We live in an historic time of deep disconnect from the earth, our home. The natural world has become polluted and the human diminished. Reduced to a mere physical entity seen only through physical eyes, we “see” the earth and one another as a “collection of objects, not as a communion of subjects,” as cultural historian Thomas Berry warns us. And yet, something within us tells us it is also a time of great transformation - a moment of grace if only we can learn to discern the signs.
In the Fall of 2000, a non-profit center was initiated at Timberlake Earth Sanctuary in the foothills of North Carolina that gave evidence of that transformation and hope for the future. From the beginning, the Center created programs through which children participated in a real, living communion with plants and animals and all living things of the earth. These moments of communion were not stories of disconnection from the earth. They were moments of deep bonds of intimacy that exist between children and plants and animals and trees, moments of connection to all living things.
As we created these programs for children, we asked ourselves, “What is this mysterious bond of intimacy that is almost palpable between children and the earth?” And, “How can it be understood in such a way as to offer approaches to educating children that allow them to affirm the feeling that humanity and the natural world are indivisibly one?”
The Center began to explore the implications of this view of the universe as an interdependent whole for the education of children. On the one hand, we were witnessing an increasing estrangement from the natural world in the lives of both teachers and children. On the other hand, we were encouraged by the ways in which teachers and children responded to our programs designed to affirm the interior binding force of the universe that holds all, human and non-human, in a deep bond of intimacy.
In the Fall of 2003, the name of the non-profit was changed to “The Center for Education, Imagination and the Natural World” to better reflect the focus of our work. We gathered together leading thinkers as adjunct faculty to help develop this new approach to education.
We consistently sought to deepen our consciousness of the earth and our relationship to it, inspired and encouraged at all junctures by the presence of Greensboro native Thomas Berry who was known both nationally and internationally as a cosmologist, eco-theologian, geologian and who we knew at the Center as a dear and personal friend. His books The Dream of the Earth, The Universe Story (co-authored with Brian Swimme), The Great Work, Evening Thoughts, and The Sacred Universe, affirm both an ancient and a new understanding that human beings and nature are one . . . that we are all part of the one story of the universe itself. Thomas Berry urged us to enter into a truly human intimacy with the earth, and it is to this new mode of human presence to the earth that our programs point.