Our story begins at a moment in time from 1995 to 2009, when cultural historian and ecotheologian Thomas Berry retired to the foothills of North Carolina to be near his family and the land he had known intimately as a child. It was in the foothills that eleven-year-old Thomas Berry experienced a moment of grace in a meadow near his home that became a touchstone for his life and work. It was in the foothills that the seeds of his vision for a sacred earth community were sown.
Our work with Thomas Berry began on October 12, 2000 at Timberlake Earth Sanctuary, when the Center brought Thomas together with Richard Lewis, Founder of the Touchstone Center for Children in New York City, for a retreat with educators entitled, The Primordial Imperative: Nature, Education and Imagination. Thomas spoke to us eloquently that day in a conversation that was to be the first of many conversations we would have with him about children and the earth. On that day, he told us that “the destiny of the children and the planet is going to depend on us to respond to their deeper mode of being.”
Over the years, as we worked closely with Thomas, we were deeply moved by a passage he wrote in 2003 in his Foreword to Thomas Merton’s When the Trees Say Nothing that was to become a guiding quote for the Center’s work:
We were beginning to understand the full significance of what Thomas was telling us. The “deep psychic shift” was much more than environmental activism, than learning new information “about” the earth, or substituting one worldview for another. Thomas was talking about the very nature of consciousness itself, and he was telling us to go deeper. “The basic difficulty,” he said, “lies deeper in the human mind and emotions than is generally recognized.”
We were being called, through our relationship with Thomas Berry, to imagine a way forward for children and those who work with children that would open up a space for an I-Thou rather than an I-It relationship with the natural world – a way forward that would mirror Thomas Berry’s recognition that the universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects to be used.