Resistance and Solace
By J. Mark Davidson
The boy was 12 years old when he saw it. It was near Greensboro, in this same piedmont bioregion we live in and it was just about this same time of the year:
“It was an early afternoon in May when I first saw the meadow. The field was covered with lilies rising above the thick grass. A magic moment. This moment gave to my life something, I know not what, that seems to explain my life at a more profound level than almost any other experience I can remember. It was not only the lilies. It was the singing of the crickets and the woodlands in the distance and the clouds in an otherwise clear sky… As the years pass, this moment returns to me, and whenever I think about my basic life attitude and the whole trend of my mind and the causes that I have given my efforts to, I seem to come back to this moment and the impact it has had on my feeling of what is real and worthwhile in life… whatever preserves and enhances this meadow in the natural cycles of its transformation is good; whatever is opposed to this meadow or negates it is not good. My life orientation is that simple.” *
Those are the words of Thomas Berry, noted ecological visionary from North Carolina.
Jesus told a parable about a man who found a treasure buried in a field, and it was for him, like a merchant in search of the finest pearls finally finding the pearl of great price. That meadow was Tom Berry’s pearl of great price because he found there what he later called “the numinous dimension” of the universe. It was the first moment in his life when he realized he was part of a sacred universe, that he belonged to a community of living organisms much vaster than his little human world, and in that joyful realization he grasped something essential to being fully human, fully alive. Einstein once wrote that the notion that we are somehow separate from this sacred matrix of life is what he called “a kind of optical delusion of human consciousness.” He said, “This delusion is a kind of prison, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of Nature in its beauty.” In this sense, what a young Thomas Berry stumbled upon on that bright May afternoon was the treasure of glimpsing the sacredness of all things – and what an amazing gift that was! But also in that field he discovered a key… a key he could use to let himself out of prison – the prison of ever imagining himself as separate. He went on to say “The natural world is the larger sacred community to which we belong. To be alienated from this community is to become destitute in all that makes us human. To damage the community is to diminish our own existence.”
Wendell Berry has a pond somewhere in his native Kentucky where he knows to go and lie down, where he can get right by gazing at the wood drake resting in his beauty on the water and the great heron feeding.** Thomas Berry had his meadow. The psalmist had his desert night sky when he wrote, “The heavens are telling the glory of God, the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.” It’s wherever we go to hear “the great Liturgy of the heavens,” where we hear the voices of the rivers, the speech of the mountains, the wordless praise of the waves, the trees, the winged creatures. Nature’s cascade of praise pouring forth through all the earth. It’s wherever we go to find our pearl of great price, our solace, our freedom, that saving awareness of our interconnectedness, the sacred community to which we belong.
To read the whole sermon, visit the website for the Church of Reconciliation.
* from Thomas Berry, The Great Work