I just pulled my copy of The Great Work down on Sunday to reread it, and yesterday I heard the news in a staff meeting. The preeminent cultural historian and Passionist priest, Fr. Thomas Berry, died June 1 peacefully at age 94 in Greensboro, North Carolina, surrounded by people who love him.
The Great Work was published at the dawn of the 21st century. In it, Berry, who uses the title of geologian, eloquently tells the story of the planet’s 3.4 billion year history, describing all of the ‘moments of grace’, when life flourished and unfolded. He passionately encourages us all to find our own time as another moment of grace when the Cenozoic era ends and we enter into what he hopes will be an ‘Ecozoic’ era, rediscovering a mutually beneficial relationship with nature. His words will continue to inspire us to search for a new cosmology – one in which humans are the consciousness of the universe and exist for the perfection of the universe rather than the other way around.
Berry’s thinking has influenced me quite a bit, obviously. Probably the most apparent way is that I never use the word ‘stewardship’ when talking about our relationship with creation. I prefer words like ‘kinship’ and ‘partnership’ because in these terms, a mutually beneficial relationship and intrinsic worth is implied. As Berry puts it, ‘the universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.’
So I encourage you to check out some of Berry’s writings or revisit them; they will prod you to want to participate in the great work of planning for a new universal community. His writings are a huge reason why I don’t do things that normal 27-year-olds do; instead I saunter off into the wilderness for 5 months at a time and sit around and dream about how to create communities that will improve our relationship with Creation.
I’m grateful for Tom’s great work, a work that continues.