GreenSpirit, 2010, 112pp
Reviewed by Chris Holmes
Now go to the meditations and slowly read a single page. Stay with any words or ideas that speak to you. Give yourself time to feel your way into understanding and exploring this awareness until you become part of the cosmos knowing itself.
This is the penultimate paragraph of June Raymond’s concise and helpful introduction to her selection from the writings of the late Thomas Berry, and clearly suggests how the book should be read. That is, slowly, attentively and with a sense of transcendent possibilities – in other words, the act of transforming quotations into meditations. This was the very opposite of my own first approach to the book, which consisted of a hasty read through both in order to get an overall feel and to find some sentences that immediately spoke to me. This did scant justice to the contents and not long after this initial foray I took June’s advice and meditated at length on just four quotations. What an enriching experience it proved to be, and so one unexpected consequence of reading this book has been my rediscovery of the joy of meditative reading – not exactly ‘lectio divina’, but in the same neighbourhood. A few words of Thomas Berry can go a very long way!
As part of my exploration of Meditations I pencilled a tick by those sentences which seemed to me to have particular power and insight. Interestingly, the majority of my ticks occurred in the last four parts of the book (Parts 4 to 7). Parts 1 to 3 contained far fewer ticks, and I was intrigued as to why. My conclusion is that the earlier parts of the book contain more quotes tending to the metaphysical with emphasis on the divine inspiration in creation; part 1 in particular shows the influence of Teilhard de Chardin, a thinker for whom Thomas Berry had great respect. All but one of the quotes in this first part are taken from The Universe Story which was co-authored with Brian Swimme. I suspect these early pages will appeal to those readers who are drawn to a cosmic rather than to an earthy spirituality, and in this regard I am more at home with the latter. However, there are some real gems from these early pages:
“The Universe thrives on the edge of a knife” (page 20) and “Every existence is a mode of divine presence” (page 21) are quotes which are easily committed to memory but which have rich layers of meaning.
Parts 4 through 7 seem to me to be more accessible and relate powerfully to everyday experience. Indeed, the majority of quotations in this second half of the book have my ticks against them, including these delightful lines from page 87.
I do not mind a heaven father, that is all right. But I do like the idea of an earth mother, and I also like to talk to the trees. This idea that the trees talk to me and I talk to the trees, this kind of subjectivity, is somehow absent from our tradition.
Stimulated by the number and variety of quotations, I felt obliged to exercise my competitive instinct and look for my favourite quote. After some inner debate I chose this one on page 69:
The greatest of human discoveries in the future will be the discovery of human intimacy with all those other modes of being that live with us on this planet, inspire our art and literature, reveal that numinous world whence all things come into being, and with which we exchange the very substance of life.
A great hope expressed by a great man. It is a pity that Berry in his long life (1914 to 2009) did not publish more than he did, the quotations in June’s selection being taken from just four books. However, Berry had a presence within the eco-spiritual movement which somehow did not require a large literary output and his place in the ‘green pantheon’ is assured. Full marks to June for producing such an inspirational yet inexpensive compendium of wisdom.