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Brian Thomas Brown

Brian Edward Brown's January Reflection

February 17, 2021

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The following reflection was offered by Brian Edward Brown for The Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue in its Contemplative Ecologists Circle for January 21,  2021, based on Berry’s complete essay “The Great Work” in The Great Work: Our Way  Into the Future, pp.1-11. 

In the dire immediacy of the protracted COVID contagion on the one hand and the most  intensely divisive civil unrest on the other, Thomas Berry directs our attention to the  human past to orient us towards the global future. Easily dimmed by the preoccupation  with those present matters of crisis, Earth's exigency is nevertheless paramount, and  the contemporary human will be defined in its species identity by its responsiveness to  the preservation and healing of planetary integrity. Such is the Great Work to which  Earth's devastation summons us from the commercial-industrial-extractive processes to  which we remain heirs and participants. Yet further, we have been born into a still  persistent mode of consciousness, embodied in the political, economic, intellectual and  religious establishments, a mentality which embraces the conceit of consciousness as  the sole purview of the human, derogating the status of other-than-human beings as  exploitable objects devoid of any inherent value to which some notion of natural right  would have afforded protection against human onslaught. Depriving rights from all but itself, the human has plundered Earth with impunity. But in its constriction of juridic recognition for itself alone, it has not only ravaged the planetary body, but has excluded  itself from that deepest sense of joy and fulfillment that arises from human continuity  with, as Berry writes, the " single integral community of the Earth that includes all its  component members whether human or other than human. In this community every  being has its own role to fulfill, its own dignity, its inner spontaneity. Every being has its  own voice. Every being declares itself to the entire universe. Every being enters into  communion with other beings. This capacity for relatedness, for presence to other  beings, for spontaneity in action, is a capacity possessed by every mode of being  throughout the entire universe." (p. 4) 

And so the pressing question, the definitive Great Work of the present is the  realignment of the human from its destructive self - aggrandizement and estranged  alienation, back into and within the dynamics of the cosmic-Earth process of its original  emergence and integral identity. The enormity of the task is the singularity of the  destructiveness that has been wreaked. No past generation has had, as Berry writes,"  the power to plunder Earth in its deepest foundations, with awesome impact on its geobiological structure, its chemical constitution, and its living forms throughout the  wide expanse of the land and in the far reaches of the sea." (p.3) 

Yet the realignment of the human necessarily begins with the movement from the  harms it has perpetrated on the one hand, even as it responds to the allure of the 

beauty and wonder of what remains, on the other. From within that renewed and  centered position the human is further disposed to draw indispensable psychic energy  from its own past for the arduous movement into its future. Its own Great Work of  planetary preservation and healing, immense and distinct, shares creative ancestry with  earlier cultural achievements, earlier Great Works, from the multiple peoples and  traditions which define its common species lineage. From across the wide range of their  otherwise varied expressions and accomplishments, those forebears in the shared  human venture may hearten and inspire contemporary descendants for the unique task  they now assume. 

Proximate in culture and time are those 19th-century geographers; ethnologists; philosophers; landscape artists; land preservationists; voices like Thoreau; Muir;  Olmstead; the painters of the Hudson River School; the Audubon Society; Sierra Club; and Wilderness Society. Sensing the despoliation of the American continent by the  commercial-industrial juggernaut, they each and collectively lent their Great Works,  giving voice to the sacrality of Earth," a shrine " writes Berry " that fulfills some of the  deepest emotional, imaginative and intellectual needs of the human soul." (p.6) 

Critical strength and psychic resolve for the heaviness and uncertainty of what now  must be borne comes further back in time and across cultures. The lustrous  achievements, for example, of 12th and 13th century European art, architecture,  literature and theology were evoked and attained their brilliance in response to the  violence and cultural decline of the 6th through the 11th centuries preceding their flowering. Similarly, China's luminous expressions of Buddhist and Neo - Confucian  thought of the T’ang and Sung dynasties followed upon the upheavals and disarray at  the close of the earlier Han period. " We need to recall " writes Berry " that in these and in so many other instances the dark periods of history are the creative periods, for these  are the times when new ideas, arts, and institutions can be brought into being at the  most basic level.” (p. 9) 

From such a perspective, the looming shadows cast by the magnitude of the terminal  phase of the Cenozoic are even now illumined to reveal the indistinct contours of the  dawning Ecozoic. The work that has begun, the work to which we are each and together  called, the work of reinventing and inhabiting the political, economic, intellectual and  religious expressions for the preservation, healing and celebration of the integral Earth  community - that work draws its greatness not alone from the possibilities and  accomplishments of the human past, but from the very dynamics of universe creativity whence our primordial emergence, abiding wisdom and deepest fulfillment. 

Thank you. 

Brian Edward Brown, Ph.D., J.D.  


Brian Edward Brown's January Reflection

February 17, 2021
Brian Thomas Brown

The following reflection was offered by Brian Edward Brown for The Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue in its Contemplative Ecologists Circle for January 21, 2021, based on Berry’s complete essay “The Great Work” in The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future, pp.1-11.

Reflection PDF

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