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 email@example.com.]
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.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
He begins a chapter this way.
"In the 1660s , the Japanese [haiku] master, Basho, spoke profoundly to his student Kikaku:
We shouldn't abuse God's creatures.
You must reverse your Haiku, not:
a dragonfly,We need to keep that in mind as we look closely at our own life stories. Many of us who are broken can only see the negative in our circumstances. We can and should explore ways to see the gift in our brokenness. It might be one of those gifts that you open and say, "You shouldn't have." But it's still a gift.
remove its wings---
a pepper tree;
add wings to it---
Monday, May 4, 2009
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
My friend Melanie praqctices laughter yoga. It's not laughing ABOUT things like jokes. It's about the joy, refreshment and mending power of laughter.
This Saturday is World laughter Day. Try it out. You might find it a balm for your brokenness.
Here are information and links that Melanie shared with me. I hope you find them useful.
World Peace Through Laughter.... The World Needs Laughter Now More Than Ever....
For Your Information..... Sunday, May 3, 2009 is World Laughter Day...
There are Events Happening Around the World... Take a Look :-D
Spend some time on May 3rd... laughing in your own unique way...
There are a few options.
1. Go to http://www.laughteryoga.org/ and find a Laughter Yoga Class Near You.
2. Call the Laughter Yoga Phone Line.... http://www.laughteryogausa.com/Laughteronthephone.html . There are 11 Live, Free Daily Calls a Day.
3. Spend Some Time Laughing with Your Loved Ones/Family/Friends, etc....
A Friend Recently Shared a few Hafiz Poems with Me that I will share with you:
Two Giant Fat People
God and I
have become like two giant fat people
living in a tiny boat.
We keep bumping into each other
and Laughing :-D
Hafiz c. 1320-1389
When the Violin
When the Violin can forgive the past-It starts singing
When the Violin can stop worrying about the future-
You will become a drunk laughing Nuisance
that God will then lean down and start combing you into his hair.
When the Violin can forgive every wound caused by others
The heart starts singing.
What is This ?
What is this precious Love & Laughter
budding in our Hearts?
It is the Glorious Sound
of a Soul Waking Up.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Last Wednesday evening I attended a presentation at Louisville's Unity Church by the spiritual leader called Byron Katie.
Katie, as she is called, is the champion of a technique for overcoming problems that is called, "The Work." The Work is built around your answers to a set of key questions that Katie asks you to address regarding a consuming problem that you are struggling with.
Here are the questions she asks you to use in dealing with what has happened to you, or more particularly what you believe about something that has happened:
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know that it's true?
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
I think these are very valuable questions to use, especially in dealing with the the event or events that have led to our sense of brokenness. In fact, in the chapter about Lectio Divina, in my book, A Spirituality for Brokenness, I encourage readers to use these questions in exploring key life events. Why? Because sometimes what we think happened, or believe happened, may not be real, or at least may not have happened in the way we recall it. On the other hand, what happened may have been real. It's just good to do a reality check.
Here is my concern about "The Work" in the way that Katie uses it. She seems to see The Work and the four questions as a sort of panacea that will enable you to fix anything that is wrong with you.
My friend and partner, Fran Englander, sometimes says that, to the person holding a hammer, EVERYTHING looks like a nail. There's something of that in what Katie does. For her, The Work is a hammer, and everyone's problem is a nail. While The Work is very valuable, there are lots of other techniques that can help as well. And the can be used with The Work.
Having offered that caveat, I still encourage you to use the four questions, and to answer them as honestly as you can.
And explore Katie's website to try the technique for yourself.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
When we are focusing too much on our own pain an anguish, we can often turn to music to ease our suffering. One special form of music that touches deeply on suffering is chant.
Here is a link to a beautiful video on utube that presents the chanting of The 99 Names of God. This practice comes out of Islam, and its reverence for Allah or God (the same God worshipped by Christians and Jews). This link was sent to me by my Turkish Sufi friend, Gonul Ozturk. The Sufis represent the beautiful, peaceful, eloquent side of Islam.
So, take a few moments to savor the sounds and images on this utube site. You might also want to save the link to use in your meditation practice from time to time.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Here's a link to check out the video. I hope you find it as restful and refreshing to watch as I do!
A book is being published today that seems destined to become a bestseller. It details the story of a woman named Tori Murden McClure who was the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
But that distinction isn't what drew my attention to her story. What got me interested was the fact that Tori was woman enough to recognize her own limitations. She had failed in her first attemp to row across the ocean, and when she neared the end of her successful second attemp she and her boat suffered the onslaught of a storm she feared would drown her...almost within sight of her destination. Here's what she said to the Louisville Courier-Journal reporter who interviewed her:
Before she reached land a storm struck her cabin, causing her to collapse.
She prayed, "I've helped the disabled. I've pulled homeless people out of
Dumpsters. I've comforted individuals in distress. I've put myself out there
time and again. How much more do you want from me? How much more can I
Then came her revelation. 'When I looked up from my
prayer,' she writes, 'the storm seemed to shine blue with electrical energy. It
was then that I realized the sublime truth of what I had been missing. I'd
intended to slay the sea monster of my helplessness. But I am, after all, a
woman. We don't slay our dragons; we embrace them...
Helplessness was not something outside me, some malevolent force that I
had to defeat," she states. 'Helplessness was a part of me. I am a human being.
It is our brokenness, our helplessness, which makes us human. I thought I'd been
trying to earn God's forgiveness, but the forgiveness I needed was my own. I had
only to forgive myself.'
Monday, April 6, 2009
Last Tuesday I took part in an event here in Louisville called Denim Day. This event draws attention to the problem of sexual assault. In fact, April is sexual assault awareness month in the U.S. The event that I was part of was sponsored by The Center for Women and Families in Louisville, an organization that serves women, children and men who have survived sexual assault and domestic violence. To learn more about the Center, and about Denim Day please visit:
Did you know that one in six women will suffer the brokenness that results from sexual assault? Or that one in thirty-three men suffer such a shattering experience?
For more information about the shattering problems of sexual assault and domestic violence, and for help if you have been a victim of these crimes visit the web site of RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network at http://www.rainn.org/
If you know someone who is in a domestic violence situation, urge them to seek help immediately.
Monday, March 30, 2009
I think this is something of what philosopher William James captured in his description of brokenness as “torn-to-pieces-hood”: “We have all known that experience, for to be human is to feel at times divided, fractured, pulled in a dozen directions … and to yearn for serenity, for some mending of our ‘torn-to-pieces-hood.’ ”
This story of brokenness isn’t just mine. It’s the story of many people. It may be your story. We each have broken areas of our lives, whether from things that have happened to us or as consequences of our own choices. We each have times and situations where our very souls feel fractured. And whatever our individual physical, mental, or emotional brokenness, our sense of disconnect is almost always amplified by our Western culture that covers our eyes with a veil of illusion about what we “should” be. rpt is from A Spirituality for Brokenness: Discovering Your Deepest Self in Difficult Times Ó 2009 by Terry Taylor (Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths Publishing). Permission granted by SkyLight Paths Publishing, P.O. Box 237, Woodstock, VT 05091 www.skylightpaths.com.
It will be dedicated to A Spirituality for Brokenness, helping people mend from their sense of being shattered, physically, emotionally or spiritually. This blog will offer spiritual tools taken from the full spectrum of the world’s religions that can help us all cope and move on with our lives.
For me, today, March 30, 2009, is a particularly propitious day to launch such a blog since it is the fifth anniversary of the day I began my journey to sobriety. I want to begin with talking about the fact that sometimes the best help comes to us as an unexpected gift. (At the end of this posting is a link that will serve as a gift to you!)
I remember the day and time very well.
My then wife Phyllis burst through my bedroom door, screaming. It was about 10 p.m. I had just settled in on the couch at the foot of my bed with a glass of wine and the TV to try to numb myself from the anguish I felt over what I had gone through the previous week.
My wife, Phyllis, had come down with the stomach flu. Normally, someone coming down with the flu isn’t a major problem, but Phyllis has a chronic medical condition that makes even the most common everyday illnesses potentially life threatening.
Her bout of flu led to a trip to the hospital and her stay there for the better part of a week. During that time, I tried to do my job, spend as much time as I could with her at the hospital, and take care of things at the house.
On the evening of March 30, I brought Phyllis home from the hospital. She was well enough to be out of the hands of medical professionals, but still needed some time in bed to regain her strength.
I fed her, walked her up the stairs to her bedroom at the opposite end of the hallway from my room, and I tucked her in. It was then that I returned to my room and took up my numbing position in front of the TV with a glass of wine in my hand.
I thought Phyllis was asleep so I literally jumped when my bedroom door burst open and Phyllis rushed into the room screaming at me. What she was screaming about was the fact that I was drinking again.
I had stopped drinking for the first time on the previous Memorial Day weekend when I took a date to a party and found myself consuming glass after glass of red wine even though I wasn’t enjoying it. I don’t think that would have made me stop in itself, but when my date and I left the party, I drove her home even though I was in no shape to drive. That scared me. It was my first realization that I had a problem with alcohol.
I stayed dry until December when I began drinking again during the festivities surrounding my marriage to Phyllis. She and I had had an on-again off-again romantic relationship that spanned nearly a quarter century.
I had talked with her about my perception that I had a drinking problem. She seemed to understand. When I resumed drinking in December, nothing much was said. We even celebrated the wedding with a bottle of champagne. In the months that followed I did drink. Never to excess…but I did drink. My drinking became that elephant in the living room that no one talks about. Phyllis didn’t talk to me about it until that fateful night in March.
In retrospect I guess I wish that Phyllis had knocked on my door, asked to come in, sat down on the couch beside me, put her arm around me, and said, “I know you have been through a lot lately, with caring for me during my illness, but I have noticed that you’ve started drinking again; is there anything I can do to help?”
Well, that didn’t happen. Phyllis screamed at me (something she did frequently) and for whatever reason, it made me stop drinking. At 10 p.m. tonight it will have been 1,826 days since I took my last drink.
By leading me to the path of sobriety, her screams helped me mend a bit the part of my brokenness that presented itself as my drinking problem. Her screaming was an unexpected gift. I am eternally grateful to Phyllis for that, no matter why she did it.
And here is a gift to help you deal with your own brokenness:
It’s a Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice called “Tonglen.” As the Tibetan Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, points out, Tonglen works in a counter intuitive way by asking you to take on the pain of others who are suffering like you are, while at the same time you send them all the goodness, health and joy in your own life.
As you practice Tonglen, you may just find that using this technique eases your pain!