It is winter in Texas now, and unusually cold. All of us are anxious for spring to arrive. This cold reminds me of a winter a decade ago in Raleigh, North Carolina. A group of friends had met for breakfast with one of the world’s great human beings, the late Thomas Berry.
With his back to a big fire, he spoke to us in his gravelly voice, listening to our questions and concerns. Then, gently and efficiently, with a twinkle in his eye and his crooked grin, he explained his views about our issues. I wanted to know how to guard the “individual” person, tree, leaf, etc. as we move into a new age of the ecological when whole systems are what’s important. I did not want to lose the gains of the last age, the Anthropocene, when human beings differentiated from family, tribal and now even national herds. What he said is a summary of his two books, “The New Story” and “The Great Work,” which was published before he passed away in 2009.
Essentially what he assured me was that in the new paradigm for the 21st Century (the dawn of the Ecozoic Age) was that the positive gains of differentiation that had been won would not be lost but in fact continue. He explained three concepts that would distinguish humans in the Ecozoic Age:
differentiation, subjectivity, and communion.
As regards differentiation, it seems that one of the primordial intentions of the earth process is to produce variety in all things from the atomic structures of plants and animals to the appearance of human beings, who differ from each other more extensively than beings in any other realm known to us. Not only do human individuals differ, so do social structures and cultures.
Thomas insisted that the value of an individual was the inherent and indestructible foundation of Nature. But he then reminded us that there was no “model” for how to be an individual human. Trees and animals had one, but not people! This lack of a model offered in Nature created a spiritual vacuum in cultures, which have always sought to fill it with their religious heroes and behavioral restrictions. America today is a cultural war zone between corporate business and corporate church as to who will determine the meaning of being an individual. In response to either artifice, we must simply be what and who we are and open ourselves to the larger life.
After differentiation, the most important value is subjectivity—interiority. Every being has its own unique essence, its Self, its mystery, its sacred aspect. To deprive any being of this sacred aspect, to diminish the interior self, is to disrupt the total order and intention of the Universe. Reverence will be total or not at all! The Universe does not come to us in pieces any more than a person stands before us with only half of their body or part of their being.
Finally, there is the intercommunion of the Universe within itself and each part with the whole--each particle in communion with every other particle in the vast web of the Universe. It is our present duty to develop this capacity for communion on new and more comprehensive levels.
So the call to each of us is to become our Selves and to honor all others as we begin, each of us, the great work of learning, restoring and loving our home, this Earth. And thus ourselves!