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Center for Action and Contemplation
The Soul of Nature
The Soul of Nature

Earth Spirituality

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

The ecological theologian Thomas Berry (1914–2009) reflects on our much-needed connection with nature:

What do you see when you look up at the sky at night at the blazing stars against the midnight heavens? What do you see when the dawn breaks over the eastern horizon? What are your thoughts … in the autumn when the leaves turn brown and are blown away … [or] when you look out over the ocean in the evening? What do you see?

Many earlier peoples saw in these natural phenomena a world beyond ephemeral appearance, an abiding world, a world imaged forth in the wonders of the sun and clouds by day and the stars and planets by night, a world that enfolded the human in some profound manner. This other world was guardian, teacher, healer—the source from which humans were born, nourished, protected, guided, and the destiny to which we returned….

We have lost our connection to this other deeper reality of things. Consequently, we now find ourselves on a devastated continent where nothing is holy, nothing is sacred. We no longer have a world of inherent value, no world of wonder, no untouched, unspoiled, unused world. We think we have understood everything. But we have not. We have used everything. By “developing” the planet, we have been reducing Earth to a new type of barrenness. Scientists are telling us that we are in the midst of the sixth extinction period in Earth’s history. No such extinction of living forms has occurred since the extinction of the dinosaurs some sixty-five million years ago. [1]

Berry calls for a spirituality that honors the natural world:

The ecological age fosters the deep awareness of the sacred presence within each reality of the universe. There is an awe and reverence due to the stars in the heavens, the sun, and all heavenly bodies; to the seas and the continents; to all living forms of trees and flowers; to the myriad expressions of life in the sea; to the animals of the forests and the birds of the air. To wantonly destroy a living species is to silence forever a divine voice. [2]

To preserve this sacred world of our origins from destruction, our great need is for renewal of the entire Western religious-spiritual tradition…. We need to move from a spirituality of alienation from the natural world to a spirituality of intimacy with it, … to a spirituality of the divine as revealed in the visible world about us, from a spirituality concerned with justice simply to humans to a justice that includes the larger Earth community….

We cannot save ourselves without saving the world in which we live.… We will live or die as this world lives or dies. We can say this both physically and spiritually. We will be spiritually nourished by this world or we will be starved for spiritual nourishment. No other revelatory experience can do for the human what the experience of the natural world does. [3]  

[1] Thomas Berry, Selected Writings on the Earth Community, selected by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2014), 32, 33–34. From The Sacred Universe (2009), 170, 171.

[2] Berry, Selected Writings, 34. From The Dream of the Earth (1988), 46.

[3] Berry, Selected Writings, 115–116. From The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth (2009), 60, 63–64.

Image credit: Benjamin Yazza, Untitled Porcupine (detail), New Mexico, 2023, photograph, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.

“I relate tradition to habit, one of my habits brings me to my nature walks, where I see the same scenery, the same foliage, the same animals. Yet none of these are the same, they have their own unique progression.” —Benjamin Yazza, photographer

Story from Our Community:  

During the pandemic, a grove of giant trees was empty. I realized they had been there long before me and that they would outlast us all. Older and wiser for their experience, the trees have much to teach us about survival, resilience, and thriving. Survivors with branches twisted and gnarled, piercing the blue sky with green and red — thriving.
—Steve S.

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