Tribute to Thomas Berry on the Occasion of his Memorial Service, September 26, 2009 By Joseph Prabhu
Thomas Berry is one of the great prophets of our time. I use the present tense, because even though he has passed on to the Vast Beyond, his spirit and his voice live on in urging us to what he called The Great Work–the transformation of our hitherto mistaken goals and priorities as a human species alienated from the very universe that sustains us, to forging a new, mutually-enhancing partnership with the Earth.
Thomas brought together two streams of thought to create a bold vision, meant as much to inspire as to disturb: the wisdom of ancient cultures, particularly those of China and India, and the sweep of contemporary cosmology. In so doing he re-united what modern science, technology and economics in their hubris have sundered–Culture and Nature. Culture, however, in its true sense of cultivation, breeding and refinement, is rooted in the earth. Thomas pointed the way after centuries of estrangement and human domination of the earth to what he called The Ecozoic Era, where humankind would see itself as a vital and conscious part of a vast, interconnected and living whole–a true “communion of subjects.”
Thomas in many ways continued the work and expanded the vision of his renowned predecessor in whose footsteps he followed, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard once proclaimed, “Some day, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of Love. And then for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.” That sentiment for all its grandeur may well have been too anthropocentric and Promethean for Thomas with its suggestion of human mastery. Schooled as he was in the traditions of ancient China and India, he rather highlighted the priority of attention and attentiveness over intention, of receptivity over grasping, and that of partnership over mastery.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions salutes this great prophet and thanks him for his narration, in many different registers, of the Universe Story that shapes and sustains human history. The very theme of the forthcoming Melbourne Parliament in December of this year–Make a World of Difference: Hearing Each Other, Healing the Earth–bears the imprint of his wisdom. It is a matter of pride for the Parliament that he will be commemorated in a special way in New York and again in Melbourne, and that his vision, through the efforts of his students and many admirers, will shape a significant part of its program. The Universe Story will be told again.
Program Co-Chair, Melbourne Parliament
Member, Board of Trustees, Council of a Parliament of the World’s Religions