The Spirituality of Earth

For much of my adult life I lived in the Arctic and worked as a consultant in Inuit and Dene communities. I had a close friend and mentor, Thomas Berry, (not to be confused with Wendell Berry) who was a monk, Roman Catholic priest and a geologian. He was one of the great seminal thinkers of the environmental movement in the last century.

Thomas lived in North Carolina. Twice a year, for a number of years before his death, I would travel down from the Arctic to spend some time with him.

On one these visits I said to him, “Tom, in the Arctic many people are interested in an earth-based spirituality. Have you ever written anything on an earth-based spirituality?” He said to me, “No I haven’t.” But then he said, “I’ve written something on The Spirituality of Earth that you might find interesting.”

An important lesson. For Thomas, Earth was not something outside of us that we just use for spiritual reflection and meditation. We are earthlings. We are part of the living Earth. Our human spirituality is the extension and internal manifestation of Earth spirituality.

Thomas taught that there were two great books: Book One and Book Two—and the Bible was Book Two. Book One—Earth—with its wondrous beauty, bounty, gifts and creativity is the primary revelation of the divine presence. He would say that if we lived on the moon with its harsh and barren landscape we would have no awareness of a divine presence. On several occasions, to make the Christian churches more aware of this reality, he suggested that they might put the Bible on the shelf for about twenty years.

Thomas was strongly influenced by Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest and palentologist. Teilhard taught that the Universe, and by extension the Earth, was not just a physical reality. It was a psychic-spiritual reality from the very beginning.

At the start of each New Year I write a reminder from Teilhard on the front page of my Daytimer. “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.”

Mike Bell
Comox B.C.