Sudden Discovery and Thomas Berry by Dr. Margaret Berry (sister and aide)

Of the 151 tributes to Thomas Berry in the remarkable volume produced this year (2009) by Herman Greene and his Center for Ecozoic Studies, many contributors view their experience of Thomas’s thought as a sudden, powerful opening to a hitherto unsuspected, major, and life-altering  reality.  That reality might be expressed as the unity of a sacred Earth community in which humans are [but] the climactic part in a unified, interdependent, evolutionary, and divinity-revealing enterprise.

The suddenness of such an event, the abrupt coming upon a great truth with powerful impact and implication, has been treated memorably in one of the greatest short poems in English, John Keats’s 1816 sonnet On First Discovering Chapman’s Homer.  Limited to Latin in his linguistic education, Keats had, until 1816, known Homer (the Iliad and the Odyssey) only through eighteenth-century heroic-couplet translations lacking the freedom and power of Homeric narrative.   One evening a friend introduced 20-year-old Keats to George Chapman’s 1616 prose translation of the Homeric epics.  The friends reportedly sat together till daylight reading the translation, Keats “shouting with delight at some especially energizing passages.” At breakfast the next morning Keats’s friend found the sonnet on his breakfast-table:

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Essentially an analogy, the sonnet offers at its primary level three realities: 1) the explorer (mistakenly named) Cortez and his crew wandering about the Isthmus of Panama; 2) their sudden coming upon the Pacific Ocean, of which they had heard from natives; 3) the Pacific Ocean itself in all its expanse and grandeur.

At the secondary level the analogy equates 1) the explorer and his crew with Keats struggling to access the essential Homer; 2) the sudden sighting of the Ocean with Keats’s sudden grasp of the authentic Homer by means of the Chapman translation;  3) the greatness of the Ocean itself with the expanse and power of Homeric poetry.
Thomas Berry’s role in contemporary cosmological thought, I propose, is for many analogous with Chapman’s role as portrayed in the Keats sonnet.  In other words, for many Thomas has functioned as a translator of cosmological structure and history in leading people to see, to grasp, to understand for the first time the ultimate truth about human relations with nature, the universe, specifically with Earth. What I propose is, in short, that Thomas’s role may be appreciated with special clarity when seen as an analogy of an analogy.

In this analogy, at any one of the three levels proposed, there is the basic concept of seeing in its multiple sense of physical, intellectual, and psychic vision; ergo the repetition in the poem of the long  ì (eye) 14 times, culminating in the ecstatic “wild surprise, silent” near the ending.  Subterranean connections with the ego I, also, cannot be dismissed.  It is the poet’s gift so to organize sound, sense, and intuition into a perfect whole.

And nowhere did Keats better exemplify poetic genius than in his refusal to change the factually mistaken, but artistically exact, name of Cortez.*  A lesser poet, by a “correction,” might have weakened the impact of the episode, not only metrically and phonetically, but also in the sense of character extension raising the poem from a particular to a universal insight.  Other technical aspects of the sonnet resonating in Thomas’s “translation” have to do with images of vastness, as planets swim through the heavenly expanse mirrored in the Ocean below, and wherein see and sea are inextricably intertwined.

Like Cortez and his crew, we humans explore unfamiliar terrain for clarification of the truth about who we are, where we are, why we are, and how best to reach the ideal.  Like Keats we often resort to the arts, sacred and secular, in our search for adequate answers.  Like him we often need a translator to interpret and understand the answers we receive.  For many Thomas Berry performs that task, and in that capacity has freed questors from the anthropocentrism vitiating recent history and from excessive emphasis on Redemption to the detriment and diminishing of Creation. He has, in fine, bridged the centuries-old chasm between humans and nature so that the part is reconciled with the whole and the ideal is achieved of a mutually enhancing relationship between humans and Earth.

Margaret Berry
December 2009

*Keats had been reading in William Robertson’s 1777 History of America about both Vasco Nuñez de Balboa (founding of the Pacific Ocean, 1513) and Hernán Cortez (entering the Valley of Mexico, 1519), and in the heat of inspiration confused the two factually without in any way altering the sense of his statement.

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Personal Reflections on Exploring the Ecozoic

September 9, 2014

I am continually orienting myself, asking myself again and again, “What exactly is the definition of Ecozoic? What was it that Thomas and Brian intended? Where do they suggest we head?”.

This recently brought me back to the chapter “The Ecozoic Era” in The Universe Story (pages 241-261). I was impressed at the beginning of the chapter with how strong the critique was of our present historical situation. Thomas would often refer to this as “our current moment”. I tend to be someone who is more interested in the hoped-for better future than with the dark, sober, dirty machinations of the military-industrial-techno-growth-consumerist culture.

I was thus given pause by their focus on the critique of modernity. I felt uncomfortable with it. It seems that activating the Ecozoic era is as much about understanding how we got ourselves into this situation, knowing the story, if you will, as it is about creating hopeful solutions for the future.

I find myself resisting learning the details of our history. It is so very hard to tolerate. I have not developed the spiritual, capacity to metabolize, process, integrate the ever-growing shadow of this society. The daily news presented by big media is unbearable. Teilhard might say I have yet to Divinize the Passivities I experience.

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Thomas Berry Colloquium – May 2014 – Chapel Hill, NC

Links to audio recordings and associated visuals for lectures presented at the Colloquium on Thomas Berry’s Work: Development, Difference, Importance, Applications, held May 28-30, 2014 at the FedEx Global Education Center on the campus of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, NC.

A summary page listing all talks with a brief synopsis:


Straight into the Internet Archive page complete with technical details:

I recommend starting with these three talks, below. An MP3 audio file of the recorded talk should begin upon clicking the title of the talk.

Wednesday, May 28

Thursday, May 29

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The Day My Daughter Was Born, Part II: A Gestational Epic

[For Calliope]

My daughter leapt into the world

After nine months of uterine back flips

(and back pain)

Writing graffiti

on the walls of her womb

Head-first-diving into life

like a supernova.


My daughter dove into existence

on a day when all over the world

people were dying before they lived

not paying attention to their wide, wondrous world.

She cried out to them

(I heard her)

Wake up! I am here!


My daughter brought forth her world on a day like any other:

the wide, soft earth cried out beneath the suffering of her children

who–some of them–took their blink-of-an-eye existence & danced upon suffering

singing Calliopean songs of rebirth.

Even on the day her father tearfully called his mother

sitting by his brother’s deathbed.

We needed some good news, she said.


My daughter brought forth an entire universe

from her speck-of-dust soul–

We had waited so long for her:

Since the day I saw her mother,

on that porch,

drinking homemade wine

So many years ago


Since the day when I watched my own little brother

(my daughter will do better than I did)

come home from the hospital

Since the days when the ancestors wandered over seas and mountains

to lose themselves

and to find

Each other.


Still longer, we have waited:

Since the days when the entire universe was written

in a single book

–the original speck-of-dust–

& danced its dance, sang its song

& wrote its new poem: stars pressed across the sky

(is this what you painted on the walls of your womb?)


& now, you are here:

Like the rest, you will get only a blink of an eye

(I cannot lie)

but we’ve waited for you so long

to sing your Calliopean song.

We needed some good news:

& you are it.

September 18, 2013

From the website of a student of Brian Swimme’s;

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World Elephant Day – August 12

Let’s have a civilization that celebrates a different creature every day! Can you imagine – nothing but a constant world wide party as we dance and sing and celebrate ALL the creatures and their role in our Earth community. It could be like the Indian Festival of Color – all the time!

Festival of Color - India - Decorated Elephants 1347111479

or… A world without elephants?

Elephant IMG_7708-41

I was in a “SoulCollage” workshop last week where a gal was mesmerized by a close-up photo of the happily-twised trunk of an elephant. She chose the image to represent her spiritual teacher from whom she had received many gifts. Will future generations know the embodied and spiritual gifts of our elephant companions?

In the mutually enhancing world of the Ecozoic all species have the right to habitat and to participate and contribute to the Earth community.

Celebrate World Elephant Day, August 12! Have an elephant party?

Short article at ENN:

Long article at the website of World Elephant Day:

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Kumar at Resurgence Favors Ecozoic Over Anthropocene

Satish Kumar, Editor in Chief at Resurgence / Ecologist magazine of England, favors the word Ecozoic over Anthropocene to better describe our current moment. His cover story and editorial from Issue 279 • July/August 2013 is copied and linked below. Thank you to Dr. Mary Evelyn Tucker for bringing the article to our attention at the Sophia Center Summer Institute 2013.

The Ecozoic Era

We are not in the Anthropocene Epoch, but entering into the Ecozoic Era.

The first principle of ethical and ecological living is to live in harmony with oneself, with the fellow members of the human family, and with all the species of the Earth community. Unfortunately, rather than living in harmony, the industrial societies have been busy controlling, dominating and reshaping the natural world to suit the industrial design and financial greed of modern civilisation. Now it is being proposed that we should name our age ‘the Anthropocene epoch’, meaning ‘the age of Man’.

The Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen, who proposed this new name, has very good intentions. He believes that by highlighting human centrality and the impact of human activities upon the natural world we might wake up and do something to save the planet; we might develop a new sensibility for sustainability. However, many ecologists and environmentalists are worried about this proposal and are asking a fundamental question: by naming a geological epoch after ourselves are we not committing the ultimate act of human arrogance?

There is a reason for such questioning. Human hubris has been in evidence before – even when intentions may have been good. For example, the Whole Earth Catalog once proclaimed that we are “as gods and might as well get good at it”. And more recently, Mark Lynas named the human species “the god species”.

One way or another the industrial societies possessing powerful technologies have come to believe that they can and have conquered Nature. Now Nature must be managed, manipulated and even looked after – but only so that it can better serve the ever-increasing demands of industrial societies.

In this context even the well-intentioned idea of anthropocene could prove to be dangerous. Writing in the Spring 2013 issue of Earth Island Journal, Kathleen Dean Moore of Oregon State University says: “We should use words cautiously. Words are powerful, magical, impossible to control. With a single misguided phrase they can move a concept from one world into another, altering forever the landscape for our thinking.

“So no, not the ‘anthropocene’. That name completely muddles the message.

“Proud, solipsistic creatures that we are, we can convince ourselves that we are shaping Earth… The very notion that humans have become the shapers of Earth makes Earth guffaw in swirls of violence.”

In the same issue of the Journal, author Ginger Strand writes: “The idea of the anthropocene plays too slickly into the hands of the techno-utopians who will argue that since we are at the helm, we might as well put our hands on the rudder and steer. The very word ‘anthropocene’ makes too little accommodation for anything else besides us; it’s not going to help us live with more grace in a world full of things we can’t control, things we don’t know, things we might never know… What we don’t need is another word that feeds our idea of the all-powerful controllers we dream – or fear – we are.”

The late eco-theologian Thomas Berry proposed another name, which is much more humble and hopeful. He suggested that we name the coming epoch the Ecozoic. He urged humanity to repair the damage it has inflicted on the Earth and to bring about an era that is respectful of Nature, self-renewing and ecologically sustainable. He envisioned a new age in which humans and all other species live in harmony with each other. (Somehow Thomas Berry’s suggestion has not caught the attention of scientists and academics in the same way as Paul Crutzen’s.)

Once upon a time people believed in God; they believed that God would solve all their problems. Today we have a new god: the God of Technology. The industrial mindset has come to believe that we will find solutions to all our problems in technology, and somehow the name ‘anthropocene’ leads us towards that conviction, but in this issue of Resurgence & Ecologist Charles Eisenstein takes the view that technological fixes have severe limitations and that the problems created by technology cannot be solved by technology. He says we have to find other ways. Similarly other authors also highlight the need to reconnect with Nature and thus pave the way to the Ecozoic Era.

The choice is ours. Either we can embrace the suggested Anthropocene epoch, or create a new Ecozoic Era.

Satish Kumar is Editor in Chief at Resurgence & Ecologist

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Feral – Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding

Editors Note: Yes, bring on the wolves and whales!

A book by George Monbiot

Published by Allen Lane, May 2013

The book introduces a radical new type of ‘hands-off’ nature conservation called Rewilding, and takes the reader on George’s own journey to re-connect with the natural world.

Discussing his fiercely positive vision for a grand-scale restoration of Earth’s ecosystems, George will advocate for the need to let nature take control of its own regeneration, drawing on breakthroughs in ecological science, Gaia theory and a wealth of his own research, to supports his arguments. Recognising that we as humans are embedded within our ecosystems, he will also demonstrate how rewilding can offer humanity a new and positive form of environmentalism at a time when we desperately need one, proving that a hopeful future for our planet, and ourselves, is possible. George Monbiot is a journalist, environmentalist and author well known for his environmental and political activism. He has written a number of bestselling books of which Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the ­Frontiers of Rewilding is his latest. George is also the founder of The Land is Ours- a peaceful campaign for the public right of access to the countryside in the UK.


Press Reviews

Philip Hoare in The Sunday Telegraph:
“The book justifies its subtitle with rhapsodic descriptions of forays into the natural world. Whether kayaking off the British coast or walking the Kenyan bush, Monbiot – who studied zoology at Oxford – focuses our minds on what we have lost, and what we stand to gain. … as a passionate polemic, it could not be more rigorously researched, more elegantly delivered, or more timely. We need such big thinking for our own sakes and those of our children. Bring on the wolves and whales, I say, and, in the words of Maurice Sendak, let the wild rumpus start.”

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New Reflections by Thomas Berry at

An exciting new collection of audio recordings and written transcripts have just been posted by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grimm at their website

They are talks delivered at the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York City where Thomas Berry was a Canon and an advisor to the Dean James Parks Morton in the 1970s & 1980s.

It will be interesting to hear what ideas were present to Thomas that he would later develop.

The full list is below. Please visit the website for the live links:

Audio Recordings

  • Advent (November 28, 1976)
  • Advent (December 5, 1976)
  • Advent (December 12, 1976)
  • Spiritual Traditions (March 4, 1979)
  • Ecology, Religion, Peace (May 18, 1980)
  • Spirituality and Ecology (November 8, 1981) (read transcript)
  • The Earth Community as the Source of Christian Unity (January 23, 1983) (read transcript)
  • Teilhard de Chardin (February 19, 1984)
  • The Epiphany (February 10, 1985)
  • 11am Service (February 16, 1986)
  • New York in History and Nature (April 10, 1988)
  • Moment of Grace — Earth Mass and Celebration of Thomas Berry’s 80th Birthday (October 2, 1994) (view photos from event)

Written Transcripts

  • Bioregions: The Context for Re-inhabiting the Earth
  • The Earth Community as the Source of Christian Unity (January 23, 1983) (listen to audio recording)
  • The Ecological Age
  • Gaia Institute Lectures (September 28, 1985)
  • The New Story: Comments on the Origin, Identification and Transmission of Values
  • Perspectives on Creativity: Openness to a Free Future (June 1980)
  • Spirituality and Ecology (November 8, 1981) (listen to audio recording)
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River granted legal personhood in New Zealand

In New Zealand—or Aotearoa, as it is known to the indigenous Maori people—the Whanganui River has been awarded personhood status.

By Staff, Utne Reader
May/June 2013
New Zealand—Aotearoa, as it is known to the indigenous Maori people—the Whanganui River is now a legal person.
Photo By Aidan

In a land where corporations are considered people, it’s a bit of a leap to imagine nature attaining the same status. But as Brendan Kennedy reports for Cultural Survival Quarterly (December 2012), in New Zealand—Aotearoa, as it is known to the indigenous Maori people—the Whanganui River is now a legal person.

“Indigenous peoples around the world often struggle with governments that do not recognize their view of the natural environment,” writes Kennedy. Where the Maori strive to conserve and enhance, non-Maori typically seek to industrialize and maximize profit. Thus, indigenous worldviews often directly conflict with non-indigenous practices of property ownership. Awarding the river personhood status, then, is a significant victory for the Maori.

According to the new agreement, the river will have two guardians—one appointed by the Whanganui Iwi tribe and one by the British Crown—that promote the physical, ecological, spiritual, and cultural rights of the river.

Such an agreement has few precedents, however. While the news brings hope, Kennedy warns of the possibility that the river’s guardians might restrict Whanganui Iwi rights to the river with no room for recourse. Still, he calls the agreement cause for “cautious optimism as Indigenous Peoples continue to fight for the recognition of their views of the natural world.”

Here is another article about this river and topic:

Posted in Earth Jurisprudence, Ecological Civilization, Law, Natural World, New Zealand, Personhood, River, Role of the Human | Leave a comment

Dolphins granted legal personhood in India


May 24, 2013

delfin en acrobacia © davidpitu #28124646

Dolphins gain unprecedented protection in India

India has officially recognized dolphins as non-human persons, whose rights to life and liberty must be respected. Dolphin parks that were being built across the country will instead be shut down.

India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests has advised state governments to ban dolphinariums and other commercial entertainment that involves the capture and confinement of cetacean species such as orcas and bottlenose dolphins. In a statement, the government said research had clearly established cetaceans are highly intelligent and sensitive, and that dolphins “should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights.”

The move comes after weeks of protest against a dolphin park in the state of Kerala and several other marine mammal entertainment facilities which were to be built this year. Animal welfare advocates welcomed the decision.

“This opens up a whole new discourse of ethics in the animal protection movement in India,” said Puja Mitra from the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations (FIAPO). Mitra is a leading voice in the Indian movement to end dolphin captivity.

Indian officials say it is morally unacceptable to exploit cetaceans in commercial entertainment

“The scientific evidence we provided during the campaign talked about cetacean intelligence and introduced the concept of non-human persons,” she said in an interview with DW.

Indiais the fourth country in the world to ban the capture and import of cetaceans for the purpose of commercial entertainment – along with Costa Rica, Hungary, and Chile.

Dolphins are persons, not performers

The movement to recognize whale and dolphins as individuals with self-awareness and a set of rights gained momentum three years ago in Helsinki, Finland when scientists and ethicists drafted a Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans. “We affirm that all cetaceans as persons have the right to life, liberty and well-being,” they wrote.

Dolphins are naturally playful and curious, which has made them popular with aqurium visitors

The signatories included leading marine scientist Lori Marino who produced evidence that cetaceans have large, complex brains especially in areas involved in communication and cognition. Her work has shown that dolphins have a level of self-awareness similar to that of human beings. Dolphins can recognize their own reflection, use tools and understand abstract concepts. They develop unique signature whistles allowing friends and family members to recognize them, similar to the way human beings use names.

“They share intimate, close bonds with their family groups. They have their own culture, their own hunting practices – even variations in the way they communicate,” said FIAPO’s Puja Mitra.

But it is precisely this ability to learn tricks and charm audiences that have made whales and dolphins a favorite in aquatic entertainment programs around the world.

Seaworld slaughter

Disposable personal income has increased in India and there is a growing market for entertainment. Dolphin park proposals were being considered in Delhi, Kochi and Mumbai.

India’s growing middle class is hungry for entertainment

“There’s nothing like having a few animals on display, particularly ones that are so sensitive and intelligent as these dolphins,” said Belinda Wright from the Wildlife Protection Society of India in an interview with DW. “It’s a good money making proposition.”

But audiences are usually oblivious to the documented suffering of these marine performers.

“The majority of dolphins and whales in captivity have been sourced through wild captures in Japan, in Taiji, in the Caribbean, in the Solomon Islands and parts of Russia. These captures are very violent,” Mitra explained.

“They drive groups of dolphins into shallow bay areas where young females whose bodies are unmarked and are thought to be suitable for display are removed. The rest are often slaughtered.”

Mitra argued that the experience of captivity is tantamount to torture. She explained that orcas and other dolphins navigate by using sonar signals, but in tanks, the reverberations bounce off the walls, causing them “immense distress”. She described dolphins banging their heads on the walls and orcas wearing away their teeth as they pull at bars and bite walls.

Tanks terminated

In response to the new ban, the Greater Cochin Development Authority (CGDA) told DW that it has withdrawn licenses for a dolphin park in the city of Kochi, where there have been massive animal rights demonstrations in recent months.

Will the ban on captive dolphin exploitation lead to more protection for other highly intelligent non-humans?

“It is illegal now,” said N. Venugopal, who heads the CGDA. “It is over. We will not allow it anymore.”

He said the government hadn’t lost money on the development but declined to comment on how much the dolphin park was worth.

Boost for Ganges River dolphin

It’s possible that India’s new ban on cetacean captivity will lead to renewed interest in protecting the country’s own Ganges River dolphin.

“I hope this will put some energy into India’s Action Plan for the Gangetic Dolphin, which is supposed to run until 2020,” said Belinda Wright from the Wildlife Protection Society of India. “But there’s been very little action.

She said the ban was a good first stop, but warned against excessive optimism. “I’m very proud that India has done this,” she said. “I’m not trying to be cynical but I have been a conservationist in India for four decades. One gets thrilled with the wording, but I don’t think it’s going to turn to the tables.”

“But dolphins for now are safe from dolphinariums, and that’s a good thing,” she added.

Posted in Dolphins, Earth Jurisprudence, Ecological Civilization, India, Law, Natural World, Personhood, Role of the Human, Uncategorized | Leave a comment