When I reflect on what Thomas Berry called “the great work,” my heart is moved with gratitude for his life and his vision, which remains with us today.
Thomas reminds us that to participate in the great work is to align our energies with the dynamic, unfolding energy of the universe. When this happens, God’s work becomes our work. As we align our personal destiny with the larger destiny of the universe, we are carried into the future by the creative energy of the divine that flows in and through our lives.
Thomas sheds light on his great work by recounting an experience that took place when he was eleven-years-old.
One day in May, he ventured beyond the family home to the meadow across the creek. As he gazed at the while lilies and at the clouds in the blue sky, saw the water glistening in the sunshine, and listened to the crickets in the meadow, he was moved to ecstasy.
The beauty of this experience touched his soul; it was as if this moment of grace left its sacred imprint on him. From that day forward, his work was guided by a simple principle: What was good for the meadow was good for the world. And what was not good for the meadow was not good for the world and should be avoided.
My own meadow is the St. Clair River—the beautiful body of water that connects Lake Huron and Lake St. Clair in the Great Lakes region. The river bears the name St. Clare of Assisi because it was discovered on the feast of St. Clare, well known for her love of God’s creation.
As a boy, I grew up on the shores of the St. Clair River and learned to swim in, skate on, and fish in its sacred waters. It was a poultice for my soul when I was sad and often a source of joy and celebration.
On one occasion, after I had been away from the St. Clair River for some time, as I approached the river, my mouth began to water. As a result, I became aware that I had a cellular relationship with the sacred waters of the St. Clair.
I often think that this body of water can be viewed as a metaphor for what unites us all and holds our world together. This uniting force brings together two countries (Canada and the United States), as well as heaven and earth, God and the world, and each individual and the larger community.
When I go to sleep at night, I sometimes remember its beauty as a sacrament of my soul and as a guide for living: That which unites is good; that which separates is not good. This principle informs the great work.
On many occasions, I have invited the participants in classes I taught to reflect on their childhood experiences of nature and to identify their own meadow experiences. They can then trace how their meadow experiences have guided their great work and influenced their destiny in the world. I invite you to do this reflection yourself now.
As we discover the focus of our great work, it also behooves us to think about how we can move away from this time in which humans are devastating the planet and move toward a time when we will be present to the planet in a more mutually enhancing way. Combining our personal work with the larger concerns of our epoch is our common task, our overarching great work.
(originally published June 24, 2016)