Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Thomas Berry

American Catholic Priest of the Passionist Order, Cultural Historian and Eco-theologian, Earth Scholar, Author and Teacher

"The natural world is the larger sacred community to which we belong. To be alienated from this community is to become destitute in all that makes us human."

"Look up at the sky- The heavens so blue, the sun so radiant, The clouds so playful, the soaring raptors, The meadows in bloom, the woodland creatures, The rivers singing their way to the sea, Wolf song on the land, whale song in the sea, Celebration everywhere, wild, riotous, Immense as a monsoon lifting an ocean of joy And spilling it down over the Appalachian Landscape, Drenching us all with a deluge of delight As we open our arms and rush toward each other, You and I and all of us, Moved by that vast compassionate Presence That brings all things together in intimate Celebration, Celebration that is the universe itself."

"[In the Dream of the Earth, Thomas Berry describes the entire industrial age as] a period of technological entrancement, an altered state of consciousness, a mental fixation that alone can explain how we came to ruin our air and water and soil and to severely damage our basic life systems. During this period the human mind has been placed in its narrowest confines it has experienced since consciousness emerged from its Paleolithic phase. Even the most primitive tribes have a larger vision of the universe, of our place and functioning within it, a vision that extends to celestial regions of space and to interior depths of the human in a manner far exceeding the parameters of our world of technological confinement."

"[The industrial age] a period of technological entrancement, an altered state of consciousness, a mental fixation that alone can explain how we came to ruin our air and water and soil and to severely damage our basic life systems. During this period the human mind has been placed in its narrowest confines it has experienced since consciousness emerged from its Paleolithic phase. Even the most primitive tribes have a larger vision of the universe, of our place and functioning within it, a vision that extends to celestial regions of space and to interior depths of the human in a manner far exceeding the parameters of our world of technological confinement."

"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."

"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."

"Diversity is the magic. It is the first manifestation, the first beginning of the differentiation of a thing and of simple identity. The greater the diversity, the greater the perfection."

"Earth as we know it came into being through its four great components: land, water, air, and life, all interacting in the light and energy of the sun. Although there was a sequence in the formation of the land sphere, the atmosphere, the water sphere, and the life sphere, these have so interacted with one another in the shaping of the Earth that we must somehow think of these as all present to one another and interacting from the beginning."

"Already the planet is so damaged and the future is so challenged by its rising human population that the terms of survival will be severe beyond anything we have known in the past."

"Even as regards Earth we are more committed to history than to geography, more committed to time than to space. History is endless. Place is limited."

"As in creating some significant work the artist first experiences something akin to dream awareness that becomes clarified in the creative process itself, so we must first have a vision of the future sufficiently entrancing that it will sustain us in the transformation of the human project that is now in process."

"Earth seems to be a reality that is developing with the simple aim of celebrating the joy of existence."

"Even when the consequences of a desolate planet are totally clear, the industrial order keeps its control over human activities because of the energy generated by the mythic quality of its vision. We could describe our industrial society as counterproductive, addictive, paralyzing, [a] manifestation of a deep cultural pathology. Mythic addiction functions something like alcohol and drug addictions. Even when they are obviously destroying the addicted person, the psychic fixation does not permit any change. . . Any effective cure requires passing through the agonies of withdrawal. If such withdrawal is an exceptional achievement in individual lives, we can only guess at the difficulty on the civilizational or even the global scale."

"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.’"

"I am trying to establish a functional cosmology not a theology."

"For the emergent process, as noted by the geneticist Theodore Dobzhansky, is neither random nor determined but creative. Just as in human order, creativity is neither a rational deductive process nor the irrational wandering of the undisciplined mind but the emergence of beauty as mysterious as the blossoming of a field of daisies out of the dark Earth."

"Gardening is an active participation in The deepest mysteries of the universe."

"From a large planet of overwhelming magnitude, unlimited resources and endless mystery, the Earth has suddenly become a small planet, thoroughly explored, limited in resources, and reduced in mystery."

"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. Our story not only interprets the past, it also guides and inspires our shaping of the future."

"If appropriate choices are made humans may yet live in an integral relationship with the earth community. If they are not made, some believe natural disasters will sweep over the earth radically altering life in ways that are unforeseeable, but are expected to severely diminish complex webs of life and render whole species extinct."

"In our totality we are born of the Earth. Our spirituality itself is earth-derived... If there is no spirituality in the earth, then there is no spirituality in ourselves."

"If the religious experience were simply some naive impression of the uninformed it would not have resulted in such intellectual insight, such spiritual exaltation, such spectacular religious ritual, or in the immense volume of song and poetry and literature and dance that humans have produced."

"In reality, there is a single integral community of the Earth that includes all its component members whether human or other than human. In this community every being has its own role to fulfill, its own dignity, its own inner spontaneity. Every being has its own voice. Every being declares itself to the entire universe. Every being enters into communion with other beings. In every phase of our imaginative, aesthetic, and emotional lives we are profoundly dependent on this larger context of the surrounding world."

"In this setting the universe would become the primary university. Just as the universe is the primary law-giver. the primary economic corporation, the primary scientist, the primary technologist, the primary healer, the primary revelation of the divine, the primary artist, the primary teacher and indeed the primary source in all earthly affairs."

"It's all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how we fit into it, is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story."

"It is especially important in this discussion to recognize the unity of the total process, from that first unimaginable moment of cosmic emergence through all its subsequent forms of expression until the present. This unbreakable bond of relatedness that makes of the whole a universe becomes increasingly apparent to scientific observation, although this bond ultimately escapes scientific formulation or understanding. In virtue of this relatedness, everything is intimately present to everything else in the universe. Nothing is completely itself without everything else. This relatedness is both spatial and temporal. However distant in space or time, the bond of unity is functionally there. The universe is a communion and a community. We ourselves are that communion become conscious of itself."

"Of all the issues we are concerned with at present, the most basic issue, in my estimation, is that of human-earth relations."

"Listen to these words carefully. The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects. And listen to this: The human is derivative. The planet is primary."

"Of one thing we can be sure: our own future is inseparable from the larger community that brought us into being and which sustains us in every expression of our human quality of life, in our aesthetic and emotional sensitivities, our intellectual perceptions, our sense of the divine, as well as in our physical nourishment and bodily healing."

"Our main source of psychic energy in the future will depend on our ability to understand this symbol of evolution in an acceptable context of interpretation. Only in the context of an emergent universe will the human project come to an integral understanding of itself. We must, however, come to experience the universe in its psychic as well as in its physical aspect. We need to experience the sequence of evolutionary transformations as moments of grace, and also as celebration moments in our new experience of the sacred."

"Our difficulty is that we have become autistic. We no longer listen to what the Earth, its landscape, its atmospheric phenomena and all its living forms, its mountains and valleys, the rain, the wind, and all the flora and fauna of the planet are telling us."

"The barrier between the western mode of consciousness and the natural world, and the consequent ethical deficiency in western conscience, began in some manner with the biblical emphasis on the perception of the divine in historical events rather than within cosmological manifestation. The entire biblical experience could be described as a movement from the cosmological to the historical which began with the Exodus experience. It was further strengthened by the historical redemption experience of Christianity; then by the emphasis on the human mode of being in the Greek humanist tradition. When in modem centuries the scientists gave us a natural world that came into being by purely random processes and without any spiritual meaning then the alienation of the human from the natural world was complete."

"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."

"Recovery of this capacity for subjective communion with the earth is a consequence and a cause of a newly emerging spirituality. Subjective communion with the earth, identification with the cosmic-earth-human process, provides the context in which we now make our spiritual journey. This Journey is no longer the journey of Dante through the heavenly spheres. It is no longer simply the journey of the Christian community through history to the heavenly Jerusalem. It is the journey of primordial matter through its marvelous sequence of transformations -- in the stars, in the earth, in living beings, in human consciousness -- toward an ever more complete spiritual-physical intercommunion of the parts with each other, with the whole, and with that numinous presence that has been manifested throughout this entire cosmic-earth-human process."

"The child awakens to a universe. The mind of the child to a world of meaning. 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. A universe to fulfill a child."

"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."

"The deepest cause ...of the present devastation is found in a mode of consciousness that has established a radical discontinuity between the human and other modes of being and the bestowal of all rights on the humans."

"The Earth with its layers of land and water and air provides the space within which all living things are nurtured and the context within which humans attain their identity. If in the excitement of a secular technology reverence for the Earth has diminished in the past, especially in the western world, humans now experience a sudden shock at the devastation they have wrought on their own habitation. The ancient human-Earth relationship must be recovered in a new context, in its mystical as well as in its physical functioning. There is need for awareness that the mountains and rivers and all living things, the sky and its sun and moon and clouds all constitute a healing, sustaining sacred presence for humans which they need as much for their psychic integrity as for their physical nourishment. This presence whether experienced as Allah, as Atman, as Sunyata, or as the Buddha-nature or as Bodhisattva; whether as Tao or as the One or as the Divine Feminine, is the atmosphere in which humans breathe deepest and without which they eventually suffocate."

"The destiny of humans cannot be separated from the destiny of earth."

"The Great Work, now as we move into a new millennium, is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner."

"The earth community is a wilderness community that will not be bargained with; nor will it simply be studied or examined or made an object of any kind; nor will it be domesticated or trivialized as a setting for vacation indulgence, except under duress and by oppressions which it cannot escape. When this does take place in an abusive way, a vengenace awaits the human, for when the other living species are violated so extensively, the human itself is imperiled."

"The environmental crisis can only be forestalled when there is a broad new cultural understanding of what it means to be human. Sources of this new understanding would be myth – New Story…… a spiritually based on an understanding of nature as the primary revelation of the divine"

"The excitement of life is in the numinous experience wherein we are given to each other in that larger celebration of existence in which all things attain their highest expression, for the universe, by definition, is a single gorgeous celebratory event."

"The great work facing humanity, he says, is to move from mindlessly extracting and consuming the earth's resources to establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with nature."

"The present urgency is to begin thinking within the context of the whole planet, the integral earth community with all its human and other-than-human components"

"The real skill is to raise the sails and to catch the power of the wind as it passes by."

"The natural world itself is our primary language as it is our primary scripture, our primary awakening to the mysteries of existence. We might well put all our written scriptures on the shelf for twenty years until we learn what we are being told by unmediated experience of the world about us."

"The other-than-human species, through their genetic endowment, discover their survival context with only limited disturbance of the larger complex of life systems. They find their niche quickly, or else they perish."

"The impoverishment of nature is the impoverishment of imagination"

"The nobility of our lives, depends upon the manner in which we come to understand and fulfill our assigned role."