Excerpts from "The Great Work" by Thomas Berry

"The Great Work now, as we move into a new millennium, is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner."

"In reality there is a single integral community of the Earth that includes all its component members whether human or other than human. In this community every being has its own role to fulfill, its own dignity, its inner spontaneity. Every being has its own voice. Every being declares itself to the entire universe. Every being enters into communion with other beings. This capacity for relatedness, for presence to other beings, for spontaneity in action, is a capacity possessed by every mode of being throughout the entire universe."

Great Work

"So too every being has rights to be recognized and revered. Trees have tree rights, insects have insect rights, rivers have river rights, mountains have mountain rights. So too with the entire range of beings throughout the universe. All rights are limited and relative. So too with humans. We have human rights. We have rights to the nourishment and shelter we need. We have rights to habitat. But we have no rights to deprive other species of their proper habitat. We have no rights to interfere with their migration routes. We have no rights to disturb the basic functioning of the biosystems of the planet. We cannot own the Earth or any part of the Earth in any absolute manner. We own property in accord with the well-being of the property and for the benefit of the larger community as well as ourselves."

"The Great Work before us, the task of moving modem industrial civilization from its present devastating influence on the Earth to a more benign mode of presence, is not a role that we have chosen. It is a role given to us, beyond any consultation with ourselves. We did not choose. We were chosen by some power beyond ourselves for this historical task."

"...Yet we must believe that those powers that assign our role must in that same act bestow upon us the ability to fulfill this role. We must believe that we are cared for and guided by these same powers that bring us into being."

"...the emerging Ecozoic Era, the period when humans will be present to the planet as participating members of the comprehensive Earth community. This is our Great Work and the work of our children..."

"We might observe here that the Great Work of a people is the work of all the people. No one is exempt. Each of us has our individual life pattern and responsibilities. Yet beyond these concerns each person in and through their personal work assists in the Great Work. Personal work needs to be aligned with the Great Work."

"We cannot doubt that we too have been given the intellectual vision, the spiritual insight, and even the physical resources we need for carrying out the transition that is demanded of these times, transition from the period when humans were a disruptive force on the planet Earth to the period when humans become present to the planet in a manner that is mutually enhancing."

"The historical mission of our times is to re-invent the human—at the species level, with critical reflection, within the community of life-systems, in a time-developmental context, by means of story and shared dream experience."

"...Radical new cultural forms are needed. These new cultural forms would place the human within the dynamics of planet rather than place the planet within the dynamics of the human."

1. Evolution of All Life - Tree of Life    

"We must find our primary source of guidance in the inherent tendencies of our genetic coding" (Ed: and in the inherent tendencies of cosmic evolution – see #5).

"These tendencies are derived from the larger community of the Earth and eventually from the universe itself..."(ED: refer to Brian Swimme's Attraction, Complexity, etc. & Ursula Goodenough's Emergence)

"Such forms find expression in the symbols of the Heroic Journey, Death-Rebirth, the Sacred Center, the Great Mother, the Tree of Life. Although these symbolic forms are broadly the same in their general meaning, they each take on various modes of expression in the different religious and cultural traditions, modes that are analogously the same in their essential meaning."

2.  Social Contracts/Systems - Revisited (Economics, Law, Ecomorality, ….)

"The necessity of rethinking our situation at the species level is clear in every aspect of the human.
As regards economics we need not simply a national or a global economy but local subsistence economies where the variety of human groups become acquainted with the other species in the local bioregion."

"Our schools of business administration at the present time teach the skills whereby the greatest possible amount of natural resources is processed as quickly as possible, put through the consumer economy, and then passed on to the junk heap, where the remains are useless at best and at worst toxic to every living being."

"Now there is need for humans to develop reciprocal economic relationships with other life-forms providing a sustaining pattern of mutual support, as is the case with natural life-systems generally.
Especially as regards law, we need a jurisprudence that would provide for the legal rights of geological and biological as well as human components of the Earth community. A legal system exclusively for humans is not realistic. Habitat of all species, for instance, must be given legal status as sacred and inviolable."

3.  Critical Assessments of Today’s Problems and Solutions

"Thirdly, I say with critical reflection because this reinventing of the human needs to be done with critical competence. Originally there was a certain instinctive, spontaneous process whereby the early cultural formations were established. Now we need all our scientific insight and technological skills. We must, however, see that our sciences and technologies are coherent with the technologies of the natural world. Our knowledge needs to be in harmony with the natural world rather than a domination of the natural world. We need the art of intimate communion with, as well as technical knowledge of, the various components of the natural world."

"We insist on the need for critical reflection as we enter the ecological age in order to avoid a romantic attraction to the natural world that would not meet the urgencies of what we are about. The natural world is violent and dangerous as well as serene and benign. Our intimacies with the natural world must not conceal the fact that we are engaged in a constant struggle with natural forces. Life has its bitter and burdensome aspects at all levels. Yet its total effect is to strengthen the inner substance of the living world and provide the never-ending excitement of a grand adventure."

4.   Gaia – The Planet Earth as a Living Community / System

"Fourth, we need to reinvent the human within the community of life systems. This is the central phrase, the primary condition for reinventing the human. Because the Earth is not adequately understood either by our spiritual or by our scientific traditions, the human has become an addendum or an intrusion. We have found this situation to our liking since it enables us to avoid the problem of integral presence to the Earth. This attitude prevents us from considering the Earth as a single community with ethical relations determined primarily by the well-being of the total Earth community."

"While the Earth is a single community, it is not a global sameness. Earth is highly differentiated into arctic as well as tropical regions, into mountains, valleys, plains, and coastlands. These geographical regions are also bioregions. Such areas can be described as identifiable geographical regions of interacting life-systems that are relatively self-sustaining in the ever-renewing processes of nature. As the functional units of the planet, these bioregions can be described as self-propagating, self-nourishing, self-educating, self-governing, self-healing, and self-fulfilling communities. Human population levels, our economic activities, our educational processes, our governance, our healing, our fulfillment must be envisaged as integral with this community process.
There are great difficulties in identifying just how to establish a viable context for a flourishing and sustainable human mode of being. Of one thing we can be sure, however: our own future is inseparable from the future of the larger community that brought us into being and sustains us in every expression of our human quality of life, in our aesthetic and emotional sensitivities, our intellectual perceptions, our sense of the divine, as well as in our physical nourishment and our bodily healing."

5.  Deep History of Nature and Consciousness

"Fifth, reinventing the human must take place in a time-developmental context. This constitutes what might be called the cosmological-historical dimension of the program I am outlining here. Our sense of who we are and what our role is must begin where the universe begins. Not only does our physical shaping and our spiritual perception begin with the origin of the universe, so too does the formation of every being in the universe."

"This human formation is governed by three basic principles:
Our present course is a violation of each of these three principles in their most primordial expression. Whereas the basic direction of the evolutionary process is toward constant differentiation within a functional order of things, our modem world is directed toward monocultures. This is the inherent direction of the entire industrial age. Industry requires a standardization, an invariant process of multiplication with no enrichment of meaning. In an acceptable cultural context, we would recognize that the unique properties of each reality determine its value both for the individual and for the community. These are fulfilled in each other. Violation of the individual is an assault on the community.
As a second imperative derived from the cosmological process, we find that each individual is not only different from every other being in the universe but also has its own inner articulation, its unique spontaneities. Each being in its subjective depths carries that numinous mystery whence the universe emerges into being. This we might identify as the sacred depth of the individual.
The third cosmological imperative indicates that the entire universe is bonded together in such a way that the presence of each individual is felt throughout its entire spatial and temporal range. This capacity for bonding the components of the universe with one another enables the vast variety of beings to come into existence in that gorgeous profusion and yet comprehensive unity we observe about us."

"From this we can appreciate the directing and energizing role played by the story of the universe. This story that we know through empirical observation of the world is our most valuable resource in, establishing a viable mode of being for the human species as well as for all those stupendous life-systems whereby the Earth achieves its grandeur, its fertility, and its capacity for endless self-renewal."

"This story, as told in its galactic expansion, its Earth formation, its life emergence, and its self-reflexive consciousness, fulfills in our times the role of the mythic accounts of the universe that existed in earlier times, when human awareness was dominated by a spatial mode of consciousness. We have moved from cosmos to cosmogenesis, from the mandala journey toward the center of an abiding world to the irreversible journey of the universe itself, as the primary sacred journey. This journey of the universe is the journey of each individual being in the universe. So this story of the great journey is an exciting story that gives us our macrophase identity with the larger dimensions of meaning that we need. To identify the microphase of our being with the macrophase mode of our being is the quintessence of human fulfillment."

"The present imperative of the human is that this journey continue on into the future in the integrity of the unfolding life-systems of the Earth, which presently are threatened in their survival. Our great failure is the termination of the journey for so many of the most brilliant species of the life community. The horrendous fact is that we are, as the Cambridge University biologist Norman Myers has indicated, in an extinction spasm that is likely to produce "the greatest single setback to life's abundance and diversity since the first flickerings of life almost four billion years ago" (quoted in Biodiversity,p. 34). The labor and care expended over some billions of years and untold billions of experiments to bring forth such a gorgeous Earth is all being negated within less than a century for what we consider "progress" toward a better life in a better world."


Excerpts from the DVD

Thomas Berry: "The Great Story"

"As a pioneer in the field of spirituality and ecology, Thomas Berry created a quiet revolution. He was a monk, a cultural historian, an author, a teacher, and a mystic.

His values were rooted in this sacred cosmology which includes the entire natural world. The mountains, rivers, birds, fish, all living organisms are not there for our use but for a union which is needed for us to become who we are. As Berry said, "I am not myself without everything else."

He saw his life work as waking us up to that sacred story. He called us "mad" for the way we are despoiling our home, our planet, its beauty, and its living systems. He was a force that reminded us that we are living through the greatest extinction spasm of the past 65 million years. We are the ones responsible. Berry urged us to change our ways.

At the heart of the film is Berry's experience of the universe as a cosmic liturgy. He reminds us that:

"we (all that exists) are not a collection of objects but a communion of subjects."

More.... "