Center for Environmental Transformation

Dedicated to environmental transformation and environmental justice particularly in the Waterfront South neighborhood of Camden, New Jersey

Thomas Berry Lecture: A Reflectionsident

by Betty Musetto
Camden NJ, November 2010

Sr. Miriam McGillis

The second exness annual, sponsored by the Center for Environmental Transformation (CfET), took place on October 15th at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Camden, New Jersey. Thomas Berry, a "geologian" and widely acclaimed advocate for the environment, is “One of our lights,” spoke Mark Doorley, CfET’s chairman, as he welcomed a crowd of approximately 150 people attending.

This year, Doorley and his board were pleased to engage Sr. Miriam Mc Gillis, a Dominican nun from Caldwell, New Jersey and co-founder of Genesis Farm in Blairstown. Pat Mulligan, the evening’s emcee, told the audience that Dominican nuns taught at Sacred Heart prior to 1979, and that Genesis Farm, next to Sacred Heart, carried a special place in his heart. Mulligan called Thomas Berry “a great Passionist priest who died last year at the age of 94. He began way back to call us back to ourselves;” when Sr. Miriam first heard Berry speak, she had “found her prophet.” As the noted Berry advocate spoke, those hearing her words quickly understood why exness trade her lectures are so widely attended.

A historian, a missionary and a prophet
Sr. Miriam thanked the people of Sacred Heart for being a “people committed to place.” She then spoke of the work of Thomas Berry, a historian of world cultures and a missionary in China, who was one of the leading environmental thinkers in North America. Sr. Miriam spoke to us about how Berry changed his life after reading Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring; he wondered how it could be that good people caused such devastation of the earth. Berry studied every culture on the planet including the origin stories of the West. He found that these stories of our origin almost always included a fall from a perfect world. Originally, these stories said, the world was a perfect and beautiful place, but something happened. Whether it is the story of Adam and Eve or of Pandora’s Box, the world changed from a place of beauty to a place of death and suffering; and this changed world exness trading was abnormal, not intended in the beginning. Also, in this world of suffering, only humans had spirit. So people tried to find solace and to make meaning of the suffering; they came to believe that one day the earth would return to its normal state, a state where there is no suffering, and that humans would again live in their perfect world.

photo to Thomas Berry Thomas Berry

Sr. Miriam went on to say that Thomas Berry invokes us to re-create this story; in Berry’s words “ we must re-imagine our relationship to the earth”. To do this, it is important for our human species to know what time it is. Human history is now at the end of the Cenozoic era, an era 65 million years old. But our imaginations have to stretch back 5 billion years, when the earth was being formed. Life as we know it only started in the Cenozoic Age; we have only experienced the Cenozoic. It is hard to imagine what came before, and it is a shocking realization that we are not prepared for, that we must come together in a new reality.

In Sr. Miriam’s words, Berry said it is also important to know who we areas well as what time it is. We are aware that we have a unique gift--we aremeaning makers with a capacity to hold meaning. According to Berry, we haveimaginations to take ideas and put them together however we choose. Our deepestyearning is to create beauty. We need the outer world to do this; if the outerworld shrivels, our ability to imagine will also wither. We need to re-imagineour relationship to the outer world.

Today our technologies, our new sensitive instruments, give our eyes the ability to see more of the universe than ever before. We see things never imagined by earlier peoples. So the world has shifted for us, and if you believe in God and that he created the universe, you need to ask yourself which universe we are observing-- the one we see now with our technological advances, or perhaps we’ve limited it to the world viewed in the Middle Ages or Victorian times or any other age.

Outward and Beyond
In re-imagining our relationship to the earth, Berry believed that we must not think of ourselves as apart from the earth and the only creatures with spirit. We must think of ourselves as part of the earth, as one with the earth, as coming from the earth and in spirit with all living things, plants and animals, mountains and rivers, earth and water, and everything in the earth. While we are unique in our ability to see ourselves and observe ourselves, unlike other animals, we must re-imagine our dominion over everything. We must work in concert with the earth, not as masters. Because we are the earth; we are the environment. We cannot live separately from the whole, we are the whole. We must be transformed.

In her closing remarks, Sr. Miriam said that we are realizing that the fossil fuel economy upon which our whole economy depends is coming to an end. So we are doing desperate things, like deep well digging and fracturing for oil. She summarized by saying that we can continue to believe in a technology based on separation and entitlement, or we can contemplate and allow our understanding to guide us to a re-imaging of our relationship to the earth. If we choose the former, the earth will eventually die and we with it. We have to choose between these two doors, these two choices: to go through the door to our new earthly relationship or to not go through the door. Our technology must be good technology. If technology is good for the human and good for the community it is good technology. If technology is good for the human, but not good for the community, it is not good technology. For example, genetic engineering may allow us to produce more food for the hungry, but is it good for the earth?

Following Sr. Miriam’s talk, a reception was held at the nearly completed, renovated former convent of Sacred Heart Church. The Center is being transformed into a place where people from diverse backgrounds can come and stay and learn and work toward the dream of transforming Waterfront South into a place where children can see beauty as they walk to school.