Theological Resources:
Liberation Theology and Creation-Centered Theology

Robert T. O'Gorman

My task is to point to the theological resources we drew upon in the St. Robert consultation and especially for the Model of Spirituality we have elaborated. Two theological resources provide a means of looking at community and the church today. They are liberation theology from Latin America as expressed in basic ecclesial communities and creation-centered theology responding to the desconstruction of the Enlightenment world view that held until the midpoint of this century. Liberation theology offers us a new lived theology of community. Creation-centered theology offers us a new cosmology by which to view community and its essential elements.



  1. I will begin with a summary statement on the contribution of Liberation Theology
  2. I will provide three definitions of Spirituality (two from contemporary theologians & the RPG’s)
  3. I will introduce a definition of Spirituality from Creation Theology
  4. I will conclude, if time permits with a few words relating the impact the small group movement is having on changes in community and spirituality in the USA

Today I will use my time to concentrate on spirituality and community as seen in Creation Theology. This is where our work has been centered in the past year or so. We have published our work on the relation of community to liberation theology and so let me simply offer a summary statement on Liberation theology.

1. Liberation Theology

Community life has undergone significant redevelopment in Latin America in the past thirty years. Rapid changes have produced major dislocations. Modernity and its cultivation of the autonomous individual came full force to Latin America only in the past two generations. The result has been the immediate and keenly felt loss of community.

In the crisis resulting from this disrupted way of life, it became necessary to recapture community. Latin Americans have done this in a new form of church -- the BEC (Basic Ecclesial Community). Typically, twenty members meet weekly in a BEC meeting. Brazil and Chile have been in the forefront of their development. In Brazil, it was the repression by its nineteen sixties military government that brought on popular gatherings in small groups of prayer and protest. Today as many as 100,000 communities are active in Brazil alone.

In our day, Christian Religious scholars have looked to Latin America as the most significant locus for change in church. Since the late nineteen fifties Latin-American liberation theologians have been attempting to work directly with the people, especially the poor, to change their realities of political, economic, and social violence and oppression. Local people in many Latin American countries have been banding together, managing their fear, and changing their environment through small basic communities. They have been creating "church" in new ways, transforming a major institution in their world, the Catholic church, balancing hierarchy and community. In these basic communities, they have become educated, both secularly and religiously, and have been empowered to make a certain degree, sometimes significant, of transformative social change. A new church is emerging. In these grassroots communities, relationships are direct with reciprocity, a deep communion, mutual assistance, commonality of ideals, and equality among members. There is an absence of alienating structures, rigid rules, and prescribed relationships.

In the BECs, the people practice "theology at sunset." That is, they relate the experiences of their day -- wages insufficient to provide food, shelter and clothing, no medical care, inadequate education, political brutality -- to experiences in the Scriptures. This reflection and religious consciousness raising call forth response -- action expressed politically, seeking a change in the oppressive structure of the status quo. Their education is an interplay of knowledge-use and knowledge-generation: they both use scripture to understand their situation and give it new meaning by their actions.

The emphasis of Liberation Theology on developing small, local, mutual, intentional communities in the reconstruction of parish life in Latin America as basic ecclesial communities has strongly influenced us.


Bec's of Latin America: Mutual Relationship among

The Leadership Effected a Movement of the People

Result of Consciousness Raising by the Religious Leadership:


The Basic Community And The Institutional Church: a Mixture of The "Communitarian" And The "Societal"

2. Contemporary Definitions of Spirituality


Contemporary Spirituality as "Public Spirituality": a Definition of Spirituality from Creation Theology

Thomas Berry, like Dryer, sets spirituality in, not apart from, the dynamics of the larger human community, what he calls a public spirituality.


"This public spirituality is . . . much more significant than the cultivated spirituality of marginal groups or individuals engaged in intensive prayer and meditation apart from the dynamics of the larger human community . . . the ultimate spiritual issues are those dealt within the cruel and compassionate world of active human existence, in the marketplace, in the halls of justice and injustice, in the places where the populous lives and works and suffers and dies." (Berry, 1988 p. 110-111)

Traditional Christian spirituality negates the natural world as the place for the meeting of the divine and the human. The natural world becomes less capable of communicating the divine presence. [thus] Our sense of being integral members of the earth community is severely weakened.

Additionally "Millennial American spirituality" provided the deeper inspiration of science and technology . . . Everything needed to be transformed . . . Nothing in its natural state was acceptable . . . This spirituality drives a compulsion to use, to consume. That consumption has something sacred about it is obvious from the central position it now occupies [in our society] . . . the diminishment of the grandeur and fertility of the natural world is not simply an economic loss, but also . . .It is the elimination of a profound psychic experience, restricting imaginative power [loss of narrative], and ultimately loss of unique modes of divine presence. Neither the modern scientific mode of consciousness [American Spirituality] nor our spiritual consciousness [Traditional Christian Spirituality] is concerned with the integral functioning of the earth community." (Berry, 1988 p.119)


"The greatest single need at present is the intercommunion of all the living and nonliving components of the universe.

... Earth . . . needs to be experienced as the primary mode of divine presence . . . the unique and irreplaceable qualities of the individual and the inseparable bonding with every other being in the universe . . . The interrelatedness of the universe in its every manifestation is what establishes the unity of the entire world and enables it to be a ‘universe.the revelation of the divine. To deepen this experience of the divine is one of the purposes of all spiritual discipline and of all spiritual experience. This sense of communion at the heart of reality is the central force . . . of a new overwhelming spiritual experience at this moment of earth history." (Berry, 1988 p. 119-21)


Spirituality is all a question of story.

The problem of our secular society is that it does not have a spirituality (it does not have a story). It finds the old story inadequate.

We do not have community today because we do not have one story. We live in two cultural worlds that shape our story - the sacred where the physical is excluded and the secular where the spiritual is excluded — "An integral story has not emerged, and no community can exist without a unifying story."(Berry, 1988 p. 130)

This is the problem of community. "The remedy for this is to establish a deeper understanding of the spiritual dynamics of the universe as revealed though our own empirical insight into the mysteries of its functioning." (Berry, 1988 p. 131)


From its beginning the universe carries within itself a psychic-spiritual as well as a physical-material dimension.

3. Creation Theology

From a Creation-Centered view of community we are invited to look at our cosmology or vision of the universe to understand fully a model of community development.


The new story of the universe from Creation Theology is one of unity where Earth is not the stage on which humans strut and stomp, but is our very self-expression, where we are the very self-consciousness of the earth.

The new story is of emergence and expansion, not simply a repetition of cycles (the old mythology). The new story sees creation as generative. We are not in a closed ever-renewing seasonal sequence with its death and rebirth cycles; we are part of an evolutionary sequence of irreversible transformations, for which we have a responsibility. This cosmology is told as an interdependent relationship between science and myth and moves away from the hierarchical or dominate relationship of modern scientific knowing (the modernist cosmology).


From this new cosmological perspective, the universe, the solar system, and the planet earth in themselves and in their evolutionary emergence are, for the human community, the primary revelation of the ultimate mystery from where all things emerge into being.

According to the thinking of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme there are three key developmental dynamics of the universe at all levels of reality: differentiation (as things are generated each element of the universe becomes different from every other element), autopoiesis (literally, saying its own name, producing itself or coming into its own -- everything in the universe has an interior presence, its individual identity, and its life task is to express itself), and communion (everything interrelates).

These modes identify the reality of the universe, and the direction in which the universe is going.

Thus, we speak of community as in genesis. In development, community then, is part of the larger universe, the unity of all life and nonlife. The cosmos is not just a backdrop for community, but is itself community evolving. In the focus on community as both goal and process of community development we are seeking not its recovery (a return to the "good old days") but its development, community-genesis - a continued birthing of its meaning.

The Dynamics of Spirituality/Community: The New Story (Cosmology)

The Spiritual Dynamics:

Berry sees spirituality as embracing the cosmic journey — not separate from everyday life. The dynamics that have brought us from Hydrogen right up to our highly differentiated state of consciousness are three fold. Once we understand these dynamics we have something to be obedient to (to listen to) this obedience is — the essence of the practice of spirituality

The integrated (fully functioning) person manifests BALANCE among the existential domains of relating (spirit/communion), reflecting (spirituality/reflection), and acting (spiritual action/autopoiesis).

(Dreyer) Dualism is one obvious aspect of our spiritual inheritance that no longer works for us — separation of body and spirit, the church as a place of goodness the world as a place of evil.

Grace flows primarily from the world to the church (not vice versa) The world as created by God is already filled with grace — the world is the first arena for experiencing God’s grace -- earth is the first community (church).

Illustration: the 3-legged stool

4. Conclusion: the Impact of the Small Group Movement on Developments in Community and Spirituality


Community in the United States:

Manifested in the Small Group Movement

So Extensive -- Altering U.S. Society:

The small group movement is altering US society; effecting a profound reorientation in persons' lives, with the potential to alter our conceptions of ourselves.

That is, small groups are not just having private, individual (invisible) effects, they are affecting the way we 1) relate to each other and 2) how we conceive of the sacred.

Wuthnow's Thesis:

The basic fabric of society depends on how individuals structure their relationships (i.e., community);

Community lies at the intersection of individual needs and institutional structures.

It is the small group movement (since it is defining how individuals structure their relationships) which is defining community for our time in a particular way.

Wuthnow addresses the following questions with his work:

  1. How is community fostered via small groups?
  2. How is spirituality nurtured?
  3. What is the caring people in small groups have received?
  4. What "spiritual insights" have people gained?
  5. What are the group processes that have effected personal transformations?


Elizabeth A. Dreyer "Spirituality more easily found in the world than in churches"

National Catholic Reporter December 13, 1996

Leonardo Boff, Ecclesiogenesis: The Base Communities Reinvent the Church, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1986, pp. 76-97

Schneiders, S. M. (1989). "Spirituality in the academy". Theological Studies, 50, 676-697.

Thomas Berry, Chapter 9, "Christian Spirituality and the American Experience," The Dream of the Earth, 1988