology, not a theology." The amazing, mind-boggling cosmological perspective, he felt, can resuscitate human meaning and direction. The most important spiritual qualities, for Berry, were amazement and enchantment. Awe is healing. A sense of wonder is the therapy for our disconnection from the natural world.
Awakening people to something inside them ,Tom Fox talks with Thomas Berry, a podcast interview from 2006.
Thomas Berry 101: Some key ideas from the work of Fr. Thomas Berry
William Nathan Berry (named after his father) spent his childhood roaming the woods and meadows around his home in Greensboro, N.C. At the age of 11, he says, his sense of "the natural world in its numinous presence" came to him when he discovered a new meadow on the outskirts of the town to which his family had just moved. "The field was covered with white lilies rising above the thick grass," he said. "A magic moment, this experience gave to my life something that seems to explain my thinking at a more profound level than almost any other experience I can remember."
It was not only the lilies, he said. "It was the singing of the crickets and the woodlands in the distance and the clouds in the clear sky. … This early experience has remained with me ever since as the basic determinant of my sense of reality and values. Whatever fosters this meadow is good. What does harm to this meadow is not good." By extension, he said, "a good economic, or political, or educational system is one that would preserve that meadow and a good religion would reveal the deeper experience of that meadow and how it came into being."
Berry reflected, "It was a wonder world that I have carried in my unconscious and that has evolved all my thinking."
He entered the novitiate of the Passionist order in 1934, taking the name Thomas after the great scholar Thomas Aquinas. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1942.
Berry earned his doctoral degree in history from The Catholic University of America. His early interests expanded to include Asian history and religion as well as the culture and religious life of indigenous people. He studied Chinese language and culture in China in the late 1940s. He served as an army chaplain in Europe in the early 1950s. Berry then taught the cultural history of India and China at Seton Hall University in New Jersey and at Fordham in New York. He was director of Fordham's graduate program in the history of religions from 1966 to 1979. In 1970 he founded the Riverdale Center of Religious Research in Riverdale, N.Y., and was its director until 1987.
It was during this period that he began to lecture widely on the intersection of cultural, spiritual and ecological issues. His first book, Dream of the Earth, was published in 1988 by Sierra Club Books. This was followed by a joint effort with physicist Brian Swimme, The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era, A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos, published by HarperSanFrancisco in 1992. One of his key works, The Great Work, was published in 1999 by Crown Publishing.
He influenced many other writers, theologians and environmental activists, both within the Catholic church and beyond.
Mary Evelyn Tucker, co-director of the Thomas Berry Foundation and co-director of the Yale University Forum on Religion and Ecology, told NCR: "Thomas Berry will be remembered as one of the great figures of our time. He captured so powerfully the urgency of our current environmental and social crisis. His legacy of writing and speaking is immense and his poetic voice for the Earth community will endure for all future generations."
John Grim, who is Tucker's husband and co-director of both the Berry foundation and the Yale Forum, said:
"A line from the Kentucky poet, James Still, is also a tribute to Thomas: 'I was born humble, at the foot of mountains, my face was set upon the immensities of Earth, and stone, and upon the oaks full-bodied and old. There is so much writ upon the parchment of leaves, so much of beauty blown upon the winds. I can but fold my hands, and bend my knees in the leaf pages.'"
Fr. Diarmuid O'Murchu, author of Quantum Theology and Reclaiming Spirituality and popular lecturer, told NCR: "For me, Thomas Berry was the single greatest disciple of Teilhard de Chardin, who initially awoke in me a profound sense of the sacredness of God's creation.
"In Thomas's own writings one almost feels the sense of an evolving spirituality, capturing the beauty on the one hand but also the birth pangs which beget the evolutionary process at every stage. Perhaps in his death, the wider Christian churches, and the Catholic church in particular, will wake up to this great prophetic figure of our time. His legacy will certainly endure, but as with Teilhard before him, more in the spiritual ferment of the 21st century rather than among either the scientists or theologians which his vision challenges so strongly."
Holy Cross Br. Dave Andrews, former director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference who currently works with the Washington-based NGO Food and Water Watch, said:
"I came to ecological thinking via concerns of production agriculture and through Berry's work came to see a new view of history, culture and religion that included agriculture in a whole new context. It was a breathtaking vision that encompassed so much richer a framework than I had previously."
[Rich Heffern is an NCR staff writer. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
I was glancing through a magazine called The Fountain http://www.fountainmagazine.com/ last night and ran across an article about Turkish calligraphy. The article explored the work of a contemporary calligrapher named Osman Sahin who creates his calligraphic art in Arabic script.
I have always found Arabic calligraphy (and all forms of calligraphy for that matter) extraordinarily beautiful.
Something I hadn't thought about was the mending nature of the act of making calligraphy. The article indicates that for centuries, Turks have known that calligraphy (called Hat and pronounced "hut")actually serves to salve our hurt and our brokenness. Above is a simple, soothing calligraphic drawing I made the other day in my visual journal.
The article I was reading was written Nisa Nur Terzi. Here's what Nisa has to say:
During the Ottoman era, some of the sick were treated by using fine arts like Hat together with soothing Sufi music and the art of Ebru (water marbling) drawing.The beauty present in Islamic-Turkish calligraphy is said to be a direct reflection of the inner soul of the calligrapher. As Osman Sahin himself says, “Whenever I am stressed, I pick up my pen and draw. This is because the art of Hat has a therapeutic aspect to it.
The origins of Hat date back to the early Islamic era when manuscripts of the Qur’an were being recorded and handwritten. However, at that time there was little emphasis on the style of writing but greater emphasis on the message being revealed. It was centuries later, during the Ottoman Era, that Turks focused on the style of writing.
It is a common saying among Muslims that “the
Qur’an was revealed in Mecca, recited in Egypt and written in Istanbul.” The Ottoman Turks produced and perfected various styles of script that were passed on throughout the Muslim world.
Monday, May 11, 2009
This weekend I led a retreat just outside of Bardstown, Kentucky. We gathered to work on the idea of learning to read our life stories as "holy text" after the fashion of the medieval Christian practice of Lectio Divina. Lectio is a technique that uses four steps (reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation) to go deeply, prayerfully into scripture when we read it.
We were gathered at Bethany Spring, an extraordinarily peaceful, quiet retreat house one mile down the road from the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani, the monastery where Thomas Merton spent nearly all of his adult life.
Bethany Spring (www.bethanyspring.org/) is operated by the Thomas Merton Institute for Contemplative Living. Bethany's director and guiding spirit is Jonathan Montaldo, former president of the International Thomas Merton Society and editor of several volumes of Merton's journals, including the exquisite Intimate Merton.
As we shared the intimate life stories about events that led each of us to feel broken, Jonathan shared with us a poem he had recently encountered.
It is a particular balm for those who suffer. Here it is:
Mother Wisdom Speaks
Some of you I will hollow out.
I will make you a cave.
I will make you so deep the stars will shine in your darkness.
You will be a bowl.
You will be the cup in the rock collecting rain.
I will hollow you with knives.
I will not do this to make you clean.
I will not do this to make you pure.
You are clean already.
You are pure already.
I will do this because the world needs the hollowness of you.
I will do this for the space that you will be.
I will do this because you must be large.
People will find their way through you. A bowl.
People will eat from you and their hunger will not weaken them unto death.
A cup to catch the sacred rain.
My daughter, do not cry. Do not be afraid.
Nothing you need will be lost.
I am shaping you.
I am making you ready.
Light will flow in your hollowing.
You will be filled with light.
Your bone will shine.
The round, open center of you will be radiant.
I will call you Brilliant One.
I will call you Daughter who is wide.
I will call you Transformed.
By Christin Lore Weber
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
In the movie, , he says, "A man's got to know his limitations."
That's advice I have learned to take seriously lately.
Because of my role as an interfaith leader and my new persona as the author of a book on spirituality, I am occasionally asked for advice or spiritual direction.
I can speak from my own experience, but I am not a trained therapist, spiritual director or clergyman. So, I am learning to set boundaries.
I can answer questions on some matters, but when friends or acquaintances come to me with serious and deep problems, I am learning to direct people to therapists, social service agencies and clergy that I trust. I also reference the section in my book on "emotional first aid," advice provided by my partner, art therapist Fran Englander.
We all need to know our limitations. And respect them.