Skyline, Summer - 2003

By Diane Pendola


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The earth turns. The solar energies are waxing towards their peak. The summer solstice marks one of the great transitional moments of the year. Primal peoples have celebrated such seasonal cycles of change and renewal throughout the world, and throughout time. But something new is breaking in on human consciousness. For the first time, our modern scientific view reveals a universe with a beginning, some thirteen billion years ago. We learn that the universe has gone through a series of transitions and transformations, that are not cyclical and ever-renewing like the changing of the seasons or the rising and setting of the sun, but rather are one-time events; irreversible events.

We are in the midst of such a crucial transition at this, our moment, in time. Thomas Berry would say that we are going through the greatest transition the human race has ever known. The earth is going through the greatest transition of her last 65 million years of evolution. We are passing from one age to another. Thomas maintains we are in the terminal phase of the Cenozoic era, that “lyric” period of the earth’s history during which “we have the full development of the flowers; we have the wondrous development of the birds and insects. Many of these existed before the beginning of the Cenozoic but they had their full flowering only in the past 65 million years”. This has been the time of evolving earth’s awesome beauty: butterflies, hummingbirds, all the wonderful variety of flowers, the eagle and the salmon, the polar bear and all the wondrous diversity and splendor of life, including human life. But we humans are such a pervasive presence on the earth today that we are bringing this “lyric” period to an end. We have actually changed the chemical make-up of the planet. What we are doing is setting a reversed sequence of forces into operation. The whole Cenozoic process is to some extent being negated. What is happening is on this order of magnitude. What is happening is not something that is happening to the western world, nor is happening simply to the human. It is happening on a planetary scale.”

Last fall Teresa and I traveled to North Carolina to visit Thomas Berry. Our journey was a pilgrimage. We spent time with Thomas at his home in Greeensboro. We traveled to Baltimore and prayed and broke bread with the Carmelite Sisters there. We continued to Vermont to spend time with two Passionist Sisters dedicated to creating an Ecozoic Monastery, a new religious community committed to helping the transition to the Ecozoic age, where humans will be in mutually enhancing relationship to the rest of the earth community. We stopped to see a friend creating a small retreat space in Pennsylvania. We had lunch with Miriam Therese MacGillis at Genesis Farm, a hands-on earth literacy learning center in New Jersey. We completed our circle with a stay at Timberlake Farm, an earth education Center, where we had a culminating conversation with Thomas.

It was a two week immersion in a new paradigm. We talked and shared and prayed with people who are already living into the Ecozoic age, doing the inner and outer work of changing themselves and their environment. What struck me in returning home was just how pervasive the dominant paradigm is and how difficult it is to free myself from it; to think outside of it or beyond it. If the Ecozoic paradagm, which marked our journey, is one in which we relate to our earth community as a communion of subjects to be revered, then the dominant paradigm, which pervades our collective psychic space, is one in which the earth community is a collection of objects to be exploited.

Events have exploded since returning from our pilgrimage. My government has taken us into an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation, in violation of international law. The reasons given for that invasion have become more and more suspect in the eyes of the world and the American people. A war that was sold as “liberation” has become an “occupation” for the people of Iraq. Our actions have alienated people around the world and accelerated the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The mayor of Hiroshima, commenting to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty review committee, this past April in Geneva, Switzerland said: “The present leadership of the United States is pursuing the development of small useable nuclear weapons, and has publicly reserved the right to use them in such specific situations as ‘in the event of surprising military developments’… The U.S., the prime mover in all things nuclear, relentlessly and blatantly intends to maintain, develop and even use these heinous, illegal weapons. Given U.S. intransigence other nuclear weapon states cling to their weapons, and several non-nuclear states appear to be re-evaluating the need for such weapons.”

We know that nuclear weapons threaten our entire species, our entire earth community. And yet it is but one of the many threats already bringing the 65 million year “lyric” period of the earth’s unfolding to its end. How do I not go into paralysis at the magnitude of the challenges facing us? How do any of us stay awake in the face of the nightmare we are creating across the face of the earth? How do we not fall into the entrancement of the American Dream that perpetuates the illusion that our economy can grow forever; that the earth’s resources are unlimited; that the entire world can somehow be “developed” in such a way that everyone can enjoy a “first world” standard of living? We collude with each other like addicts in denial of our common pathology. I fall into sleep easily and often and sometimes wonder why it is worth waking up at all.

Thomas counsels us to remember another kind of dream, manifest particularly in the dreams of our youth. “Go back to the dreams that you had when you were excited by life, when you spoke about what you would really like to be. Consider those dreams as your basic guide.” Thomas suggests that the universe carries within itself the deep mysteries of our existence and he encourages us to trust the unfolding of our psychic life as revelatory of the meaning and new possibilities the universe holds. “Our nighttime experience is needed for communion with those numinous powers from which the daylight forms themselves come into being”. We are here at this moment in time because we are meant to be here. We have genetically constituted spontaneities within us that will guide us in making this great transition in which we now find ourselves. The important questions are those that help us access these psychic energies, the soul-force deep within. “What are you most happy with? What are you most delighted with? What are your competencies that give you joy and delight and relatedness to others? These questions are what we have to ask ourselves.” And then we must listen for the answers. Thomas suggests we have been autistic in regard to the natural world, locked up in ourselves, isolated from the great conversation in which this “listening” needs to occur. We need to listen to that larger dream of which our dreams are an integral part. We need to be listening to the forests, the rivers, the winds, the seas. We need to become intimate again with the larger Self, with the great dream of the Earth.

I had a nighttime dream recently. It was during a Holy Week retreat, at a Catholic, Carmelite Monastery. In the dream I am with a woman who is weeping, lamenting: “What difference do my choices make? I make small choices every day and what difference do they make? And in the dream I respond, also in tears, “If there is one example of the power of particular choice, it’s the example of Jesus Christ, who made the same choice every day of his life.”

I am the woman who laments the insignificance of her small choices. My choices seem so small and insufficient in the face of the tectonic shifts splitting the human and natural world. I plant trees while the tropical rainforests are extinguished at the rate of more than an acre a second. Global warming makes tinder out of western American forests. Australian forests burn out of control. I weep for myself in self-pity. I wanted to change the world and now the world changes me. I wanted to conquer the world and now the world conquers me. I wanted to ride a great wave of history, now its waters overwhelm me.

And I am the woman who champions the power of choice, “particular” choice, embodied choice, choice that has a mind and a heart, hands and a will. Choice that has a story. Choice that has a journey. I weep not out of self-pity but out of passion for the truth that can only be called into effect by incarnate choice. I weep in compassion for my sense of insignificance, of dread, of despair and for the suffering that can conquer us, withering our souls and shrinking our capacity for love, for hope, for indissoluble trust.

And I am the Christ, who makes the same choice every day of my life. A choice for life. A choice for love. And each choice for life and love leads me deeper into the depths and breadth of my true nature, to a unified field beyond right and wrong, good and evil, suffering and happiness, to an abiding Presence which opens through my life, my story. I have given you an example so that what I have done for you, you may do for one another. Love each other. Serve each other. Find your Self, find God, find the Universe in your love for all beings. Do not be concerned about insignificance or greatness. Concern yourself only with love and the small every day choices that embody love in the particular circumstances of your life. And you, too, will be led into the depth and breadth of your True Nature, your Christ nature, into the Great Communion of Being.

Sources: Befriending the Earth by T. Berry; The Dream of the Earth by T. Berry

Diane Pendola, with Teresa Hahn, is co-founder and co-director of Skyline Harvest, an Eco Contemplative Center in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California. They ground their work in a fundamental principle articulated by geologian, Thomas Berry: “The universe is a communion of subjects not a collection of objects. It is toward such a consciousness of the sacred within the very fabric of existence that their work of cultivating a contemplative human presence to the natural world is dedicated. They offer small group workshops, individual retreats and opportunities for longer-term hermit experiences on their 200 acres of forestland. You can contact them at or write for a brochure to PO Box 338, Camptonville, CA 95922.

©Diane Pendola, Summer 2003. You are welcome to print or make a copy in electronic form for personal use or sharing with interested persons as long as the copyright notice is not removed or altered. Please do not print it in any other publication, or sell it, by itself or as part of another work, without express written permission of the author.

If you believe you receive a benefit from this, and the work we do, a donation would be gratefully accepted. You can make a tax deductible donation by sending a check to Skyline Harvest, Inc, PO Box 338, Camptonville, CA 95922 Thank you!

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