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The Living Church

CAC teacher Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes finds hope in the innovative, Spirit-empowered resilience of the Black church in the United States. In CAC’s recent webcast, The Future of Christianity, she reflected:  

The contemplative movement—which is now finding roots in BIPOC [1] congregations and African-American traditional denominations—is growing, and I’m watching more and more people turn away from an entertainment-focused worship style and leaning more toward a growth that is internal rather than external. One of the reasons that the Black church has focused so much on music and exhortation is because in order to survive or to remain Christian, we had to look beyond the tenets of Christianity to the mystical. We had to be able to transcend, and the transcendence comes when you are singing a song that reaches a place that words can’t.

I was in church last Sunday, and we go to a very tiny little church on purpose, because I’m always looking for places where there’s a breakthrough of the presence of the Divine. I’m not so interested in articulate sermons. And they started singing a song “God Did It Suddenly”—this is before the preacher even took the pulpit—but suddenly there was this moment where everything changed: “God changed the way I walk, the way I talk, changed my attitude, and God did it suddenly.” It’s that understanding—that God can enter in, no matter how devious the Christian tenets have become with regard to race, and suddenly change everything, can change the hearts of your enemies, can make you strong enough to be able to stand, can give you power and can give you strength.

The other thing that made us stay Christian, I think, is that we read the Bible differently, thank God. We saw Jesus walking on water and acting like a shaman. We know shamans. We saw the walls of Jericho fall from walking. And we knew that this God that allowed us to be transported in chains from Africa was the God who could also free us. So we weren’t listening to what they told us Christianity was; we had an understanding of Christianity rooted in our own African understandings.

In Holmes’s experience, leadership and ministry didn’t come from official ordination, but from the movement of the Holy Spirit among the people:

You always knew who had the gifts, ’cause they couldn’t fake it. If in their presence folks got healed, that was a healer. If they could walk up to you and tell you what your life had been and what was going to happen tomorrow, that was a discerner. And so there are all these gifted people around but they didn’t have any power within church structures, which made people like me realize that the real power was not in the structure of the church, but in the living church. The gifted prophets in our midst.

References:

[1] BIPOC is an acronym for Black, Indigenous, People of Color.

Adapted from Barbara Holmes, “The Role of the Pastor,” and “Read the Bible Differently,” in The Future of Christianity: A Virtual Summit, Center for Action and Contemplation, streamed live on August 23, 2022, YouTube video, 1:56:18.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Christopher Holt, Newgrange Triple Spiral (detail), 2014, Ireland, photograph, Wikimedia. Joanna Kosinska, Untitled (detail), 2017, photograph, Unsplash. Nasa and ESA, M104 Sombrero Galaxy (detail), 2003, United States, photograph, Wikimedia. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

Image inspiration: From a past shrouded by time, we hold the known candle of our present moment toward an unknown and expansive future. Past, present, and future— Christ is present in each.

Story from Our Community:

The daily meditations and prayers from the CAC have strengthened my relationship with God in ways I didn’t know were possible. I have retrospectively seen how I was led to hear your wisdom through a complete stranger who was also on the journey for transformation. Throughout my life, I have felt an inner dissonance between the outer shell of my existence and what lies deep in my heart and soul. Daily, I read words from your meditations that continue to remind me that I am a steward of God. God is in me. —Gretchen B.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Experiencing Ancestors through Grief Rituals

On The Cosmic We podcast, hosts Barbara Holmes and Donny Bryant interviewed minister and scholar Dr. Walter Fluker, who shares a transformational experience he had during an ancestral grief ritual:

Walter Fluker: We hardly know the grief of our suffering. Certainly among Black people, but it’s true for all of us as you think of the Cosmic We and this universal moan [of suffering]. Even creation is moaning. Why shouldn’t we? . . .

I was involved in a grief ritual on Cortes Island off Vancouver, British Columbia. This island, all of these people from around the world were just going through these rituals. One evening . . . during what the Dagara people called the grief ritual, where we pay our debt to the ancestors through grief, through weeping and moaning that universal moan. . . . So [my friend Malidoma Somé] said just be free, so they started playing the drum and Sobonfu [his wife] was hitting some kind of shaking instrument. I just started getting down. . . . All at once, out of nowhere, my father is there. . . . I fell to my knees and I cried. I said, “Daddy, we miss you.” He had died in 1984.

I had performed a eulogy but never mourned him. I was too busy being me. I said, “Daddy, we miss you. Mama misses you, B. misses you.” I just went through the whole family. When I came to myself, all of the women had taken me to a corner in the room and they were rocking me. This Japanese woman whispers in my ears. She says, “You’re only five years old.” I didn’t know what that meant then. It was years later [that] I discovered, when daddy left Mississippi in a hurry, he sent for us, thanks be to God. I was five years old. I was still grieving my daddy’s departure.

That was one of the most healing moments in my life. He was more real than even in life real. So, I have no doubt that ancestors not only exist, but they are present for us. They come to us in moments of great need and trial, and they also celebrate life’s moments with us. They want to celebrate with us. . . .

Holmes and Bryant invite listeners to give space to their own need to grieve:

Donny Bryant: I guess the question is for our listeners . . . what trauma, what healing, what hurt, what pain that we need to be healed from could benefit from the practice of our own unique grief ritual?

Barbara Holmes: Yes, and how can the organized religious institutions, the churches, the places where we assemble to finally shed some of our arrogance, how can they help us to grieve, to lament, to begin to get free? . . . What are you grieving that you don’t know that you’re grieving? How will you process that grief?

Reference:

Adapted from Barbara Holmes and Donny Bryant, “Ritual Journeys through Grief and Joy with Dr. Walter Earl Fluker,” September 17, 2021, in The Cosmic We, season 1, episode 4 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2021), podcast, MP3 audio.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jeremy Bezanger, Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut (detail), Egypt, photograph, Unsplash. Jon Tyson, Untitled (detail), 2018, photograph, Unsplash. Rasam, Takht-e-Jamshid (Persepolis) (detail), 2020, Iran, photograph, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

Image inspiration: Human ancestors leave legacies in physical and cultural bones, while stones carry meaning and memory. How will you listen to the wisdom of your ancestors?

Story from Our Community:

I’d like to share a moment of contemplation I experienced recently. My mother was born in 1914 to a Portuguese farming family in Bermuda, close to where I now live. Some of her fondest memories were natural ones—the rain, wind, the sea, the hoot of an owl, a restless dog, or a galloping horse and rider approaching with a message. One evening, I walked to the dock next to my house, just around the corner from where my ancestors lived. In the silence of the night, I was transported back 100 years to join my ancestors, and I gave thanks. —Sandra R.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Love Beyond the Veil

At CONSPIRE 2021, Dr. Barbara Holmes shared a story of her “beyond the veil” childhood encounter with her deceased Aunt Grace. Meeting her ancestor in this unexpected way influenced her faith journey and provided comfort that she was surrounded by Divine Love:

This particular evening, I was laying on the hassock [in my grandmother’s living room] when something very strange happened. . . .

I became aware in a hypersensitive way of sound that was recognizable to me as music, but at the same time, it was more than music. It was a sound that tuned my soul and it alerted me to the fact that nothing was happening in an ordinary way. For one thing, I was no longer on the hassock. I was floating toward the ceiling in a slow and circular movement that delighted me. I mean, I should have been scared because I could see my slumped body still on the hassock, but I wasn’t afraid at all.

I was happy to the point of bursting, and to top off this sense of euphoria, my beloved, deceased Aunt Grace was there. I didn’t see her, but I knew she was nearby and her closeness to me made me even happier. As I floated toward the ceiling, I thought about calling the adults in the next room, but I had no speech. There was no sense of distress as I approached the ceiling, but I knew that if I did nothing, I would pass through it and leave the Earth forever.

There was only a moment of conflict as I contemplated what it would mean not to be a child, what it would mean to turn to the hassock and to my supine body. I remember a farewell from my Aunt Grace, the fading of the music that was more than music, and then my speech returned. I was elated. I was breathless as I ran to the next room to report to the adults that I flew, I flew and Aunt Grace was playing with me. The mention of my deceased aunt stopped everything.

See, most families would’ve pooh-poohed my account of flying and visitations from a dead relative. But my family has roots in the Gullah culture of South Carolina on my father’s side and the Maryland eastern shore mystics on my mother’s, so they share a belief: everybody knows that the dead come back. They come back and forth to offer warnings, to bring messages from the other side. I was quizzed by the elders.

When I couldn’t come up with any deep wisdom or any important message from the other side . . . one aunt said rather pointedly, “Let us know if she comes to you again.” There it was, I had received affirmation Aunt Grace had been there and might come again. . . .

We live in a world saturated with the love and intentionality of an ever-present God, and we are not alone.


Reference:

Adapted from Barbara Holmes, “God in Thin Places,” CONSPIRE 2021 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2021), video.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jeremy Bezanger, Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut (detail), Egypt, photograph, Unsplash. Jon Tyson, Untitled (detail), 2018, photograph, Unsplash. Rasam, Takht-e-Jamshid (Persepolis) (detail), 2020, Iran, photograph, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

Image inspiration: Human ancestors leave legacies in physical and cultural bones, while stones carry meaning and memory. How will you listen to the wisdom of your ancestors?

Story from Our Community:

When I was a child, my mother would take us on nature walks in rural Connecticut, often to a special tree we named the Grandfather tree. In the shade of the tree, we would share a picnic of peanut butter sandwiches and milk straight from a jar. In my teen years, I would return alone, finding spiritual strength and comfort from Grandfather tree. I am grateful to the Daily Meditations for stirring the memory and for reigniting my deep gratitude that my parents instilled a reverence and connection for all creation. —Johanna Y.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

The Continuum of Life

This week’s meditations celebrate the gift of our ancestors in family and in faith. CAC faculty member Dr. Barbara Holmes writes of the broad and deep life to which her ancestors helped awaken her:

A world without ancestors is lonely. I am so grateful for the elders in my family who introduced me to the continuums in life. It matters how we understand our sojourn in this reality. If we consider our lives to be comprised of segments separated by a dash that encompasses birth and death dates, we will be inconsolable when trauma truncates our realities and delays our destinations. But, if we consider ourselves to be part of a continuum of life that does not end with death, but transitions to a life after life, our perspectives can change.

The community of the ancestors, already inhabiting the life beyond life, kept in constant contact with us. They sent messages and intervened when necessary. They prayed with me and whispered warnings. . . . Whether we call them ancestors or elders, only those women and men who led good lives in the physical realm are considered to be wise guides in the spiritual realm. In some African cultures, they are called elders, “the old ones.” Any elder represents the entire legal and mystical authority of the lineage. For me, ancestors, living and dead elders, commanded my respect and were always present, abiding and guiding me. [1]

At the passing of his mother, Father Richard Rohr experienced a connection or “bridge” to the life after death:

I believe that one of the essential events that we must walk through is the experience of the passion and death with someone we love, with someone we are bonded to, with someone we really care about. When my mother passed over, I had no doubt that she built a bridge—I don’t know what other words to use—she built a bridge and she took some of me over with her, and she sent some of herself back. I understand now at a deeper level what Jesus meant by “unless I go, the Spirit cannot come” (John 16:7). I think the normal pattern in history is for each generation to pass over, and to build the bridges of love and trust for the next generation coming afterwards. The all-important thing, for all of us, is that we be bonded somewhere. If you have never loved, there is no bridge. . . .

When you walk through someone’s passion with them, through someone’s learning to let go, and pass over with them in a moment of death, I’m convinced it’s then and only then that you really are prepared to understand the resurrection. . . . All Jesus came to teach us, and only needed to teach us, was how to walk through the great mystery, and not be put to shame and to trust that God is on the other side of it. [2]

References:

[1] Barbara A. Holmes, Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2021), 90, 91.

[2] [2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Gravity and Grace: Insights into Christian Ministry,” Collected Talks, vol. 3, On Church (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2000), Audible audio ed.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jeremy Bezanger, Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut (detail), Egypt, photograph, Unsplash. Jon Tyson, Untitled (detail), 2018, photograph, Unsplash. Rasam, Takht-e-Jamshid (Persepolis) (detail), 2020, Iran, photograph, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

Image inspiration: Human ancestors leave legacies in physical and cultural bones, while stones carry meaning and memory. How will you listen to the wisdom of your ancestors?

Story from Our Community:

The Daily Meditations bring me great deal of clarity and direction. I was inspired to think of my own ancestors when I read Felicia Murrell’s reflection: “We cry the tears our ancestors could not. We feel the fatigue they were not allowed to feel. We give in to the vulnerability that would have cost their lives.” In the past, I have blocked an emotional response to my mother’s life, but those words allowed me to feel for her with different understanding. Thank You. —Alpha H.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Everyday Mysticism

The Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes shares her experiences of the Holy Spirit and being an “everyday mystic”:

There is no template; there is no right way to encounter the spirit world. It can occur as a simple understanding of unity, the nonduality of an observer and the observed, oneness, feelings of sacredness, peace, bliss, transcendence, a feeling of changing and transforming time and space, or an intuitive conviction that the experience is a source of objective truth and ultimate reality. The ordinariness of my mystical experiences taught me that being an everyday mystic is not limited to ritual, visitation, and mysterious power. It also just broadens the scope of your personal identity. It includes normal gifts like healing, grounds us in faith, grounds us in our ancestral heritage.

Being an “everyday mystic” for Dr. Holmes is also connected with her time spent in Pentecostal churches. She draws upon what Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner (1904–1984) described as “mysticism of the masses”:

The mysticism of everyday life is an opportunity to deeply mine the depths of human experience, relationships with others, and our encounters with nature. Rahner says to be a mystic is to occupy the core of human experience. . . . Mystery is mysterious. It is! Sometimes it comes in stillness when you’re alone. Sometimes it comes without drama and fanfare. Sometimes it comes as an epiphany, an awakening. And sometimes, it comes while you’re practicing the gifts of the Spirit. . . .

The “mysticism of the masses” [1] that Rahner refers to is a manifestation of charisms, Pentecostalism, dramatic conversions, glossolalia (speaking in tongues), prophecy, being drunk in the Spirit or slain in the Spirit in the language of Pentecostalism. [2] Rahner calls this “noisy mysticism,” and he considers it just fine and real if it increases faith, love, and charity. [3] He urges adherents to self-examine their own enjoyment of the phenomena.

I have inhabited those spaces most of my life. If I had a choice between a tall steeple church and a pew in a storefront in the middle of an impoverished neighborhood, I’d pick the storefront, because I’d know that there’d be more happening in the storefront than in the tall steeple church. There’d be mysteries inside those walls. . . .

One of the reasons I was attracted to this “mysticism of the masses” is because it was a recovery of Africanism’s long-lost past—in the transport from Africa to the Americas that my ancestors made. We’re always looking for ways to reconnect and this type of worship was very, very stimulating, and given the fact that my profession lawyering and academic work was very cool and wintry, when I came home on weekends and wanted to visit faith spaces, I tried to find the most mysterious, strange, storefront, noisy mystics that I could. . . .

Perhaps I am not the embodiment that Karl Rahner imagined but I am a mystic all the same. . . . Every ordinary thing is infused with mystery.

I am an everyday mystic. So are you.

References:
[1] Karl Rahner, “Religious Enthusiasm and the Experience of Grace,” in Theological Investigations, vol. 16, Experience of the Spirit: Source of Theology, trans. David Morland (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1983), 47.

[2] Rahner, “Religious Enthusiasm,” 35.

[3] Harvey D. Egan, “The Mystical Theology of Karl Rahner,” The Way 52, no. 2 (April 2013): 49.

Adapted from Barbara A. Holmes, “Everyday Mysticism,” unpublished Living School curriculum (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation), 2018.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Arthur Allen, Daily Meditation Spring 2022 Series (detail), 2022, photographs, France. Jenna Keiper, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge the image.

This year we invited a few photographers to share their vision with us in an artistic exploration for the Daily Meditations. The inspiration questions we asked each artist to create from were: How do you as an artist connect to and engage with (S)spirit and/or tradition(s)? How can we translate deeper truths through a lens? How can we show our inherent connectedness (of humans, nature, other creatures, etc.) through imagery? This week’s images by photographer Arthur Allen appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: My point of departure for this project was a question: Do precious things Glow, or are we casting Light on them? I found no answer (in any philosophical sense) but I did notice in my searches that some images—some “strikes to the eye”—positively wanted me to look at them. They called to me as if I had been ignoring them unfairly, the way I might ignore children’s jokes while I am trying to finish taxes. My goal became to ignore them less. I was surprised by how many of these children can fill a day, how many stories they can tell, and just how dream-like their jokes are. —Arthur Allen

Story from Our Community:

I set aside attending Mass, even before Covid. It just happened, this feeling of “I can’t anymore.” I didn’t lose my faith in God. I didn’t set God aside. But what I set aside was the “outward” sign. I instead, went inward. I found the voice of God inside me, stronger, yet gentler than ever. I am deeply grateful. It blows my mind and heart the words I receive from within.
—Gerarda C.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

It Can’t Be Carried Alone: Weekly Summary

Sunday
Just as salvation is one collective reality, so too is evil. It is always collective. —Richard Rohr

Monday
Francis and Clare of Assisi had total trust that Jesus’ way of the cross could not, and would not, be wrong. They trusted that Jesus’ way was the way of solidarity and communion with the larger world which is indeed passing and dying. —Richard Rohr

Tuesday
Twice a year we pause the Daily Meditations to ask for your support. If you’ve been impacted by these Meditations, please consider donating. Any amount is appreciated to help us keep these messages accessible to all. We deeply appreciate your partnership and support.

Wednesday
In loving solidarity, we each bear what is ours to carry, / the unjust weight of crucifixion, / in expectant hope for God’s transformation. —Richard Rohr

Thursday
In the midst of crises, a solidarity guided by faith enables us to translate the love of God in our globalized culture, not by building towers or walls . . . but by interweaving communities and sustaining processes of growth that are truly human and solid.
—Pope Francis

Friday
Solidarity is love crossing the borders drawn by self-centrism, in order to enter into the situation of the other, for the purpose of mutual relationship and struggle that heals us all and enacts God’s beloved community. —Stephanie Spellers

Spiritual Practice for Crisis

The Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes offers pastoral comfort and prophetic challenge in times of crises:

The crisis begins without warning, shatters our assumptions about the way the world works, and changes our story and the stories of our neighbors. The reality that was so familiar to us is gone suddenly, and we don’t know what is happening. Where there is no understanding, we create it. When we are anxious about our lack of control, we conjure theories that quell our anxiety. The truth of the matter is that we live on a mysterious planet, with other living beings whose interiority and spiritual realities are just beyond our cognitive reach.  

Embodied contemplative practices allow us to meet the challenges that crises bring to our lives. Today, we invite you to try one or more of these practices suggested by Dr. Holmes:

  1. Breathe deeply and exhale slowly three times.
  2. Your ancestors survived many crises. What were the crises of their days that required a communal response?
  3. What is the crisis of your day that requires a communal response?
  4. Sit for ten minutes. Feel the “troubles of this world.” Breathe deeply, exhaling your sense of helplessness, inhaling Ella Baker’s strength, channeling Rosa Parks’ quiet resolve. (Substitute exemplars as needed, but include one exemplar from a cultural community that is not your own.)
  5. Remember an instance of oppression against a group that is not yours.
    • What, if anything, did you feel called to do as an ally? Did you do it? If you did something in response to the crisis, what did you do and what happened as a result? . . .
    • If your community were under siege, what help would you need or want?

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Barbara A. Holmes, Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2021), 19, 37.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Wire (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Paul Thompson, Untitled Icons (detail), 2021, video still, New Mexico. Jenna Keiper, Wire II (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: When the weight of the suffering of the world closes around us, we can easily feel suffocated from the grief and pain. What would happen if in these moments we reached out to connect with others? In grief and pain, together. Not alone. Together.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

The Experience of God Unites Us

CAC teacher Barbara Holmes recounts her visit to Fellowship Church, a visionary, multi-racial church co-founded in 1944 by Howard Thurman and his wife Sue Bailey Thurman. This faith community is a lived example of how diversity can be honored and held together by a shared experience of God:

On Russian Hill in San Francisco, in the midst of a densely populated neighborhood, is the building that was the site of . . . the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples (or Fellowship Church). There, the mystic and contemplative Howard Thurman and his wife, Sue Bailey, began an interfaith worship experience. In the fall of 2002, I journeyed to this place. It was a pilgrimage of sorts. . . .

Here, contemplative practices are given priority. Time is devoted to a guided meditation, which is an element of congregational life that is unusual in black worship. But then, this is not black worship—this is just worship. . . .

It was odd and wonderful at the end of the service to watch the embraces and connections across chasms of race, gender, and social devastation. In my pew, an elderly African American gentleman extended a hand to an Anglo male sitting in the seat next to me. No matter what the older man did, the younger man would not shake his hand. Instead of turning away to end the embarrassing situation, the older gentleman kept asking, “Why not?” with his hand insistently extended. “I can’t,” the younger mumbled nervously . . . “I can’t because my hand sweats too much.” The older man patted him on the back and began to walk away, but thought better of it and returned to embrace the young man. How wonderful, I thought. When had I been in a predominantly Anglo or black congregation where the people were so different that this kind of thing could occur? [1]

Howard Thurman (1900­–1981) writes about the conviction that shared worship and encounter with divine presence could unite diverse people:

Sue and I knew that all our accumulated experiences of the past had given us two crucial gifts for this undertaking: a profound conviction that meaningful and creative experiences between peoples can be more compelling than all the ideas, concepts, faiths, fears, ideologies, and prejudices that divide them; and absolute faith that if such experiences can be multiplied and sustained over a time interval of sufficient duration any barrier that separates one person from another can be undermined and eliminated. We were sure that the ground of such meaningful experiences could be provided by the widest possible associations around common interest and common concerns. . . . One basic discovery was constantly surfacing—meaningful experiences of unity among peoples were more compelling than all that divided and separated. The sense of Presence was being manifest which in time would bring one to his or her own altar stairs leading each in his [or her] own way like Jacob’s ladder from earth to heaven. [2]

References:
[1] Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017) 86, 87, 88.

[2] Howard Thurman, With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979), 148.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 24 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States, used with permission. Warren K. Leffler, View of the huge crowd, 1963 (detail), photograph, public domain. Warren K. Leffler, Demonstrators sit, 1963 (detail), photograph, public domain. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to core teacher Dr. Barbara Holmes as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. Her photos are featured here together with historical images in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Humanity is One although we are as diverse as flowers in a field. There is power in many different individuals coming together for one purpose—the March on Washington reminds us that together we have the capacity to be a transformative body and force for change.

Story from Our Community:

Here I sit, in the highest foothills of the Rockies. I’ve eaten my breakfast, read my devotions, and it’s time for my 15 minutes of meditation. It’s so hard to keep my eyes closed while God is before me in every bird and blade of grass. I see God in every living thing until I go up the hill where I’m spraying away thistle. I’ve always had trouble with the challenge of appreciating ‘oneness’ when I come to something, someone, or some idea I don’t like.
—Joyce S.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

The Wisdom of Darkness

Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night. . .
the darkness and light are both alike to You.
—Psalm 139:11–12

CAC teacher Barbara Holmes writes about how it is in times of literal or figurative darkness that new possibilities are unveiled:

As an African American woman, I wear darkness as a skin color that I love. It is a reminder of my African origins, hidden in my genes, but not accessible through memory. Without darkness, I would not be! I entered the world from the nurturing darkness of the womb and relied upon a dark and resourceful family, community, and cosmos for my well-being. . . . We come from the darkness and return to it.

But there are many types of darkness. There is the darkness of determined ignorance and hatred, impenetrable and smothering. There is the tiny microcosm of darkness that gave birth to the universe, its new realities and new worlds. There is the mothering darkness of the womb, and the protective darkness of the “cloud by night.” . . .

Because I saw my Aunties negotiate darkness as a reality with as much potential as light, I stopped being afraid of the dark. I realized that sight and insight were not dependent upon the glaring light produced by humans, for there was an inner light that glowed and revealed much more. . . . In my mind, church talk about an association of darkness with evil and goodness with light made no sense. I knew that darkness held and healed me. So, there had to be many types of darkness that I could differentiate, dismiss, or embrace. . . .

Barbara Holmes considers the hopefulness hidden in the darkness of an eclipse:

No matter how fractured things seem to be, no matter how the crisis splinters our delusions, there is a solid foundation within and beneath us, beside and between us. We can depend on this wholeness when it is experienced as a dark night of the soul for individuals, or an eclipse of the ordinary for the community.

An eclipse occurs when one object gets in between us and another object and blocks our view. . . . We are not permanently blocked from the light. Also, we are not able to rely upon our sight to overcome the obstruction.

Finally, during an eclipse, we have a dimming of the familiar and a loss of taken-for-granted clues that we rely upon every day to remind us of who we are and why we are here. Yet, although we are not always comfortable in darkness, the invitation to come away from life in the spotlight is intriguing. Could there be a blessing in the shadows?

The eclipse reminds us to linger in the darkness, to savor the silence, to embrace the shadow—for the light is coming, the resurrection is afoot, transformation is unfolding, for God is working in secret and in silence to create us anew. [1]

References:
[1] Linda Anderson-Little, “Embracing Darkness and the Solar Eclipse,” Soul Story Writer, August 22, 2017, https://www.soulstorywriter.net/109-embracing-darkness-the-solar-eclipse

Barbara A. Holmes, Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village (CAC Publishing: 2021), 50, 51, 53, 54–55.

Story from Our Community:
I loved this idea of unveiling. It reminded me of Christmas morning, with many gifts under the tree. Some were surprises, some didn’t fit, and some, like the hats I knit for my granddaughter, just weren’t very exciting. But they were all given with love. I like to think the gifts God gives us are like these, not always perfect in our eyes, but given with love and unveiled with hope. —Ann S.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations editorial team.

Image credit: Nicholas Kramer, Untitled (detail), 2021, photograph, Seattle. Used with permission.
Image inspiration: Here, in these bare rose sepals, is the pattern of life: the budding of spring, the bloom of summer, the wilting of autumn, the barrenness of winter. In accepting this process, we unveil and make room for new life, new growth, new blooms.

Nurturing Body and Spirit

Living Inside God’s Great Story

Nurturing Body and Spirit
Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The countless “me” and “our” stories reveal the infinite ways that God draws us—as individuals, communities, and cultures—to God’s Self. None of our smaller stories are complete until they are joined to God’s Great Story. Today, my friend and colleague Barbara Holmes shares the contemplative practices she learned from her family and ancestors.

On my mother’s side of the family were slaves from the Maryland Eastern Shore. They developed their contemplative practices around meals. I can understand how people who work around crabs and blue fish can develop spiritual practices that marry full stomachs to piety. The informality of kitchen tables took the place of confessionals. Important life decisions were made as salmon cakes were shaped and collard greens were cut. Sunday meals were open to any who wanted to come. Those without families, those down on their luck, would appear for the expected fare. It was almost impossible to tell family from others by the titles attached to their names. Aunts, cousins, and uncles were often unrelated in the genetic sense but embraced and named as family. . . .

Although one could find contemplative nuances in the communal prayers and everyday work of baking biscuits, it is in the legacy of the healers that I found the most overt practices. Aunt Rebecca (on my mother’s side of the family) was a root woman. She cured the community with the herbs she collected in nearby woods. . . . Rebecca was the only one who knew which twigs and plants would fix what ailed you. After an initial diagnosis, a tea was prescribed, and whispered updates were passed after church. . . . It was understood that the tea would only address the physical disorder and that sickness required healing of spiritual disorders as well. Prayers and intercessions took place as the herbal brew was prepared. Everyone knew when someone was sick, and so the healing process became the interest of all members of the community. Since there was no health insurance, no money for medicine or doctors, it was in everyone’s best interest for Aunt Becky to succeed. And so a great deal of attention was lavished on the ailing person. As a consequence, it is impossible to determine whether healings occurred because of the medicinal effects of the herbs or the solicitous concern of the community.

On occasion, there were stories brought back from the “betwixt and between” regions where the ill dwell. These stories of a reality where healing became a tangible activity included their awareness not just of Aunt Becky’s herbal ministrations and the prayers of the community but also of the spirits of the ancestors and divine messengers. Thus, the community received spiritual witness to their beliefs about the multivalent aspects of reality and the multiple conduits to this transcendent space. In these small communities, contemplation was an everyday practice that included nurture of the body and the spirit.

Reference:
Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017), xxxi, xxxii.

Story from Our Community:
I am thankful for Brother Richard’s Daily Meditations. As a Franciscan in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, these reflections are so relevant for all—no matter our faith. The word of God continues to be relevant to all we walk with on our journey. I look forward to the reflections, which have become part of my daily rhythm of prayer and meditation. I give thanks to our Divine Love. —Br. Donald D.

Image credit: Raul Diaz, White Sands New Mexico (detail), 2006, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: The natural grandeur of this photo reveals the creative and mysterious aspects of the Divine. But it doesn’t capture the dryness of the air, the heat of the sand, the sounds, the smells, and the tastes. That requires us to be there, present inside the landscape and story.

Jesus and the Universal Christ

Unveiling the Universal Christ

Jesus and the Universal Christ
Thursday, August 26, 2021

Today Barbara Holmes shares the benefits of believing in a God who is both personal (Jesus) and universal (Christ).

[As an African American woman,] I grew up with a preference for the flesh and blood divinity of Jesus because of the suffering, rejection, [and] redemption of my own people and kindred spirits oppressed around the world. Other theologians have pointed out that enslaved or marginalized people need a flesh and blood and suffering Jesus. The Christ, as depicted by dominant culture, was too polite to intervene on our behalf and too far from reach to help us.

What this meant during slavery was that the master’s wife could ground her faith in a God far, far away without any concern about attending a lynching with a picnic basket. If we take seriously the notion of a faraway, unconcerned God, there are terrible consequences. What this means today is that unarmed Black and brown children could be shot by the police, [at the southern border, immigrant and migrant] babies can be caged, and African American Bible studies, Muslim mosques, and Jewish temples can be attacked with assault rifles while the majority of folks remain largely silent. . . .

The trouble for me was making the transition from suffering Savior to cosmic Christ. Before reading The Universal Christ, I had a hard time translating the personal Jesus upon whom I depend with the everythingness of Christ.

Sure, I accepted it by faith, but curious-minded people like me always want to connect as many dots as possible. . . . After reading The Universal Christ, I understand that the tropes of overcoming that we clung to during the Civil Rights movement are being fulfilled through the embodiment and rise of the Universal Christ in us. Father Rohr says we find God simultaneously in ourselves and in the outer world beyond ourselves.

After I read The Universal Christ, the first dot that I connected was that the particularity of Jesus does not obliterate the universality or the everythingness of Christ. Moreover, the cosmic scope of the Christ is not light-years away, but in every cell of our star-born bodies. The Universal Christ offers the reality that I carry the same divine spark in me that is in every living thing. This spark is seen in the resurrecting power that transformed Jesus into the Universal Christ. That same force can resurrect and transform me and every living person and thing in creation. Father Rohr reminds us that while Jesus is described as the light of world in John 8:12, Jesus also describes us as having that same light. He says, “You are the light of the world” in Matthew 5:14. . . .

Father Rohr agrees that light is not something you necessarily see; it is something that allows you to see other things. The Universal Christ helps us to see that we can follow the embodied Jesus, accept the suffering fact that “in this life, you will have trouble” [John 16:33], [while also] knowing that all creation is moving and evolving toward more diversity, creativity, and wholeness.

Reference:
“Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Holmes on The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr” (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), faculty presentation, April 10, 2020, YouTube video.

Story from Our Community:
My book club and I have studied The Universal Christ this past year. Listening to Fr. Richard explain how he communes with the Lord has been very encouraging. As a 70-year-old I love to sit on my porch and listen to the owls. They sound like God’s voice saying I love you. I said thank you out loud and my daughter said who are you talking to? I sheepishly said God. Thank you, Richard and the CAC for the hope you give us. —Fran H.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, Grasses After Spring Rain (detail), 1973, photograph, Nebraska, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Each blade of dew-graced grass is part of a larger braided design, just as each person is part of a larger whole. The extraordinary glistens in the most ordinary.
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Our theme this year is Nothing Stands Alone. What could happen if we embraced the idea of God as relationship—with ourselves, each other, and the world? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.