Excerpt | Returning Home to Our Place in the Cosmos

by Mark Phillips

The first time I wept for the Earth I was alone in the woods in late summer after a long run. It was, I believe, the combination of runner’s high, a sense of connection to the beautiful natural setting, and the culmination of several months’ personal awakening to the gravity of our ecological crises. I just stood there with my hands on my knees, crying in shock. It was a rare and surprising moment for me. The last time I had cried was at my grandmother’s funeral. But this time the grief felt immeasurably vast and deep, beyond anything I had ever experienced. 

Standing there alone in the woods, I had the peculiar feeling that everything around me understood the moment I had just had. The flora and fauna knew my pain and welcomed (perhaps even with surprise) a human into the grieving process. There was a sense of solidarity and aliveness I had never experienced before in the world. In a way, I was not so much crying for the Earth as I was crying with the Earth. And it was a wholeness of being both bittersweet and euphoric, such deep connection intensified the bitter grief of life on a dying planet at the same time that it gave me a feeling of unparalleled aliveness.

This deep sense of communion with nature was a new and surprising experience for someone who previously held no such connection to the more-than-human world. As a white American male raised in a largely non-denominational Christian setting, my general experience had been to perceive no relationship with the environment beyond what it could provide to me for my own benefit. Trees made paper and firewood. Animals were for eating, sometimes pets. Rivers were for fishing, and mountains were for climbing. I was the product of a culture that does not teach empathy towards or reverence for the natural world, and these living phenomena had no intrinsic value or right beyond what they provide to human beings for our own wellbeing.

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About the Author

Mark Phillips spent eight months living at Genesis Farm in Blairstown, New Jersey, where he explored cosmology and the work of Thomas Berry while participating in Yale’s Journey of the Universe MOOC specialization. Originally from Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, he now lives in New Lebanon, New York. His work focuses on the intersection of social enterprise, local food, and sustainable agriculture.