Since meeting Thomas Berry some 40 years ago we have become more aware of the many layers of his thinking that have organic continuity with one another. Among these layers the following can be noted: the play of texts, institutions, and personalities in the history of religions; the cultural-historical settings in which religions emerge and develop; the inherent and formative relationships of local bioregions and indigenous societies; the complex relations between and among the world’s religions; cosmological expressions within the various religions; the awakening to our growing realization of the continuity of the human with the community of life; the evolutionary story as a functional cosmology for our multicultural planetary civilization.
As a storyteller Thomas guided his students into the power and engagement of historical studies in religious cultures and civilizations. Like all storytellers, Thomas had an intuitive sense of his own rhetorical power; but unlike many storytellers he did not simply rely on emotional rhetoric or the large gesture. Drawing out his syllables in a laconic North Carolinian manner, he would calmly elucidate complex topics that truly excited him. This reflective style enabled him to ponder both the problematic story of our industrial age as well as the “new story,” the recovery of human energy and reinvention of the human spirit.
Loving humor and fond of a trickster’s play in the transformative character of life, Thomas was academically formed before the postmodern penchant for uncovering power dynamics and concealing rhetoric. Still, he was alert to interactions in which individuals participated in larger civilizations and cosmologies by active understanding, intuitive glimpses, and disciplined effort. Story, then, for Thomas was not simply passive reception by a listener, but an engaged, participatory event in which the story was present and alive in the telling.
In all these reflections there remains the image of Thomas in his brown corduroy jacket, lecturing in public or in class, articulating with wonder, beauty, and creativity his dream of the Earth community fully embodied.
The Influence of Teilhard