Thomas Berry was one of the great eco-prophets of our time.  He spoke out loudly and often long before many others in his effort to interfere with our neglect and our ravishing of Mother Earth.  He recognized our capitalistic system of extraction from the Earth and shutting our eyes to the price that other species are paying and future generations of humans will pay.

Video by Caroline Web using words written or spoken by American writer and teacher Thomas Berry on core points of the human-Earth relationship.

Berry offered a remarkable Forward to a fine collection of Thomas Merton’s meditations on nature, compiled by Sister Kathleen Deignan, called When the Trees Say Nothing: Thomas Merton: Writings on Nature

He concludes his Forward this way: We have no inner spiritual development without outer experience…..When we see a flower, a butterfly, a tree, when we feel the evening breeze flow over us or wade in a steam of clear water, our natural response is immediate, intuitive, transforming ecstatic.

Is this your experience also?

He continues: “Everywhere we find ourselves invaded by the world of the sacred.  Such was the experience of Thomas Merton.”  Is this your experience also?

Seeking the wisdom of the Standing Ones. Photo by Rota-Alternativa on Unsplash.

Paying attention to the experience of ecstasy and the sacred hold deep implications for saving Mother Earth as we know her.  An absence of a sense of the sacred is the basic flaw in many of our efforts at ecologically or environmentally adjusting our human presence to the nature world.  It has been said, ‘we will not save what we do not love.’  It is also true that we will neither love nor save what we do not experience as sacred.

What is our experience of the sacred?  How much does it have to do with finding God in nature?  California poet Bill Everson says that “most people experience God in nature or experience God not at all.”  Is that your experience also?

Berry alerts us to how, when a people have lost the sense of the sacred, the way to retrieve it is to recognize anew the sacredness of the universe itself.  And he reminds us how “ecology is functional cosmology,” thus to experience the sacredness of the universe is to experience the sacredness of the Earth—and vice versa.

This single-poem clip is drawn from one of the last videos made of Thomas Berry (1914 – 2009) speaking to an audience (Asheville, North Carolina). Video by Lou Niznik, uploaded by ghostsofevolution.

Says Berry: The difficulty is that the natural world is seen primarily for human use, not as a mode of sacred presence primarily to be communed with in wonder and beauty and intimacy. He cautions that a “deep psychic change” is needed, a kind of conversion experience, to recover the sacred.

The bottom line is this: “Eventually only our sense of the sacred will save us.”


See Matthew Fox, Whee! We, Wee All the Way Home: Toward a Sensual, Prophetic Spirituality, pp. 3-27; 45-54; 73-78.   

And Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics, pp. 361, 365.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: “Boy with Butterfly” Photo by Ryan Hagerty on Public-Domain-Image.com.

Queries for Contemplation

Questions to contemplate on the Sacredness of Mother Earth are sprinkled throughout this essay.  Feel free to return to the questions posed and respond to them.  Do you agree that “only our sense of the sacred will save us”?  And the sacred presence calls us first of all to communion in wonder, beauty and intimacy?


Recommended Reading

Whee! We, Wee All the Way Home: A Guide to Sensual Prophetic Spirituality

Years ahead of its time when first published in 1976, this book is still bold and relevant today. Perfect for anyone who thinks mysticism needs to get out of the head and into the body. Matthew Fox begins the Preface to this book by stating, “This is a practical book about waking up and returning to a biblical, justice-oriented spirituality. Such a spirituality is a way of passion that leads to compassion. Such a way is necessarily one of coming to our senses in every meaning of that phrase.” One of Matthew Fox’s earliest books, this title explores the importance of ecstasy in the spiritual life. Fox considers the distinction between “natural” ecstasies (including nature, sex, friendship, music, art) and “tactical” ecstasies (like meditation, fasting, chanting); he goes on to consider that a truly authentic mysticism must be sensuous in its orientation, so to cultivate the maximum amount of ecstasy for the maximum amount of people.


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9 thoughts on “Earth Day, 2022: Wisdom from Thomas Berry”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you ask us in our Queries for Contemplation: “Do you agree that ‘only our sense of the sacred will save us’?” You say, “An absence of a sense of the sacred is the basic flaw in many of our efforts at ecologically or environmentally adjusting our human presence to the nature world.” I totally agree. Back in the late 80s when I was supporting Green Peace, and other environmental groups, I came to the conclusion that without a change of heart–unless we began to look at the earth as sacred, we would continue to treat the earth as a commodity to be used and profited from. Because of this I wrote a book titled, LITURGIES OF THE EARTH. In this book I created liturgies to run parallel to the Christian holy year, however I had the celebrations in the earth’s cycle of the year be the solstices and equinoxes as well as the “Celtic Quarter days.” Interestingly enough, the Church set the dates of the Christian holy year in relation to the earths holy days–for example, as Christmas was made to fall on the Winter solstice (according to the old Julian calendar)and the Eve of All Saints’ Day was set on Samhain, a Celtic holiday that became Halloween.
    “And the sacred presence calls us first of all to communion in wonder, beauty and intimacy?” Here you are using Via Positiva language–as you say of your book: WHEE! WE, WEE ALL THE WAY HOME: A GUIDE TO SENSUAL PROPHETIC SPIRITUALITY–“a truly authentic mysticism must be sensuous in its orientation, so to cultivate the maximum amount of ecstasy for the maximum amount of people.” AMEN to that !!!

  2. Avatar

    Thank you Matthew for today’s meditation. Yes, only if we understand that our blessed earth is sacred will we treat Her as such. Today I will be leading The Sacred Circle Dance Blue Boat Home on the waterfront in Newburyport MA for our Earth Day Celebrations organized by our local UU Church. I’m sharing the words to Peter Meyer’s song along with a video of me leading Almost 100 students in the dance at MT Holyoke College (where you were invited to speak on Spiritual Warriors). Peter was so moved by us dancing to his song that he posted it on his website. You can see that we have created an ark. Click YouTube of dance to view. We only have one beautiful boat to sail the universe.
    Blessed Earth Day to all!!
    http://thegreatstory.org/songs/blueboat.html

  3. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    What Mathew, Thomas Berry, Merton and Eckhart have spoken of, not only in today’s DM, but in many places and spaces throughout time… unfortunately remains unheard, by those in high places…. whom have the political and economic power and authority to govern the changes that humanity must make. Those in low places… the grass movement shakers and awakeners have indeed listened to and responded to the words spoken by the prophets… yet those in high places mostly and often choose to merely placate with forked tongues and fingers crossed behind their backs.

    Pandemics, ecological disasters, the altering of the biospheres and the extinction of species… the dying of all that is sacred you would think… would be a loud enough voice to bring about a deep psychic change… a conversion experience… an awakening to those in high places, that they might choose to redirect not only their focus… but their political and economic agendas, intentions and power… towards what is beneficial for the good of the whole Earth?

    Some of those in high places have courageously and humbly descended, to join the ranks of the grass movement shakers and awakeners, having been converted to the reality of the sacred… our interconnections, our interrelationships, our inter-reliance, and our interdependence with the all and the everything of creation… the great web of life. In the midst of the devasting crisis we are in, I often question if the sacrificial changes we all need to make will be timely or enough in maintaining, sustaining and possibly restoring the sacred… that inherent goodness and beauty that offers its gifts of life. In the tension of this in-between space… I do my best to do my part.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, Today you write: “What Mathew, Thomas Berry, Merton and Eckhart have spoken of, not only in today’s DM, but in many places and spaces throughout time… unfortunately remains unheard, by those in high places….” Though it seems this way (which is definitely discouraging) there are those who are heard such as Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama–these two men have spoken to the world on the issues of peace and Pope Francis has written a marvelous encyclical on earth stewardship (Laudato si: On Care For Our Common Home) that has gone around the world. If what these two say are unheard, its not because their voices have been drowned beneath the sea of lies, its because liars don’t want to listen because they’ve already decided to do what they deem best for themselves–like the Koch Brothers and their polluting businesses…

  4. Avatar

    I think of the parable of the Prodigal Son who blew his inheritance and ended up living in a wasteland of his own making. The Father welcomed him home when he finally returned ‘to his senses’… That is the message/warning for us at this dark inflection point in our maturing to become fully human nested in the divine.

    1. Avatar
      Jeanette Metler

      Thank you Gwen for your hopeful, inspiring and beautiful words. I really needed to hear them… for my heart aches for Mother Earth.

      Jeanette

  5. Avatar

    Matthew, you remind us again on Earth Day the spiritual message of all mystics throughout human history up to the present day like Thomas Merton and Thomas Berry, that we’re all part of the sacredness and intimacy of ongoing co-Creation within and around us in our relations with one another, Mother Earth and All Her creatures, and the Universe~Cosmos… The Divine Presence of Love~Wisdom~Peace~Justice~Beauty~Joy~Creativity is within the Sacred Uniqueness and the Loving Oneness of All ongoing Creation…. As created human beings, in an important and mysterious way, we have a special responsibility in the conscious evolution of our eternal souls to be co-Creators with-in God’s Spirit of Love~Wisdom~Creativity in the Oneness of the Cosmic Christ within the Universe~Cosmos, including All spiritual multidimensions of God’s Creation, in the Sacred Process of the Eternal Present Moment….
    ?❤️?

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