The Life and Legacy of Thomas Berry Panel 1

The Life and Legacy of Thomas Berry Panel 1


– I am truly delighted to
welcome you this afternoon to Thomas Berry, and “The Great Work”, honoring a truly great man, whom I knew as a Professor in graduate school, who
became an Academic Guide, a friend, and the visionary who influenced so much of my life’s work. Many here today can claim
the same and other ties. He was born in North Carolina, a Priest, and a member of the Passionist, a religious congregation
founded in the 18th century. He became a University Professor and Founder of a graduate
program of Religious Studies, the Director of a center, a Writer, and a man with a great vision. Stated succinctly, in the title of his book, The Great Work, published in 1999, on the
eve of the third millennium. In the concluding chapter, he wrote, “so now is in this transition period, “into the 21st century. “We are experiencing a moment of grace, “but a moment in its
significance that is different “from any previous moment.” Then, after stating how we are altering the great classical civilizations and the indigenous tribal
cultures that have dominated the spiritual and intellectual development of vast numbers of people. He declared, “that we will
never be able to function “without these traditions, but
these older traditions alone “cannot fulfill the needs of the moment. “Something new is happening. “A new vision and a new
energy are coming into being.” 10 years ago, in 2009, Father
Thomas Berry passed away at the age of 94. In 10 days, on November 9th, we will be the 105th anniversary of his birth. This year, our keynote
speakers, Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, have published,
Thomas Berry: A Biography. Probably, that’s not any
news to you, right now. But let me introduce them. They have been my friends
for these past 50 years. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John
Grim are Senior Lecturers and Research Scholars at Yale University, where they have appointments
in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, as well as the Divinity School, and the Department of Religious Studies. At Yale they teach in the joint MA program in Religion and Ecology,
and Direct the Forum on Religion and Ecology, together. Mary Evelyn received her
PhD from Columbia University in Japanese Confucianism. Since 1997 she has been
a Research Associate at the Reischauer Institute of
Japanese Studies at Harvard. Her Confucian publications include, Moral and Spiritual Civilization in Japanese Neo-Confucianism,
the Philosophy of Qi, and with Tu Weiming, she
has edited two Volumes on Confucian Spirituality. John Grim received his PhD
from Fordham University, writing a thesis on the
Shaman under the Direction of Father Thomas Berry. He has undertaken field work with the Crow, Apsaalooke, people of Montana, and the Salish people of Washington State. He is the Author of The Shaman Patterns of
Religious Healing Among the Ojibwe Indians. He also edited, Indigenous
Traditions in Ecology, the Interbeing of Cosmology and Community. Mary Evelyn also studied
with Father Berry, receiving an MA in History Religions before attending Columbia
University for her Doctorate. Concerned for the growing
environmental crisis, especially in Asia, and
among indigenous peoples, led them to organize a
series of 10 conferences on World Religions and Ecology
at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard. They are Series Editors
of the Harvard Volumes from the conferences on
Religion and Ecology. Along with Brian Thomas
Schwinn, Mary Evelyn and John, created the multimedia Journey
of the Universe Project, this consists of an
Emmy Award winning film, a book from Yale University
Press, 20 podcast interviews, and three online courses
from Yale Coursera. Mary Evelyn and John were
longtime collaborators with Thomas Berry. Over 35 years they edited his essays and published his books,
created the Berry archive at Harvard, established the
Thomas Berry Foundation, and led the American Teilhard Association, and wrote the Biography,
Thomas Berry: A Biography, to which I have referred. They will be signing copies here after, at the reception, after the
proceedings, this afternoon. And so without any further wait, Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim. (audience applauding) – Thank you so much, John. This friendship has blossomed. And to see so many friends here today from those Fordham
years, and Riverdale years, and beyond, is really a great joy. And to see new faces, is also splendid. I want to thank my brother,
Peter, and sister-in-law for coming and some friends
from Trinity, as well, where I graduated here in D.C. You know, it’s really
tremendous that Georgetown has taken up this remarkable visionary, Thomas Berry, and we’re very
grateful for the support of President de Joya, for
the Berkeley Center here, and for Sam Wagner’s amazing work. But we want to give a
special thanks to our friend. – I joined with Mary
Evelyn in my appreciation for your presence here. I want to lean on the Confucian tradition, how delightful it is when
friends gather from afar. But both Mary Evelyn and
I wanted to acknowledge and honor John Borelli, a
friend as John has said, for over 50 years, and especially
for his leadership role here at Georgetown in
organizing this conference, and as he has indicated, so many more. This friendship is extending for 50 years with Marianne, John’s wife,
and Mary Evelyn, and myself, and many of us present here. It’s a delight to mark this moment and bring us into a community together. – We’re gonna make some
remarks this afternoon about the book itself,
about who was Thomas Berry, we’re all still discovering that. And we want to highlight, of course, his notion of a new story
and a communion of subjects. And then we want to end
with, The Great Work, that so many of you here
are involved with, as well. Want to just also acknowledge
our third author in the book, and that’s Andrew Angyal, who
is a Professor of Literature at Elon College in North Carolina. And he did a lot of the
research that helped us for the early years in Greensboro and with the Passionist, so
we’re grateful to Andrew. – After we had finished
our graduate studies with Thomas Berry, we
maintained that friendship by visiting often at Riverdale Center and also beginning to
listen to Thomas developing his essay style and working
with him, as many of us did, here in the group, on ideas
that he was developing and eventually, even driving with Thomas to talks together and
participating in that process of struggle to get one’s words together. And there were several moments, several times in those exchanges, when the idea of a
biography would come up, and there was one constant
phrase that Thomas used whenever it would come up,
tell my story in the context of my times. And if you think of this for a moment, his times are so rich, Thomas
Berry’s long life spanned the major events of the 20th century. From the First World War,
at the time of his birth, to significant climate
and ecological disruption, from electrical energy to solar energy, from community phone lines to computers, from horse and buggy to
placing a man on the moon. He sought throughout
his life to make sense of these changes. And I think that’s my first emphasis here, is to try and catch the
tail of this dragon, this wonderful person, Thomas Berry. The sense that he was
engaged in a quest for his, his historical voice. I think that moves through
his life and it comes to this very moment here
where we begin to think of biography as this
triangulation, a historical genre, that in Thomas Berry’s
case brings together the context of his times, Thomas’ quest for his historical voice, and the efforts of two of his students
to try and understand and interpret this journey. – This was a 10 year project and longer because this is one of the
most remarkable intellectuals in the 20th century. And in fact, that was
recognized by Harvard when they established, with
us, his archives there, because those archives are recognizing the leading thinkers of the 20th century in the environment. It’s a remarkable tribute, actually. And so, what helped us in this biography, was many of the papers that
we had boxed and collected, when we took apart the Riverdale Center, we sent them down to Margaret Berry, his sister in North
Carolina, and God bless her, she organized them and sent
them back up to Harvard. And so, papers that were
published and not published, letters from all over the world. This was way before emails
and these letters are so extraordinary. People asking him for things,
him writing for things, and so on. So you got the sense already
of a planetary person just through those letters. But what was particularly
helpful was a autobiography that he wrote at the end of his life. It’s not a publishable manuscript, really, but we took some central passages. It’s called, Golden Rod,
and it gives this sense of his life, especially
early in Greensboro, and he’s recalling at the end of his life. The powerful impact of nature on him, that beautiful story of the
meadow across the creek. All of this visionary
mystical sense of the impact of presence in nature. And yet, at the same time,
he felt the sense of loss with the rapid
industrialization in the South with the growth towards modernization. This small community, 30 thousand, to well over 300 thousand
now, but he could feel there’s loss here. And as well, he was very
aware of the inequities in the society where he grew up. His father was very conscious
of African Americans, and in his company, tried
to take care of them. We visited the African
American Museum this morning and it is riveting, as you
know, Thomas was immersed in this history, he understood it. And so, between the love of
nature, between the loss, between the inequities,
his historical vision began to emerge. And in fact, it had a
special role, right here in Washington D.C., where he
took up his graduate studies. He was at Catholic University
and there he studied History, Western History, he
had wonderful Scholars, especially a few had come
from Europe, at the time. And at that time at Catholic University, he studied the Philosophy
of History of Vico, and that was his dissertation. It’s quite a work. But in addition, there
were classes, even then, on indigenous traditions,
which was really remarkable. I should mention, he has come out of Greensboro, North
Carolina, 14 years there as a young person, 14 years
there at the end of his life. He struggled. He went away to high school,
trying to get this vision, even as a young person, at 18, he entered the Passionist Order and we’re so pleased that
there’s a number of Passionists here today with us, because he wanted to find a place where he could have solace,
where he could have silence, where he could have reflection,
and a religious context. And the Passionist have both a monastic and a preaching context. This was the right place for him. And his graduate studies were supported, his life was supported by the Passionist. After he finished his
graduate work in 1948, he took off for China. Now, an amazing, in ’48,
to be thinking about the traditions of China,
the history, the language, he was already studying it,
the religious traditions and thought, Confucianism. That’s why I immerse
myself in Confucianism because of his brilliant
understanding of this tradition, an extraordinary tradition,
filled with Cosmology and Ecology, and he
understood that so long ago. We were just in China and
we’ll tell you about this at the end of the talk, but 70 years ago, he went there with Ted de Bary, one of the great Scholars
of Asia at Columbia. Ted and Thomas met on the
boat going out of the harbor in San Francisco, they spent
a good deal of time in China, but now took over Beijing,
and they had to be evacuated. But this experience in
China, never left him. This love of this tradition,
Ted de Bary established one of the great Asian
programs in North America at Columbia, and many years
later, Thomas did that at Fordham University in the
History of Religions program. But first, Europe intervenes. – When Thomas returned in 1948, it’s interesting to
reflect on the experiences that he had had, both
those in the United States, and on the boat over to China, they stopped in the
Philippines so he could visit his sister, who was a
Maryknoll Sister there. And then, after the 1948
leave taking from China, he went to Japan and had
occasion to meet with Joseph Spa, a Scholar of Japanese Confucianism there, and to make contacts in the Japanese, in the context of Japan. But his return in 1948,
he returned to Dunkirk, the Seminary of the Passionist
to teach in that setting, and I think he began to
formulate the image of himself as a teacher, and to make plans. And one of his plans was
to return to East Asia, hopefully to Japan, and to
work in those Institute’s there or possibly in Korea, and he
thought the Korean opportunity was through a Chaplaincy in the Army. So, when he went into volunteer for a Chaplaincy in the Army, he was unexpectedly assigned to Germany. (audience laughing)
This was a real twist in his plans and his career but Thomas made the most of it. And by making the most of it, I want to, more than insinuate, but
to say, quite frankly, that the military life
did not intrigue him, it didn’t interest him that much. (audience laughing) He found it trivial and at times banal, but at the same time he was very aware that a matter of a few kilometers away, was the Soviet Army, much larger
than the American presence in West Germany, but in East Germany, the Soviet presence. So, he was aware of the tensions
in the historical context at that time. So he took the opportunity
while he was in Europe to travel a bit and to
deepen his understanding. For example, of Dante’s Divine Comedy by traveling in Italy. He also had the occasion to
be, not simply a Chaplain in the military, but he entered into local parish life in Germany. So, it’s interesting
to see in the archives, letters from German
families who established a friendship with Thomas,
and that friendship continued into the 50’s and 60’s. So, these letters are very
interesting to get an idea of, especially Thomas’s
appreciation of the aesthetic of local musical groups in Germany, and their accomplished presentations. So, the 1954 termination of his
Chaplaincy freed Thomas up and on his return to the United States he stopped in England and he met with the Historian, Christopher Dawson. Thomas would refer to this quite often when we would discuss
History as a discipline. Because that meeting
with Dawson was seminal, it affirmed an idea that Thomas had, and that Dawson was working on also. Namely, Dawson was a Historian
of the formation of Europe, and Dawson was keen on the role
of Judaism and Christianity in the formation of Europe, and Thomas was given an
affirmation, by Dawson, that religion played a central role in understanding cultural history. So when Thomas returned
to the United States, even more now he began to
see himself as a teacher, that role began to crystallize, and he applied to the Superior
of the Passionist Order but unfortunately, the Passionist and their preaching orientation, did not have teaching
universities or teaching colleges and they declined or they
did not give him permission to teach and he was a doorman instead, in the Queens community of
the Passionist community there near St. John’s University. Eventually, Thomas pushed
that request all the way to the Superior General
in Rome, and eventually the Passionist Superior General in Rome, recognized Thomas’s capacities,
gave that permission and Thomas connected then,
with the establishment at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, of a far Eastern Institute. This was a remarkable
moment in East Asian Studies because many of the
expatriates from the mainland through Taiwan had come
into the United States and Seton Hall was the
Center for Chinese thought. From Seton Hall, he was there, ’57 to ’61, in the teaching capacity and
then he moved to St. John’s with an appointment, and St. John’s, it’s conservative
administration ran up against a faculty who were really
wrestling with academic freedom at the time. There was a strike and Thomas attempted to mediate between that strike. It happened that the
administration fired those faculty who’d struck and Thomas was included, it was a misreading of his
role in those activities. Immediately, Christopher
Boone, at Fordham University, contacted Thomas and
offered him a position at Fordham University to develop a History of Religions program. So, it was at Fordham
that Thomas developed this program focused on
the Western traditions, South Asian, Thomas was
teaching himself Sanskrit, emphasizing his budding
work in Buddhism especially, and then East Asian traditions, his love of those traditions also. – You know, it’s quite
remarkable when we think of what academia requires of us. But he had over 20 PhD
students that he directed, who went on to teach all over the country. That’s an enormous
contribution in and of itself. But what is also stunning. So the struggle to teach,
but his persistence to do so, his struggle to write. It was during this
period that he published one of the very early books on Buddhism. That was a teachable book,
Columbia University Press still has it in print and
the other book, that was ’66, and the other book in ’71
was Religions of India. A beautiful, beautiful book. So, his insight into these traditions, I want to underscore, was
very much self taught. There were very few courses
and universities across America and elsewhere, North
America, on these traditions. So, his ability to take
texts, and traditions, and history, and put them into something that we could all
understand and that was true in his classes, of course, at Fordham. Later, his style developed
into these very pithy essays, as you know, and during
the Riverdale years, he would write essay after essay, and many versions of
this, of course, emerged and especially when the computer emerged, there were lots of different
versions of these essays, which was a challenge to edit
them, as you can imagine. But this, out of these essays
came, Dream of the Earth, in ’88, then 10 years
later, The Great Work, as John Borelli has
mentioned, Evening Thoughts, The Sacred Universe, and Christian Future in the Fate of Earth. We were stunned, by the way,
when Columbia said we’d like to call this particular group of essays, The Sacred Universe. We always took one of
the essays for the title, but this was the secular press. That is a word that we need
more than ever, before today, Sacred Universe. He was so far ahead of his times. Now what we would try to do at Riverdale, at this astonishingly beautiful setting across from the Palisades, these 200 million year old cliffs, the Hudson River with its
estuary effect of the salt water coming in and the fresh water coming down from the Adirondacks. These beautiful, there were two, actually, huge red oaks there. He dedicated his first
book, Dream of the Earth, to the red oak. But what we wanted to create, and out of the Teilhardian context, the Teilhard Association, we
would have monthly meetings there, every Saturday,
and we’d have a talk, he would do the one in November and we’d celebrate his birthday. We’d have a talk, and we’d
have a potluck dinner. It was an amazing intellectual
and friendship community that supported his working towards his historical vision,
the struggle, the word, the community, all of that coming together and all of these were
necessary for him to do this great work. He would have summer
conferences that he would do the whole two or three days on topics like the Bioregionalism on New York City, its history and its future,
on the Hudson River Valley, and these were astonishing. People would come from miles and miles for these summer conferences. But in the middle of this 25
year period, at Riverdale, and again, the Passionist
gave him this house for his huge library, 10 thousand books, for all of these gatherings and so on. It was from 1970 to 1995. In the middle of this
special time at Riverdale, was what was, he called, his golden year. It was ’77, ’78, the year
before we were married, and we had many wonderful
evenings with him, but John will describe the year. – As Mary Evelyn mentioned, that was Thomas Berry’s
term for that year. I can still see him leaning back, and my goodness, that golden year. It was a term that described a period when three graduate students came to live at the center, there were
also some Passionist living in this four story house,
the second and third floors, had rooms in them. And the students, Brian
Brown, who’s with us today, did his undergraduate at Fordham
and came into that program, and Valerio Ortolani, an Italian Jesuit, who had done studies in Japan
and went to Mexico to continue Eco-Psychological work before his passing. The three of us constituted
a small community and then visitors would come and swell, and the meals were in a special focus of this golden year exchange. We would have new meals from,
say about noon to three, and dinners from six to nine. (audience laughing) And of course, the
agenda was for one of us to present what work we were
doing on our dissertation, which was a perilous commitment. And Thomas would give us feedback, and more often than not, we would listen to him developing ideas
that would find expression in his essays. So, these were remarkable moments and the crux of it all, I think, is going to be evident later
when we hear Brian Brown read a poem that he wrote as
he was leaving the center. And he will take us, in
his poem, on a walk around the Riverdale Center. And if you listen closely,
you’ll hear the community, the expansion of Thomas’ quest
for his historical voice, we’ll hear it extend into the scriptures of these traditions. Brian will talk about
the books on the shelves and how the vitality of the Scriptures, that we students were looking at, and trying to ponder the
depth of these traditions. So, it’s in this year, 1977 to ’78, that Thomas will articulate
the essay, the New Story, and that New Story is, lays out Thomas’s
cosmological perspective. But he does so in this way
to just see it in two forms. He articulates a very old
concern for the distancing from the natural world. The sense that he brought from
his youth in North Carolina of this loss of connection
with this orienting, grounding, nurturing,
transforming exchange of humans with the natural world. And in our industrial technological turn, we distanced ourselves
and continue to do so, we’re still grappling with that. On the other hand,
Thomas brought an insight into this sense of the evolutionary story, the Evolutionary Perspective,
and a realization then that there was a telling,
there was something going on, there was a new revelatory telling, and that would clarify
itself in one phrase, especially for Thomas. He would say, the Universe is
not a collection of objects but a communion of subjects. And you can hear in these two phrases, not a collection of objects, it’s the distancing from the
natural world has caused us to see the world as
objectified dead matter that we can manipulate or
treat in any way we want. But he says, the term we need to make, is to understand this
communion of subjects, this sense of the capacity of the world and its subjectivity, its
ability to speak to us. And this brings me to two points that I think are really
crucial in seeing Thomas’, his vision articulate itself. His quest for historical
voice expanded into the sense that every existent being in the Universe, had voice and was telling its story. So this remarkable understanding
that he would express in his writings when he
sought a way to be grounded in the great vessel of life. “The cosmos and evoke this
with the power of story, “which elevated the voices
of birdsong and migrations, “revered the living forests
and ancient mountains, “evoked the roaring power
of oceans and rivers, “and wove it all together
in a way that made one feel “the power of starburst
or galaxy formation.” If the voices of reality is the first point I would emphasize, the second is this power
of the world in front, the capacity of the
religious traditions he felt, provided a frame for
understanding this revelation. And there’s so many
words we could use for it from the traditions themselves, but one that Thomas found
satisfying was, sacred. It’s a sacred Universe,
it’s a sacred concert. – Clearly, at the ground
of being, for Thomas, was this sense that we need a new story, coming out of this golden year. Beyond the old paradigms
of religion and sciences, divided in song, a new
integration of indigenous and ancient religious wisdom’s, with the evolutionary sciences and the ecological sciences, a new fusion. This sense then, the
assumption for Thomas, was that human beings have
evolved into a planetary force, capable of not only knowing, but also shaping the evolution of life at this particular time. His critique was that we still operate from this old world view of a mechanistic, a separate Universe of humans and nature. And this leads us to
destroy the ecosystems on which life thrives. The goal is that when we come to know the cooperative connected living Universe, everything changes and our role emerges. And we are just getting a
glimpse of what that means from his 1978 essay. For, he would say, that
our role is in co-creating, that which comes next, that
offers hope for a different and a vibrant future. That is the great work
that he was calling us to. So we’re going to conclude
with kind of a bouquet of celebration of The Great Work that’s in this room and beyond. I want to start with the Earth Charter, which was a 10 year effort to
write with many, many people, in committee, (chuckles) a
declaration not of independence, but of interdependence. It came out of the Rio
Earth Summit in ’92, Gorbachev said, we need a 10 Commandments for adjudicating the
environment and development. This is still an ongoing
clash of interest. So, that charter tried to put
together, ecology, justice, and peace, but the context was Thomas, and the preamble of
the Earth Charter says, and I was part of the drafting committee, we are part of a vast
evolving Universe, Earth, our home, is alive with a
myriad community of life. That is a profound
cosmological sensibility at the heart of this
declaration of interdependence. I wanna also give a shout out to the religious women
across North America, and in the UK, and
Ireland, and in Australia. Women who understood Thomas
at a very profound level. Genesis Farm with Miriam
MacGillis, over 30 years. Jean Clark at Earth Home on Long Island. The Green Mountain Monastery, where Thomas is buried, up in Vermont. Sisters of Earth, all across this Country, setting up Earth Literacy Centers. Jean Bluitt and her
Earth Center in Maryland. And a special shout out
for sister Megan Rice, a sister of the Holy Child,
who’s a close family friend, and has done some of
the most courageous work in peace movements and
nuclear disarmament, and we thank her for that. In the world of education, we
have people like Joe Holland at St. Thomas, and Elizabeth Ferraro, who for many summers had
Thomas over to Assisi to do conferences with young
people and inspire them. The Humane Society of the
U.S. had a special center for respective life and
environment the Thomas served on, Rick Claudson, Lisa Bardic,
helped to lead that. The Teilhard Association
that he was President of for 12 years, and we’ve
been leading for about 32. We’ve got all (chuckles)
kinds of Teilhardians here. Jane Anne Mcpartland,
Maria Meyers, Kathy Duffy, Catherine Anne Crop, Dan Shyde, Frank Frost, who’s doing
a movie on Teilhard, – Frank and Maryanne.
– Frank and Mary Frost. Religion and ecology inspired by Thomas, over and over again, and our
colleagues, Heather Eaton, up at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, Reverend Nancy Wright in Burlington, Kusumita Peterson a leader in the Parliament of World Religions, Gary Gardner and his work for
many years with Worldwatch, and Rabbi Fred, with the
Interfaith Power & Light, and the National Religious
partnership for the environment. We’re thrilled to have
all of you here doing this great work. Herman Greene, down in North Carolina, with the Center for Ecozoic Studies, his latest work is to collect examples of the great work and
put them into a booklet. We have done that also on
the Thomas Berry website and you can see the inspiration that these organizations have created. Forgive me if I miss some of you here, but this sense that the
community of The Great Work that is emerging, will
continue to inspire all of us into the future. So we’re going to conclude
with our offerings, into The Great Work, is this
Forum on Religion and Ecology now based at Yale, because our former Dean said Science, and Policy,
Economics, Technology, and Law are necessary but not sufficient for the environmental
changes that we need. We need the moral force of
all the world’s religions, right now. And Thomas was crucial,
both in teaching us the world religions and being present at our Harvard conferences
for all of those three years. – John has already mentioned,
John Borelli has mentioned the Harvard conferences and
so I won’t go into depth, other than to say, that we
held them from ’96 through ’99 and then 10 Volumes resulted from the work of over 800 Scholars who are
examining particular tradition. So, it’s Judaism and
Ecology, Islam and Ecology, Confucianism, and so forth. These conferences, generally, followed us three fold methodology. There was an effort to
inquire where individuals or communities within
these traditions had had an exchange with the natural world that they’ve entered
into their Scriptures, or their rituals, or their
commentarial tradition. And so, a retrieval dimension. Each of these conferences
would bring forward examples from a particular tradition
and then the examination would take place of the assembled Scholars from this tradition, a
kind of reevaluation. So retrieval, reevaluation,
and if the example seemed to have some gravity with regard to our contemporary problems, how would a tradition reconstruct itself? So retrieval, reevaluation,
reconstruction, was the basic drive behind this gathering. The Volumes that emerged
continued to be used and we have a sense that
the Religions of the World now have so many voices, like a parliament of world religions, which
is taken to the question of ecological concern, significantly. – So we just want to give
a couple examples of this on the ground and I want
to give a big shout out to Walt Grazer and Drew Christiansen who worked for many years,
along with John Borelli at the U.S. Bishops
Conference on these issues of the environment and
the Catholic Church. The Encyclical that’s
resulted from the work of many, many people
led out to see on care for a common home. We have one of the most
extraordinary religious leaders on this topic, as we know, Pope Francis. But I just wanna highlight
that this beautiful phrase in the Encyclical, cry of
the Earth, cry of the poor, came from Leonardo Boff,
from a book he did in ’97, in a series we do at Orbits
on ecology and justice. Leonardo, as you know, is one of the leading
Liberation Theologians from Latin America, and years ago, Thomas Berry said to Leonardo Boff, we can’t liberate humans
without the Earth. Leonardo got this in a huge way, he said, hugely into the sense of
Cosmology and Ecology, so that theme is right
there in the Encyclical, and that thread comes from
Thomas Berry’s integral Ecology, which he used that phrase many years ago. I just want to also highlight, you know, people say what’s happening on the ground, and there is a lot happening. I was just in Cape Cod this
past weekend in Chatham, 300 people gathered for
a conference on religion and climate change, a call to action. It was astonishing, the
largest gathering on the Cape on this issue of climate change. As you know, they had
two typhoons in July, they have rising seas, they
have lowering water tables, extinction of species, and so on. A huge article in The Boston Globe. The fire is here. The presence is right ahead of us. They had the head of the
Woods Hole Institute, they had all the environmental
groups on the Cape, they had to State Senators and so on. And things are beginning to change, especially with this moral force. ‘Cause it’s our conviction,
that just like Civil Rights, really arose, with the
religious leadership of Christians and Jews of Abraham Heschel, Martin Luther King, and so on, just says, segregation, separate but
equal is not a moral position, new integration is needed. And that’s the new integration we need with humans and the Earth. The final things to share
with you on The Great Work that’s emerging, is
Journey of the Universe. We’ve just come back from
China and we just wanna share two examples of what happened there with Journey of the Universe. – We are blessed in our life, of course, to work with younger
students and they lift us up and give us that capacity
to find a way forward and a hopeful way forward. But sometimes the students
do things (chuckles) that surprise, even the two of us, who’ve been around for a while and we stopped at a new
university in the City of Kunshan, about an hour outside of Shanghai, where Duke is involved in a collaborative academic adventure there. We have a colleague who
teaches there and he invited us to show Journey, and then
to meet with his class. About 10 days before we
left, we had a firm idea of what we would do with the showing of Journey of the Universe
but we were unclear about the class and in
communication with James, he says, don’t worry about that, the
students are gonna take care of it and they’re gonna
ask you to participate in what they’re doing. And this is what they did. The 30 people in the
class invited the rest of their colleagues of
the 600 plus University, 160 students showed up in the evening, all with their cell phones, and they all assembled at
one end of their new campus, which has this lovely
watery path through it, about a quarter mile to the
other side of the campus, and they had set up seven beacons. Like you see for the Hollywood movie, and the lights were off. So the students one by one
filed with their lights held up to the sky and a drone camera
filming them from down below, and they marched and then converged. So that sense of a smooth
and then clumpy gathering, and at the first beacon the light goes on, and they began to talk
about the flaring forth of the Universe. So at each of these seven
beacons they focused on a particular moment
of Universe emergence, the Journey of the Universe. The New Story perspective that
Thomas was putting forward, and marking their campus
in a, kind of, pilgrimage, if you will, and a
pilgrimage of the Cosmos. So it was a remarkable,
very encouraging moment from young people in China. – We then went up to
Beijing and had a event at the Yale Beijing Center,
which is kind of a center for Economic and Political dialogue. You know, the really
important stuff. (chuckles) And we said, let’s, we
were asked to do a showing of Journey of the Universe, and we’ve done showings in China, and we now have subtitles in Chinese, the book is in Chinese,
it was there at the event, all of the online courses that we have, have been transcribed into Chinese, there’s a tremendous interest in China, in the sense of how we belong
to a vast unfolding Universe. And again, I want to underscore,
Teilhard and New Story is the full inspiration of
Journey of the Universe. And the young people were
riveted at this Duke event, as well as 160 of them,
most of them under 35, just couldn’t get enough
of, where do we belong? How do we fit in? What is our life work? So, what we did was, in
this legacy of Thomas Berry, the Cosmology of Evolution
and Ecology, in the film, but integrated with the
world’s religions, in the film, and we asked three leading
Confucian Scholars to come and speak about Confucianism and Ecology. These young people were
riveted ’cause there’s a huge revival of Confucianism in China, and just briefly, the
Trinity for Confucianism is Cosmos, Earth, and human. One dynamic unfolding sensibility,
the continuity of being, and that we are responsible
for this continuity of being. That’s a worldview of Confucianism, and the compatibility, as you can imagine, with Journey of the
Universe is astonishing. 75 thousand people were
watching this live stream. This is Thomas’s legacy, 70 years later, his journey to China, to
study their Cosmology, and then to to integrate
it with Science Cosmology. This is The Great Work, still living. Thank you. (audience applauding) – So, we are going to take
about 10 minutes of questions. And we have two microphones that are gonna be roving about here. And John and Mary Evelyn
will move down to the area in front of the main aisle here to receive your questions. So, Sam has one and Ted
has a microphone over here. So, questions, questions. Such clarity in the presentation. (audience laughing) Questions. I think we’re all true believers, right? (audience laughing) – Well, I have a question
for you, Mary Evelyn. – Oh, right here, there’s one right there. Here we go, here’s the microphone. Yes? – [Harvey] Thank you. Thanks, that was wonderful. – Identify yourself. – [Harvey] Oh. I’m Harvey Glover, I’m
sort of related (chuckles) by marriage to them. (laughing) And a Fordham student. Do you think that John would be devastated at what’s going on today? In just a few relatively
short years, since he died. How really, things really
haven’t gotten much better. What I find when you speak, it’s wonderful because you’re not doom and
gloom, you’re very positive. But, how do you think he would feel? How do you think he would
be if he was active and working and writing? – Thomas was described
by many of us, actually, in this room as a prophet,
they would use that term, and I think among the prophets
you find some real anger and Thomas would, at times,
really flair forth at that distancing from the natural
world, the inability to really combine social
justice and eco justice. But one point I would raise,
in terms of The Great Work, is I can see Thomas leaning
back with a laugh, saying, tanto labore. And what’s that, Thomas? He’d say, you know, you
ask me about The Great Work and the story, the cosmological story. A perfect example is Virgil’s
writing of the Aeneid, and he opens the Aeneid with that phrase, Tanto labore aedificare Roma ested. It was such a labor to build Rome. The Great Work. Thomas also coined another phrase to address the point
you’re taking us towards, a moment of grace. Many people read that phrase
as a rather beneficial, kind of, bouquet. It’s a lovely sounding term. For Thomas, it was an
expression of the tanto labore. It was a moment of grace, was
a very challenging moment, you had to have all your
wits and rise up to meet this moment of grace. And I think he would see us right now as deeply in a moment of grace. – [Harvey] Good. – He called himself a
short term pessimist, long term optimist. This is why we’re Teilhardians, aren’t we? (audience laughing) I went to Japan after a
trinity and the uprisings of Civil Rights and the anti-Vietnam War and was totally burned out. We’re in a similar period of burnout. But you know, going to the
African American Museum this morning and you think of abolition, and you think of slavery, and
you think of Civil Rights, and we are still working this out, and what people have
suffered is mind boggling. That museum is such a history book. And Thomas would say, I
think, he would be amazed at China and the interest you
see in this work in China. That’s very uplifting. That we are always weaving between the dynamics of evolution,
which are creative, ongoing, forward moving, and entropy,
which is backward and so on. So, I think, the key offering that I think Thomas would give us, and I was
just saying to Brian Brown, his equilibrium, and not being
understood in many contexts, was remarkable. Absolutely remarkable. But he exemplified, as some
of you do in this room. What Teilhard would
call the zest for life, the zest for life. And we went and visited
the Zoological Museum where Teilhard was doing his
work in exile from Europe. I left that place, weeping,
thinking of what Teilhard did to discover the fossil
evidence for evolution. So, struggle, suffering, joy, and zest, that’s Thomas, that’s The Great Work. – Let’s see. Another question – Oh, in the back. – In the back. Microphone, yes. – [Joe] Thank you. My name is Joe Holland. I don’t usually ask questions
but I’ve been haunted by something lately, so I’m breaking out of my introversion here. We recently had a conference
that was heavily inspired by Thomas Berry and we
did some interviewing with leaders of major spirituality and sustainability organizations, and some of them by video conference. And one of the people we
interviewed was Fletcher Harper, I don’t know, he may
be here, I don’t know, the Founder and Director of Green Faith. And he said something that
just struck me very hard and I certainly don’t
know the answer to it but I felt it should be raised here. He said, among a long list
of about 30 or 40 things, he said, very all important. One was, the Thomas Berry legacy cannot just be repeated over and over. Members in the network of
the Thomas Berry legacy need to create intellectually,
a Thomas Berry version two. (audience laughing)
And now I have to turn the page here. Thomas Berry version
two, and he continued. Also the Berry movement needs
a generational transition to a younger wave of leadership. That means finding Scholars
from different racial and religious traditions
to look critically at the Berry legacy. Again, I don’t know what
to do with that question that Fletcher Harper raised
and I’m humbled before it. But I thought it should be placed as, perhaps something for
deliberation at this event. And thank you, both of you, and all of you for the
extraordinary things you’ve already done for Thomas Berry.
– Thank you, Joe. – Thank you.
– It’s interesting when you feel yourself
a focus of critique, that I think you’re doing
something right then. And my engagement with Fletcher, we have occasion to talk now and again, and I think he sees–
– It’s working? – That I think Fletcher sees
that there’s opportunities and all of us need to
transition into that world where Greta Thunberg is coming from. And we have occasion to see
some of the, especially of late, where young people are being
given a voice at the table. I think it’s very important. I think that’s part of where
Fletcher is coming from also. – It’s great to have critique. It’s great to say we need legacy. Of course we do. Absolutely, that’s why we’ve
been teaching for 50 years. That’s why we have some of the
finest students on the planet at Yale School of Forestry
and Environmental Studies, and they are doing amazing
things and they inspire us. We’d like to say we have an
intergenerational handshake. And I can also tell you
that we need activism, and we need these things on the ground, but we also need long
term spiritual strength to do this work,
otherwise there’s burnout. And burnout is all around us. We have had students in our
office, reading passages of Journey of the Universe,
weeping and saying, we know we can go on. Because their sense of
despair and disempowerment is so huge. So, our work is precisely in this space of an intergenerational handshake. Greta Thunberg, the climate
strikes, Sunrise movement, extinction rebellion, it’s extraordinary, absolutely extraordinary. And just one other thing, the
diversity of this movement (chuckles) that we all
are concerned about, in the interviews that I
did, 20 with scientists, and 20 with environmentalists, as part of the Journey of the Universe, are completely dealing
with African Americans who say, this story matters to them. To Native Americans saying
this story matters to them. Paula Gonzalez from the
Hispanic Tradition saying why it matters to her. People from the international community. Diversity is throughout this
effort, it’s an offering, it’s imperfect, it’s having
traction, it needs further work, there’s no question. So, we welcome the point and
we hope that you will help with these kinds of issues. – Yeah, and just put a
tail on the donkey too, I’m thinking, like a, Thomas Berry Forum that I own at university, this,
and another, as an example, I think of Thomas Berry too. I mean, they are happening there. Not just Tucker-Grim, you know, it’s happening in a lot of places. – So, maybe we should
go on with the program, you are going to–
– Yeah. Yeah. – So. Now, we’re going to have some responses from some really special
and extraordinary people. I’m just gonna briefly
introduce them as they come up, because there are longer
biographies online. But I want to say, Steve
Dunn, a Passionist, a PhD, who Founded at the University of Toronto, the Elliot Allen Center
for Theology and Ecology, one of the very first centers of its kind. And he too, helped educate many PhDs, including Heather Eaton and
some others, here and elsewhere. But Steve, knowing Thomas,
maybe the oldest (chuckles) at this particular
conference, had such respect and reverence and support for him. He brought him up to
Port Burwell for decades, more than 20 years, each summer,
where Thomas would speak. Thomas is well known in
Canada because of the work of Steve Dunn and his students. He did an extraordinary
CBC program with Thomas, and we are so grateful to Steve Dunn for what he has done for
the legacy of Thomas Berry. Please join me in welcoming Steve. (audience applauding) – She said I was probably the oldest. (audience laughing) I was gonna tell you a joke about Tom, but I’m under time
constraints, so I wrote a text. (audience laughing) I first encountered Thomas when I joined the Passionist
community as a Postulant at a very impressionable age. He was controversial. He seemed unusually smart. It was quite captivating
for a young Postulant. Through the years, I
subliminally expected him to offer compelling insight
into the theological heart of being a Passionist. What nowadays we especially
like to call our Charism. This is a brief account of how I feel, he did not disappoint. Many people felt he sidestepped
discussing suffering, that impression I would contend, misses his lifelong
preoccupation with pain. The pain arising from what we
label, the human condition. He was actually offended by what he called a deep hidden rage in the Western soul against the human condition. Because of that, we live within a cultural pathology that seeks to avoid those sufferings, whether by inventions, therapies, prayers, or now, particularly,
technological hubris. As a Cultural Historian,
he explored this theme in the varied religions in the world without privileging Christianity. But as his historical horizon
expanded to the cosmological, his focus turned to
the human as a species, always in the context
of the Universe story of Cosmo Genesis, much to
the disappointment of those narrowly concerned with
individual salvation. Few people have lived within
that intellectual horizon, as thoroughly and articulately as Thomas. In 1994, he cantered the traditional, if sophisticated, interpretation of the Theology of the Cross, of French Passionist Stanislas Breton, a very distinguished man. Asserting that the human is
a species born in violence, he noted that, “without
the supernova explosion “that produced our solar
system, our very existence “and spirituality, are unthinkable. “Yet, that violence was the precondition “for our amazing role “as the Universe reflecting upon itself. “The explosion of the first
generation star”, he suggested, “could be seen as a sacrifice
and a cosmological moment “of grace.” His strongest assertion though,
was his insistence that, “the wisdom of the cross and
the wisdom of the Universe, “are two aspects of a single wisdom, “integral parts of a single story, “neither is complete without the other.” As for sound bites, he
offered phrases such as, “the foolishness of the
cross, can be matched “by the foolishness of creation. “Neither is within human comprehension. “And redemptive wisdom cannot
be alien from creative wisdom, “there has been no mistake. “Also, the sacrificial dimension is a “scandal in both instances.” At an earlier time, Stanislas Breton, had described three icons of
response to the crucified one, they overlap, of course, and coexist. None is confined to any
one historical period, but each has had an era of
dominance in the Life of Piety. First, the contemplative Stabat Mater, with the hallmark of
compassionate accompaniment. Second, The Suffering Servant, the justice restoring prophet. The third, he identifies
as fools of the cross. Using St. Paul’s remark, the
message, that is the logos of the cross is foolishness. Rather than foolishness,
however, for Breton, the cross gives those Christian mystics the freedom of judgment to
inspire unique, even scandalous, spiritual creativity for their time. Paradoxically, this demonstrates
the power of the cross. I find that, ironically, Breton’s three icons give us a hint of how
Thomas’ wisdom of the cross is beginning to arise in contemporary thought and piety. First, consider how in Laudato si’, the compassion characteristic
of the Stabat Mater is evidenced in Pope Francis’
turn toward compassion for the Earth. “We can feel the
desertification of the soil, “almost as a personal
physical ailment”, he wrote. Second, we continue to be
inspired by the decades old praise of Thomas Berry, as a prophet
crying for the wilderness. That prophetic message
is now carried forward as was just mentioned, even by children, such as Greta Thunberg
and her companions across the globe on strike for the planet. But I think the third icon best reflects Thomas’ originality. Rather than fools of a
cross, perhaps we could call them Earthling mystics of the cross. Their response is a shock to
both society and spirituality. They have discovered the
truth of Thomas’ teaching, subjective communion with the
Earth provides the context in which we now make
our spiritual journey. The real foolishness,
destroying the Earth community, is revealed to be society’s common sense about avoiding the pain
of the human condition. Thomas presciently suggested in 1994, “we are now entering a new period “in the religious cultural history “of our Christian derived civilization. “Coming generations “will need something beyond a sacred book “that teaches the spiritual
wisdom of the cross. “They will need “the additional wisdom
of the Sacred Universe.” “The three icons of response
to the crucified one, “compassionate Earth healing,
sacrificial Earth advocacy, “and above all, falling in
love with the numinous wonder “of Earthly existence, “mark the present and future
path in this new period “of our Christian inspired civilization. “They prepare for moments of grace “within and beyond the Ecological crisis.” Thomas concluded, “we might
consider that we are just now “at a moment when the wisdom of the cross “can arrive at a more
expanded expression of itself “and now, more than
ever, be our secure guide “into the future.” As with many other
Institute’s, Passionists today are developing the narrative
of the spiritual family. It appropriately acknowledges
the validity and vitality of a Charism without borders. With this in mind, I have three hopes. First, for continued study
of Thomas’ interpretation of that Charism. Second, that these
Passionists without borders will become sacrificial
co-creators of a new Earth. And third, using Thomas’ own famous icon of medieval Cathedral builders, they will work modestly alongside
the other stone cutters, joining in the great work of building a reinvented human species, ecologically fit for Ecozoic living. Thank you. (audience applauding) – Thank you so much, Steve. Inspiring words indeed. And now we’re so pleased to
welcome, Sister Kathleen Dignan, and a dear friend from our graduate days at Fordham together,
along with Brian Brown, the next speaker. Kathleen has been one of
the leaders in so many areas of Spirituality, of Ecology, of Justice, and her founding Thomas Berry
Forum of Ecological Dialogue, along with Brian Brown, and
Kevin Caulley, and Danny Martin, is going to receive the Thomas Berry award on November, 9th, in just
a very short period of time for their amazing work. You’ll be also happy to
know, we just celebrated an amazing occasion at Iona College where she teaches of a new center, the Dignan Institute for
Earth and Spirit at Iona. Please. (audience applauding) Please join me in welcoming Kathleen. ♪ We are here this day ♪ ♪ Through the strength of Heaven ♪ ♪ Light of sun, radiance of moon ♪ ♪ Splendor of fire ♪ ♪ Speed and power of lightning ♪ ♪ Swiftness of wind ♪ ♪ Depth of the sea ♪ ♪ Stability of Earth ♪ ♪ Firmness of rock ♪ – Amen. Well it is an absolute joy to be here, during the 10th anniversary
of the passing on, the passing deeper and
wider, the passing into us, of our esteemed teacher,
Father Thomas Berry. Special thanks to John
Borelli and to the organizers of this conference, who offer
us a chance to celebrate another great work of
the extraordinary team, Doctors Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim. Now in collaboration with Andrew Angyal, the publication of this
much anticipated biography of Thomas Berry. I would not be on this stage
were it not for the counsel and affection of Mary Evelyn Tucker, who bid me to stay in my
first class with Thomas, as I suffered the intellectual tension of incomprehension
(audience laughing) and mental bewilderment
all those years ago at Fordham University. My first Berry course, The Great Mother. Stay Kathleen, she said,
keep moving with him, moving and moving into
greater realms of insight. Stay. And so I did. And so I’m here. And now, on I continue to wonder
at the Tucker-Grim union, whose beginnings I had
the delight to witness. Is it four decades ago? I continue to marvel at what
their synergy has created for all of us, for everyone, forever. Worlds of thought, places and
spaces for the development of thought, within the
great wisdom traditions of this world. And I continue to be especially grateful for their curation of
the legacy of Thomas, their intellectual mentor
and their spiritual Father. How their lives, honor his. The body of their great
work magnifying his own, and ensuring its produrence
and accessibility to generations to come,
who will, no doubt, have greater need of
Thomas’ wisdom and guidance than even we. And so we thank them for the
biography of Thomas Berry, which they and Andrew have given us. It’s a beautiful book. It’s an important book. It’s a necessary book. The beauty of this book is
more than what is conveyed in the comprehensive summary
of the good news about Thomas. The beauty of this book
is that it conveys Thomas, his presence, his wisdom,
his beloved gracious self. This is a beautiful book
because it mediates Berry’s own beautiful voice
speaking to us, perhaps as Mary Evelyn has noted
for the first time, from the depths of Golden Rod, his unpublished late life
memoir, which sounds through this biography, as
autobiography, as confessions, as his own authentic testament. The biography of Thomas Berry
is also an important book because it gives us the richly
layered historical context for the life of a great Historian, who sought through the
arcs of unfolding eras, a grand epic, a great unifying vision, a story of everything. And as we know, for Thomas, it was story, all the way down. The cosmic venture, the human
venture, the Earth venture, my venture, your venture,
his venture, his story, and now we have it, Thomas’ great story. But more than beautiful and
important, this biography is necessary because now
Berry can be more fully and personally encountered
as the man, the person, the friend who possessed
the mind that continues to quicken hours, the sensitive
soul who left us words that cast the spell that
awakened and awakens us. This biography is important
because it’s an invitation to intimacy with the master
who no longer stands before us, and who, going forward, will be unmet by generations to come, but for these touchstones. Finally, this book is important, to me, because it is the next
contribution to the birthing of what I love to call, the
Berry School of Ecozoic Wisdom an intellectual and spiritual schola, maturing and developing alongside other great schools of thought. Within the great academic
and cultural traditions of history. More than a great mind,
Berry was and remains, a great wisdom master
who followed in the steps of his own master Aquinas in his desire to offer a dark age and
illuminating synthesis, an integral vision, a
compendium of salvific knowledge to guide the Cosmos
Theondric enterprise toward a new horizon. In this, Thomas was and remains, for me, the archetypal teacher,
the master and mentor, known briefly, and then forever. He was and remains, my university, the continuation of my higher
education, who’s teaching I continue passing on, as do
you, Mary Evelyn and John, to my students in hopes
that they will pass it on to their students, their
children, their worlds. Lineages and legacies. Legacies and lineages. This is the soul of the Berry school. Perhaps, like many of you, my
gratitude to Thomas is deed. To create places and spaces
where he can yet be met, where he can do the one
thing he always wanted to do, to teach. And so the living memorial, the week of his death, and so the living memorial,
my wonderful friends and colleagues inaugurated
on the week of his death, the Thomas Berry Forum
for Ecological Dialogue, is such a deed of love and gratitude. And now a decade on the
Institute for Earth and Spirit, where Thomas’ vision is a
pedagogical field unfolding, each project of living,
learning opportunity in which to encounter the teacher. Perhaps an evocation of
Berry’s Riverdale Center for Religious Research,
in a new key, a new place. Perhaps something different and new. So, it is my true wish on
this celebratory evening, to see the multiplication
of such initiatives for Ecozoic inquiry in
the lineage of Thomas. And who, but those of us here assembled, are better positioned to
ensure the diversification and continuation of such endeavors. And have we not been
endowed with all we need for such a great work to
corporately, virtually, or actually build the Berry
School of Ecozoic Wisdom? Have we not been so endowed
by our beloved friends and colleagues, John and Mary Evelyn? In fact, they have already
created its global multilingual, multimedia inscape and outreach in Film, Academic Curriculus Symposia,
Scholastic mentoring, and in a host of ongoing projects that permit Thomas to keep doing what he dearly desired to do. To teach. So, one decade after his
passing into his virtual school, we find ourselves at one
of its in convocations, gathered here now, his
students, old and new. This is what I celebrate
on this 10th anniversary of Thomas’ augmentation. That we have become his school of thought, his school of action. And my wish is that we
consciously and committedly take up the mantle, and the mandate to continue his teaching,
offering that salvific vision. The real possibility of the Ecozoic to generations not yet born. But anticipated by our
labors, by our great work, to foster the Thomas Berry
School of Ecozoic Wisdom. (audience applauding) – Thank you dear friend, dear sister. Now I welcome a brother,
(chuckles) Brian Brown, who did the most remarkable dissertation at Fordham with Thomas Berry. And Thomas said it was his finest of the 20-some that he directed. It was on the Buddhan
nature, the womb of reality, of all reality. And Brian took up some of
the most difficult texts of the Buddhist tradition. From India to China, and one
of the great Buddhist Scholars at Columbia, also found his
work, his book, astounding. There’s a brilliance in Brian Brown. He graduated first in
his class at Fordham, but his other talent, he
got a Law degree from NYU, and he was one of the first people to help Thomas with this
notion of Earth jurisprudence at a conference that he and
John went to down in Virginia. When these ideas of we
need an Earth jurisprudence for the Earth community
were just emerging, and if that isn’t Thomas Berry
too, I don’t know what it is. (audience laughing)
Because Thomas was calling for the rights of nature. But Brian Brown, with his extraordinary
philosophical sensibilities, has done, among many articles,
but one I really recommend to you, called the Foundations
of an Earth Jurisprudence: The Laws Revelation from Order to Justice. It’s in the book, Living Cosmology. At that conference at Yale,
he got a standing ovation for that talk. Please join me in welcoming, Brian Brown. (audience applauding) – Mary Evelyn and John, graciously invited me here this evening to share the lines, which
I had originally penned 41 years ago, this December. On the eve of my departure from the Riverdale Center
for Religious Research, where I had spent the
last year, along with John and Valerio Ortolani, working on our respective
doctoral dissertations under the direction of Thomas Berry. It had been a privileged experience. And on that night, a moment
of the deepest poignancy, marked its passing. Inescapably, that December
night, I was grieved by departures finality, and the impossibility of
expressing my gratitude for this extraordinary thinker, who had immeasurably
expanded my intellectual and spiritual horizons, since
my first graced encounter with him as an undergraduate at Fordham, eight years earlier. His stature as a Scholar and Educator was complimented by the abundant
warmth of his hospitality, his unstinting generosity
of time and interest, not just in me, but in
the all and the many, whom he welcomed into the
Riverdale Center by the Hudson, that I was then leaving. The lines, which eventually emerged for that farewell gathering of friends, and which I here, recall, gave expression to the wisdom
of its ground floor texts. Thomas Berry’s profound
and creative engagement with their learning, and his
passionate enduring concern for Earth’s gravity and marvel
beyond all their conception. “A watchman, what of the night. “Unfinished thesis,
finished for the night. “I wander downstairs in this
house that has been my home. “I have known its silence before “in a year of nights “and have haunted its rooms, “often at this hour of favored quiet. “But tonight, “like an improper Buddhist, “I stand warmed by the memories “of enchanted months, “shamelessly, flagrantly moved “by their passing. “The red tiled entrance lit for the night “reflects now the images
of how many departures “for the Seychelles and Los Angeles, “for Toronto and Louisville, “for Washington and Greensboro,
Detroit, and San Francisco. “What enthusiastic
journeyings of happy goodbyes. “The casual corduroy
prophet of Earth’s wisdom “and Heaven’s goodness, “of passports forgotten, “of a bag with only books, “of detachments mirth at the
prospect of the challenge “and the relish of the audacious phrase. “To the left, in the
great dark wooded room, “the Chinese and Christian Fathers “sit in their shelves of green and purple “exchanging the muted silence
of their common mystery. “A paneled hugeness, “it is empty now of its May time Volumes, “the scattered lour of
a Universe piled deep “and wide across its table, “awaiting the magic distillation “that would become June’s conference. “And its ceilinged solemnity still pales “at the revered benedictine
of a summer’s eve, “impervious to the gentle demands “of an immense magnitude. “The spirituality of
starry energies eclipsing “the shameful boundaries of
so impoverished monasticism. “A few steps beyond, “and China and Japan
expansively lie before me, “along their wall of moonlight. “While the Hindus and
Buddhists are patient “in an appropriate modesty,
sharing shadowy space “with myths and symbols, Dante and Blake. “It is a room of rare texts
and of Britannic knowledge, “yet somehow, only the
anti-chamber, the passageway “to the site of my most
attentive scholarship, “my most frequent inspiration, my warmest “and most constant laughter. “Multi-glassed prism reflecting
on to rock and river. “I have known such a gladness in you, “that will warm me in my going
and lure me to my return. “I have sat at your table,
of frequent polishings “and only reticent shines, “through lunches and dinners of quartets “and sonatas, concertos and symphonies, “hearing beyond these
only partial strains, “the Song of the Seers,
the wondrous movements “of times transformations. “Through the voice of Earth’s
sage, my spirits Father, “my hearts friend. “Greenhouse porch of
my imaginations growth, “I have sat dumbly for a year, “like one of your potted plants. “Content, merely to listen
with Geologians and Bishops, “technicians and planners,
contemplatives and artists, “engineers and scientists, “dearest friends and fellow students. “Content to root in my mind’s soil, “the vision and the
challenge, the perspective, “and the approach to be
schooled in the responsibility “and energized by the tireless dedication. “Though you have been a room
of the most sublime idea “and critical thought of
the most sober evaluation “and urgent quest, I
shall stand in the breeze “of the Caribbean night, still smiling, “with the constant laughter
of your years grace. “The sky is pale with moon, and stars, “and as I turned to go, “instinctively, I hear the
question of nights Sentinel. “Holding its branches protectively “for this house that has been my home. “A question posed nightly,
as I stood for a year “and shared it’s rooted
stillness before sleep. “A watchman, what of the night. “A time of memories and
their tears of ideals “and enthusiasms of deepest admiration “and warmest gratitude,
of affection at welcomes, “and happy goodbyes.” Thank you. (audience applauding) – Thank you very much. – Thank you. – Thank you very much, Brian. That’s just beautiful. And a wonderful meditation
to conclude this session. And thank you, Stephen,
and thank you, Kathleen.

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