Our Relationship with the Earth Community

Thomas Berry on:  Our Relationship with Earth Community

We might observe that our Western religious institutions are strangely indifferent to what is happening. This indifference arises, apparently, as a result of excessive concern for redemptive processes out of this world, which is considered to be seductive-rather than integration within this world considered to be sacred. There seems to be little realization that the disintegration of the natural world is the destruction of the primordial self-manifestation of the divine. The very existence of religion is threatened in proportion as the splendour of the natural world is diminished. …If we lived on the moon, our sense of the divine would be as dull as the lunar landscape. (ET, chapter 4, page 47-48)

Realizing that there is something terribly wrong in our relations with the natural world our religious traditions have recently begun putting special emphasis on the concept of stewardship as the primary relationship between the human community and the natural world. This concept of stewardship is derived from biblical statements concerning human dominion over the Earth and all its living creatures.

To many religious people, this seems quite adequate as a basic orientation toward the natural world. To others, stewardship itself is the origin of our present evils. There is no way in which we can care for the natural world or improve the genius of nature. (ET, chapter 4, page 52-53)

It should not be said that stewardship exhausts Christian concern for the world about us. There is profound Christian awareness that the natural world itself is a manifestation of the divine. This has led to the concept of revelation being contained in two scriptures: one of the scriptures of the natural world, the other of the scriptures of the Bible.

While this sense of the natural world as revelatory has been severely diminished since the sixteenth century, with the discovery of printing and the consequent emphasis on the written word, it is still available in the tradition itself. If more fully developed, this could lead to a more effective concern for the survival of the planet. (ET chapter 4, page 53)

As humans we are born of the Earth, nourished by the Earth, healed by the Earth. The natural world tells us: I will feed you, I will clothe you, I will shelter you. I will heal you. Only do not so devour me or use me that you destroy my capacity to mediate the divine and the human.

For I offer you communion with the divine, I offer you gifts that you can exchange with each other, I offer you flowers whereby you may express your reverence for the divine and your love for each other.

•All these benefits the Earth gives to us individually, in our communities and throughout the entire Earth…..(ET, chapter 12, Page 139)

Alienation

The integrity of the life systems of the planet, diminished in the spread of humans across the planet, must now be restored. Neither the historical human nor the distant divine nor both together can provide the deeper integration we seek at present. This integration cannot be attained simply by the human, for indeed the human is not the ultimate measure of its own fulfilment.  Neither can this integration be attained through the divine, because the divine cannot be its own manifestation. We need the phenomenal world for this. A universe. An integral self-organizing universe. (Sacred Universe/SU, chapter 3, page 43)

It takes a universe to bring humans into being, a universe to educate humans, a universe to fulfil the human mode of being. More immediately, it takes a solar system and a planet Earth to shape,educate, and fulfil the human.

The difficulty in recent times is that the concern of the human in all the various traditions, with few exceptions, has been focused almost exclusively on inter-human and divine-human relationships. Human-Earth relations have not been given the comprehensive consideration needed. That is where our contemporary challenge is located. (SU, chapter 3,page 44)

Our Way forward

…Our alienation is definitively overcome within a unified understanding of ourselves, of the universe, and all the forces present therein… (SU, chapter 3, page 46)

We need a new pattern of rapport with the planet. … Only a change that profound in human consciousness can remedy the deep cultural pathology manifest in such destructive behavior. Such a change is not possible, however, so long as we fail to appreciate the planet that provides us with a world abundant in volume and variety of food for our nourishment, a world exquisite in supplying beauty of forms,sweetness of taste, delicate fragrances for our enjoyment and exciting challenges for us to overcome with skill and action. (SU, chapter 3, page 48)

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Earth meditation Heal, Filippines


  • ET: The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth,  Thomas Berry ISBN 978-1-57075-851-5
  • Kosmologi Kristen, translation of ET, Thomas Berry ISBN 9 789799 447920
  • The Sacred Universe, Thomas Berry ISBN 978-0-231-145952-5

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