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A cultural historian synthesizes his own work in the areas of religious history and cultural studies to argue for creating a new path for ecological and cultural survival. Reprint. 10,000 first printing.
Thomas Berry is one of the most eminent cultural historians of our time. Here he presents the culmination of his ideas and urges us to move from being a disrupting force on the Earth to a benign presence. This transition is the Great Work -- the most necessary and most ennobling work we will ever undertake. Berry's message is not one of doom but of hope. He reminds society of its function, particularly the universities and other educational institutions whose role is to guide students into an appreciation rather than an exploitation of the world around them. Berry is the leading spokesperson for the Earth, and his profound ecological insight illuminates the path we need to take in the realms of ethics, politics, economics, and education if both we and the planet are to survive.
"Berry believes we stand at a defining moment in history, one in which the earth itself calls out to us to embark upon a resacralization of nature, a new ecological beginning. Berry is our conscience, our prophet, our guide. He speaks to what is best within us, in a voice that is inclusive, ecumenical, generous, and wise. His Great Work should -- and must -- be ours."
-- Chet Raymo, Orion
"A visionary book, full of insight, erudition, and cogency."
-- Ursula Goodenough, professor of biology, Washington University
Thomas Berry founded the History of Religions Program at Fordham University and the Riverdale Center of Religious Research. He has served as president of the American Teilhard de Chardin Association, and won a Lannan Foundation Award for The Dream of the Earth. Together with the scientist Brian Swimme, he wrote The Universe Story: A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos. He lives in the hill country of the Southern Appalachians.
From the Hardcover edition.
My own understanding of the Great Work began when I was quite young. At the time I was some eleven years old. My family was moving from a more settled part of a small southern town out to the edge of town where the new house was being built. The house, not yet finished, was situated on a slight incline. Down below was a small creek and there across the creek was a meadow. It was an early afternoon in late May when I first wandered down the incline, crossed the creek, and looked out over the scene.
The field was covered with white lilies rising above the thick grass. A magic moment, this experience gave to my life something that seems to explain my thinking at a more profound level than almost any other experience I can remember. It was not only the lilies. It was the singing of the crickets and the woodlands in the distance and the clouds in a clear sky. It was not something conscious that happened just then. I went on about my life as any young person might do.
Perhaps it was not simply this moment that made such a deep impression upon me. Perhaps it was a sensitivity that was developed throughout my childhood. Yet as the years pass this moment returns to me, and whenever I think about my basic life attitude and the whole trend of my mind and the causes to which I have given my efforts, I seem to come back to this moment and the impact it has had on my feeling for what is real and worthwhile in life.
This early experience, it seems, has become normative for me throughout the entire range of my thinking. Whatever preserves and enhances this meadow in the natural cycles of its transformation is good; whatever opposes this meadow or negates it is not good. My life orientation is that simple. It is also that pervasive. It applies in economics and political orientation as well as in education and religion.
That is good in economics which fosters the natural processes of this meadow. That is not good in economics which diminishes the capacity of this meadow to renew itself each spring and to provide a setting in which crickets can sing and birds can feed. Such meadows, I later learned, are themselves in a continuing process of transformation. Yet these evolving biosystems deserve the opportunity to be themselves and to express their own inner qualities. As in economics, so in jurisprudence and law and political affairs--what is good recognizes the rights of this meadow and the creek and the woodlands beyond to exist and flourish in their ever-renewing seasonal expression even while larger processes shape the bioregion in its sequence of transformations.
Religion too, it seems to me, takes its origin here in the deep mystery of this setting. The more a person thinks of the infinite number of interrelated activities that take place here, the more mysterious it all becomes. The more meaning a person finds in the Maytime blooming of the lilies, the more awestruck a person might be in simply looking out over this little patch of meadowland. It has none of the majesty of the Appalachian or the western mountains, none of the immensity or the power of the oceans, nor even the harsh magnificence of desert country. Yet in this little meadow the magnificence of life as celebration is manifested in a manner as profound and as impressive as any other place I have known in these past many years.
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