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.
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.
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.
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