Some thoughts on Thomas Berry’s Contributions to the Western Spiritual Tradition Matthew Fox
Caribbean poet and nobel prizewinner Derek Wallcott says: “For every poet it is always morning in the world; history a forgotten, insomniac night. The fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world in spite of history.”
I believe Walcott names an accomplishment of Thomas’ poetic and mystical side—Thomas calls all of us to fall in love with the world in spite of the folly of human history. It is a major challenge and Thomas creates a context when he says “ecology is functional cosmology”--a context in which we can recover the zeal that comes from falling in love with the world once again. He puts our own personal and collective histories into context and he puts the context into a sacred context by reminding us that the primary sacrament is the universe itself. Every other sacrament, being and action is derivative of that holy sacrament.
Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Berry
When I think of Thomas I am reminded of the great mentor relationships of western history. I think of Teilhard de Chardin’s influence on Thomas Berry in the same light that I think of Plato’s influence on Aristotle and Albert the Great’s influence on Thomas Aquinas for example. Thomas had a mentor and all studies show that when young men have mentors they go into deeper paths and new spirals of achievement.
Let us consider some of the influence of Teilhard on Thomas’ thought as we remember that Thomas was a founder and president of the Friends of Teilhard Society in New York. Teilhard, we recall, was too radioactive in his philosophical works to be allowed by the church to be published in his lifetime, but rather than allow his life’s work to be forgotten altogether bequeathed it not to his Jesuit Order but to a lay woman who published it after his death.
One of the basic issues Teilhard dealt with was the dismal dualism that has so haunted Christian thought at least from St. Augustine onwards (and that was derived from Platonism). Augustine, recall, declared that “spirit is whatever is not matter.” Aquinas and Eckhart both disagreed with this dualism but so does Teilhard in a very big way. He writes: “Matter and Spirit: These were no longer two things but two states or two aspects of one and the same cosmic Stuff, according to whether it was looked at or carried further in the direction in which it is becoming itself or in the direction in which it is disintegrating. Matter is the Matrix of Spirit. Spirit is the higher state of Matter.”
We find this non-dualism and this flow of matter to spirit and spirit to matter taken for granted and running through all of Berry’s work. It shows in his sensitivity and passion for beauty and for the “numinosity” that he so often recognizes in the habits of nature whether microcosmic or macrocosmic. Berry puts poetry and substance into the new direction of a non-dualistic consciousness. One that Teilhard struggled to lay out and that Aquinas and Eckhart before him also paid a price for preaching. (Aquinas taught that spirit is the “élan” in everything including matter and that spirit was also our capacity for knowing all things and that body and soul were “con-substantial.”)
Another area where Teilhard and Berry connect is their passion for their work, their passion for announcing and defending the earth. Teilhard writes that “to understand the world knowledge is not enough. You must see it, touch it, live in its presence and drink the vital heat of existence in the very heart of reality.” Seeing, touching, living, drinking the vital heat—those are metaphors for his own passionate love of the earth. Anyone who knew Thomas or heard him speak also felt the passion in his work. His was not an abstract or detached attitude of knowledge about. It was a love affair, a passion, a vital heat rose in the room when he spoke. This was wisdom, not just knowledge. Thomas was a wisdom teacher not a knowledge teacher. Wisdom includes both knowledge and heart, mind and passion. And of course a call to creativity because wisdom is always present in creativity. “A completely new type of creativity is needed,” Berry said. “This creativity must have as its primary concern the survival of the earth in its functional integrity.” Berry was a warrior on behalf of Mother Earth. He was a Green Man in the fullest sense of that word
Teilhard does not dwell on the story of entropy in matter but waxes joyful about nature’s youthfulness and constant newness. He writes: “Till the very end of time matter will always remain young, exuberant, sparkling, newborn for those who are willing.” Here he calls on the attitude of the observer. If you approach nature tired and cynical and pessimistic you may very well project that pessimism onto nature. But “for those who are willing,” nature offers ample evidence of a bias in favor of youth, exuberance, sparkle and newness. Those of us who knew Thomas Berry or heard him speak or read his works know which choice he made. He was one “of the willing.” His spirit, while never naïve, and always critical, was also profoundly hopeful. He was renewed by his studies of nature. Nature itself gave him a perspective on resiliency. I once heard him respond to a student’s question of despair about the Bush presidency and Thomas responded: “Bush will not be president for ever.” A perspective that kept his hope alive no doubt. Anthropocentrism can be very debilitating. It can suck life out of one’s spirit. Attunement to nature’s ways often reignites life and renews it. It did that for Teilhard and for Berry.
Thomas, like Teilhard, was very attuned to beauty. The language of beauty permeates his work and his commitment to an aesthetic (not effete) awareness was visible to all who read his books or heard him speak. He had a poetic flare in the very language he spoke or wrote in. This parallels Teilhard’s teaching that “purity is not a debilitating separation from all created reality, but an impulse carrying one through all forms of created beauty.” From that perspective, Berry sported the kind of purity that Teilhard championed—not a purity of distance and separation but a purity that awakened curiosity and interest and study of “all forms of created beauty.” Berry had that sense of love of beauty; his hungry curiosity and undying search for beauty burned in his heart and mind.
Teilhard champions a “cosmic sense” when he says that “the cosmic sense must have been born as soon as humanity found itself facing the frost, the sea and the stars. And since then we find evidence of it in all our experience of the great and unbounded: in art, in poetry, and in religion.” Thomas’ life work, we might say, was to rekindle that cosmic sense that ought to be in art, poetry and religion. Yes, and in education too. The modern age cut us off from a cosmic sense when it declared the universe was a machine and when it set man up as the final arbiter of existence. The beauty and aesthetic was drained from the universe and the earth itself by that world view. No animals or plants housed souls according to Descartes. But Berry, in the tradition of Teilhard but also in the tradition of Saint Paul (of whom a recent scholar has written that he held a “metacosmic” sense of the Christ) and of Aquinas insisted that the cosmos itself needs to be accepted as “the primordial sacred community, the macrophase mode of every religious tradition, the context in which the divine reality is revealed to itself in that diversity which in a special manner is ‘the perfection of the universe.’” To recover a sense of the sacred one recovers a sense of the cosmos, of a whole that we all serve.
Thomas is explicit in placing his vision in the lineage of the Cosmic Christ written of in John’s Gospel (Christ as the “light in all things”) and Paul and of Aquinas and Teilhard when he writes: “If Saint John and Saint Paul could think of the Christ form of the universe, if Aquinas could say that the whole universe together participates in the divine goodness more perfectly and represents it better than any single creature whatever, and if Teilhard could insist that the human gives to the entire cosmos its most sublime mode of being, then it should not be difficult to accept the universe itself as the primordial sacred community.”
Of course our sense of the cosmos has been profoundly deepened by our awareness of evolution both on earth and in the universe. Teilhard was explicit about the wonder and awe he underwent on studying evolution (what a far cry this is from silly fundamentalists who, because they do not value awe but stick to literalism miss the sacred dimensions of the evolution story). Teilhard writes: “That magic word ‘evolution’ which haunted my thoughts like a tune: which was to me like unsatisfied hunger, like a promise held out to me, like a summons to be answered.” Evolution became a vocation, a calling, for Teilhard. A magical calling. It was the same for Berry whose work is not an argument about evolution either for or against but a journey with evolution and its profound and meaningful gifts to our sense of the whole and our sense of the sacred.
Indeed, Berry goes further. He believes that it will take a “shamanic personality, a type that is emerging once again in our society,” to bring about this deeper sense of the sacred. Not philosophers, not priests, not prophets but shamans are needed. “This intimacy with our genetic endowment and through this endowment with the larger cosmic process, is not primarily the role of the philosopher, priest, prophet or professor. It is the role of the shamanic personality.” Berry used to say that the two biggest failures of the twentieth century were education and religion. Here he seems to be naming why they so failed. Lacking a sense of intimacy with the cosmic process, neither priest nor professor is offering what the young need today. The young need something greater than “our own rational contrivances.” We need to become “sensitized to the spontaneities” of the “ultimate powers of the universe” and this “intimacy with our genetic endowment” is the work of shamans. Maybe if we had shaman schools (instead of what Berry labeled present education-- “barbaric academia”) neither education nor religion would be failing us so profoundly.
The Call to Shamanhood
Shamanhood was an important category to Thomas Berry. (He once told me that he considered me more of a shaman than a teacher or priest and only lately have I begun to explore the message he was transmitting to me by that observation.) In a recent book of interviews and commentaries with the late poet William Everson, author Steven Herrmann talks at length about “The Shaman’s Call.” In hearing his reflections I hear very much the echoes of Thomas Berry’s at-easeness with Shamanhood, his call for more shamanhood, and his recognition of the rise of shamanhood in our time. Everson was a beat poet who became a Dorothy Day Catholic and a Dominican brother and later exited the order to “recover his aboriginal roots.” He says he “took the figure of the shaman as the most direct route to a ‘recovery of nature.” Berry was always on the lookout for routes to a recovery of nature.
Part of the journey of the shaman as Everson understood it is through animism, “back into the instinctual, which is the basis of the archetypal.” Berry too continually calls us back to our instincts. Beyond the rational. Writes Berry: “None of our existing cultures can deal with this situation out of its own resources. We must invent, or reinvent, a sustainable human culture by a descent into our prerational, our instinctive, resources. Our cultural resources have lost their integrity. They cannot be trusted.”
Shamanism was Everson’s path back to the unus mundus, or what Jung called the “one world” of unitary consciousness. Trance-like techniques are employed by shamans through drumming and dancing and by poet-shamans through writing or speaking a poem aloud. Trance is invoked.
The shaman often carries a wound but often this wound is that of the larger community itself. “Shamans are, nevertheless, highly susceptible to psychic infections from their communities, because their wounds remain ‘open, susceptible to impression from the outside.” Was not much of Berry’s strength shamanistic insofar as he was both carrying and then articulating the profound wound of the community—anthropocentrism, our being cut off from the earth and our deepest animal instincts, from the universe and the community with all beings? This is the work of the shaman who “descends in trance, through wounds in the collective psychic structure, like a diving bird, to awaken images of healing for the race.” Berry named the collective psychosis of our race: Our split from the rest of nature.
The shaman’s wound “is also the source of the poet’s greatest creativity, powers, ego-strength, and gift to the community.” How much of Berry’s strength and perseverance in study and in telling his insight to the world was inspired by his wound which was also our wound? Jung proposed that “the earth and psyche are not two, separate realities, but one ‘unitary world’ which he called the unus mundus.” Surely this is Thomas Berry’s passion also—to move us all to a sense of the unus mundus, a new (and ancient?) marriage of earth and psyche that the modern consciousness in particular devastated to the point that, in Berry’s words, we are all “autistic” in our relationship to nature. A shaman heals the community. Berry did that. He was more than a priest and more than a professor. Eliade wrote that the shaman “is the great master of ecstasy.” Berry did not just write of gloom and doom; he also indulged in memories of ecstasy. He did not preach guilt so much as beauty, harmony and health. He motivated others through a spirituality of blessing more than guilt.
I believe we might safely argue that Thomas Berry, not unlike Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Everson, was himself a shaman calling us to our collective shamanhood, that is to re-experience the ecstatic trance, the “numinous” relationship with the cosmos, that is our birthright and is also our way back to our own healing, our own instincts, our own ground precisely as Meister Eckhart uses that term to denote the Godhead, the “Source without a source” (Aquinas), the Mystery without a name that will never be given a name.
Thomas Berry, Moses and Hildegard
Speaking in general terms and using a biblical metaphor, I think Thomas stands up as a kind of new Moses leading all religious people, people of religious sensibilities and certainly Christians, out of a bondage of a land of anthropocentrism to a land of cosmology and ecology, a land flowing with milk and honey. A land that promises to respond to the great needs of the great human heart. He leads us out of the land of “autism” (his word) into a land of renewed communication with other beings and other species who are in fact very eager to communicate, to reveal themselves to us. He leads us out of the land of “academic barbarism” (his words—which I love) to a land of educational responsibility where the power of knowledge is subsumed to the greater common good. Where PhD’s instead of destroying the earth (his observation) are employing wisdom to save the earth and her beauty. He leads us out of a land of psychologism where disenchantment, cynicism, trivia, inertia, violence, commercialism and what Thomas calls the “illusory world of advertising” reign, into a land of enchantment, beauty, wonder, intimacy become are our values—a place where caring matters.
He leads us out of the land of domestication to revelry of the sacred which always has something in common with the wild. For example, he writes: “Wildness we might consider as the root of the authentic spontaneities of any being. It is that wellspring of creativity whence comes the instinctive activates that enable all living beings to obtain their food, to find shelter, to bring forth their young: to sing and dance and fly through the air and swim through the depths of the sea. This is the same inner tendency that evokes the insight of the poet, the skill of the artist and the power of the shaman.” How beautifully Thomas marries the wild energy, the sacred energy of the more than human world with human creativity in that powerful passage. Such a reminder that we are capable as a species of domesticating even Divinity Itself, making Divinity into our tidy images. Thomas leads us out of the land of boredom to a sense of awe and with awe comes gratitude and with awe comes reverence--what Thomas calls a “sense of the numinous.” In this way he is setting faith in the premodern context of the sacredness of all creation, of cosmology, of the more than human.
If a “new Moses” is too strong a term for some to name Thomas’ contribution, then surely we could settle on another term, “prophet.” The primary work of the prophet as Rabbi Heschel teaches, is to “interfere.” And Thomas is nothing if not a great interferer. He is so subtle about it they haven’t caught up with him yet. Prophets wake a sleeping people and Thomas does that. Prophets cry in the wilderness and Thomas does that. Prophets call people who are wallowing in injustice and neglect back to justice and Thomas does that. He calls us to Eco-Justice which is the necessary context for all other justice struggles be they economic, racial, gender or class. He calls us as the prophets of old did to the Great Work and thus to leave trivial work behind. He calls us to reach for the Ecozoic Age and indeed, in his thoroughly challenging phrase, to “reinvent our species.”
In trying to assess Thomas’ contribution to western spirituality, I believe we are assisted by his own work. In a brief essay on Hildegard of Bingen he wrote this about western spirituality: “Thus far Christians have been so concerned with redemption out of this world, so attached to their spiritual life development or their social mission of reconciliation that they have had little time for their serious attention to the earth. Nor do Christians seem to be aware of the futility of social transformations proceeding on an historical-industrial rather than on a comprehensive ecological basis….We find relatively few Christian guides in the past to enlighten or to inspire us to a more functional relationship between the human and the natural worlds.” But then Thomas offers three examples of the past: Benedict offered an agrarian model, he being the father of course of western monasticism; Francis of Assisi offered a model based on the universal community of creatures; Hildegard is a third model with her sense of the earth as “a region of delight, we might almost say of pagan delight” which she has found from within her own experience and in a “unique model of Christian communion.” Hildegard writes: “The entire world has been embraced by this kiss [of God and creation].” Thomas adds: “Because of this erotic bond, the earth becomes luxuriant in its every aspect.” I propose that Thomas enfolds Benedict’s agrarian model, Francis’ community model and Hildegard’s erotic model into his work.
Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Berry
I see in Thomas Berry’s work a fourth model which I would call the cosmic scientific model and I think the precursor of this model is in fact Thomas’ own namesake whom he quotes so often, St. Thomas Aquinas of the 13th century who was condemned three times by the church before they canonized him a saint. Like Thomas Berry, Aquinas had the imagination, the scientific curiosity and the courage to propose a whole new direction for Christian theology in his day and the direction was that of incorporating science and of course the breakthrough science of Aquinas' day was Aristotle, a pagan, who came to Europe by way of Islam. Aristotle came double-tainted into Christianity and this is why Aquinas was condemned three times because he was working overtime with those who were more than Christian.
Some of Aquinas' observations follow. “Faith comes in two volumes: Nature and the Bible.” We all know Thomas Berry’s notorious remark that he has repeated more than once—that we should “put the Bible on a shelf for twenty years.” This is simply a logical conclusion that we have been overdoing the book-bit in the name of revelation at least since the invention of the printing press. Why is it that by now EVERY seminary, every school that pretends to be training spiritual leaders, does not have scientists on its faculty telling us the revelation of nature, its mysticism and the ethics to be derived from that as well as biblical theologians? We must find the balance anew between the revelation of nature and the revelation of the Bible.
In fact in the Bible there is a whole tradition, the wisdom tradition, scholars now agree was the tradition of the historic Jesus which is total nature mysticism. One prevalent teaching of scholars today is that Jesus as a child, being considered illegitimate, was excluded from the synagogue so he went out and played in nature while others were meeting to pray indoors and that radicalized him. It comes through in all of his parables and all of his teaching which are all nature based. Wisdom literature is not based on reading books. Jesus was illiterate like most of his country people.
Another connection between Aquinas and Berry—Berry is of course carrying this in all new directions-- is Aquinas' observation that “every human person is capax universi (capable of the universe).” That’s who we are as a species. That’s how big we are and neither our souls nor our hearts nor our minds will be satisfied and therefore relieved of temptations to greed and power until they are reset in the context of cosmology and the universe itself. In this regard the exciting teachings of the universe story in our time that emerges from the work of Thomas and Brian Swimme in recovering a universe story fulfills Aquinas’ observation.
Consider for example the great Otto Rank, the father of humanistic psychology who broke with Freud over many issues. Rank came to the conclusion that the number one problem for human beings is the feeling of separation that begins with leaving the womb which was our universe for nine months and the rest of life is about trying to find a reunion with the cosmos. He says: “We surrender ourselves in art or love to a potential restoration with the union of the cosmos which once existed and was then lost.” He talks about “original wound” (much better than “original sin”) that haunts our species. This is that wound: That we feel separated from the cosmos. He says the only solution is the Unio Mystica, being one with the all, in tune with the cosmos. And indigenous people all know about this. Rank said: “This identification is an echo of an original identity not only merely of child and mother but of everything living. Witness the reverence of the primitives for animals. In humans identification aims at reestablishing a lost identity with the cosmic process that has to be surrendered and continuously reestablished in the course of self-development.” Thomas Berry's work is a profound work of human healing because it restores that lost identify and relationship and passion between the human and the cosmos.
Gaston Bachelard, the late twentieth century French philosopher, comments on what happens when cosmos and psyche reconnect. In the Poetics of Space he talks of the holy trinity of Immensity, Intensity and Intimacy. When you have an experience of Immensity—in Thomas’ words, an experience of the cosmos, or relationship to it, it is an intense experience. All awe is both an intense and intimate experience. Humans cannot separate the immense, intense and intimate experience and Thomas Berry by leading us into a cosmic awareness again, an awareness as important for our hearts as for our minds, is bathing us anew in Immensity, Intensity and Intimacy far beyond any mere anthropocentric relationship could ever do for us.
Bachelard declares that “grandeur progresses in the world in proportion to the deepening of intimacy…a primal value.” We have to take back immensity as a primal intimate value where “we are no longer shut up in the weight of the prison of our own beings.” The new cosmology helps us to do this and so do solitude and meditation. I honor Thomas and Aquinas and others who are helping us to name the vastness of our souls. Ernest Holmes put it this way: “Spirituality is a word that is often misused.” (He said this 100 years ago!) “From our viewpoint, spirituality is one’s recognition of the universe as a living presence of the good, truth, beauty, peace, power and love.” Holmes recognizes that spirituality is not spirituality if it is psychologized—if it is not about the universe. Holmes was right and Thomas Berry is right.
Thomas Berry carries us into diversity as well. Many western philosophers have fought over the issue of the one vs. the many but neither Aquinas nor Thomas Berry is the least bit in doubt about the resolution. Many times I’ve heard Berry quote Aquinas on exactly this issue of the wealth of diversity. Berry calls the universe the primary artist. “In every phase of our imaginative, aesthetic, and emotional lives we are profoundly dependent on this larger context of the surrounding world.” The tragedy of the ecological crisis is a soul crisis because we have been gifted with so much. Aquinas says: “Because the divine goodness could not be adequately expressed by one creature alone, God has produced many and diverse creatures so what is wanting in one in the representation of divine goodness might be supplied by another. Thus the whole universe together participates in the divine goodness ….” So the celebration of diversity is honored in both Aquinas and Berry’s thinking.
The sense of cosmology, looking at the whole and not the part, is intrinsic to all post-modern thinking but also to all premodern thinking including Aquinas and indigenous people This is how Aquinas put it: “Divinity is better represented by the whole universe than by any single thing….Not only are individual creatures images of God but so too is the whole cosmos.” How many theologians or preachers have you ever heard say that—that the cosmos is an image of God? Thomas Berry says it. Berry talks about the “grand liturgy of the universe”—an image of the universe itself as a ritual—and he calls us to participate in this cosmic ritual.
Aquinas says that “there is beauty in the very diversity” that we find in the cosmos. In addition, he sees the universe itself as a mirror of Divinity when he observes: “God has produced a work in which the divine likeness is clearly reflected: I mean by this the world itself.” The world itself is a mirror of the Sacred, a mirror of Divinity, a face of God, a Christ, a Buddha, Shekinah, the Goddess—call it what you will—all that is renamed in Thomas Berry’s contribution and in his celebration of beauty and diversity.
Another dimension to Berry’s work that is pushed in Aquinas is that of asking the question: What is the human’s role in all this? Why are we here? Aquinas says: “God wills that humans exist for the sake of the perfection of the universe.” By ‘perfection’ he means bringing to completion the tasks of the universe. Like Thomas Berry he is setting us in an ethical context of carrying on the Universe’s work. As Aquinas very bluntly puts it: “It is false to say that humanity is the most excellent being in the universe. The most excellent being in the universe is the universe itself.” And he says “we bless God by recognizing the divine goodness.” If I were to pick one line for Thomas Berry’s epitaph it would be that. Thomas taught us to see with new eyes (old new eyes?) the divine goodness, to see the beauty within all systems—eco, cosmic, fireball, relationship of microcosm (atoms) to macrocosm. He reseeds the goodness or blessing that is inherent in all of being. He calls us to our “Great Work.”
It’s interesting that many traditions of the world propose that the consequence of seeing the world cosmically and seeing it in a context of goodness is right behavior. Without this consciousness we are short on right behavior. For example, Black Elk says: “The human heart is a sanctuary at the center of which there is a little space, wherein the Great Spirit dwells, and this is the Eye. This is the Eye of the Great Spirit….” Thus our cosmology becomes our ethics. Black Elk continues: “The first peace—which is the most important peace—is that which comes in the souls of people when they realize their oneness with all its powers….” Thomas Berry draws us to this very teaching, that at the center of all hearts lies the center of the universe and Wanka Tanka the Holy One. If Black Elk is correct, then Thomas is an ethical teacher showing us the way to recover our peacefulness and ways of reconnecting to the powers of the universe itself.
Still another dimension to Thomas Berry’s work is intimacy, a common word throughout his work. Aquinas put intimacy this way: “God is in all things in the most intimate way. Insofar as a thing has existence it is like God.” This is what Black Elk is saying: Wankan Tanka is within all things; Hildegard said “no creature lacks an intimate life.” So our questing for intimacy is responded to by the yearning for intimacy from other beings of the universe and this planet. We have a right to intimacy and things are set up biased in favor of intimacy. An anthropocentric consciousness is not capable of providing intimacy and this is why television is run over with soap operas—an infinite amount, unending number, of pseudo-love shows that are destined not to satisfy. Intimacy is found in a more than human context and we are invited to participate.
Another dimension to Berry’s work that carries us to the next century is his profound study of deep ecumenism which embraces the wisdom of all our religious traditions and of science itself. He brings together what has been rent asunder in the 17th century, science’s wisdom and the potential wisdom of religion. We see in Thomas the yoga of study itself. By his life style Thomas reminds us of something that our educational system has practically forgotten and that is that learning itself is prayer. Learning itself can be a spiritual practice. The pursuit of truth is a spiritual act, a meditation. The rabbis of old knew this—studying Torah is prayer. Aquinas knew that—his study was his prayer. Our secularization of education has sucked out of us the joy and commitment and thrill and yoga that study is. The excitement and spiritual experience of learning is so often left behind. Whether you study languages, mathematics, science, if you bring your heart to it, it is a spiritual discipline. We thank Thomas for that as well as Aquinas.
And finally, Thomas Berry is a true elder to the young—so important in our time. The young are yearning for elders and there are so few. What can you say of the captains of industry, the Enrons, the Andersons, the Talibans, the World Coms, the Vaticans in this moment of history? They all suffer from a terminal disease called Patriarchal Excess and from Adultism. They want to use the youth but are not there to awaken the stories of the youth. And Thomas Berry has been inspiring youth for years. The real work of the elder is to pass on stories that motivate the young to be generous and alive and use their god-given gifts to effect history so that history will not be the nightmare that Walcott named it but will be closer to that “love of the world” that it can become. Thomas Berry has done this for so many individuals. Recently I received a letter from a 22 year old Jesuit novice who told me this story: He read my work and found Thomas Berry that way and decided to take a Greyhound bus down to North Carolina to spend a day with Thomas. “Now I know what I have to do with the rest of my life and what my generation has to do,” he wrote me. That is eldership. That is the kind of effect Thomas’ being and work have had on countless people and will have. I visited Earth Haven in North Carolina, an off the grid community, drawing very bright people to commit their lives to what is sustainable. This is the monastery of the twenty first century. To get to the 22nd century there will be people this generous and this alive to truly alter our ways of living on this earth. They are beholden to Thomas Berry and his work and Tom has visited them.
These are just two examples of Thomas Berry as elder. In effecting the relationship of young and old he is challenging everyone to grow into our role as elders and to reject our culture’s heresy of ‘retirement’ as finding the nearest golf course and squatting there until they bury you. Instead, start investing your time, wisdom, imagination and excess money if you have some into those movements that can make us sustainable and carry our species into a 22nd century that will be more honorable.
If human history survives and our species survives into the 22nd century, I believe that history will record that among us a certain prophet rose in the latter part of the 20th century imbued with the spirit of Teilhard de Chardin, the intellect of Aquinas, the eros of Hildegard, the humility of Francis, the science of Einstein, and the courage and imagination of Jesus. His name was Thomas Berry. We will remember him by carrying on his vision, by building institutions and movements and infiltrating all of our professions from education to politics to business to worship with his many and sustainable visions.
 Teilhard de Chardin, The Heart of Matter (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), 26f.
 Ibid., 71.
 A letter written in 1920. See Robert Speaight, The Life of Teilhard de Chardin (NY: Harper & Row, 1967), p. 109.
 Teilhard de Chardin, “Sketch of a Personalistic Universe,” (1936), p. 82.
 Bruce Chilton, Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography, (NY: Doubleday, 2004), p. 249.
 Thomas Berry, “The Earth: A New Context for Religious Unity,” in Anne Lonergan and Caroline Richards, ed., Thomas Berry and the New Cosmology, (Mystic, Ct: Twenty-Third Publications, 1987), 38.
 Teilhard de Chardin, The Heart of Matter,p. 25.
 Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988), 211.
 Steven Herrmann, William Everson: The Shaman’s Call: Interviews, Introduction, and Commentaries (NY: Eloquent Books, 2009), 150.
 Berry, Dream of the Earth, 207f.
 Herrmann,, William Everson: The Shaman’s Call., 162f.
 Ibid., 155.
 Thomas Berry, “Foreward,” in Gabriele Uhlein, Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen (Santa Fe: Bear & Co., 1983), 14.
 See Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality (NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2003), 57.
 Fox, Sheer Joy., 97.
 Berry, The Dream of the Earth, 215.
 Fox, Sheer Joy., 97.
 Ibid., 89.
 Ibid., 95.
 Ibid., 87.