~ the Brandt Series ~


Fr. Charles Brandt is a hermit monk from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, who recently celebrated 64 years of ordination. At 91 years of age, his gentle activism and quiet mannerism is deeply respected by people of many walks of life. Charles is active in the bioregional movement and in work that is underway to preserve the landscape in his Pacific Northwest location. He is also a leader of Christian meditation.


The Land as Sacred Commons

(Sacramental Commons)


Photography and text by Charles A.E. Brandt (except as noted)


Barred Owl - charles brandt photo


“It’s the right thing to do.” In the past several years this has been a favorite statement of intent by politicians, environmentalists, etc. Recently, President Obama used these words in addressing a group in Indonesia. What does “it’s the right thing mean?” The statement has ethical if not moral implications.

As our community and other communities grapple with environmental issues that effect us as a community, and by extension the very land itself (which includes the soil, water, plants, and animal life and the atmosphere as well), we look for solutions to these issues. We seek a way to resolve them, whether it be politically, scientifically, socially or philosophically – or a combination of the above. In these discussions, watersheds are a common concern.


Elk Falls - charles Brandt photo

The philosophical or Zen approach in resolving these issues is worth considering. It is helpful to understand that the land, a watershed, is a sacramental commons, a sacred commons.

In 2010, Edwin Grieve, vice-chairman of our Courtenay/Comox Regional Board asked me to speak briefly about sacred or sacramental commons at a forum of farmers, foresters, and fishermen which he convened at the regional board office. Sacred Commons had come up briefly at one of our Oyster River Watershed Management Committee meetings when the forest companies were present and I suggested that a watershed was a sacred commons. Curtis Schofield picked up on that and perhaps inspired Edwin Grieve to make this request.


Mew Gull in Flight - charles brandt photo

Catholic bishops of the Northwest in their 1992 pastoral letter were concerned about the pollution of the Columbia river caused by a nuclear power plant, by the placement of dams in the river, etc. In their pastoral they stated that the watershed belongs to every one, that it belongs to no one: All have rights: the winter wren, aboriginal people, loggers, farmers: that we must respect these rights. They referred to the watershed as sacramental commons.


Columbia River Wetlands near Radium Hotsprings, BC - Bruce Witzel photo b.witzel 

Stephen Hume writes from time to time about the sacred commons, and his understanding of the sacred commons is: “I would say it is the visible manifestation of the sacred, invisible rhythm or spirit or divine presence or Godhead which infuses the natural world. Perhaps it is what William Butler Yeats called the “animus mundi” or Dylan Thomas “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” It is a physical place in the metaphysical matrix which supports and animates the natural world and, as it is the place we inhabit, we are called upon to be responsible stewards whatever our faith or creed. I understand there are more precise definitions in theology but that’s how I would attempt to define it.”


Red Elderberry, June 22, '14, Black Creek, B.C. charles brandt photo

Fr. Tom Berry lists… the three laws of the universe at all levels of reality… differentiation, subjectivity and communion. These laws identify the values, and the directions in which the universe is proceeding.

The Universe is an expanding universe, which begin l3.7 billions years ago as a tiny teardrop, smaller than an electron: before this there was only emptiness, nothing.

The expansion was just right according to cosmic physicists. Had it been one billionth of a second faster no galaxies would have formed; 1 billionth slower, just black holes. Some scientists believe that this rate of expansion manifested great wisdom.


The lake and the universe, Sept. 12, 2014 Bruce Witzel photob.witzel

There are three characteristics of the expanding universe: greater and greater bonding, greater interiority, and greater and greater bio-diversity.

Today this diversity has plummeted, now there is less and less instead of more and more… It is the hope of Thomas Berry and others that we are now moving into a new phase of the universe’ history, a new period that Tom Berry labels The Ecozoic Era. This occurs as the human community and the natural world move together as a single sacred community. It will be a community not of objects, but of subjects in communion with one another, truly a sacred community.


Lambing Time - charles brandt photo

Other thinkers who think along the lines of Thomas Berry and Stephen Hume are Henry David Thoreau & Aldo Leopold..

Thoreau, who lived and wrote in the eastern United States in the mid-l850s, went to the woods to discover what life was all about, so that when he came to die he would not have lived in vain. He believed that most people lived “quiet lives of desperation”. He gave us an important principal when he wrote “In wildness is the salvation of the world.” We sometimes see environmentalists with “In wilderness is the salvation… “ printed on their T-shirts. Thoreau said wildness not wilderness. We can save the wilderness yet lose its wildness, all those creatures that have rights to be respected in a commons that is sacred.


Northwestern Crow - charles brandt photo 

Aldo Leopold is another person who looked at the land as a sacred commons. Professor Leopold, the father of North American Ecology was the founder of the science of wildlife management. He said that conservation “is the harmony between people and the land. In 1949 he published his classic work the Sand County Almanac, in which he emphasized biodiversity and ecology.

As a young forester in New Mexico he was assigned the task of eliminating the wolf, the belief being that with the wolf gone hunters would have greater numbers of deer at their disposal. At the time he did not realize that killing the predator wolf had serious implications for the rest of the ecosystem.


Buck deer @ Hermitage - Nov 18,2014  charles brandt photo

Later, he had an experience of killing a wolf, and while holding it in his arms he saw the green light disappear from its eyes. He realized through this experience that the wolf and the mountain knew something that he did not know, which led him to a conversion experience, a conversion from a resource manager, man over nature, to the realization that he was a plain member of the biotic community, and he begin to think like a mountain.

In Sand County Almanac … he wrote: “ A thing is right when it tends to preserve the beauty, integrity and stability of the biotic community. Otherwise, it is wrong.”


Oyster river salmon hatchery under construction in mid 1980's - charles brandt photo

Thomas Berry, a cultural historian, who authored such works as The Universe Story, along with Brian Swimme, and The Dream of the Earth, is the foremost ecologist of our times. He spoke of himself as an geologian. As a child he had an experience with the earth that became the referent for all he did and wrote in the future…


Oxeye Daisies - Charles Brandt photo

His father was constructing a new home on the outskirts of Greensboro, North Carolina. One afternoon Thomas walked down the slope from the new home and crossed a small stream and saw the Meadow, a field covered with lilies rising above the thick grass. It was not only the lilies, it was the singing of the birds and the crickets, the color of the sky. It was a magic moment. This experience gave to his life something he knew not. It seemed to explain his life at a more profound level than any experience he could ever remember. This experience he wrote “… has become normative for me throughout the range of my thinking. Whatever preserves and enhances this meadow in the natural cycle of transformation is good; what is opposed to this meadow or negates it is not good. My life orientation is that simple. It is also that pervasive. It applies in economics and political orientation as well as in education and religion and whatever.”


Pink Salmon spawning grounds Sept 24 Oyster River - charles brandt

And so with The Land, our Watersheds, our hope is that all shall be well… if we are willing to share in the Great Work, helping to bring about a transition of our Society that is having a disruptive influence on the Earth to one that will have a Benign Presence to the Earth…


Trumpeter Swan - by Charles A.E. Brandt


We make this transition by experiencing the Earth, the Universe with a sense of wonder and delight, rather than a commodity for our own personal benefit. 

We have to fall in love with the earth. We only save something if we love it, and we only love it if we think it is sacred (sacramental commons). Only the sense of the sacred will save us.

Fr. Charles A.E. Brandt, erm


This is abridged from an article published Dec. 3, 2010 in the National Catholic Reporter.

Best cheer to you all, during this month of December ~ Bruce


Postscript from Charles…

Thanks for this, Bruce. 48 years a catholic priest, 64 years in religion.  I began it in l950 in England as a novice at the Community of the Resurrection where I was ordained an Anglican priest, then to U.S. to live as an anglican hermit, then anglican benedictine and was received into the catholic church in l956 and entered New Melleray Abbey and then to the hermits on Vancouver Island in l965, ordained in ’66.     charles  




  1. Pingback: FATHER CHARLES BRANDT… THE LAND AS SACRED COMMONS | Teacher as Transformer

  2. Lovely photography, including yours of the lake and the universe.

    I so appreciate Brandt’s connection to the work of Thomas Berry. His words so reflect what I learn in my Zen practice.

    Gratefully, Pat

    • It was a joy taking the photo of the star filled night. Thomas berry and Charles Brandt have both been inspirations for me over the years and helped me to keep hope. I am glad you came over to visit, Pat,

  3. Reading these words reconnects me with with what I know deep down, that nature is sacred and nature belongs to all of us alive now as well as future generations. Anything that destroys nature, our true living space, is an act of profanity that should be criminalized. Unfortunately, many of our corporations seem to have free reign for whatever they want to do, in the name of stockholder profits, raising the GDP, and the holy god of the economy and jobs. Thanks for sharing this with us, I truly enjoyed it. Are the photos yours? They are magnificent and really underscore the meaning of the words.

    • Hi Annette. Thanks for this. What a joy for me that you have found these posts! They fit in well with your recent post called Minimalist Challenge, which is so deeply reflective and at the same time a call to action. I hope many bloggers take this challenge towards less consumptive and more conserver lifestyles. Your comment here also inspires me to come up with another post in the Brandt Series. Charles recently suggested to me to post about the pacifist monk Thomas Merton. Merton had originally been an inspiration to Charles and since Merton was born in 1915, this new year would have been his 100th birthday. A feature film will be released that has been in the works for the past few years. It sounds interesting – The Divine comedy of Thomas Merton.

      In regards to the photos, the flora and fauna are always by Charles. He originally studied ornithology and wildlife conservation. When I create a post in the Brandt Series, occasionally I’ll add my own photos to better fit in with his commentary. For example, in this post of Land as Sacred Commons, I added the double exposure of the stars and mountains over the lake, and also a photo of the headwaters of the Columbia River near Banff. My wife Francis and I visited the region this past November.

      • Hi Bruce – synchronicity: miracle or the norm if we pay attention? I am following you now so I won’t be missing any more of your precious posts.
        I was hoping for a greater response to my minimalist challenge especially since I got a large number of views on it from a “minimalist” site on Facebook. Maybe people are worried that it will be too much of an effort? But maybe we just need to get the ball rolling and then more people will join in. I trust that everything is in order and it’s a beautiful, sunny January 1 here, though pretty cold for a girl who likes palm trees 🙂

      • Hi Annette – sorry I didn’t post on the Minimalist challenge yet. It takes me awhile for my muse on these things… you’ve heard of the Slow food movement? Well I’m a sort of Slow Blogger 🙂 … In all honesty, I do love reading and creating blogs and connecting with so many kindred spirits, but I do need to limit myself.

        In regards to our weather here on the Pacific West Coast of Canada, it was above freezing and bright but not sunny, so I worked on the foundations of a solar greenhouse. I want to have it up and running for spring seedlings. Tomorrow I’m back at it with my small carpentry business. Never a dull moment.

      • That sounds great – we have a small hoophouse and when the sun shines even when it’s below freezing outside, it’s always comfortable inside. Right now, I am harvesting some lettuce and baby kale. spinach and swiss chard are coming up, too. I think you’ll enjoy your greenhouse – your personal botanical gardens (well, almost).
        Take your time with the minimalist post; slow is good 🙂 And it doesn’t have to be very ambitious either – a small, measurable, and achievable goal is a great start.

  4. Pingback: The land as sacred commons – by Father Charles Brandt | TideChange

  5. Bruce..thank you for introducing me to this. You share the same passion I have for poetry and Nature. I loved the quotes from Aldo Leopold and Thomas berry…”A thing is right when it tends to preserve the beauty, integrity and stability of the biotic community. Otherwise, it is wrong “ and “Whatever preserves and enhances this meadow in the natural cycle of transformation is good; what is opposed to this meadow or negates it is not good “ both from erm Brandt words…they completely align with Permaculture and express my own (till now, unwritten) feeling of “what is right”…this post made my day!

    • Knowing I am in solidarity with others, as yourself, helps me endure, be encouraged and work harder towards a sustainable world…. a sacred commons of love and peace for all. Thank you so much for your support Carol.

    • Hi Victoria… apologies for a late reply. For so long we have focused on the sacredness of the word, and missed the sacredness of the earth. And yet, I think all of us are awestruck in the midst of the grandeur of nature or a star-filled sky. Thank you for reading and thinking about the perspective Father Charles is bringing. Peace and blessings… Bruce

    • Yes Rosaliene. Instead of consuming the earth (and one another) it is time to become conservers…
      Conserver societies are the the only way for us to wisely move forward in this fragile world. It will be good for our humanity and all the earth … I am convinced we will be happier.

  6. I find more hope in the “Ecozoic” era than in the “Anthropocene”. So much awakening is needed, dialogue, education, transformational experience…how do I help that happen? This is a beautiful article. I’d like to reblog it, if I may.

    • I am honored you are sharing this Priscilla, as I am certain Charles will be. Your question is profound, and one that I believe millions of people struggle with. Each of us must find our own path… our paths are often parallel, occasionally long and winding, and eventually some converge. I also believe in the time tested approach, a combination of action and contemplation. Charles Brandt and Thich Nhat Hanh, have lived this example throughout their lives, and they have achieved profound results. There are many other who mentor and teach us in a similar manner.

      One thing for certain – total silence is no longer an option. This is difficult, however, because many people don’t want the truth… Climate change (for example) can seem nebulous, and denial, name-calling or bullying becomes a standard default point for many of those who yield power over others. We are up against the anthropocentric Goliath of all human history, here.

      Hope without action is futile… we do need action, and it begins first with one heart at a time, until the earths transformation flows like a mighty river. History has proven this happens, even though in the present moment we need change on a scale like none we’ve ever seen before. Let’s never give up. It is our responsibility, to raise consciousness and justice, outside of ourselves. And let us commit ourselves, within, to work for peace..

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