Ethics and The Great Work

I graduated from GU in the summer of 2013. Since then my girlfriend and I have been wandering around Utah, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California. Not aimless wandering but wandering with a purpose. We have been exploring nature, discussing why people act in the ways they do and what we could do to change that, thinking about why our species cannot recognize our place and purpose in the universe. Mostly, we have been thinking about what we ought to choose our life work to be so that it assists and advances The Great Work. Meaning, our “career” or life choice must be one that aims at being mutually enhancing  to all other states of existence. Thomas Berry says “The Great Work now, as we move into a new millennium, is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner”. To become present to the planet, we must become present to ourselves, present to the beauty and importance of each moment, and present to the cosmos and the creative processes it displays. This may not be the easiest thing to do, for it can require deep meditation, dedicated mindfulness, and critical thought. To become present to the planet, we must in a sense, understand and connect with the planet in such a way that it allows us to see the true workings of the natural world which we are intimately a part of.

For a very long time humans have developed a strange and illogical way of thinking of ourselves as separate from nature and being atop a fictitious moral hierarchy bestowing upon us the most value and meaning. Because of this train of thought we have created systems, societies, and cultures that are not mutually enhancing to the advancement of the creative processes of the universe. We may possibly be one of the most beautiful and creative forms of actuality, yet this alone does not make us more morally valuable nor does it give us any right to degrade or destroy other forms of beauty such as species, ecosystems, bio-systems, etc. All of existence has value for itself, for others and for the entirety of the universe. Understanding and becoming aware of this is crucial to The Great Work and to advancing it. However, learning how to apply that understanding to your life’s work is even more important. When I say life’s work, I do not simply mean ones career path, although that is included, I mean ones life’s work in its totality. Everything that one does should be working towards the advancement of The Great Work and working to create more Beauty, more inspiration and to work in a way that respects and recognizes the creative process of our dynamic cosmos. The understanding aspect is an inseparable function of acting upon it. So make no mistake, one cannot advance The Great Work without understanding The Great Work.

My girlfriend and I have gone through many phases of understanding The Great Work. But it was not until recently where we discussed the fact that we now feel we have a deeper understanding and a strong intuitive feeling that we know what our work ought to be in order to fulfill our obligation to advancing The Great Work and the creative process of the cosmos. We decided that we must try to live and work in a way where we are working more intimately with nature and her systems, cycles and rules. Working with the plants, soil, fungi, bacteria, and the total biotic community. We discovered that our part of The Great Work is to start a small scale organic bio-dynamic farm at our home in Newman Lake, WA which is 25 miles Northeast of Gonzaga University. For the last 8 months we have been interning at a small organic, bio-dynamic seed and mixed vegetable farm in Talent, OR. We have been working hard for over 40 hours per week in the blistering hot sun, pouring rain and howling wind of Southern Oregon and loving every second. We are learning how to improve soil quality by using local, simple, effective techniques that have been used since humans began farming way back when. We are learning how to create a completely self-sustaining farm with very minimal, to no inputs in order to grow and produce food and seed. We are aiming to get back to the land in a true sense, by being self-sufficient and sustainable in a deeper way. Our goal is to improve the overall health of the ecosystem of our farm and the surrounding area. We can do this by increasing the biodiversity of pollinators, plants, animal life, fungi, and bacteria. We plan to use a mixture and rotation of cover crops and animal life to enhance soil fertility. As well as planting as much native plants as possible in order to attract beneficial insects and other bugs.

We hope to be at farmers markets around the Spokane area as well as provide our food and seed to co-ops, natural food stores and restaurants that focus on local, organic products. Our LARGEST goal is to create a farm that will sequester more carbon than we emit, that way we will be helping combat climate change while providing clean organic food to our community and additionally improving the health of the surrounding ecosystem of our farm. We personally feel that climate change is the most important and pressing moral issue of our current time and we are obligated to treat the earth in a way so it can be in control of its natural systems without human manipulation and pollution. Thus, we must live bio-regionally, locally, and with minimal need for things that come long distances or emit unnecessary green house gasses. We must live simply, and be present to the beauty before us. We are ending our organic, bio-dynamic farm internship in Southern Oregon and planning to return to Newman Lake, WA and get started on this dream of ours and The Dream of The Earth.



  1. Mintinarelli,

    Thank you for your post!! I appreciate the efforts to maintain a moral integrity with a strong devotion to connecting human nature with Mother Earth. I am using more spiritual language here, as it seems fitting and encouraged. One thing I am left wondering is what are the greatest tensions within pursuing the Great Work for you personally?


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  2. Hi Mintinarelli,
    I do appreciate your perspective on this idea of “The Great Work” and your interpretation of what that means for people like you and I who are trying to find purpose in life. It is an interesting question to wonder whether there is a way for our own goals (as a species, a social group, and as individuals) to align in perfect harmony with the goals, purpose, and being of nature and the cosmos. The question and tension which I constantly find myself struggling with when I try to address this question is the very idea of dualism that you spoke of.
    I completely agree that it is “a strange and illogical” thing to think of ourselves as being separate from nature. This kind of dualism never seems to serve me any good whilst examining my own environmental ethic and thinking about these concepts. I wonder if there is some part of our thinking as environmentalists that inherently draws us toward this dualism, however.
    It strikes me as interesting that I see myself and others in my classes constantly referring to our human involvement in nature as being “contrary” to the good of nature. This, to me, seems like an overtly dualist perspective. We are making the claim that we (humans) are the only thinking/acting things that do not think or act in accordance with the natural way of things. This, in some way, separates us from the very nature that we strive to connect ourselves to.
    Now this is a very tricky topic, with many things to consider, and I do not want to appear as though I am saying that I think the ways in which humans have been treating the earth should be continued (or that it is a good thing). I very much think that we need to stop doing what we have been doing for far too long, and lay-off the heavy industry. That being said, I do think that the reasoning “we have fallen from the grace of nature” is a flawed axiom.
    After all, there are examples of animals in nature which change ecosystems. Not to the extent to which we have, nor to the level of destruction that we have achieved. Nonetheless, there are observable species which are similar in this way. Could the problem simply be too large of a human community? Or is it fundamentally a problem of our resources uses? Or, in another way, is it a problem of our viewing ourselves as being disconnected from nature? I think that all of these questions need to be looked at in order for us to truly see what we should do as a species.
    I am leery to prescribe a radical change in the orientation of our own personal “Great Works” to align with “The Great Work” of nature, as it seems rather elusive what in fact a restructuring as such would mean. I absolutely applaud you, and your partner, on working toward creating a life that has as little impact as possible – and that encourages and helps others to do the same along the way. I just do not know how practicable an endeavor this strategy would be for people from other walks of life/careers/parts of the world. We must always be conscious of our own privilege to choose the career that we want, and our ability to design our lives. And we must realize that not every career necessarily has a way to become “green.”
    Thank you for sharing your perspective on this idea of “The Great Work” and on our place in that work and in nature.

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  3. Hey Mintinarelli,
    Thank you for sharing this piece and your views on Berry’s Great Work. I personally like the idea of The Great Work that Berry talks about and how we should strive to live this simple life. It also struck me with your comment on how we should like within our means and be local. To eat seasonally and locally with what we can grow on our own or buy in cases. Usually people don’t see this as a way towards change because they want bananas in winter, like me. Its part what we were taught to go to the store and buy the food but never really know where it comes from. I like that you want to grow and farm your own food in a very sustainable and healthy way for the environment. You and your girlfriend seem to have thought a lot about this really took the time to understand The Great Work. I applaud and respect how much you care for the environment, Earth. Being an environmental studies major myself has been very eye opening especially at GU. I want to some day find what The Great Work means to me but I feel everyone has to find that on their own terms as well. I said its been eye opening because I come from a community where the environment is just there but not in a bad way. We care deeply about it and feel ourselves as already part of nature. If this isn’t making sense I am Gros Ventre from the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in Montana. I grew up listening how the land isn’t something we can own, it is only borrowed. It wasn’t until colonization and assimilation of the western world many lost or never even had this idea that the land should never be bought. I feel you tried to say this in your post that these systemic issues need to change for the sake of climate change but to make this change I feel there is other issues needed to be addressed first. Living simple regards of climate change or not is what I plan on doing when I am able to return home after graduating. I never wanted an extravagant life full of things and trips. I only want to be able to help my community, live in a small cabin, have a garden, hunt, fish, and raise a family to grow old with. It may produce carbon or not be truly sustainable or planned out as yours but I hope to do what I can and understand what The Great Work means for me.

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