Monday and Tuesday, this week, we’ve offered Earth
Day-themed reflections by Sister Mary McCann, one of the pioneering IHM
Sisters. This members of this Catholic order have turned their Motherhouse and grounds into a
world-class example of green redesign. Plus, the sisters have devoted
their entire religious order to work that heals the Earth.
Here’s one of two reflections we’re sharing today by Sister Mary
McCann — and, check out the note at the end of today’s story if you’ve
been enjoying her spiritual voice and want more.
Thomas Berry, Passionist priest and brilliant Earth scholar, believes the Earth and the wider universe are epiphanies of God.
The perilous state of Earth is fundamentally a spiritual challenge, he argues, resulting from “spiritual autism” in the human community. He says that, as a species, we have lost our sense of awe and enchantment and gratitude at the incredible gift of creation. We have lost our sense of kinship with other creatures and life forms on the planet.
Our current point of reference in decision-making — about housing, the economy, legal protections, education, etc — seems to focuses on the good of the human species, though it often excludes the good of the poor, the disabled, the voiceless. The good of mergansers, other birds and animals, of land, water, and air, of trees, insects, animals, of the integrity of ecosystems — all of this might be an emerging concern, but far from a species-level awareness in human hearts and minds.
As a remedy for spiritual autism, Berry asks humankind to nurture and experience intimacy with the Earth and the natural world. He insists that aesthetic appreciation, pragmatic use and intellectual understanding of the earth are not enough. What is needed is the rediscovery of awe and reverence until we can feel that we are one with the whole of creation –- capacities richly developed in mystics and native peoples.
We need to know ourselves as earthlings and rediscover courtesy, rapport and communion with plants and flowers, lakes and rivers, hills, mountains, valleys and plains. We need attunement to the Earth as a single, breathing organism in whose life we share.
We need to see ourselves as part of the wider universe and its 14-billion-year story — aware that humans have a tiny but significant place amid the sun, the moon, the stars and the billions of galaxies beyond our own. For Berry, the healing of Earth, including ourselves, depends on this spiritual renewal.
Thomas Berry’s lifework on behalf of the planet is rooted in what he calls his “meadow” experience at age 11.
His family had just moved to Greensboro, N.C., and he was roaming the woods and meadows near town. He says: “The field was covered with white lilies rising above the thick grass. A magic moment, this experience gave to me something that seems to explain my thinking at a more profound level than almost any other experience I can remember.”
But it was more than the lilies, he says.
“It was the singing of the crickets, and the woodlands in the distance and the clouds in the clear sky … This early experience has remained with me ever since as the basic determinant of my sense of reality and values. Whatever fosters this meadow is good. What does harm to this meadow is not good.”
He adds: “A good economic, or political, or educational system is one that would preserve that meadow and a good religion would reveal the deeper experience of that meadow and how it came into being.
“It was a wonder world that I have carried in my unconscious and that has evolved all my thinking.”
Experiences of kinship like this move us out of exploitive relationships with other life forms and into participative bonding. They open us to the beauty and splendor, the pain and the suffering, the fragility and resilience, the interdependencies that characterize all of life on our shared home. Sometimes with immediacy, as with Berry, and sometimes more gradually, we are seized with wonder, sacredness and communion that changes everything.
Way down deep we know, personally and for our species, what theologian Elizabeth Johnson says so clearly: that love of neighbor now includes the entire community of life; that concern for the poor, the oppressed and the common good now includes the natural world; that compassion and action for justice now extend to all of Earth’s life systems and species.
Lives poured out in love so that humanity may flourish and Earth may thrive — here is kinship in action; here is the reign of God coming in the reality of our times.
(By Sister Mary McCann, IHM)
Want to read her other reflection, today? It’s “A Glimpse of Geese.”
Want to explore the life of Thomas Berry? There are many sites online devoted to the influential work of this spiritual sage, who is 93 as we publish this story.
Our strong recommendation is that you visit the Thomas Berry resources gathered at the Earth Community Web site, which is full of vivid examples and excerpts from his work. There, you’ll find audio and video of Berry, plus slide shows about his work. Enjoy.
These reflections are published here, with permission from
the IHM Sisters, from “A Time to Sow,” a quarterly reflection bulletin
on the spirituality of sustainability. In each issue, IHM Sister Mary
McCann presents readers with a reflection on a specific theme of
sustainability, offers questions for personal contemplation or group
discussion, and suggests additional readings and Web sites on the
topics she addresses.
Subscriptions to A Time to Sow cost $8 a year. To order go to www.ihmsisters.org and click on the Publications tab.