Thomas Berry passed away June 1. Born in 1914, he was 94. I did not know him personally. I heard him speak once. His words and his example were significant in the shaping of the person I have become.
Thomas Berry was ordained as a Catholic Priest. He was a historian of world cultures and religions. Those 2 little sentences are too paltry to describe him. In a time of considerable disruption and much needed change among Humans, he was a Beacon, Elder, Teacher, Mentor, Mystic, Sage.
I first began reading his work in the mid 90s. This happened at a time when I was beginning to read "outside the frame". I had spent much of my life reading "the script", "coloring inside the lines", as I had been trained and programmed to do. In my 40s, I began asking questions that I had previously not had space or courage to pursue. I just had to. A lot of what I heard and saw in the world around me just did not make sense. His words and his example were waiting for me.
I heard Thomas Berry speak in 1996 at a national conference on Ecopsychology near Prescott, Arizona. This lovely outdoor venue had 3 walls (front and sides) and a vaulted ceiling; the back of the theater was open as we were being held by the Forest, Mountains, Earth Herself.
At the time, he would have been 82; I was 47. I had read some of his work by then. Hearing him speak was a very memorable, even transformative, experience. This Elderly Man was humble, courageous, wise beyond words. Many times, we were in tears. He touched a chord deep within. He was a voice we had been waiting, even yearning, to hear.
Thomas Berry was able to look at "culture" and put it in a frame. He was able to hold it out for me and for others which helped to identify the big holes that were creating problems and to suggest solutions for this time of change. Those needed changes were in the "outer world" and in our "inner world." These changes were needed for us to become what is meant to be fully Human on this Great Planet Whirling in the Cosmic Sea.
I must be clear that I did not take on Thomas Berry's work as a "template" for my own seeking and practice. I find such approaches dangerous. We do not need people parroting Truth professed by others; we need each person on this Planet speaking Truth that comes from that place of Great Wisdom deep within ourselves. I let his work resonate within me; from that place I made a choice as to what was important to me.
I had the privilege of sharing 1 of his books (The Great Work: Our Way into the Future, 1999)with 7 classes of senior level Environmental Studies students. These students were serious about their concerns for the destruction in the world around them. And they were serious about finding their own way through it. I was deeply privileged to walk beside them. Thomas Berry's ideas stimulated many great conversations in our learning and growing as we were trying to put our feet firmly on the path. I remember students saying: "I shall put this book right by my bed;" "I want to read this again and again over the course of my life."
Thomas Berry was a tireless servant on these such matters. Even this year of his passing at 94 years of age, 2 books will be published in his name. At this moment in time, Thomas Berry has "passed the baton" to countless others who were influenced by him. I count myself as one.
While such writings by "those left behind" are often penned as notes of "sorrow", this 1 is not. Yes, I grieve his loss. But this little writing is rather a note of gratitude and celebration to the Creator for the Great Gift of Thomas Berry in our lives.
Yes, we have more work to do. And yes, our feet are firmly on the Path.
Thomas Berry web site: http://www.thomasberry.org/
Obituary from the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/us/04berry.html?_r=3&ref=obituaries
The Great Work: Our Way into the Future: http://books.google.com/books?id=ppucGgAACAAJ&dq=Thomas+Berry&source=an&hl=en&ei=dEM1SprhL5nKtgeC0dS4CQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6