In 1948, Thomas Berry traveled to China to teach and to study Chinese language and culture. His trip was cut short in 1949 by the Maoist revolution and he returned to study Chinese language at Seton Hall University, which opened up deeper layers of meaning in the classic Confucian texts. Berry found in Confucian thought an integral view of the Cosmos, the Earth and the human that touched on his own deepening concerns about contemporary trends that violated this relationship. In a 1968 article, Thomas offered this description of the “profound intercommunion of Heaven, Earth and Human” that he found there: “The cosmos is encompassed in the human and the human in the cosmos…. The highest ontological attraction of things to each other in the Confucian tradition can be indicated quite simply by the word ‘communion.’” This statement foreshadows his primary cosmological concept that the universe is not a collection of objects but a communion of subjects.
In the Confucian model, the human forms a ternion with Heaven and Earth and thus shares co-responsibility in the nature of this unfolding. The question we will ask of Thomas Berry’s work and of ourselves is this: “In our own times, how does the individual human come into such a relationship with the Cosmos of Heaven and Earth to perform that role? The answer to that has moral as well as psychological, ecological and spiritual implications.
Sheri Ritchlin received her Ph.D. from the California Institute of Integral Studies for her dissertation study on “The Return of the Sage: A New Cosmology Meets the Way of Heaven and Earth in the I Ching” under the guidance of professors Yi Wu, Brian Swimme and Richard Tarnas. She is the author of One-ing, Dream to Waken, chapters in The Epic of Evolution: Science’s Story and Humanity’s Response; Science, Wisdom and the Future; and The Spirit of a Woman: Stories to Empower and Inspire by Terry Lazlo-Gopadze. She has also published articles in Parabola Magazine, ReVision and the Noetic Sciences Review (Shift). She has lectured widely in the United States and England. In 2014, she was invited as a Douglass Hunt Lecturer to give a keynote address at a Thomas Berry Colloquium at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.