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The Great Work

In reality, there is a single integral community of the Earth that includes all its component members whether human or other than human.

~Thomas Berry~

In my recent travels, I visited the Passionist Earth and Spirit Center in Louisville Kentucky. It is based on the thoughts and writings of Thomas Berry, a priest who helped me find a new phase of my life in 1965. He went on to become a significant voice for the Earth and for the community of living things which inhabits the Earth.

During the past several centuries, humans have come to see the Earth as a collection of commodities for us to use and consume. We have come to see ourselves as the top of the heap with all the earth’s resources at our disposal without any obligation to respect the Earth in the process.  During earlier periods of civilization and indigenous cultures before what we see as civilization, the earth was viewed with reverence and wonder bits indigenous peoples.

Our recent history has led us to see ourselves primarily as consumers of what we want from the earth’s treasures, dumping what we don’t want in ever increasing piles of trash. Thomas Berry invited us to rediscover the Earth as our home. If we continue to destroy it as we have been doing, there will be no viable place for us to live.

This might sound alarmist, a Chicken Little complaint. When foreign settlers came to our continent, they viewed it as a vast inexhaustible supply of land, water, and all the other resources just lying around for the taking. They often ignored or laughed at the views of indigenous peoples that the Earth is a sacred place which needs to be respected. In exchange for giving us what we need, these peoples felt an obligation to care for the Earth in return. Otherwise it is like using the walls of your home for firewood. Soon there is nothing left and no place to live.

For many years, traditional cultures across the world continued their rituals and customs revolving around respect for the Earth. In more recent times, our consumer approach has spread to the far reaches of the globe and contaminated their traditional ways. In many ways the Earth and its resources is now seen as grist for the mills of global corporations, chiefly concerned with profit, despite the cost to mankind or to the earth itself.

We have gone quite a distance down the commercialization path. Whether we as humans can survive the damage we have done to the Earth in the name of profit remains to be seen. Continuing down this path may well make the Earth inhospitable to the lives of other species of animals and plants in addition to our own.

It is very difficult to give up immediate rewards of acting as predators of our planet. There are other ways to live. They involve taking a different approach in which we consider the well-being of the planet as well as our own immediate needs and wishes. Are you ready to do your part?

Life Lab Lessons

  • Study the history of how we have treated the Earth.
  • Spend some time communing with the wonders of the Earth.
  • Set aside time to watch a sunrise or sunset.
  • Meet some of the plants, birds, fish and animals which share the Earth with us.
  • Decide how you can respect the Earth and then try it.

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