Terry Smith – Living the Great Work

Untitled1“The true way…the more I am able to affirm others, to say ‘yes’ to them in myself and myself in them, the more real I am. I am fully real if my own heart says yes to everyone.” Thomas Merton could easily have been talking about Terry Smith who has been doing the good work in the Sophia community for years and he has been doing it quietly. Terry has been in the background at most of the decade-plus Summer Institutes supporting Jim Conlon and Mary Alice Dooley with “whatever needs to be done, no matter what small detail.” His open, inclusive, friendly way is inviting toward everyone around him. He has particularly enjoyed spending time with the speakers, assuring their comfortable stay on the HNU campus as well as their transit to and from the airport. Over the last five years Terry has also given three-day intensives on Thomas Merton during the Sophia school year.

Born in Cincinnati, this bioregion continues to be his home. As a child Terry especially loved spending time in Nature, hiking and camping in the rolling countryside. In 1973 he was ordained a priest, holding various ministries over the years in southwest Ohio as a high school teacher, parish pastor, director of spiritual formation for men preparing to be a priest and currently as a spiritual director and teacher for individuals within the parish system. Once a year he conducts a spiritual institute that is attended by as many as 70 local people, helping others focus on the sacred/divine within each being and within the Universe.

In 1976 Terry attended graduate school at Fordham University to pursue his studies in spirituality. At that time Thomas Berry resided at Riverdale Center. Thanks to the friendship between Thomas Berry and Ewert Cousins, the director of the Fordham program, his class was invited to spend a couple of evenings with Thomas over pizza. A precious memory, “Thomas would spin his magic…a truly enriching time!”

After his work as a parish pastor for 14 years, Terry was drawn to take his sabbatical at Sophia in the autumn 2003. The Sophia program gave Terry more exposure to Thomas Berry to see where Berry intersects with Thomas Merton. Through the joint-taught class of Mary Schmitt and Eric Weiss, his studies provided him a wonderful intersection of East and West by studying the contemporary parallel visions of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo, moving Terry to an even higher integrative thinking. He loved the Sophia experience “intensely,” finding it “refreshing… open with great discussion and exposure to faculty. Ever since, the work of Sophia has been important in my life.”

When asked with what words Terry would like to close our interview, he quoted the author Jean-Pierre De Caussade. “Be attentive to the present moment. Every moment is a potential encounter with the Divine.” His quiet wisdom touches us all.

If you wish to email Terry, he can be reached at terrystc@aol.com.

Article by Kitty Nagler

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Living the Great Work – Mary Alice Dooley

416Once strangers, Mary Alice Dooley and I began the Sophia weekend program in the autumn 2002, a program into which she was instantly drawn.  At the end of a long intense corporate career and series of cancer treatments, Mary Alice jumped into Sophia, found new life with restored vigor.  The unfolding of Mary Alice inspired all who encountered her.  Her winding-down and re-inventing process was one I was privileged to witness and partake.  As she shared with me, Mary Alice went from the “consummate shopper, always trying to escape” to being deeply grounded in Earth and her beings.

The phrase ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’ describes Mary Alice to a tee, as anyone attending a Summer Institute, where she has worked as a volunteer for the last 10 years, can attest.  Since her 2004 graduation, her Earth-centered play/life is a creative, multi-faceted banquet upon which she feasts.  Her master thesis on Creativity and her love of the Universe Story established a foundation from which she has soared.  Without this base that “totally incredibly changed my life,” she knows that she “wouldn’t be singing or making cards or reading the books I do…it seems like my life would be so empty.”

So what is Mary Alice up to nowadays?  In addition to creating and selling greeting cards, small books and other items that focus on the Universe Story, the Earth Charter and Thomas Berry’s The Great Work, she also creates rituals and liturgies that reflect and celebrate these subjects for others to experience.  As an active participant in several Earth-centered groups including Sophia Center, Sisters of Earth and Carolyn McDade and Friends, she thrives with seemingly endless positive energy.  In fact she is an active member of the Gaia Women of the Great Lakes Basin, a group of women from Canada and the US, that sings the music of Carolyn McDade, promoting social activism related to saving Earth and the children of all species.  With all of this Mary Alice still finds time to learn the piano and the recorder.  “With all my work in music, it is my effort to tap into the music of the Universe.”

When asked what is her most cherished memory in these last ten years, “My biggest thrill after graduation was meeting Thomas Berry six months before he died in 2009.”   One of her Great Work cards graced the presence of Thomas who then invited her for a visit to his Greensboro, NC home.  Clearly an ambassador for Earth, Mary Alice continues to incorporate the principles of the Earth Charter and the The Great Work into her own life – “most challenging of all.”

For more information about Mary Alice’s cards, please contact her atmadooley1@sbcglobal.net.  Among her most popular are cards which unfold/open to reveal the Universe Story and blank cards with quotes from Thomas Berry and The Earth Charter.

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Sister Dorothy Stang, Martyr of the Amazon

stangDorothy Stang, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur for 58 years, was born in 1931 on a farm outside Dayton, Ohio. Forty of those years she lived in Brazil, advocating for the poor and the Amazon rainforest within which these people scratch out a life.  The attempt of these people to survive and thrive flew in the face of illegal loggers and ranchers, developers and politicians who had more self-enriching visions for the land.

In 1991 Sr. Dorothy took a sabbatical leave at the Institute of Culture and Creation Spirituality under the direction of Matthew Fox, where she gained the insight that Creation Spirituality is a natural ally with liberation theology and the struggles for justice in Latin America. “Fox talked about ecojustice as essential for planetary survival and human ethics.”  Sr. Dorothy returned to her forest people well aware of the dangers she faced.  She knew she was on a death list.

On 2/12/2005 this premonition became a reality, when, at the age of 73, hired assassins gunned her down. Sister Dorothy’s life journey as she lived it is captured in Roseanne Murphy’s book, Martyr of the Amazon (2007), Orbis Books. This biography enters into the mind and heart of a woman enamored with God’s creation yet sickened by the oppression of the poor and the destruction of the rainforest. Her story tells of the courage and dedication, struggle and suffering, compassion and love shared by Sr. Dorothy and the people she loved.

“At the top of a small hill Dorothy found herself surrounded by a canopy of magnificent trees. At that moment Raifran and Clodoaldo stepped out in front of her, blocking her path…She raised her hand still holding her Bible, as if to shield herself, and Raifran fired…emptying his gun before he too ran.” As she walked down a dirt road in the Amazon to a meeting with peasant farmers who were constantly harassed by illegal loggers and ranchers, Sister Dorothy was killed on February 12, 2005 in her long 40-year fight for the poor and oppressed of Brazil as well as the rainforest itself.

Dorothy Stang had a dream to be a missionary. A girl of generous spirit, Dorothy joined the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SND) in Ohio at the age of 17 with the hope to do international missionary work. At first she taught primary school in Illinois, then Arizona where she particularly loved her work with migrant families. However, when Pope John XXIII sent out an appeal in 1963 for missioners to Latin America, Dorothy volunteered immediately. In 1966 she and four Sisters of Notre Dame arrived in Petropolis, Brazil for several months of intense study at the Center for Intercultural Formation while on the weekends immersing themselves in the Brazilian culture and practicing Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro

Initially the SND women were assigned to the parish of Our Lady of the Pieta in Rosario, a northeastern city in the state of Maranhao. They arrived to a half-standing house that, through their effort and sweat, soon became livable. Their initial assignment was to concentrate on pastoral work and help develop base ecclesial communities. At first the pastoral team (the sisters and a co-pastor) would go to the landowners who would signal to the workers to come in from their shacks. A makeshift arbor would be created for mass, baptisms, marriages and basic Catholic religion education. The majority of the people in the parish knew very little about church social teachings or their human rights. Soon the team became aware of the harsh inequities endured by the workers, forced to become completely dependent on the will of the landowners who treated them as property, just as those before them had treated the workers as slaves. By law, the peasant farmers were to give 10 percent of what they produced to the landowner but the landowners always tried to demand 50 percent and more. Most of the time, the workers lived on the whims and vouchers created by these landowners for their necessities.

Over time mutual trust developed directly between the people and the priests and sisters. The pastoral team made the decision to go into the villages no longer by the invitation of the landowners but by invitation of the people themselves. They would stay with the peasant farmers for they wanted to show the people that their preference was to work with the poor. The team would begin to teach the members of the communities about their rights as human beings.

How the people were living became painfully clear to Dorothy and the other sisters who saw the swollen bellies and stick legs of the children and heard the brutality of the landowners’ treatment of the workers. Change is not an easy thing for people who for centuries lived in subservience. Gradually the landowners were becoming suspicious of the sisters who were “stirring up trouble” by pointing out the rights of the worker to the people.

Sister Dorothy and her fellow sisters had arrived at a critical time of transition in Brazil and for the church in Latin America. A dramatic shift in the role of the church in Latin America was underway. The spread of military governments as well as the underlying structures of social injustice created a state of “institutionalized violence.” Traditionally the church leaders understood their role as ministering to the spiritual needs of the people. However, the bishops at the 1968 conference in Medellin, Columbia charged the church to take on a new role as a prophetic agent of evangelical justice and social transformation, later defined as a ‘preferential option for the poor,” a stance rooted in God’s love for the poor and oppressed. In the past the wealthy elite throughout Latin America always regarded the church as their ally in blessing the status quo. However, their response to the church’s changing role was met with outrage and a sense of betrayal. Those who stood by the poor were now seen not as religious workers but as dangerous subversives. Dorothy grew even more convinced of the importance her pastoral work involved helping the poor farmers to understand their rights and reclaim their dignity.

The decades-long journey on which Dorothy embarked in northeastern Brazil was one of courage, tenacity and love for the marginalized worker. Within her grew an ever-deepening love of the land and forests that were being illegally logged and confiscated from the people. Few legal protections were available to the people, finding themselves all too often up against the wealthy who often had the politicians and legal system in their back pocket. The deeper into the forest she went, the larger the inequities and suffering yet her total dedication to the people did not falter. Dorothy’s hunger for justice, capacity for forgiveness, propensity to see potential in everyone and natural zest for life kept her going. In the midst of the violence around her, she knew she made a difference to the “many small communities that have learned the secret of life…sharing, solidarity, confidence, equality, pardon, working together.” Dorothy changed in the process too.

In December 1991 Dorothy stepped back for a few months, taking a sabbatical at the Institute of Culture and Creation Spirituality at Holy Names College in Oakland, CA. Within this program that embraced ecojustice — justice for people, Nature and Earth — she found a natural connection with her beliefs and experiences. She found a link in Creation Spirituality with liberation theology and the struggles for justice in Latin America. The program also helped Dorothy reclaim her suppressed creativity, rejoicing in music and dance, relishing the presence of others who shared her love of life and Earth. Others noted that she finished the program being freer, more relaxed and more in touch with herself – the emergence of a more playful, passionate, creative Dorothy. She returned to Brazil more determined than ever to help reclaim the rainforest and its people.

Aldo Leopold’s words provide a truth gauge to determine right from wrong. “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Thomas Berry talked about “Earth, our home and mother, the community of which we are a part…” Clearly all Earth beings need to be a considered honored integral part of a thriving community. However, a recent January 2013 New York Times article reports a backslide in protection of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. (See sidebar) One friend suggests, “Looks like we need a next generation version of Dorothys to step up to the plate.”

In each generation there are those whose lives form and inform others who work for the poor, disenfranchised and Earth. Dorothy’s life continues to inspire countless others who take up her cause, both in Brazil and wherever the poor are oppressed. Inspired by the vision of Sr. Dorothy Stang to improve the quality of life of the poor, a small group of educators and community activists started the Dorothy Stang Adult High School in 2004 to meet the needs of Latinos aged 25 and older who want to continue their education, gain employment and move into better jobs. The school is housed at Josephium High School in Chicago and has graduated adult students with diplomas from the program. The curriculum includes critical study that honors the individual while deepening knowledge and encouraging moral and social responsibility. As we can see these courageous ones continue to work to do right, to preserve Earth and human dignity around the planet. Sr. Dorothy’s spirit continues to animate the people she loved so deeply. Her body rests in Anapu near the forest she loved so deeply. “Dorothy Vive!” Dorothy lives. Her story is far from over.

Article by Kitty Nagler

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Trevor Parton Living the New Cosmology

A Christian Brother for more than 50 years, Trevor Parton currently lives in Glenburn, Australia (80 km northeast of Melbourne). He has spent most of his life as a teacher of science and mathematics, three times stepping into the role as headmaster.  Fourteen of those years were spent in Tasmania, an island off the south coast of mainland Australia, where he engaged in ecological activism for preservation of that beautiful wild place.  Trevor graduated from the Sophia semester program in 1999, several years after attending a 1988 Matthew Fox seminar on creation spirituality in Melbourne.  In 2000 Trevor and another Christian Brother set up The Centre for Ecology and Spirituality in the forested setting of Glenburn where they have run programs for the past twelve years. Trevor is a deep ecologist, an integrator of global thinking who fearlessly offers his passion for The Universe Story to meld the worlds of East and West, philosophy, the arts and science, old and new.  To read the dynamic archived newsletters written by Trevor integrating the many facets and voices of the new cosmology, visit The Centre’s website.

Tell me a little about yourself:
I have been a Christian Brother for more than 50 years, and spent most of that time teaching senior science and math as well as being headmaster three times. Fourteen years of that time were spent in Tasmania, a mountainous and forested island off the south coast of mainland Australia. Tasmania was the focus of ecological activism in the 60’s and 70’s and I spent a lot of time ‘bushwalking’ (as we call it, i.e., hiking or backpacking) in the wilds of the island.

What events led you to the Sophia program?
In the 1960’s I was captured by the writing of Teilhard de Chardin and have continued to pursue an evolving and intimate fascination with the Universe. The non-dual mystics have always been important to my thinking and continue to be so. To be even closer to the Universe I made my own large telescope to view the night skies at that time

I first saw the Sophia program advertised in the Matt Fox’s journal on creation spirituality, attending his seminar in Melbourne in 1988.  I resolved to attend the course but could not make it until 1999. Just prior to attending the Sophia program in 1999, a couple of us brothers put together a proposal to set up a Centre for Ecology and Spirituality.  It was following the Christian Brothers’ approval for the Centre that I went to Sophia to gain more credibility in the field. When I returned a year later, I was pleased to see that the Christian Brothers (Irish) had begun to see the importance of the New Story and we were now able to found the Centre. This thinking is now central to our order.

How would you describe your spiritual quest?
The spiritual quest for me was always involved with my role as ‘teacher’ and this is still very strong for me for I see being a teacher as a functional spirituality. Mind you, being teacher is not just about haranguing people – it’s much more subtle and involves a high degree of mutuality and deep listening.  In relation to this question, I now find myself rarely using traditional ‘God’ language. I guess the forms I had been used to no longer have the power to express the numinous nature of my experience of Universe. Another aspect of my non-dual leanings.

What Sophia programs/classes were of particular influence in your life?
I loved the two semesters with Brian Swimme. Dody Donnelly, and Mary Schmitt were very special. Tai Chi with Michelle Dwyer was so important that I still do it with all my retreatants. I tell them this is the way to pray — with your body, no words. Also very important was the variety of students doing the course for this helps to move you out of comfortable cultural forms.

How are you moved by The Universe Story?
Ever since I studied The Universe Story at Sophia, I have told and re-told the Story in lots of different ways. It remains for me the main vehicle for constructing a new cosmological view. Recently I have tried to integrate the Story with the consciousness insights of the German poet, linguist and philosopher, Jean Gebser, who had proposed that ever since the moment of space-time beginning (the Great Flaring Forth), everything latent in Nature (divine potential or diaphainon) has gradually been revealed in the evolutionary process.

How have you influenced others with the Sophia philosophy?
I would not be doing what I am doing now if it were not for Sophia and I have tried to reproduce as much of Sophia as I could here at Glenburn, adding bits and pieces I thought important. With some help I run a 12-week sabbatical here at Glenburn. So far we have had 40 graduates of the course over nine years. I publish a quarterly newsletter that goes out to several hundred people, mostly previous visitors to the Centre. We have had well over a thousand people come to the Centre in the last twelve years.

I am continually involved with lectures and retreats where I propound the New Story. In addition I regularly write essays and poems and have self-published my own little book. (www.edmundrice.org/glenburn). I am also a presenter for a new Melbourne group known as EarthSong (.org).  This is an excellent experience of working with people of like-mindness — a model for cooperation between religious orders. Essentially the Story energizes me and I see it energizing other people. When it stops doing so, then I might also stop.

In what way did the Sophia experience move you to where you are now?
While the Sophia course deals with serious issues, for me, there is a new joy and liberation in life. Worldviews need to be consistent with what we have come to see as a Universe steeped in a deep and beautiful diversity and an interiority that gives us the potential for a joyous transcendence towards Oneness.

Do you have any final thoughts that you want to share?
The Sophia course can be a life-changing event for people, but there needs to be an openness to the new, and a preparedness to go beyond comfortable boundaries. You don’t want to come out of the course half-baked, or with one foot in the old and one foot in the new – either way you might end up schizophrenic.

Thank you so much for the time you have given me and also for your beautiful book, Fire, Earth, Air and Water, that you so kindly mailed me.  I would like to end our interview with a few of your beautiful poems.

Earth Speaks

So you walk around asking Mary Oliver’s question
How to love me – The Earth?
You dream of your lover’s body,
Yet you have barely touched mine,
In spite of your protestations of devotion.
I do not want your brain to love me;
I want to feel your gentle touch.
I want you to water my dryness every day,
And feel your bare feet on my skin.
So I will show you how to love.

I Think
And as I walked my morning round thinking
How to love the Earth,
A wall of perfume from Aussie wattle trees
Lifted me off my feet,
And I remembered how the Gods wept
When we invented words.
Terrae sanctae et pulchrae, gratias.

The Secret

Time is not something you can buy in a shop.
Time is something you use when running a race.
It is always there, waiting for you.
It is free, and anybody can have it.
Time is the space where you become;
Time and space is a happy marriage
And the offspring is Now.
Are you holding in one moment
The origin and destiny of the Universe,
But holding it sacredly, lovingly, pregnantly.
This is the secret.

70 Year Old Tree

My fingers were numb
In the cold dawn of the Tasmanian hill.
Hands in pockets didn’t do;
Hands held to the sun in Tai Chi didn’t do.
Meanwhile a 70 year old tree behind me
Was warming itself in those brittle rays;
Spoke to me kind of softly – try me he said.
Back against the tree, hands behind me,
Both of us standing mute in the sun’s kindness;
Warmth in front, warmth behind.
Do trees have spirits, can they speak?
Silly question some say.
Is God a spirit, can he speak?
Also a silly question.
Now tree said to me:
“We have grown older together, you and I,
But I know stuff you never will.
Anything, everything is spirit, can speak,”
Said the 70 year old stringybark tree.

Interview by Kitty Nagler

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Jim Facette – Living the New Cosmology

Jim Facette is a Marianist Brother currently living in Dayton, Ohio.  Born and raised in Milwaukee, he entered the Marianist order right after high school.  Jim taught high school math and physics for 25 years, later moving into parish work, social justice coordination and university management support. An important part of his education was living and working twelve years among the poor in Peru.  Jim graduated from the Sophia resident program in 2009, a transition year toward his next life step.  Jim has recently stepped into the leadership role of the Brothers of Earth, together with Jim Conlon, John Surette and Maurice Lange.

Jim, how did a city boy like you discover Nature?
I see it as coming principally from my father’s side.  My grandfather, on my father’s side, had been a logger up north in Superior, Wisconsin. My father grew up there in close proximity to wilderness.  He often took me on hunting and fishing trips into the forests and on the streams and lakes of Wisconsin. As a child I had a number of fears of the natural world—what if I met a bear or other wild animal in the wild, fear of heights, strong winds, especially wild electrical, thunderclap storms. One time we were out in the middle of a large lake when a fierce storm came up.  I knew nothing of the Story of the Apostles on Lake Gennesareth in a storm-tossed boat with Jesus, but like them, I prayed intensely as we were thrown about by the chaotic and thrashing waves, finally reaching shore, safely delivered from this force of Nature. I remember my Dad taking me out on the open porch of our house one time during a violent electrical thunderstorm.  He enfolded me in his strong arms and helped me come through into the awesomeness of nature. I now love being in the wild, camping and hiking, climbing and just being in communion with this immense, utterly beautiful and fascinating world of nature, of Earth with all her diversity, complexity, and yes, adventure and danger.

Jim, you mentioned that it was later in life that the fragility of our planet really came home to you.
Actually it was the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 that really opened my eyes.  I was teaching high school and the celebration of this day was part of the school curriculum.  Through participating in Earth Day I became broadly aware of the environment, the deterioration of earth systems, pollution, recycling.  Over time my ecological awareness and consciousness has grown, incorporating me ever more and more into the Deep Story of the Universe and Earth.

Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment that pulled people together all over the country, resulting in the creation of the EPA and the passage of the Clean Water, Clean Air and Endangered Species Acts.  What a gift to have been engaged at the very beginning of this rising national consciousness.
Yes. Yet the real turning point for me came even later in 1991 during a sabbatical at Loyola University New Orleans. Over the course of time, Thomas Berry gave three weekend courses at the university that awakened me to a whole new understanding of Earth.  Things started to come together.  I was thoroughly captured by the story of the long development of the Universe and the realization that human time has only been the last moments of Universe time. What a powerful and life changing story it is.

Before this 1991 Aha! Moment, your life took a significant turn from being the high school teacher.  Tell us about this part of your journey.
I had volunteered to go to Peru where I spent the next 12 years.  For the first year and a half, I once again found myself teaching at a high school, in the port town of Callao, just outside of Lima.  Gratefully my students were patient with me, assisting me tremendously with my Spanish. The next eleven years were spent working in the industrial shanty town (Pueblo Joven) of Santa Rosa in Callao. I quickly grew to love this area and its people. Mostly I conducted parish work like preparation for the sacraments, youth programs, Spanish lessons for the indigenous of Peru.  However, I also became active in the community consciousness-raising of social justice and environmental issues.

What specific kind of social justice issues did you work on in Peru?
This was a work of community organizing.   My community worked in consciousness raising (concientizacion).  Our focus was in solidarity with the workers and their families, participating with them in the struggle with working conditions, wages, housing and schooling for their children.  As part of this we addressed the many debilitating social and environmental concerns severely affecting the Santa Rosa community such as air quality, home and street construction, clean water. Water had to be trucked in before a water storage system was built. All garbage and waste material was dumped into the local river and around its banks, creating a huge sanitation/health problem. The community came together to clean up the river and create a garbage collection system.  It was a real privilege and education for me to live and work there.  To this day the Peruvian people are very special to me and I remain in contact with them.  I also came to love the land—coast, mountains and jungle.

Where did your journey next lead you?
After my 1991 sabbatical I continued to live and work in New Orleans for five more years. Thomas Berry’s teachings influenced all that I did. My focus was to get Thomas’ message of the sacredness of Earth and all her creatures across whenever and to whomever I could.  My first assignment was at a parish, working with African-Americans and Hispanics. Later I took a job at the New Orleans archdiocese as the Hispanic coordinator. During this period I worked with the Peace, Justice and Earth commission within the Marianist congregation. In 1995 I moved to San Antonio, TX to work in a parish and with COPS (Communities Organized for Public Service of the Industrial Areas Foundation).

Just prior to entering the Sophia program, you lived in Hawaii.  What did you do there?
For seven years I was on the administrative staff of Chaminade University of Honolulu that is run by the Marianists.  My responsibilities included safety, emergency planning, recycling, chemical management, natural disaster management. During this time I participated in the hiking organizations, Sierra Club, Solemates, and the Trail and Mountain Club of Hawaii, hiking many of the most interesting and challenging trails I have every experienced.

Tell us a little about the Marianists.
The Marianists are a religious congregation of brothers and priests formed in the early 1900’s by Blessed William Joseph Chaminade.  My order is active throughout the world and operates with a strong sense of equality and community.  I chose to become a brother instead of a priest because my interest was to teach rather than work in the area of administration of the sacraments.

So, what drew you to the gateway of the Sophia program?  And why did you choose the 9-month semester program?  How did you like it?

I was looking for a way to pull things together in the areas of the environment, ecology and the new cosmology.  Due to my time in life, I was able to take the nine-month program, to do the things that most interested and drew me.  It was a terrific experience and I have maintained contact with many Sophia student friends.

Which classes or teachers hold special memories of your Sophia time?  and why?
If I could, I would produce a poem with John Fox, sing with Jennifer Berezan and Carolyn McDade, dream with Barry Friedman and meditate with Tim Flinders and Judy Cannato.

Women of Enduring Grace:  Carole Lee Flinders, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Kim Hermanson, Gail Worcelo, Kathleen Deignan, the above and below—enduring lives!  Who could imagine what grace in bodily motion looks like—Michelle Dwyer.  Mary Schmitt, dear teacher and dear friend—Field of Compassion.

Eric Weiss so challenged me to open my eyes and expand my vision, dig deep and discover worlds.  Will Keepin and Drew Dellinger, poets, philosophers and visionaries.  Terry Smith resurrected Thomas Merton.  Story—your name is Masankho Banda and the beat of the drum.

Powers of the Universe and Story—Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme.  Jim Conlon—how did you pull it all together and sustain it, leading us all to be co-creators?

And I have never lived with such a diverse, creative and lovely community of people as my fellow students at Sophia!  Dear friends all.

I am so grateful.

Has Sophia made a difference in your life?  How have you influenced others with the Sophia philosophy?
Most definitely. It drew together the threads of my pre-Sophia studies and life experiences, creating a new platform from which I can operate.  I am trying to influence my own congregation to respond to initiatives that include the integrity of creation in a more direct manner — really to widen the horizon of the community vision.

You have recently stepped up to the leadership role of the Brothers of Earth?  Please tell me more about this group?  Where do you want to take this group? What is your vision for the Brothers of Earth?
The Brothers of Earth is an inclusive Earth-based organization of men who come from a variety of different backgrounds. It started in 1997, co-founded by Jim Conlon and John Surette, with their first gathering held at the Genesis Farm Center of Ecology in New Jersey.  As a group we convene every two years at selected locations around the country for a long weekend of discussion, presentations, contemplation and plans of action.  Our intention is to draw more men into the group who share the life-embracing, cosmological vision of Thomas Berry.

The next scheduled gathering will be held June 7–10, 2012 here in Dayton at the Marianist retreat house, a beautiful facility surrounded with forest and prairie on an extensive area sculpted by the last glacial age some 10,000 years ago.  I am very excited to host this event in June together with Jim Conlon of Sophia, John Surette and Maurice Lange. Steve Dunne, CP, a long-time friend and colleague of Thomas Berry for fifty years, will be the facilitator for the gathering. The details of the weekend are being worked out as we speak.  More information about this weekend is available on the new website: http://www.brothersofearth.com.

My vision of where to take the Brothers of Earth is to grow it in number and in heart and to develop a closer bond with the feminine, possibly the Sisters of Earth (a large successful gathering of women who come together every two years like us).  I believe that it is critical to have the feminine connection always present in the Great Work as Thomas Berry calls it so as to maintain a healthy balance of Earth.   Women need to have a larger role in the present and future.  The Brothers need to create a more inclusive foundation for the future.

Any final words or thoughts to share with us.
I am so in love with the Milky Way.  I first saw it in the dark night sky of the Hill Country of Texas at a boys’ camp called Tecaboca (Texas Catholic Boys Camp, ha, it only sounds Native American) run by the Marianists some ninety miles out of San Antonio.  It knocked me out.  I have never been the same.  I cannot say how many times I have been stirred in my innermost being with that utterly incomprehensible display.  But the times have been few and far between.  How much of the time the Milky Way is blocked by light pollution!  The most impressive time I saw the Milky Way was crossing the spine of the Andes Mountains in Peru in the back of an open bed truck.  Cold, very crisp cold.  But the sight was so clear and extensive that I thought I was immersed in it.  Of course I was.

The above experiences were a kind of remote initiation and formation into the Universe and this planet Earth.  How could I have been so blessed!  I had it backwards of course.  I only became more aware of the evolution of our home, Mother Earth, over a long period of time, and even later learned the vast history of the evolution of the Universe as we now know it from modern science.  How utterly enlightening and meaningful it all is. And how amazing that our Christian story resonates so beautifully and seamlessly with the Universe and Earth stories.

Some three hundred years ago the steam engine was invented, followed rapidly by the discovery and use of coal, petroleum…the machines and processes of the Industrial Revolution.  It has been quite a ride…and in so many different ways a devastating one.  Thomas Berry tells us that we are closing down the 65 million year period called the Cenozoic, a period of incomparable flowering of Earth.  Humans have moved through social tragedies, injustices, wars, all the way to what certainly appears to be the ultimate undermining of the planet as we move rapidly toward climate change and global warming.

How can we turn it around?  Awareness, transcendence and inclusion, increased consciousness, re-inventing the human?   Again, Thomas Berry tells us that we will have to move into what he calls the Ecozoic period.  “Our own special role, which we will hand onto the children, is that of managing the arduous transition from the terminal Cenozoic to the emerging Ecozoic Era, the period when humans will be present to the planet as participating members of the comprehensive Earth community” (The Great Work, 1999, Thomas Berry).

Interview by Kitty Nagler

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Mary Orlando – Living the New Cosmology

Mary Orlando is a Montessori educator at the Villa Montessori School in Phoenix, AR. She has worked there for the past 31 years as a lead teacher at the Preprimary, Elementary 1 and 2, and Middle School levels. For the past six years she has served as Assistant Head of the school. Montessori is an educational system that weaves the story of the Universe into their basic educational values and curriculum, creating a strong bond within each child with Earth and Nature.

In her 1948 book, To Educate the Human Potential, Maria Montessori stated:

“Since it has been seen to be necessary to give so much to the child, let us give him/her a vision of the whole universe. The universe is an imposing reality, and an answer to all questions, for all things are part of the universe and are connected to each other to form one whole unity. If the idea of the universe be presented to the child in the right way, it will do more for him than just arouse his interest, for it will create in him admiration and wonder, a feeling loftier than any interest and more satisfying. The child’s mind then will no longer wander, but becomes fixed and can work.”

We will journey through Mary’s life to partake in the unfolding of her career in the Montessori method and her personal integration into the new cosmology. Mary is the mother of three grown children, all who attended Montessori schools. She graduated from the Sophia weekend program in May 2006 and feels that it was a perfect fit with Montessori.

Mary, tell us a little about early years.
I was born and raised in Detroit Michigan. My parents, while very staunch practicing Catholics, always exuded a depth of true spirituality. What I mean is they were always looking for the ‘heart response’ to life, loving one another and open to fun. It helped to be Irish. I am the youngest of three children. On the weekends I remember packing a lunch and going to the pretty section nearby. In retrospect I realized this “wild space” –complete with some trees and flowers — was nothing more than a large median dividing a street with one-way traffic on each side. I always loved being outdoors. Television didn’t enter my life until the fifth grade, so most all of our free time was spent outside. Vacant lots in my neighborhood, often replete with overgrown trees, modest ponds and even tadpoles, were the coveted place to play and explore.

How did you find yourself on the path of Montessori education?
Right after high school I joined the convent and for 13 years became part of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Order in Monroe, Michigan. There I was trained as a teacher and taught 2nd grade at a Detroit suburban school for 5 years. This was the time when Martin Luther King Jr. was bringing such critical awareness to the racial discrimination and injustice that existed throughout our country. When MLK Jr. was murdered April 4, 1968, this led to the race riots that broke out in Detroit. My friend and I then approached a black leader in the inner city of Detroit to find out how we could be of help. It was this amazing man that pointed me in the direction of Montessori. He explained that children from poverty-ridden areas are often three or four years behind their “more fortunate” peers when they enter kindergarten. He suggested that we look into an educational program called Montessori because it had such a good reputation for working with children between the ages of three and five. Within a week’s time we went to observe at a Montessori school — at the time the only Montessori school in Detroit. We were both amazed at what we saw! That observation set me on a path that changed my life forever. It has remained (to use one of Brian Swimme’s phrases ) as a “primal allurement” for the last forty-three years!

The Universe leads us on the path in the most intriguing ways. What happened next?
The following summer, my friend and I were given permission to leave the convent where we were living to move to the inner city to begin training in Montessori. For a year we interned at a Montessori school in the morning, taught regular school in Detroit in the afternoon to make a small income to support ourselves and then returned to the inner city in the evening to work at a black community center with young adults to gain experience working in this community. As soon as we received our Montessori certification we set about creating Montessori Day Care centers in the inner city Detroit.

How does one start a day care center from scratch?
We began by transforming the basement of an old abandoned Detroit high school into a workable Montessori classroom. Poverty particularly hits single women who are trying to raise their children alone. So, we accepted only the children of women who were on governmental aid to dependent children. In addition to teaching the children, we provided grassroots training to those mothers who became interested in the Montessori method. We taught classes to all of them, picking out those women with natural abilities and potential (usually a couple) who we then asked to become assistants in the classroom.

Please share your vision for establishing Montessori day care schools in Detroit?

Our long-range plan was to start another day care center as soon as the first one was well established. When that happened, my friend stayed with the first school while I went on to open the next one. After some time she joined me, again with the same intention that I would move on to start yet another one when this second one was running smoothly. It was, however, during this time that I met my husband-to-be. What a painful, discerning process that time was…to be involved in such meaningful work and to be seized by another “allurement.” I finally made the difficult decision to leave the order in 1972.

After I was married, fortunately we were able to continue with our initial plan to open another Montessori Day Care Center in the inner city of Detroit. The third one was an existing day care center that I turned into a Montessori school. I’ve heard that at least one of these three centers is still in existence. Hopefully the other two are open as well.

This was no small feat and I stand in wonder at your wisdom and tenacity to better the lives of these young families. Many of us have heard the name of Maria Montessori but know little about her. Just who was this woman who began an educational evolution that changed the way children are taught?
Marie Montessori (1870-1952) was the first woman in Italy to receive a medical degree in 1896. She was a bold brash doctor and a little ahead of her time, working in the fields of psychiatry, education and anthropology. She believed that each child is born with a unique potential to be revealed, rather than a “blank slate” waiting to be written upon. In 1907 Dr. Montessori was given the opportunity to study “normal” children, taking charge of fifty poor children off the streets of the San Lorenzo slum in Rome. She was appalled to find their environment with no stimulus or energizing activities. From her scientific background she developed a challenging curriculum and within one year these students passed the normal school exams. Dr. Montessori was as astonished as anyone at the realized potential of these children. She asked herself, what if and how do children learn, if given stimulating material. First an observer, Montessori observed children to see what each child is naturally interested in. Then she developed her method in which the child’s choice, practical work, care of others and the environment as well as concentrated, uninterrupted and respected work reveals a human being who is superior — not only in academics but also emotionally and spiritually. A human being who cares deeply about other people and Earth; one who works to discover a unique and individual way to contribute. She went on to become a lecturer around the world on how children learn.

How would you explain what is so compelling about the Montessori method?
The essence of Marie Montessori’s thinking is that education is an aid to life — not just mastering some academic area of a specific curriculum. The role of the adult/teacher is to support the natural growth and development of the child. The current educational system views the child as an empty vessel into whom the teacher pours her knowledge versus viewing the child as a magnificent being with her/his own blueprint of development within. If this child is put into a beautiful environment that meets the developmental needs at each stage of her/his development, the result will be the full flowering of the child’s personality and potential. This unfolds spontaneously with joy, concern for others, a life long love of learning and a quest to participate in their unique cosmic task for the good of the whole.

Please give us an overview of how the Montessori method works.
Maria Montessori observed that a child’s growth years break into four developmental periods (ages 0-6, 6-12, 12-18, 18-24) that require specific learning and nurturing. For example in the first stage the child needs to be given independence to explore her/his immediate environment while in the second, due to the rapid growth of the brain, the child needs to have sown as many seeds as possible to enthuse her/his soul with the wonders of the Universe. This second stage is also the period to experience extreme interdependence and community. The third stage is learning to live on Earth as an independent yet fully social and emotional being of the Earth community while stepping into their unique gifts. The overall child’s question is “What is my cosmic task?” out of which the child will end up choosing a career from a place of allurement. Underlining the core of the curriculum is the story of the Big Bang, the growth of the Universe and the birth of Earth.

Maria Montessori certainly was ahead of her times. Thomas Berry spoke highly about her insights and educational approach in his book, The Great Work (p. 16), stating “A primary concern for the peoples of this continent must be to recover an integral relation with the Universe, the planet Earth and the North American continent…a beginning can be made through our educational programs…Especially in the early grades of elementary school.” Maria Montessori knew “that only when the child is able to identify its own center with the center of the universe does education really begin.” She goes on to say, “We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.”

Thomas Berry appreciated Maria Montessori cosmic education approach and her early insights into the Universe and the child’s need to identify her/his own center to the Universe so as to enable true learning. Berry often expressed concern for how mainstream education, all the way through the university years, narrows the child’s relationship to the natural world. He repeatedly warned that the implied message taught by our educational systems is that Earth consists of a collection of objects rather than a communion of subjects…and that this thinking is inherently destructive.

What drew you to the Sophia program?

While studying creation spirituality, I met Jim Conlon. I saw Sophia as a fabulous personal extension to the Montessori method.

Did it?

Do you have any special memories of your time at Sophia?
Brian Swimme had a huge influence on me through his Powers of the Universe. Each of us holds these powers within ourselves. In fact as an aesthetic project I took the ten powers and created a Tai Chi flow that I still do daily. It provides a central sustaining force within me. I remember so much of the practical stuff like Interplay and the weekend artistic expression of my own and everyone’s projects. Patricia Cane’s weekend teaching on how to use the Capacitar tools for healing is still used by me. Mary Ann Finch’s Care Through Touch and personal stories spoke volumes about compassion. And then there was Garth Gilchrist’s wonderful storytelling and Masako Bando’s drumming. Each weekend added little tools to integrate into life’s practices.

Has anything changed in your teaching because of the Sophia program?

The Sophia experience deepened and integrated within me the path of the Universe on which I was already walking. Each weekend the Story only developed more depth and breadth. The one Thomas Berry teaching that has particularly stayed with me is that of honoring diversity, fostering autopoiesis and celebrating community. The most flourishing communities have diversity. Fostering uniqueness, giftedness and the amazing potential within each individual is the contribution into the whole. And it is incumbent on each of us to keep alive the celebration of life. All of it I brought back to my students together with my own joy and enthusiasm of learning and life.

Thomas Berry talks about the Great Work within each human being. What role do you see yourself playing as you enter your twilight years?
I see my role as continuing to work with teachers, to constantly keep alive that vision of putting the child in touch with Nature by creating that solid relationship with Earth. Nature is not an object but a community of subjects to be communed with. As Dr. Montessori said, “This is the first duty of an educator: stir up life but leave it free to develop.” My contribution now is to inspire teachers to provide ways to do so.

Mary, many thanks for your story, inspiration and time. I enjoyed our conversations and learning more about you, dear friend, and the Montessori method.

Interview by Kitty Nagler

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Pat Seimen — Living the New Cosmology

Patricia Siemen grew up on a family farm in rural Michigan and is an Adrian Dominican Sister. Since completing her undergraduate degree, she has been involved in social justice issues, including working at Network in Washington, D.C. to change public policy. She has served as a community organizer in the African-American and Hispanic communities.

Pat, it is apparent from the description of your work that your life can be seen as a broad and varied journey. What do you think were the first steps that started you on your way?

Well, my three older siblings and I were the children of small farmers near the “Thumb” area of rural Michigan. We were involved in the life of the farm and spent our summers working in the fields, hoeing and helping with other chores. From the time I was small, something that informed me deeply was my love of the land and my father’s simple way of caring for the soil. One of my earliest memories, when I was about 4, was of all of us hoeing beans. Dad called me over to the navy bean rows, crouched down and said, “Come here, Patty, I want to show you something.” There was this little killdeer’s nest and he showed me the eggs with all the spots on them. I still remember that because the next morning Dad was going out to cultivate, with the blades on the front of the tractor, the rows of beans. I pulled on him and said, “Daddy, Daddy. There’s that bird’s nest there. You can’t hurt it.” He said, “Oh, honey, I know where it is. I will just lift the cultivator when I get there.” That memory is still very vivid.

I didn’t realize what a closed community I grew up in until, after attending the local Catholic high school staffed by Adrian Dominicans in the mid 1960’s, I decided to join their Congregation. In those days I saw myself teaching school and wearing a habit for the rest of my life. Little did I understand that my college courses in government, history, political science as well as Liberation Theology would bring about in me a huge paradigm shift. My world opened up and I began to understand that there were huge social justice issues in the wider world. I served as an intern with Network, a Catholic social justice lobby in Washington the summer after I graduated Working in D.C. showed a much broader picture. It really helped me understand the political processes of what happens locally and nationally and demystified the whole political process for me.

These experiences led me to the Masters Program at the LBJ School at the University of Texas, where I studied public affairs and the formulation of public policy. This was also a very formative time for me because I was, for the first time, away from family, friends and community, making my own way into new territory.

Besides being involved with political and policy issues, you also worked as a community activist in the field. Tell us about the work you did.

I worked as a pastoral minister with the Hispanic community in Adrian, Michigan, which included doing community organizing as well. We were involved in the farm worker issues in California and the grape boycotts. I served as a liaison for the national Farm Worker Ministry and made several trips to Oxnard, then the heart of Farm Worker organizing. Shortly afterwards I moved to rural Tennessee to work directly with people who are poor. I worked with another sister in the African-American community in west Tennessee. We did community organizing around various issues such as getting people elected to the City Council and the school board as well as issues before the State Public Service Commission. Some of those issues involved the pricing of phone and utility rates as well as getting park and community development block grant monies. The issues facing poor people were seemingly endless.

While doing community organizing I received the gift of knowing, for the first time, what it was like to be a minority. It was a profound learning experience to find out what it means to be on the “outside.” While we were well received by the African-American community, we were totally cut off by the Caucasian community because of our work. We would go to Church on Sunday with the all-white community and then spend the rest of the week working with the black community. Many of the people in the small parish didn’t want anything to do with us because they thought that we were troublemakers, trying to get the African-American community organized, which is, of course, what we were doing! So it was for me a very foundational experience of racism and the inequities of the power struggle there.

At some point in your career, you decided to go to law school.

Actually, it was while I was in Tennessee that my Congregation asked me if I would go to law school. At that time the Adrian Dominicans wanted some of our members to minister as lawyers — to represent people who are poor and to work in such areas as civil rights, human rights and immigration. It is part of our commitment to justice. I deliberately selected the Law School at Northeastern University in Boston because it is known for training people to be public interest lawyers.

While I was in law school, I also had the opportunity to be out in the field. My experiences as an intern included working for the Department of Justice in the Voting Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division. Because of my background with undoing racism while working in rural Tennessee, I was very interested in seeing that the Voting Rights Act was really being enforced. Because of my work there during the summer, the Voting Rights Section offered me a permanent position. I stayed for two years but left because I felt constrained in accomplishing my professional goals.

Where did you go from there?

I moved to southwest rural Florida as a staff attorney with Florida Rural Legal Services While there I worked with migrant farm workers and did farm labor relations, low-income housing, landlord/tenant issues and other related matters. I was becoming very disenchanted with how little justice the law could actually provide and the slowness of the legal processes. I came to the realization that in my heart I’m a true community organizer. In my heart I want changes in justice made much more quickly than the legal system fosters.

Your journey seemed to make another jog when you became a part of your religious community’s leadership group.

Yes, while I was in Florida the members of the Congregation elected me to the leadership group, first in a regional role and then as a member of the leadership team at our Motherhouse in Adrian, Michigan. During this period, 1988 to 1998, I continued to work on mobilizing and supporting justice while also being exposed to many other areas in which our sisters work, such as the governance of healthcare systems.

It was during these leadership years that I first encountered Thomas Berry. I had known Miriam MacGillis of Genesis Farm for a number of years. She was the one who introduced me to his work. I remember being on vacation and driving to a beach in North Carolina with a set of his tapes, saying, “Let’s listen to this.” The tapes were a direct connection to why I’m working with Earth Jurisprudence. In those tapes Thomas Berry discussed the reality that our governance structures are focused on human perspectives, on human needs and wants, while the rest of the natural world is ignored completely in public policy. Thomas said, “I suspect that if the other species had a vote, they’d vote the human off the Earth.” That was SO profoundly pivotal for me. I was stunned. I had just spent the last 20 plus years working on human injustice issues and I had never, ever, paid attention to what we were doing to the rest of the natural world. I know for a fact that was when the seed was planted.

Were you able to integrate this insight into your work?

I didn’t know at that time what I was going to do with it. However, when I track why I’m doing my present work, it goes back to that moment in 1989. During the time I was involved with congregational leadership, my plate was so full that there really wasn’t time to develop an environmental consciousness. However, I was becoming more ecologically sensitive. For example, I initiated our Congregation’s doing an ecological audit of our properties. As a Congregation, we were starting to take steps to figure out how to live more sustainably.

Is this new awareness what brought you to Sophia Center?

Yes. When I finished up my leadership term in 1998, I was given a year’s sabbatical during which I spent the first three or four months at Rockhaven. I was looking for integration and a shift in consciousness. It was then I applied to the Sophia Center.

How did you first learn about Sophia Center?

I heard about it from Miriam MacGillis but I know we had sisters living in Oakland and several had graduated from the Sophia Center. What I liked about Sophia was that you could do either a sabbatical or degree. As an overachiever,I thought that, if I’m going to be there, I’m going to go for the degree as well. My Congregation approved a year’s study and I found myself in the semester program at Sophia Center. I was seeking mind/body/soul integration. I liked the fact that it took a very embodied approach. By now I was hungry to study more of Thomas Berry and to take courses with Brian Swimme. That was a real plus for me.

At the time you enrolled in the Sophia Program, did you have any idea what you planned to do when you graduated?

Although I knew that I was going to be starting a new path in life, I didn’t know where that path would lead me. I wanted to make sure that, whatever I did, I honored my inner sense and was true to my deepest self. I needed some time to pay attention and figure out what that was. Being at Sophia provided a lot of healing for me, not just personally but it helped me get in touch with the kind of planetary healing that is needed as well. When I was at Sophia Center I experienced a shift in paradigm and consciousness that was a deepening of my ecological consciousness. I started claiming myself as an ecological being. While being a woman is foundational to who I am, I realized that a more primary identity was that I am an ecological being first. This sense of identity profoundly shapes my spirituality, theology and sense of ministry and relationships.

Besides studying Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme, what other teachers or classes had a profound impact on you?

One of my favorite teachers was Mary Schmitt. I took two of her courses. One course was called “Mysticism and Science.” It was Mary who introduced me to holistic systems. We also had a course called “Art as Soulwork” with Bernadette Hotze. As an artist Bernadette led us into a process where we each did our own inner work and then expressed it through various artistic media. One of the reasons I wanted to go to Sophia was because I’m very left-brained and I wanted to reach my right brain. The program provided opportunities to do this and I totally loved that.

I also studied with Brian Swimme, taking his “Universe Story” and then his “Earth Story” classes at CIIS. Jim Conlon’s arrangement of the Sophia syllabus as well as the choice of readings for his course provided a great way of learning. If you wanted to really get into and pursue intellectual engagement you could; the program offered a very holistic approach. My year at Sophia prepared me for my future work and influenced the way I approach my teaching, program organizing and way of being with myself.

You said that you didn’t know where your path would lead you when you graduated from Holy Names University.

That’s right, I had no idea. I spent some time with Miriam MacGillis at Genesis Farm that summer exploring my next step. Brainstorming over lunch one day, she put her hand to her forehead and said, “Oh, you’d be perfect!” And I asked, “Be perfect for what?” She repeated, “Oh, you’d be perfect! – as the Director of the Earth Ethics Institute in Miami!” I knew nothing about it. She simply replied, “You look into this. I’m going to call Mac Smith.” That led to an interview. Lo and behold, a couple of months later, I was hired as the Director of the Earth Ethics Institute (EEI) of Miami Dade College, living in Miami!

How long were you there?

Four years and what a great learning experience for me. MacGregor Smith was the founder of the program; like Thomas Berry he is an elder and very visionary man. He believed that, even more than learning the skills to live sustainably, it is necessary to learn to think differently and that was the heart of this program. At the EEI our goal was to infuse an environmental ethic, environmental care, into the multiple areas of study available at the college. We held sessions with the faculty from all disciplines – math, science, English literature, Spanish, ESL, health sciences and other fields. The teachers would write lesson plans, teaching the content of the course through the lens of an environmental ethic. Miami Dade College has eight campuses, a huge operation. My role was to coordinate these educational programs, assist faculty and provide administrative oversight.

What triggered your desire to get more involved with Earth Jurisprudence?

After four years I shifted to work at the Healing the Earth Center at St. Thomas University. As I was working there the Adrian Dominican Sisters had been given a bequest for furthering Catholic education and was requesting submission of proposals.

When I shared this news with Miriam MacGillis, she suggested that I consider moving forward in studying the potential of Earth Jurisprudence. I gathered a small group to explore creating a center that would promote creating legal rights for Earth. Basically, we designed the proposal to create a Center for Earth Jurisprudence that would operate within the then two Catholic law schools in the State of Florida – St. Thomas and Barry Universities. Then the Center was funded!

Did you know Thomas Berry and did you work with him directly on this project?

I’ve had the great privilege of working with Thomas. He became a personal mentor as I established the Center. Once we received funding to start the Center for Earth Jurisprudence (CEJ), I made contact with Thomas and I met with him several times a year until his death in 2009. I loved visiting with him and his sister Margaret. Thomas was very supportive and proud that there actually was an established Center for Earth Jurisprudence in the U.S The fact that he included the Ten Principles for Earth Jurisprudence in one of his last books, Evening Thoughts (2006), was both exciting and reaffirming of the value he placed on these Principles.

“Earth Jurisprudence” is a term that is not familiar to most of us. Could you please give us a basic idea of what it means?

The literal translation of “jurisprudence” is the “wisdom of law.” It is a philosophy of law. Students in law school have the opportunity to take courses in jurisprudence which focus on the different understandings of law, whether it be natural law or other types of law. The term Earth Jurisprudence is meant to identify and promote those laws that Earth evidences through its natural processes. The laws of Nature, i.e. the way Nature operates, need to become the paradigm for how we create the laws of how we self-regulate as a species.

There are many approaches to Earth Jurisprudence. One primary example is the way of the traditional Indigenous Peoples — because they don’t have to write laws to self-regulate themselves. They understand their integral relationship with Earth or Pachamama. They don’t consider the natural world as property but see themselves in relationship with Nature. However, there can be a tendency to romanticize Indigenous Peoples. What Earth jurisprudence teaches is that we in the Western world have to adjust our relationship with Nature so that it reflects our interdependence and interconnectedness with Nature. Our laws reflect the values that societies want to enforce. Today Western laws support the primacy of economics that stress short-term, human-centered values. They are woefully inadequate in protecting the rights of Nature to exist, to flourish and to fulfill its inherent purposes. Rather our environmental laws condone and enforce legal regimes that continue to pollute and extract limitless amounts of resources for short-term profits. We need to regulate ourselves so that we do not burden Earth beyond its carrying capacity. Ideally, we will see the natural world as a sacred reality. We will set norms and laws that protect Nature’s integrity and health for future generations. We need to make sure our understanding of the “public welfare” includes the welfare of the wider Earth community and local eco-systems.

Under our current legal system, we have no appreciation for the long-term impact of our actions. It is all short-term gain. Law and business come out of this model where there’s absolutely no recognition of the relationship that we humans have with the larger whole. There’s no recognition that the rest of the natural world has an inherent right to exist as well as to flourish. Our laws are primarily based on a totally utilitarian way — everything, including other humans with less power, are seen as a resource for ME or for US. Thomas Berry liked to say that the worst thing anyone could ever say is, “You used me!” Well, our current laws primarily reinforce a “use” economy; use for humans without consideration of the needs of other species and eco-systems as well.

How would you define the primary goal for the Center for Earth Jurisprudence?

The Center has a number of goals and platforms. The primary objective is to bring about laws that legally protect the right of Nature to exist and flourish. That means expanding the sense of duty and obligation that humanity owes to the larger Earth community.

Please tell me more about the program at the Center.

In addition to our classes in Earth Jurisprudence, we collaborate with a number of ecological and legal organizations. There is a larger global movement called the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. I just returned from a three day consultation with other thought leaders from across the world who are working on the Rights of Nature movement. The Global Alliance is working to incorporate the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth into various commissions and bodies of the United Nations as well as the Conference on Climate Change (COP17). Others involved in this work are Vandana Shiva (India), Cormac Cullinan (South Africa), Maude Barlow (Canada), the Pachamama Alliance who works with the Indigenous leaders of Bolivia and Ecuador, Thomas Linzey and Mari Margill of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) out of Pennsylvania, and Global Exchange. We support the work of others doing litigation but CEJ does not do litigation at the Barry Law School. The role of CEJ is to educate the next generation of to provide wider legal representation for the natural world. Currently CELDF is the leading organization in the United States actually drafting ordinances and litigating on behalf of Nature’s rights.

Do you feel that the Center for Earth Jurisprudence is making a positive contribution to this shift in consciousness? Does it make a difference with the students?

We have anecdotal stories that would confirm we are making a difference but it is really difficult to know. We are talking about major changes in legal structures, assumptions, premises and values. The breadth of work at the Center is still new. Law students take our courses as electives; their required courses often occupy their first two years. While we may not reach large numbers of people every year, I do think that, just in the coursework alone, we’ve touched the lives of some wonderful people who are going to be great leaders.

I recently interviewed two second-year law students to be a research assistant with me. The student I selected is very bright, skilled and passionate about environmental sustainability. He loves Nature and understands our relationship with it. I love working with him because people like him will take this movement to the next stage of implementations. That’s what gives me hope: the students. One of the biggest challenges is how will they be able to support themselves when they are doing this kind of work. Who pays for it? Who pays to legally protect Earth? Earth is a client who cannot pay in money.

Do you think there’s hope for changing our legal system to reflect the principles of Earth Jurisprudence?

One of my greatest challenges comes from working with the law school faculties at the two schools. Many faculty members are not interested in having the structure of law change. They do not see the cosmological context of the law and how Nature’s destruction affects all areas of the law. They are content to continue to teach the way they always have or to see us as some kind of fringe group. Some can be dismissive of an Earth jurisprudence approach because it seems so theoretical and not practical. They come from a very different paradigm than I do about what has to happen with economics, constitutional law and how we understand property law.

Law is the field that reinforces the tradition — that’s why lawyers are generally known as conservative. Lawyers generally protect the tradition. However, lawyers are also the ones to bring about legal change. We know that law is important, as we have learned from the slavery/Civil Rights and Women’s Right to Vote movements. But change doesn’t happen without huge costs. People and society pay for social and structural change. Yet, law is important. Cormac Cullinan, a white South African, tells the story that the day after the end to legal apartheid there were still as many racists in the country. The difference was that now the pendulum had swung so that racial discrimination was now illegal. That’s the power of law at work in a society.

Those of us working on Earth jurisprudence and furthering the legal consideration of Nature are trying to shift the way of doing law. We are in the belly of the beast. Most of us do not have many illusions about how easily or how quickly this is going to happen, other than the fact that the Universe brings forth its own agenda and its own timing.

So, you believe there is hope?

Honestly, I believe there is hope. I see the growth of the Rights of Nature movement in South Africa, Ecuador, India, Bolivia, Australia, and even in some rural communities in our own U.S. Even if it isn’t realistic, I still have to keep doing what I’m doing, for its time has come. I have to keep doing what I’m doing. I have to keep finding ways to tell the story and especially to engage the younger generations about what they’re facing, to encourage others to be a part of bringing about change. Whether we’re successful or not, I don’t know but we can’t really let that deter us as there is too much at stake.

How do you see your work as part of the continuing, ongoing evolution of Earth? Of the Universe?

I see it probably in the way that Thomas approached it: that the expansion of human consciousness and awareness is certainly a part of the ongoing process of the Co-evolution of the Universe. The more conscious, aware and loving we are as humans, the more it allows the Universe to achieve its goals. This can be seen in the fact that there are pockets of people around the world calling for some kind of legal protection for the rights of Nature. It is very organic and grassroots; it is tied to a deep time understanding of the evolution of the Universe. We in the West, especially in the United States, seem to be the slowest to catch on to this but, to me, that’s a part of Earth’s evolution. I’m also aware that evolutionary processes don’t take place without huge transitions, huge shifts and huge losses of species, life forms and energy. It is the cycle of deconstruction, necessary before there can be the next cycle of creation. That is why, in the end, each of us is an embodied form of evolution and it is each of us who will carry it forward. I believe that it is only when each of us has done our own work to integrate our awareness and unique abilities and has made the personal choice to live with integrity and compassion that Earth has any hope.

If people are interested in your work, what do you suggest they do?

They can go to the website (www.earthjuris.org) and they can contact me at psiemen@barry.edu, 321-206-5779.

The Center for Earth Jurisprudence has a great new website! It offers some wonderful resources!

Thank you! We’ve just finished creating a new website that just went up. We revamped our prior site, gave it a fresh look and made it a bit more provocative. We’re proud of it.

Any closing thoughts?

My time at Sophia has had a tremendous impact on me both personally and professionally and I’m forever grateful for the ideas we shared and the wonderful, creative people I met there. I see our Center here as another hub of creativity. We’re doing work that no one else is doing in a law school setting. That’s our uniqueness – teaching, speaking, networking, and publishing plus asking the right questions in an effort to shift human consciousness into an ever deeper recognition of our relationship and interdependency with the natural world.

Interview by Mary Alice Dooley

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Denise Rusing—Living the New Cosmology

Denise is an environmental engineer, an organic grower and a regenerative ecological designer (certified permaculturist) in Lake County California. In 2004 she founded Dancing TreePeople Organic Orchard and Garden in Upper Lake, CA where she practices ecological gardening and sustainable agriculture. Denise is an engineering graduate of Stanford University where she studied alternative energy and environmental science.  She also holds a Master’s in Culture and Spirituality (2003) from Holy Names University/Sophia Center in Oakland. Denise has led a variety of environmental and energy efficiency technology businesses. Currently she is serving as the re-elected county supervisor for California’s rural District 3 Lake County.  Visit Denise’s blog at www.bloggingforsanity.net or her two websites at www.deniserushing.org or www.dancingtreepeople.com.

Denise, tell us a little about your younger years. What attracted you into the areas of environmental studies and permaculture? Do you have any childhood memories that pointed you to “saving Earth?”
I was born the oldest of four girls.   As a young child, I was curious and sensitive, so it was difficult for me when my family moved every year or two to a new school.   At a young age I developed a love of Nature and reverence for the natural world, coupled with insatiable scientific curiosity.  I turned to science as a way to bring order to my world.   At the same time, I was filled with sensitivity, humor, creativity and great capacity for wonder and awe.   However, due to my many childhood difficulties, I hesitated to create through play, unable to trust a messy, creative force.  Perhaps I was an adult at age eight!  As I look back on my early life, I realize that I was profoundly affected by abuse, both in human and cultural form, and I rejected the feminine as weak and embarrassing.  Identifying with the powerful role of “hero,” my energies were focused on achievement.  Yet I found it difficult to recognize my own worth and even more difficult to separate my worth from my accomplishments.   Nevertheless, I felt a deep spiritual yearning, a desire to deepen. And I longed to play. 

You were in the business world for 25 years.  Why did you leave it?
After a grueling stint from 1996 through 2002 establishing two energy-based high tech start-up companies in Silicon Valley (CellNet Data Systems and Sage Systems), I found myself asking profound questions about the nature of creation and my role in it.  My old ways of being were not working.  A year earlier, after experiencing increasing panic attacks and chest pains, I realized that I could no longer force myself to function as I had been.  I was fully depleted.  In a desperate move, I quit my executive job and began looking for a place to rest and heal.  During the months that followed, the physical symptoms resulting from this career crisis had mitigated but I still hadn’t found a structure or outlet for my new energies. Then, a person in spiritual crisis, I entered the Sophia Master’s program in August of 2002, hoping to discover a new way of being.

How did you first hear about the Sophia Center?
The Sophia Program and the Universe Story were unknown to me until uncovered in a web search in mid-August 2002.  I can’t tell you exactly what I entered into Google — it was something like masters and mysticism. Up came the Sophia Center.  After looking over the website, I called the telephone number and left a message requesting information. Sophia Director Jim Conlon called me back within an hour and convinced me to give it a go.

Was this quick decision unusual for you?
Yes.  Although in this case, I felt that it was absolutely the right thing to do.  Something within longed for the discussion and exploration of a deeper, more meaningful spirituality — one that could help me make sense of the state of the world and my place in it.  And the idea of “play” for adults appealed to me.  Once I reviewed the topics of the classes offered at Sophia, I found many things that particularly drew my curiosity and excitement. With great hope and uncharacteristic spontaneity, I applied the following week, packed my bags and entered the nine-month resident program by the end of the month. The idea of the sabbatical program and being away from everyday responsibilities while I explored this part of myself appealed to me. I definitely needed a deep rest.  And at some deeper level, I knew that I needed to “come home” to myself.

How did you enjoy your studies at Sophia?
My early days at Sophia were a bit disorienting. My first reaction to the program was What have I gotten myself into! Do I really belong here? Will I be able to relate to my fellow students as well as the faculty?  Later I learned that this is a pretty common first reaction to the Sophia experience.  The spiritual journey is a process and the Sophia Center was becoming an important part in my awakening to the new cosmology. However, I warn you that if you do this, you will change and it may be uncomfortable.

Sophia opened my eyes to The Universe Story, Thomas Berry and a totally global, intra-species way of thinking.  While in the program, I joined millions of others around the globe on February 16, 2003 in my first global peace march.  I also began making pottery — from the clay of Earth and from fire a new stone creation emerges.   It seemed to me that Earth herself was entering a new awareness through a growing human consciousness and connection — and this awareness was awakening in me.

Which guiding principles have you taken from the Sophia program?
In the program, I examined my own evolution thus far in the context of Earth’s evolution within the Universe Story. I soon drew upon the “Fourfold Wisdoms,” interweaving, applying them to my life:

Feminine Wisdom— in particular the feminine contained within my own story as a woman, mother, sojourner as well as of those others whose stories have touched my own.  My story revealed the ever-present search for vocation and calling—and my struggle to come home to who I really am.  So much of my awakening has been steeped in this self-discovery of the strong, positive feminine energy.

The Wisdom of the Universe—in particular the science of the early Universe, its fundamental forces and unfolding evolution.  Within the Universe Story I saw how the dynamics and moments of creation offered key insights into my own journey.

The Wisdom of Dreams and Archetype (Indigenous Wisdom) – acknowledging the role of synchronicity, archetypal and personal energies, subtlety, sexuality, spirituality, mysticism led to my own awakening, to more fully claim my life and inner authority.

The Wisdom of Classical Religious Traditions – while studying other traditions, I explored the depth of my own religious tradition, namely sacramental life and the paschal mystery, as a way to make sense of suffering and hold true to the promise of new life.  I longed to remain faithful to the call of this mystery in prayer and spiritual practice and to integrate the best of my tradition, connecting me to the wisdom of those who have walked the path before me

Who were your favorite teachers?  Tell us a little about each of them, what they taught and how they impacted your life.
Mary Schmitt, neurophysiologist, directed her passion to the study of consciousness in all of Nature, especially the human role in its evolution.  At the end of one of her classes she asked us to write on whether we believe in Leprechauns.  I remember this assignment with a chuckle now but at the time I wondered if this Sophia experience was going to work out. Her question had actually shaken me because it quickly began to challenge my worldview and self-concept.   I had thought of myself as so “open.” As it turned out, Mary asked the questions that pushed me to the edges.

Dody Donnelly, theologian and historian, who taught “Mystics of the Middle Ages,” was a mentor to me. Dody introduced me to a dynamic model called “see-level” that described self-concept and its influence on behavior.  Self-attitude is created from what Dody describes as see-level (or CEEEE level): the culture, education, environment, experience and expectations held by the person.  To understand the evolution of the person, one must understand their see-level and how these elements can change a person over time.

Both were inspirational women, now recently deceased, who moved me into a creative and valuable self-learning process.  In addition their classroom experiences created a special bonding with my classmates that gave me a deep sense of place.

I particularly enjoyed my classes with Brian Swimme, mathematical cosmologist, whose primary focus is the nature of the evolutionary dynamics of the Universe. Brian provided engaging and meaningful interpretation of the human as an emergent being within the Universe and Earth. For the first time ever I was challenged to integrate the scientific and mystical parts of myself.  Evolutionary science stimulated, excited and boldly challenged me while inviting me into the awe, Mystery and spirituality of the Universe Story at the same time.

How did the Sophia education dovetail with your Genesis Farm experience?
I see my Sophia experience in terms of a gardening metaphor. Any gardener knows that you have to start with the soil. You have to cultivate health into it. Sophia provided me with critical nutrients, i.e., knowledge and self-examination with enough creativity and play to allow my inner voice to guide me. Combining Sophia with a two-week stay at Genesis Farm in New Jersey brought me more fully into the consciousness of the new cosmology.   I needed that direct connection with Nature and the farm to help it all sink in. I was open to the Genesis Farm experience because Sophia had prepared the soil, encouraging me to trust my intuition.  The hands-on experience of gardening and Nature at Genesis Farm brought the academic and self-exploration work at the Sophia Center into context.

These two experiences led me in 2005 to the next step — participation in a regenerative ecological design (permaculture) course with an amazing group of people. Permaculture is a design system based on ethics and principles that can be used to establish, design, manage and improve all efforts made by individuals, households and communities towards a sustainable future. I can honestly say that this process of ecological design is one of the most hopeful things I have encountered and is really beyond sustainability. This is about our human capacity and responsibility to renew depleted and ravaged places. It’s about bringing fertility to depleted soils and creating better human communities in the process.

In the years following I have been integrating permaculture design into the Dancing TreePeople Orchard and Garden and into my role of community leadership in Lake County.  With so much destruction afoot in our world, it feels quite empowering to obtain new skills in self-sufficiency and community building. If you would like to learn more about this course, please visit the E.A.T. website.

Thomas Berry said “the dream drives the action.”  What is your dream?
When I arrived at Sophia, I wondered why it was that I did not have a dream like so many others.  Through the process, I came to realize that it wasn’t that I didn’t have a dream. Rather it was that my dream was SO huge that I did not dare speak it out loud.  So I wrote it down and it has been guiding my life ever since.  Here it is.

My Dream for Earth

I dream that our children and our children’s children will enjoy fresh raging rivers, crystal clear air, and oceans, forests and wetlands teaming with life;

I dream that species of all kind and all manner, regardless of their value to humankind, have the habitat to thrive and indeed do thrive together with our human species;

I dream that humankind lives in right and balanced relationship with all of Creation, giving back what we take, honoring future generations;

I dream that we see all Creation as sacred, that our children know their place in the sacred world and are one with it, that they know what it means to be home;

I dream that we love enough to let ourselves be held by this Creation and we know who we are in it;

I dream that humans live in just relationship with each other and with all Creation,
that our communities and our families are connected by a bond of love for and with Creation, that Creation inspires us and feeds us and that is enough for us;

I dream that our work sustains us, that we understand what we mean to the Universe, our community and our family, striving to unfold into our best selves out of love and with love.

Your resume is vast with many ingredients for a greener world. How does this reflect today in your everyday life?
Really everything I’m engaged in I see as part of the work of the New Story.  I’m drawn to these new aspects of the Great Work, as Thomas Berry calls it. If you are not being drawn to the work, then it’s forced. You have to develop a level of trust and that has to come naturally. I am drawn to the principles of permaculture, the practice of sustainable agriculture, care of Earth, care of people and returning to Earth the surpluses of my work.  And I am drawn to The Universe Story that offers an integrated spirituality—namely that of interconnectedness and common shared origin. These are the central tenets of my philosophy— what guides my work, hobbies and life.

After my graduation from Sophia, everything changed…and I continue to experience changes unfolding, still not sure where they are leading me.  However, today I live my life with a deeper relationship between myself and Earth. My life is very full with two adult children, an ongoing relationship, running the daily operations of my organic farm, my elected position as a county supervisor representing the Third District of Lake County, California.  In addition I continue to provide consultation in my technical vocations, that of energy efficiency technology as well as operating an organic walnut orchard.  From time to time I lead permaculture workshops.  I also remain active on the board of directors of The Rockhaven Ecozoic Center in House Springs, MO, an interfaith retreat center that I helped found in 2003 with my Sophia colleagues, Jan Stocking and Diza Velasco. Rockhaven, located just outside St. Louis, focuses on providing a place for spiritual renewal as well as modeling a way of living that embodies our connection with Earth.  I see it as an oasis for those seeking connection to an Earth-centered spirituality (www.rockhaven.org).

It sounds like you are living your dream!  There are so many challenges in bringing the all-inclusiveness of the new cosmology to the mainstream.  What kind of pathway do you envision?
If one wants to live in harmony with the planet, to accept one’s position as a part of the natural system rather than a consumer (taker) of Earth’s gifts, then an internal shift is required, a change in the way of BEING.  Much of what we have been taught about ourselves — how to be happy, how to survive, how to relate  — must change. Despite what we have been taught by popular culture since infancy, we do not need more things to make us happy. In fact, paradoxically, the more we have, the more elusive happiness becomes. Yet, despite the fact that heroes are rewarded and individualism is worshiped in our culture, the most important gifts in the next few decades may well be our relationships with neighbors and the cultivation of local community.

Why do I say this? Because no one person can possibly have all the skills or resources or tools or creativity or time to be fully sustainable on her own. Even if you could afford it, you would not have the time or strength working alone. And, more importantly, the vision of such a life is unappealing. One needs a life-giving and sustaining vision, a spiritual sustenance, in order to let go of the false promises ingrained so deeply within us.  As it turns out, our ability to forge relationships and our own creativity are probably our most important individual gifts.

I offer a personal example of how I have forged a global perspective within my community. My platform in running for Lake County supervisor was taken directly from the Earth Charter (www.earthcharterinaction.org). In fact, I wrote a local version to guide my campaign and subsequent decision-making.  I believe that we need to translate the Universe Story into a language that is understandable by all segments of the human community. I want to help others understand that they have a role in a hopeful future. For a great example of how this all is really happening here in Lake County, visit:  clarks island sustainability initiative on facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clarks-Island-Sustainability-Initiative/131571996892818

As I harvest the first of our organic vegetables and contemplate the season ahead, I drink in the beauty of the landscape around me here in Lake County. I am grateful for all I have been given. From the land and trees, to the community of life and the community of people here. We have all that we need for the times ahead. My dream is that we accept all that is entrusted to us and make it better for our community for the generations to come.

What hope do you see in this movement?
I look to the future and our relationship with the next generation.  Constantly hammering on what is wrong with Earth is counter-productive — our young people already know! The answer to the global crisis lies within Earth herself. It lies in living and finding harmony and cooperation with her systems, not in competition with them. Let Earth and the ways of the natural world help us move forward. It is our role to help our children deal with the despair that they feel over what they have inherited. Our youth want and need hope.

What words do you want to leave our children?
In the permaculture courses I have taken, I have been one of the oldest people in the course—most of the folks were under 30–many from all over the world, mostly the western United States. I have come to believe that the permaculture skills and philosophies will be critical for survival (both physically and spiritually) in the years ahead. For the young, corporate jobs will become scarcer—and far less satisfying. In these courses we learned skills, NOT just for sustainability, but also for regenerating our soils and depleted Earth.  To quote Bill Mollison, the father of permaculture, “We must turn all our resources to repairing the natural world, and train all our young people to help. They want to. We need to give them this last chance to create forests, soils, clean waters, clean energies, secure communities, stable regions, and to know how to do it from hands-on experience”

We are an insane people. These illnesses that we biopsy and irradiate and remove (and sadly often to which we succumb) are but a symptom of a greater problem–many are awakening to the insanity with a chilling realization that we have taken for granted the most basic of gifts: clean water, wholesome food and a world that accepts and transforms the waste we create. The current path we are on leads to ruin; we will consume ourselves — soon enough, I suppose, unless we choose not to.

The heart of our problem may well be a lack of gratitude. I believe fervently that we need to give thanks for the miracle of our own lives, of the amazing life around us, and the precious gifts that allow us to be. For friendship and love and for all those who bear the painful burden of our excess, and for the simple gifts that mean so much and were given to so many of us for free like health and sunshine and love — and of course life — all of which is so very very fragile. Perhaps our love and gratitude will help us create a new way forward.

Please share a hopeful example of one way to live in harmony with Earth.
In the last 24 hours, I chose meals that were locally grown—all grown almost entirely from my own farm and garden. Yesterday, I ate “farm-grown fast food” for dinner: 2 giant freestone peaches off my peach tree, a handful of cherry tomatoes off my tomato vines, a bunch of grapes off my grape vines and a sparkling glass of mint-ice water using the mint from my herb garden. This morning for breakfast: a scramble—a sliced zucchini from the garden sautéed in locally-produced olive oil with two farm fresh eggs (produced by my chickens), seasoned with chives and basil. For lunch: some more grapes and a fresh tomato salad with walnuts and an herb vinaigrette. And for dessert: some of Sky Hoyt’s local strawberry sorbet.

In our country, food travels, on average, 1500 miles from producer to table, requiring huge amounts of fossil fuels both to grow it and deliver it. Most of this food at my table traveled less than 100 feet. And I guarantee it tastes a lot better.  Everything is flavorful and colorful and nutritious. August is so bountiful here… it can’t get much better than this. I can’t think of a better way to heal my own spirit and heal Earth at the same time.

We can grow our own foods and we already know how important it is to shop locally. By buying local food, we support our farmers and economy right where we live!  This is living in harmony and community with Earth and all her beings.

Thomas Berry said that Earth is a one-time endowment. He goes on to say that Earth is primary, that all else, including the human, is derivative. What if we acted as if we believed this? What if the first and primary relationship with the Divine is reflected in how we enter into the mystery of our relationship with Creation? What if we were all to suddenly see Earth—each hill, rock, stream and creature–as sacred? I try to imagine what it would be like if all this human creativity and talent were suddenly awakened to the cause of reforming or returning human interrelationship with each other and our planet home. Seems to me that the issues of justice, which are fundamentally relational, are directly related to getting this first planetary relationship right.

I dream of a day when humankind lives in right and balanced relationship with creation and with each other… when we collectively awaken to fully engage together in the work of renewal, restoration and justice for human communities and the web of life.

I imagine a day when thousands of candles light the night, when we collectively awaken from our insane binge to fully engage our most talented in the work of renewal and resurrection and reconstruction and justice for human and non-human life. This is the work that matters in these times.

Interview by Kitty Nagler

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Joy Gribble Interview – part 2

Joy, tell me a little about yourself.
I was born in Bay City, Michigan thirty-two years ago. My parents are an ex-priest and ex-nun who discovered Thomas Berry in the eighties, introducing it to me at about the age of ten. After age ten, I was raised on The Universe Story; it was simply part of my family’s spiritual foundation. At the age of 13 I read Brian Swimme’s The Universe Is a Green Dragon for the first time and this is when I embraced the new cosmology on my own. At the age of 18 I attended a 4-week program at Genesis Farms; there I immersed myself totally in the Story and came to a complete acceptance of it. Most remembered of my Genesis Farm teachers are Larry and Jean Edwards, both with whom I still maintain a deep, close friendship.

Most people in the Sophia program come to the Story at a later age. How did this different worldview affect the relationships with your friends?
I was always “different” than my peers. At 12 I had became a vegetarian. My friends were totally okay with my unique ideas although I wasn’t one to talk a lot about them. The first time I opened up with these ideas was to a few professors in my undergraduate studies. Then I went on for a Master’s degree in social work. My final project in 1999 was on consumerism and our society’s attempts to fill emotional voids by buying more and more while subsequently depleting Earth’s resources. My advisor initially rejected the topic, saying it didn’t fit the criteria. I had to go over her head and ask the Dean’s approval because it was the topic I was most passionate about. Finally the university gave me the okay to continue. After the paper was completed, this same professor told me that she had learned more from me than from any of her other prior students.

How did you first hear about the Sophia program?
Larry Edwards from Genesis Farms encouraged me to continue my studies of the new cosmology and suggested the Sophia program.

How did this program affect your life in those years?

At the time I was working as a social worker in the poorest areas of Oakland, CA. The Sophia program placed this work in a new context and changed how I interacted with my clients, trying to meet both their immediate needs as well as deeper needs. Also I was inspired to continue my study of the new cosmology and went on to obtain a doctorate of ministry in creation spirituality through Matthew Fox’s program at the University of Creation Spirituality in downtown Oakland.

What Sophia classes/weekends were of particular influence in your life?

I was fortunate to live near the Sophia Center so Jim Conlon allowed me to attend classes during the week. There were certain teachers who particularly took me into deeper unknown areas of spirituality. One of the most influential was Mary Schmitt, who introduced me to a higher consciousness present within the Universe through the study of metaphysics. Sobonfu Some showed me that another culture was already living the new cosmology — that this deeper learning can transfer to different cultures. Sobonfu told us stories about the culture of her Dagara tribe that accepts all people, even those marginalized by our culture, and places them within more enlightened social roles, like the homosexual as the gatekeeper to the inner world. This was a powerful lesson. I was in awe with Michael Schneider and his knowledge of science as an art in which we can see symmetry and beauty in the patterns of Nature, just as simply as in a piece of fruit. Predictability can be found within the elegance of numbers in Nature.

Brian Swimme has been the most influential teacher for me. He continues to change the way I see the world. I was so fortunate to take his class at the CIIS (California Institute of Integral Studies) as part of my Sophia experience. Brian speaks with such spontaneity and joy, truly channeling the wisdom of the Universe.

Joy, thank you for sharing your family life and beliefs, parenting skills and stories. It was so much fun interviewing you. The very best in the upcoming birth of your third son. He will be entering into a very special family.

Interview by Kitty Nagler

Boys, Jasper (4) and Wilder (2) joyously welcome their brother Forest, born on March 1st, to planet Earth.

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Joy Gribble on integrating the Universe Story into daily life – part 1

Joy Gribble is the wife of Tom Gribble, a prior Sophia student, and the full time mother of two young boys (3 ½ and 1 ½) with another child due in February. This young woman has taken the Universe Story and literally woven it into their basic family values, creating a strong bond with Earth and Nature. You will read not only the unfolding of Joy’s life and her early introduction to the new cosmology but also her ongoing daily focus in parenting two young boys. She and her husband hone their parenting skills everyday with intention and humor under the mantra of Thomas Berry’s ‘think globally, act locally’ — all the while guiding their sons into the wisdom of the Universe.

Joy graduated from the Sophia weekend program in May 2002 and currently lives with her family in the Bay Area.

So, where are you today?
Everything I do, every fabric of my existence, is influenced by the new cosmology. Please give some everyday examples of how it impacts your daily living. My whole family is vegan. Not eating meat or dairy is so much better for the environment and for our bodies. It has not been a challenge since it is all that my sons know and they love our unusual diet. My older son knows he is an herbivore like the cows and zebras and elephants and he thinks it’s fantastic! We go to the farmers market each week to support the local farmers and the boys walk away with stained cheeks from all the berries they devour. We have also dabbled in gardening over the last few years using the square foot gardening method, which is great for gardening in the city. This year we grew strawberries, sweet peas, basil, eggplant, cilantro, mint, rosemary, onions, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, squash, tangerines, and grapefruit. Not everything grew well, but it is great to see our children learn the different stages of plants and get excited when a little squash pops out from under a yellow flower. We think it is important that they know where their food comes from.

Are there other ways that the Universe Story informs the choices that you and Tom make in your family life?
Yes, we spend much of our day outside, rain or shine, and the children have been hiking since they were born. They have learned not to harm any living being because they know life is sacred. They also love the creatures that are typically vilified, like spiders, ants, worms, and vultures, because they know each creature has a critical role in maintaining the balance of the planet. If we see bugs in our house, we are honored and thank them for coming by!

The rhythms of Nature hold the framework of the Story, do you agree?
Most definitely! We celebrate the equinoxes and solstices, know the full moons, and live in tune with the cycles of the seasons and with nature. We bake a healthy dessert on full moon evenings and go on a full moon walk, leaving the treat outside for it to absorb the last ingredient…moonlight! Moonlight makes everything taste deliciously sweet! (Although my son does know that moonlight is actually sunlight.) Giving the boys an accurate context for where they are, what they eat, how their bodies’ work, and where things come from (like paper and water) is very important to us. For instance, they know the sun doesn’t actually set but instead Earth spins out of the sun’s light — each birthday is another completed trip around the sun, marked by blowing out our mini suns candles.

The way you have integrated the new cosmology into your children’s everyday lives is beautiful and quite remarkable.
Our culture is inundated with messages of violence and apathy, even for children, so we are careful about what books we choose. The only times they’ve watched television was to watch President Obama be sworn in or view home videos. For a while I think my older son thought he and Obama were the only ones on TV! Characters like Dora and Elmo and Spiderman are ubiquitous in the world and we try to keep their exposure to that to a minimum and have the boys invent their own worlds, which are much more fascinating!

How have you addressed religion in the boys’ lives?
We haven’t introduced Jesus to them yet, as the stories most of our culture tells about him are laden with inaccuracies and messages that we don’t want the boys to adopt. They do know about Buddha and his teachings. Tom and I plan to expose them to many spiritual leaders who can help forge them a path toward conscious living.

Children being children, you must have moments when you are a bit baffled about how to appropriately answer the many questions asked by your sons?
Everything has to settle deep within me before I answer the questions asked by my children. My oldest has asked about death, pre-birth, which creatures were the first to walk on Earth and how did life begin. I’m sure these questions are only beginning! Correct context is so important, as Thomas Berry would say, and a great answer always seems to be hidden within the Universe Story.

I understand that you have written beautiful children’s stories from this context.
Yes, I have written a series of 12 books based on the new cosmology and The Universe Story. I sent them to a few publishers and didn’t find any interest. I wrote them as a way to express myself without holding onto the thought that they may one day would be marketed. Therefore, I now see that I’d need to make some changes that could help bridge their contents with what the majority of the culture understands of the world.

How have you influenced others with the Sophia philosophy?
I am living it with my children. They exude it more brilliantly than I ever could. It brings me to tears just thinking about it, how gentle they are with pill bugs, how excited they are by picking apples off trees, how moved they are by seeing a wild animal cross our path. It is not forced; they don’t have to be reminded. Gandhi said to “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Hopefully we five, meaning my husband and me and our three sons, will do that within the context of the new story.

The Sophia experience has clearly moved you onto a different path. Toward where are you heading?
I am almost finished with my psychotherapy license. Eventually I’d like to return to the workforce as a children’s therapist, using the natural principles of Earth and the Universe as my context. We are nature, yet we continue to try to separate ourselves from it. The principles that move in nature also dance within our own psyches. We have cycles, rhythms —and we innately know how to bring ourselves back into balance. In many ways, children are victims in our contemporary culture. I hope to work with children who are out of balance and help them see how brilliant their lives really are, within the context of a 14 billion year story.

Any final thoughts that you would like to share?
Yes. I wanted to mention that there are definitely challenges. Now my family is being invited to Batman-themed birthday parties with toxic cakes and plastic guns falling out of piñatas! Our home was inundated with ants for three months this summer, literally thousands a day. I think we were the “safe house” because everyone else around was calling Orkin. There are certain things we refuse to do as a family, such as eat meat, accept plastic or paper bags from stores, or use chemicals that are not biodegradable. Therefore, we struggle a lot. We also have very few like-minded friends. Although our friends are very sensitive to our lifestyle and accepting, no one eagerly accepts Equinox dinner invites! In the end, my husband and I find our resolve through laughter. He was flicking ants off his ears WEEKS after they had left — he called it post traumatic ant disorder — and it was funny! It is pretty funny when we frantically try to snatch all the plastic guns out of the goody bags before my sons evaluate their stash. And when we forget our canvas bags at Target and ask the cashier to put everything back in the cart with no bags, the look on their face is priceless. We just try to find the humor in the trying.

Interview by Kitty Nagler

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