Thomas the Teacher, Thomas the Man…Carolyn the Friend

Thomas Berry’s 100th birthday…an invitation from Mary Southard, csj

I would like to share a special invitation with you, the invitation to fall in love again! Carolyn Toben from Timberlake Farm Earth Sanctuary will be at The Well for our special program to honor Thomas Berry, his life and work.
Carolyn will be sharing with us from her personal friendship with Thomas and her sensitive conversations with him during the latter ten years of his life. She will share with us how Thomas came to see our troubled human relationship with Earth not only through science and a lifetime of scholarship into human cultures, but with the eyes of the heart.

For many of us Thomas invited us deeply into the Story of our Universe as a Sacred Story, a Love Story, to which we are awakening in our time. Together with Carolyn, we will have the opportunity of savoring Thomas’ long years of reflection, his hopes and his dreams…”The Dream of the Earth.”

Carolyn herself opened her beautiful land to become a sanctuary dedicated to inviting children into an experience of the Sacred Universe. We will be presenting her with our Sacred Universe Award in recognition of her creating of a context where educators and children may experience an intimate relationship with the living world around them.

If you are at all able, come and enjoy this important and delightful event at The Well, 1515 W.Ogden, La Grange Pk. IL on November 8 from 8:30 a.m. – Noon.
Call 708-482-5048 to register. Hope to see you there!

By spiritearth1

Thomas the Teacher, Thomas the Man

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Thomas Berry,  a reflection by John Surette, sj

Thomas was a cultural historian who was interested in stories. He studied the stories of all the world’s religions including those found in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, the Arabic Koran, the Sanskrit texts of Buddhism and Hinduism, the texts of the Chinese culture, as well as the stories found in our Native American cultures.

Beginning in the 1970’s Thomas began telling the modern 13.7 billion year Story of our Universe. He presented it as the overarching context of all that we are and all that we do. He told it as a sacred story because if unfolds us humans and everything else that has existed in the past, presently exists, and will exist in the future. This Story carries all that is important and of value to us. In fact, according to Thomas, we cannot fully tell our personal stories without including them in the larger cosmic story. We are parts of the Universe Story and it is present within each one of us. As Thomas frequently said: “It’s all a question of story.”

Join us at The Well Spirituality Center  in LaGrange Pk, IL on November 8th in celebrating the life of this Great Story teller. Carolyn Toben will be facilitating the event. She has spent many hours in conversation with Thomas about his foundational and inspiring thinking. To register contact The Well at 708-482-5048 or at

By spiritearth1

Mass on the World


 This altar is created from maple wood, glass, and a bronzed-coated plaster. The two graceful arms sweep around and upward, embracing Earth and supporting the table top. The arms of wood represent the elegant, caring wisdom of our Creator God holding the Universe in perfect balance and enabling it to evolve. The glass in the altar top allows illumination of Earth and enables it to be viewed from all sides.

The insights of Teilhard de Chardin in his “Mass on the World” inspired the design of the altar. The Body of Christ includes everyone and everything. We are all one body. In each Eucharistic Liturgy we celebrate this and give thanks.

The altar was designed by Mary Southard, CSJ, who sculpted the Earth. It was engineered and built in 2009 by Mike Holtz and his team at Holtzsmacher, Ltd. in Sycamord, IL.

The altar was designed by Mary Southard, CSJ, who sculpted the Earth. It was engineered and built in 2009 by Mike Holtz at Holtzmacher Ltd. of Sycamore, IL.

By spiritearth1

Cosmic Sexuality

In modern times we are discovering what the mystics of previous times knew, namely, that sexuality is a relational energy, a love energy, that has been present in the Universe from the beginning of time and is moving in each of us all of the time whether we are aware of it or not.

There is an energy of attraction, an allurement into relationship, that pulsates within the Universe. Everything is in relationship: quarks, electrons, protons, atoms, galaxies, stars, mountains, lakes, tress, plants, animals and, of course, we humans. Nothing stands alone. In fact, nothing can stand apart from everything else and be authentically itself. The most fictitious identity in the Universe is that of the solitary individual or the isolated particle. The best of modern science affirms this relational truth. The necessary re-invention of humanity in our twenty-first century requires that we live creatively within all the relationships. To exist is to be caught up in this field of relational energy, this energy of attraction. Cosmologist Brian Swimme refers to this reality as the “cosmic sexuality.”

He talks about how this energy of attraction and allurement into relationship finds its most basic manifestation in the dynamics of gravity. Our Earth is involved in a gravitational dance with our Sun. This dance results in an intimacy that gives birth to an awesome diversity of life forms. This cosmic sexuality finds expression in atoms that are attracted to each other forming molecules and molecules that come together to form cells and other more complex structures. We live and move and have our existence within this field of attraction. At this very moment the whole Universe and therefore each one of us is being allured into relationship. Whether we are considering gravity or human sexuality we are talking about this cosmic energy of attraction.

Understanding our human sexuality as a participation in the cosmic sexuality can liberate us from an old teaching that valued soul more than body and looked with suspicion upon sexuality. It frees us to experience ourselves as beings in whom a cosmic attraction is at work from our births to our deaths. It frees us to experience our desire to love and to be loved as embedded in the depths of the Universe itself.

John Surette, SJ

By spiritearth1

Chapel Talk

Consider the 13.8 billion years age of our Universe, an almost unimaginable length of time. All ot that time carries the promise of the Divine commitment to and investment in our Universe. It carries the Divine promise of being faithful throughout time and therefore fraithful in the present time. Because of this faithfulness we can have hope in our future.

Consider each moment of dawn as Earth turns toward its Sun star. That turning carries the promise of the continuation and the newness of life. With such a promise we are able to enter into each new day with hope in its abundance. Consider each moment of dusk as Earth turns away from its Sun star. That turning carries the promise that the darkness of night is not the final word. Because of that promise we can close our eyes in sleep hoping to awake to a new day in the morning.

Consider each time that a seed is planted. The very act of planting carries the promise that as a result of going down into the soil the seed will grow into the total surprise that is a new plant. So the seed is placed into the ground with the hope that it will yield an abundance.

Consider each time that we pray for peace or work for justice. The very act of praying or working carries the promise that the overwhelming brutality of what is happening within our human community need not be the final state of affairs. And so we can continue our praying and working with zest.

Consider all the ways in which we humans are diminishing and destroying the web of life here on our Planet Earth. We are tempted to despair over this pathological situation and wonder if anything can be done to reverse what is happening. We can, however, find the courage to hope for and imagine a more mutually enhancing relationship between Earth and its humans. Our hoping and imagining of this better relationship carries the promise of a new way forward.

Our hopes carry the promises of a better future, a future that is making its presence felt in our present moment. So many promises…let us take them seriously!

John Surette, SJ

By spiritearth1

Sacred Universe Award

Sacred Universe Award

photo by Joellen Sbrissa, CSJ

We recently presented the Sacred Universe Award to Ilia Delio, OSF, director of Catholic Studies at Georgetown University. The Award has been given a dozen tines over the years. It was first given to cultural theologian and geologian Thomas Berry, CP in 1993. We gave it to Ilia in recognition of how her life and her theological work has helped nurture a mutually enhancing relationship between Earth and its human community. The event was sponsored by the Well Spirituality Center in LaGrange Park, IL. Its executive director, Bridget Sperduto, is on the left of the photo. The Award was painted by Mary Southard who was inspired by the final words of Gerard Manley Hopkins poem “God’s Grandeur.”

By spiritearth1

The Cosmic Banquet…continued

An invitation from theUniverse: You are cordially invited to attend a Banquet. Bring only the fullness of who you are. Come ready to celebrate, to eat, and to be food for others.

The Banquet table is set with many lovely things.We humans didn’t set the table but we belong at it. We are invited to eat and drink to our hearts’s satisfaction. We are invited to take what we need from the galaxies, the Sun, the rocks, the animals and other humans. While avoiding the pervasive sin of over consumption, we are innvited to take nourishment for our lives, our souls. We are not lords of the Banquet as some might think, We are, on the contrary, utterly dependent upon it. Everyone and everything is food for us, is gift and grace for us. How blessed we are.

At the Banquet we too are invited to be food, to be gift and grace for all the others at the table. They have a right to partake of us and to nourish themselves from our lives, our fullness, our imaginations, our creativity, and our love. I wonder if perhaps this is what one man had in mind when he said “This is my body. Take and eat.” All of us are among the lovely things on the Banquet table. How tasty and nourishing are we?

Do we try to understand, celebrate, and give thanks for all at the table? Are we alive and sensitive to the sacredness surrounding us? Do we participate in and stand humbly before the depths of the communion of all beings around the table? Are we good food for the Universe? If we are, may others eat and drink of us to their sastisfaction.

To respond to the Universe’s invitation by being fully present at the celebration is to give our enthusiastic “Yes” to existence, to life, and to that Ultimate Mystery within whose compassionate embrace the Banquet takes place.


John Surette

By spiritearth1

The Cosmic Banquet

An invitation from the Universe: You we are invited to attend a Banquet. Bring only the fullness of who you are. Come ready to celebrate and to eat!

The Banquet, according to the latest determinations, has been going on for the past 13.8 billion years. It began at the beginning when out of a creative nothingness the primordial energy flared forth. It continues to this day as that energy is expressed within our creativity and the creativity of everything that exists.

The galaxies are at the Banquet, all hundreds of billions of them, each containing some hundred million stars. They bring all that they can be to the celebration and place it on the Banquet table.  Our Sun is there with its planets including ours garden planet Earth. They bring their fulness to the celebration and place it on the table. Earth’s rocks are there, from the oldest known in Western Greenland to the newest pushing up along the continental rifts on the ocean flour. They bring the fullness of what they are and place it on the table. Earth’s life forms from bacteria to animals are there. They bring their extravagance and beauty to the celebration and make it available to all. The Banquet, borrowing a phrase from eco-philosopher Thomas Berry, is an “exultation of existence.”

The challenge for us moderns is to know how to enter into the celebratory dimension of the Universe. Primordial peoples knew how to do it.Indigenous people today know how to do it. At least two things are required. First, we need to see what is actually there before us on the Banquet table. We need to sense the beauty and the terror, the diversity, interiority, and communion before us. Can we hear the wind among the trees, ever murmuring and sighing?  Can we look into the eyes of animals and other humans and be overwhelmed by the mystery and depth that is there?

Second, what is reequired is that we practice bringing the fullness of who we are to the celebration. This is easy for the galaxies,the Sun, the rocks, and all the other life-forms, but not so easy for us. It has to do with the uniqueness and mystery of each of us. How to arrive at soul? There is no blueprint, no how-to-do book. Those who know and love us can help. Our religious traditions can be of some assistance in this task. In the last analysis, however, each of us has to work it out using the creativity of the Universe – the Divine Creativity – that is within us. It can be said that our sadness and confusion is a measure of our running away from this task, our joy and zest for life is a measure of our embracing it.

John Surette



By spiritearth1

Dancing With The Stars

Dancing With The Stars
Artwork by Mary Southard, CSJ

Often when we “come away” for a time of prayer and contemplation, we are drawn into greater and deeper dimensions of reality. Like our ancient ancestors did, we live for a time as members of a living Universe, a vibrant community of life.

I am at “Christ in the Wilderness” in Stockton, Illinois. This evening I lounge on the porch, slow down, and enjoy the sweet breeze. I feel myself gathered into the life going on all around me, the living trees, animals, and the birds at the feeder. Their presence and energy embrace me and welcome me back “home”.

It is now the middle of the night. I look out the window. I am stunned by brilliant lights, some of them too large and too bright to be stars I say to myself. I slip into my clogs and go out into the night. I stand among them, the brightest juiciest stars I’ve ever seen. There is so much movement and energy. On the land about me living lights are also darting here and there, high and low, skittering, dashing, blinking off and on, every one of them a surprise, a joy, a wonder.

Stunned, caught up in the electric night, I can no longer distinguish the stars from the fireflies. I surrender to amazement, to beauty, to the dance. Am I in the stars? Are they in me? Am I held in a cosmic vastness or in an intimacy? I am dancing, they with me and I with them. Time passes as gratitude and presence Fill me. Finally, I return to my bed, smiling, chanting a “thank you” to the Love which has drawn close once again.

The Divine is not a noun, an object, or even an adjective. The Divine is beyond all “names”. beyond anything we can say. God is more like a verb – active, alive, loving, longing, companioning; dreaming the world and ourselves into being; alluring, gathering, inviting, caring for and dwelling within us. Perhaps this is what we experience when we stumble across a threshold into the world of nature!

Mary Southard

By spiritearth1

Birthday Reflections



When I celebrated my 79th birthday I remembered being a young man paddling a canoe at first light on Hubbard Pond in New Hampshire. The surface of the pond was covered with a layer of heavy fog. The canoe and the lower portion of my body were in the fog while my shoulders and head were bathed in the early morning light. Not far away I observed a Great Blue Herson silently patrolling the interface of the fog and the light.. I was filled with a sense of wonder and joy. My soul quickened. It was a moment of intense consolation.

Reading the deep inner movements rising within peoples at the beginning of our 21st century I find myself experiencing both consolations and desolations.

Those who are aware of the ecological crisis are aware of its magnitude, a magnitude that no previous generations of humans could even have imagined. There is an intuitive sense that only a radical shift in human consciousness and behavior will constitute an adequate response. Such a shift will require that we move away from our human centered worldview and our extractive industrial economy. Such a shift will require a sea change in the deeper dimensions of our lives. We have to change our whole relationship with Earth.

There is the suspicion that to ask for such a shift is to ask modern humans to do things that they are not prepared to do. Within this suspicion there are moments of desolation for me. They come in the form of feeling overwhelmed and ineffective in the light of the criisis as well as imprisioned in the presuppositions of our culture and in the slow-to-change institutions we have created. In these moments of desolation I feel my soul quaking as I worry about how life will be much more difficult for our children and grandchildren later this century.

My desolation, however, often fades as I focus on the more comprehensive vision that many humans are embracing. It is a vision in which the promotion of justice for Earth and for us humans is becoming intergrated into one justice. Bringing about this intergration constitutes the Great Work of our present time. In the previous century we attempted to solve our many problems by beginning with the human. In the 21st century any solutions adequate to the challenges facing us will be realized only if we begin with the larger Earth community, its dynamics and values. It is the community within which we humans have emerged and within which our outer and inner worlds come together and ultimate meaning unfolds for us.

I conclude these reflections on my 79th birthday by being once again in communion with that Great Blue Heron on Hubbard pond, as I patrole the interface of the present and the future of Earth and its humans.


John Surette



By spiritearth1