“The historical mission of our time is to re-invent the human—at the species level, with critical reflection, within the community of life systems, in a time developmental context, by means of story and shared dream experience.” Thomas Berry, The Great Work


Whom do we share our deep communion of hawk or flower with, and our profound sadness and fear of the 6th extinction we now find ourselves in?  Where can we share our stories and dreams about how to re-invent ourselves?  How do we answer the profound questions about how to live with the Earth in a mutually enhancing way?  We need one another, we were not meant to solve these deep and critical questions by ourselves. We were not meant to celebrate our gratitude alone. In the past people have looked to churches for these needs. I am suggesting that we need to reinvent our churches to reinvent our species. I am suggesting we need what I like to call the “First Earth Church”.  

The beginning quote is central to Thomas Berry’s wisdom and guidance into the Ecozoic era, an era which follows the last 65 million years of the Cenozoic. The Cenozoic, the most verdant time in our planet’s history, is coming to an end as all the major systems of the Earth are being disrupted. The Ecozoic era is a time when humans realize Earth is primary and humans are derivative, and when we learn to live in a mutually enhancing relationship with the Earth. A process that Berry calls our “Great Work.” Berry’s guidance is pivotal in our healing into the Ecozoic, but where do we go to grapple with its deeper implications? In The Great Work Berry identifies the four major institutions that need to shift if we are to enter this Ecozoic era: the government, the corporation, the university, and the religious institutions. Which of these institutions will facilitate these new understandings —this deep imagining and communion needed for humans to begin to shift our perceptions and story? Few of these institutions even admit that a shift is needed, let alone have a willingness to facilitate this shift. However, there really is only one that even acknowledges the numinous dimensions of our world, a central awareness paramount to a shift into the Ecozoic, namely the religious institution. 

In my own journey, I have been looking for this deep sharing of our larger self, trying to understand the mystery and share my own deep feelings of awe. I studied many religions and attended different churches to find what might feel real for me.  However, I have mostly felt disappointed. When I did attend a particular church, I usually left feeling like a fraud. I didn’t seem to be feeling what others appeared to be feeling. I was often offended by the words spoken and felt anger I couldn’t understand. I felt a stab in my chest every time I heard words of a male God. I could not sit still and listen to our ministers and priests seemingly hold the afterlife hostage by what we were required to believe about the life of Jesus. A Jesus who I believe would not have done the same. A familiar refrain was that you will not be saved unless you believe in what this particular church believes about Jesus. What I saw was that this idea of being saved and of good people and bad people simply creates separation; when what we really need, is love and acceptance of ourselves, each other, and our relationship with the natural world. I still remember when I was only 12 hearing about purgatory—how those not baptized would not see God—and knowing, even then, they could not be talking about my God. My God would be accepting of everyone. For many years I thought it was just me. Something must be wrong with me for not believing the dogma of most of our churches, but I just couldn’t, and I felt lost. 

However, I still continued to feel this intense desire to share the awe and wonder of life and had a great desire for celebration and understanding. I was lucky enough to find others who felt this same allurement along the way, and I was able to experience Cosmic mass, Wiccan celebrations, Earth Literacy groups, and many other Earth celebrations and Earth circles.  I felt reassured I was not alone in my search. I was lucky enough to find some answers from the New Cosmology and alternative spirituality groups I encountered on my journey. 

“In recent centuries, indeed, the believing community has not been concerned with any cosmology, ancient or modern, for the believing community has its real values concentrated in the Savior, the human person, the believing church, and a post-earthly paradisal beatitude.”  —Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth

When I finally heard Thomas Berry speak of religious communities as believing communities, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I began to understand that many churches today place more value in believing and promised redemption than in our true experience of our world. Humans are the stories species. Stories are how we make sense of the world. Throughout history churches have helped humans find their place in the world with stories. Stories that help us answer the larger questions in life, like where we come from and why we are here. However, recently these stories have become dysfunctiona. They no longer seem to provide us with a sense of purpose and a zest for life. They can no longer fit the challenges of the world we live in. Other sources are giving us a new story. Berry identifies four sources of wisdom that can help guide us into the further – the wisdoms of indigenous peoples, women, science, and classical traditions. I suggest we need to reinvent “churches” that help us integrate these wisdoms.  

It is thought that the largest minority in the United States is the nonreligious population. I think many people, like myself, have stopped attending our religious institutions because of some of the reasons I have stated above. And, like me, they are still searching for a community to help them understand their story, their relationship with the human, and more than human world. We need each other to begin to understand this connection for which we have few words. We need a new vocabulary to express our sense of the sacred and help us navigate our human transition into the future. This population that feels confused and not connected to any religion is growing. And of course the need for answers and community is not going away; it is in our DNA.  (This may be one reason for conspiracy theory stories and alternative truth online communities). But many of us are becoming more and more aware that our Earth crisis is a spiritual crisis. We are looking for spiritual wisdom to go forward.  

In the natural world when a species disappears or a need becomes great enough, a niche opens up, and a species appears or moves in to take that space and fulfill that need. We have an open niche right now in our human world – we need a functional story that integrates us into the whole, that provides us with a sense of purpose and a zest for life. We need a place, a church, that can bring us together so we can discover this story and face that challenges of our times. This niche might be people from around the globe coming together to help create community centers, what we might call a “First Earth Church. A place where we can share our spiritual connections with the Earth, each other, and what we might call the “Holy mystery of love.”

May it be so!  

SO: My vision or allurement is that we follow Berry’s suggestion to put the Bible aside for now and look deeply into the insights he and others, and our own deep experiences, give us about our place in the Ecozoic. I suggest we begin to look deeply into what a First Earth Church might look like. It may need to be called something else as church is often seen as a Christian institution. This First Earth Church or whatever it is called could also be more inclusive with few required common beliefs except the desire for sharing the mystery and celebration of the Earth and our deep time story. Many other religions might participate. So many possibilities exist. Since we are not in this alone, we need the imagination and creativity of everyone who has an allurement towards this vision. This is an invitation to dream and create together!  😊 🌎  May it be so.