To Read Thomas Berry, Start Here

August 25, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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In the 1970s, I lived for a number of years with twenty-five or so other women in a Catholic feminist community on an organic farm outside Cincinnati, Ohio. The community was called Grailville, and the years I spent there changed my life.

It would be hard to tell you in one blog or even many the extraordinary things I learned and experienced while I was living at Grailville. But what I want to tell you about today concerns  a Roman Catholic  priest named Thomas Berry who visited the Grailville community from time to time and talked with us. The US Grail–the women’s movement of which Grailville was (and is) the national center–had been part of the “back to the land” movement from its early years, and by the 1970s the environmental movement was definitely underway, with books appearing like E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful.   But Berry, a Passionist monk and professor of world religions at Fordham University in New York, was presenting some truly original ideas about the relationship between the earth and the creation stories of the world religions.

Between Berry’s visits, we would read and discuss mimeographed copies of his recently written articles. One of them, “The New Story,” proposed an entirely new creation-centered framework for understanding the universe in place of the redemption-centered framework that had served the west for more than a millennium. In 1987, the Catholic intellectual journal Cross Currents, co-edited by the Grail’s old friend Bill Birmingham, published several of these essays, including “The New Story,” and in 1990, Berry published his groundbreaking The Dream of the Earth in the Sierra Club’s Nature and Natural Philosophy Library. Today, Berry, sometimes described as a “geologian” rather than a “theologian,” is widely considered a pioneer in religious environmentalism. Reading and discussing Berry’s ideas with him in the 1970s had a profound impact on what I believe and how I live my life.

Now, Orbis Books has published a collection of Berry’s essays, The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth. This short, compact volume of readable articles is an excellent overview of Berry’s thinking in cosmic/religious environmentalism. The introduction by two leaders in the religion and ecology movement, Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, clarifies Berry’s importance in the movement.  Among the other contributions, published by Berry between 1982 and 2000, are pieces on “Christianity and Ecology,” a manifesto about what is required of Christianity if the planet is to survive;  “The Wisdom of the Cross,” in which Berry rereads the crucifixion in light of the entire history of the cosmos; and  “Women Religious: Voices of the Earth,” a paean to the pioneering environmental work of US Catholic Sisters.

As I read these essays, it comes to me that what Berry says here is far more directly critical of Catholic and Christian teaching than is Quest for the Living God, the book by the Catholic feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson which was recently singled out for reprimand by the US Catholic bishops. But Berry was never treated the way Johnson has been (though his forebear Teilhard de Chardin certainly was, and more.) Part of the reason for this is that it was a different set of bishops who were reading Berry’s essays (or not bothering to read them). Also, Berry didn’t claim to be writing theology; the bishops may feel less responsible for “a geologian” or “cultural historian,” as Berry sometimes described himself. Or maybe it’s just more maddening when a Catholic Sister raises these questions.

Regardless of the reason, Berry’s work should not be underestimated just because the US Catholic bishops haven’t denounced it. It’s a radical revisioning of the relationship between God and the cosmos, one badly needed as the planet heats up and our environmental options dwindle. I only wish that a wide range of American Christians would read these essays and act on them.


Why Women Walk

August 3, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Let me begin by saying that I am a serious walker. One of the (many) reasons I love New York City is because it’s such a fabulous place to walk. Not that I am an Olympic, long-distance walker. But I do regularly walk from Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, where I live, to the Q stop on Atlantic Avenue, on the other side of Park Slope, a walk that takes about an hour. Or I walk from our apartment up to and all the way around Prospect Park and back, an outing of an hour and a quarter. And when  it’s not too hot or too cold (not recently, then!) I walk from the library up at Columbia University, one of my favorite places on earth, down to Union Square, a trek of about five miles. I take a long walk most days, except if it’s raining, and then I sweat on my Tunturi exercise bike instead. It’s all quite wonderful.

I started out running. I was a fat young person (I’ll spare you the details) but in my twenties I began running, and by age 32, I had lost thirty pounds. But at some point I read somewhere that running could damage your knees, so I took up walking instead. (Now they seem to think that running doesn’t damage your knees any more than a bunch of other things do.)

I do have a little osteoarthritis in one knee, but it’s not bad, and lemme tell ya, doctors rave about what good health I’m in. An inept GP once sent me to a cardiologist because of “my age” (I’m 64) and when I told the cardiologist that I walk regularly from Columbia to Union Square without any discomfort, he laughed out loud at the idea of my wanting a stress test.

Lately, though, it has come to me that some people walk for reasons other than to keep their weight down. I’m thinking here about the people of drought-stricken Somalia. On PBS last night a commentator spoke of a woman who spent  thirty-two days walking to Kenya to try to find food for herself and her kids. And according to an article I read–not sure where–it’s not unusual for a Somali woman to arrive at the end of such a trek with a (starved) dead baby tied to her back.

But it seems that the famine in Somalia is pretty much off the screen for most of us US-ies. Too worried about the stock market, I guess. I’m thinking maybe the next time I get ready for a weight-controlling march across NYC, I’ll send a donation to the UNICEF’s program for Somalia. Won’t you make a donation too? .

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