Barbara Holmes, Author at Center for Action and Contemplation
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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.

Included from the Beginning

Unveiling the Universal Christ

Included from the Beginning
Monday, August 23, 2021

Our Living School faculty member, the Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes, understands the Universal Christ as a grand revelation of love at the foundation of the Universe. She says:

There is so much to be gained if we allow the life space to unveil its mysteries that are often hidden in plain view. The Universal Christ is such an unveiling. . . .

[Love is] the greatest mystery of all. Not love as a warm and fuzzy feeling, but love as the animating force that holds us together. If we can believe that we are loved just as we are and that everything else is equally loved, we unveil a cosmic reality that is life-giving and a Christ-like reality that affirms the goodness of all creation. . . .

I encounter the Universal Christ from the cultural viewpoint of my embodiment as an African American woman, and I want to briefly share what that means to me, although categories of race, ethnicity, origin, or tribe have very little meaning in a cosmos based on original goodness and universally shared dignity. I’ve spent a lifetime working with like-minded people helping to unclog racism, sexism, gender, sexual identity bias. We struggle with the -isms so that justice might finally flow like waters. Our intentions are always good, but often our efforts include the subliminal presumption that if dominant culture would just include others and their established systems, all would be well.

The Universal Christ happily displaces that notion. For if inclusion is to be meaningful, it must be based on the idea that everyone and everything is included from the beginning, not included in socially constructed hierarchies with allegiance to one political system or another, but included in a web of life, set forth from the foundations of the earth. [1] [Italics are Richard’s.]

CAC Board Member Alexie Torres-Fleming also ponders how the mystery of the Universal Christ might affect our work for justice. Alexie asks:

What are the implications of the Universal Christ for those at the margins of our society: the poor, the suffering, those that are othered and oppressed in our world? In [The Universal Christ] Richard says, “God loves things by becoming them.” So when I couple this with my understanding of the Incarnation, how this great Mystery of the universe desired to be completely known; and that God is not just, as Father Richard said, present in us, but also as us, what I see is a radical level of belonging and a recognition of the absolute holiness of the asylum seekers and refugees at our borders, the Black young man in America, the transgender person . . . the gay person . . . the incarcerated person, the Muslim person, the Black and brown woman.

What I understand is that we are loved, we belong, and that we are not a mistake or a problem to be solved or a public policy to be fixed, but a holy part of the Divine Mystery that is the Universal Christ. [2]

References:
[1] “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.

[2] “Alexie Torres-Fleming on The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr” (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), presentation, April 13, 2020, YouTube video.

Story from Our Community:
I was introduced to Richard Rohr while struggling with the scandals and hypocrisy surfacing in the Catholic Church. Reading The Universal Christ allowed me to let go of operating more out of fear than love. I have come to appreciate that I can embrace my Catholic upbringing and see it is not the only path—there are so many ways to see, know and experience God. As such I find my days filled with ordinary miracles. Thank you Richard and CAC staff. —Christine A.

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.

The Artistry of the Blues

Finding God in the Arts

The Artistry of the Blues
Tuesday, August 17, 2021

My friend Barbara Holmes describes the creation of blues music as an act of radical critique that can bring its listeners into a contemplative and holy space, far closer to God than we might be otherwise:

Some sacred spaces bear none of the expected characteristics. The fact that we prefer stained glass windows, pomp and circumstance, and pastors’ appreciation celebrations has nothing to do with the sacred. . . .

Like the familiar laments in the Psalms, blues artists forthrightly engaged the issues in life that the church would not discuss. . . The lyrics were straightforward and sometimes raunchy, but they captured the life experiences of the listeners. While gospel music promised peace in the hereafter and the promise of God’s presence, the blues became public theology, communal inquiry, and a critique of the church. . . .

Encounters with a skewed justice system inspired Blind Lemon Jefferson to sing “Hangman’s Blues.” Ma Rainey sings “Blues and Booze.” They sang about alcoholism, family support, and incarceration, issues that never came up in the weekly sermon, unless it was to rail against sin. The blues gave musicians an opportunity to sing their lived theology.

Finally, the critique of the church becomes evident as blues singers scat and hurl minor-key challenges toward the pious. Questions abound in the lyrics. Why is the preacher sleeping with the women in the congregation while the husbands are at work? What is happening to the money from the special collections? Why is God not alleviating the sorrows of an urban workforce . . . ?

The contemplative moment comes as the cause of the blues is considered within the broader context of God’s inexplicable absence or startling intervention. Under every stanza is the silent and unspoken question, “How long, oh Lord, how long will your people continue to suffer?” Suffering is no longer emerging from the crisis of the institution of slavery; it is coming from the angst of living with meager means and few skills to negotiate relationships. Although the words of blues songs became the focus of church opposition to “the Devil’s music,” the words did not become the portal to contemplation. Instead, instruments—not unlike the talking drum—called people to consider their condition. . . .

Art also carves pathways toward our inner isles of spirituality. When we decide to live in our heads only, we become isolated from the God who is closer than our next breath. To subject everything to rational analysis reduces the awe to ashes. The restoration of wonder is the beginning of the inward journey toward a God who people of faith aver is always waiting in the seeker’s heart. For some the call to worship comes as joy spurts from jazz riffs, wonder thunders from tappers’ feet. . . . Each artistic moment is just slightly beyond our horizon of understanding. What a gift it is, this lack of understanding. Perhaps we are confounded so that we might always have much to contemplate.

Reference:
Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church,
2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017), 184, 186, 187, 198.

Story from Our Community:
One morning I prayed to live more aware of God’s presence. So many suggestions have come to me, but I didn’t recognize them as prayerful contemplation until I read Fr. Richard’s words. I danced as a girl and had begun ecstatic dance at home, without knowing what I was doing. I used singing as a way to heal and bless my being in union with God. I guess God has been speaking to me, and how happy does that make me? I am in awe and joyous. —Jessica K.

Image Credit: Arthur Greenberg, In a Field (detail), 1973, photograph, Illinois, National Archives.
Image Inspiration: The texture of this image inspires us to know this grass better by running our hands through and allowing it to tickle our fingertips. Likewise, when we create art, we experience an embodied knowing of God.

Crisis Contemplation: Weekly Summary

Crisis Contemplation

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Week Thirty Summary and Practice

Sunday, July 25—Friday, July 30, 2021

Sunday
Living in a transitional age such as ours is scary: things are falling apart, the future is unknowable, so much doesn’t cohere or make sense. Our uncertainty is the doorway into mystery, the doorway into surrender, the path to God that Jesus called “faith.”

Monday
When the ordinary isn’t ordinary anymore and the crisis is upon us, the self can center in this refuge that I am calling “crisis contemplation,” a space that is neither the result of spiritual seeking nor the voluntary entry into meditative spaces. —Barbara Holmes

Tuesday
Ultimately, we can trust the leading of the Holy Spirit as it guides us toward mutual care and love of God, neighbors, and creation. —Barbara Holmes

Wednesday
It takes great trust and patience to remain stunned, sad, and silenced by the tragedy and absurdity of human events.

Thursday
In the face of horrors visited upon our world daily, in the struggle to protect our loved ones, choosing to let in joy is a revolutionary act. —Valarie Kaur

Friday
Mysticism reminds us that the boundaries between this life and the life beyond are permeable, and that our power is not seeded in what is bestowed by politicians and society, but to everyone willing and ready to recognize the moves of an active Holy Spirit. —Barbara Holmes

 

Stillness

Each day at the CAC we begin our morning sit by repeating a line from Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” With each repetition, we drop a word from the verse until we finally say only “Be,” before entering the silence together. It is a reminder that no matter how we arrive that day, we are called to be, and be still, before God. Barbara Holmes affirms that stillness is important for all who want to transform their pain instead of transmit it: “Stillness is a state of wholeness, an antidote to the fragmentation of BIPOC people that comes with marginalization. . . . Sitting in stillness may allow the pieces of us to reassemble.” [1]

Meditation teacher Eckhart Tolle offers this insight:

Silence is helpful, but you don’t need it in order to find stillness. Even when there is noise, you can be aware of the stillness underneath the noise, of the space in which the noise arises. That is the inner space of pure awareness, consciousness itself. . . .

We have forgotten what rocks, plants, and animals still know. We have forgotten how to be—to be still, to be ourselves, to be where life is: Here and Now.

Whenever you bring your attention to anything natural, anything that has come into existence without human intervention, you step out of the prison of conceptualized thinking and, to some extent, participate in the state of connectedness with Being in which everything natural still exists.

To bring your attention to a stone, a tree, or an animal does not mean to think about it, but simply to perceive it, to hold it in your awareness.

Something of its essence then transmits itself to you. You can sense how still it is, and in doing so the same stillness arises within you. You sense how deeply it rests in Being—completely at one with what it is and where it is. In realizing this, you too come to a place of rest deep within yourself. [2]

Let us come to this place of rest, whether we are in crisis or at peace. If we keep breathing consciously, in connection with all that surrounds us, we will know that we are connected to all of humanity from cave dwellers to cosmonauts, to the entire animal world, and even to the trees and plants. As Barbara Holmes often reminds us, even the atoms we breathe are physically the same as the stardust from the Big Bang. Oneness is no longer experienced as merely a vague mystical notion, but rooted in scientific and embodied fact. [3]

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

References:

[1] Barbara A. Holmes, Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Global Village (CAC Publishing: 2021), 56.

[2] Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks (New World Library: 2003), 22, 77–78.

[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (Crossroad: 2009), 26.

Image credit: Oliver, River Steps (detail), 2014, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: Water on stairs brings up questions that the angle of this photo cannot answer. Are these waters rising or receding? We are navigating in this place of tension, in the eye of the hurricane, unsure if where we stand will flood. Water and Stone: Where is safety? Where is danger?

Crisis Contemplation and Joy

Crisis Contemplation

Crisis Contemplation and Joy
Thursday, July 29, 2021

In my Franciscan tradition, joy comes from an inner realization of true experiential union with God (or Reality, Consciousness, and Life itself!). This realization descends upon us at ever deeper levels as we walk our faith journey. Authentic joy, however, takes place through our pain—not under it, to the right, left, or over it. There is much covering up, escaping, or denying our suffering in unhealthy religion. God calls us, instead, to the whole paschal mystery—passion, death, and resurrection. CAC teacher Barbara Holmes knows that such joy is for both the individual and the community, providing sustaining, life-giving power for marginalized people:

Our current circumstances require resilience and the steadfast belief that joy is a healing inner event and a spiritual practice. . . . BIPOC folks [1] who remember the ways of the elders have seen it in action. Performance of joy while the wounds are still being inflicted is not a display of otherworldly strength. It is an act of faith that God will not give us more than we can bear. . . .

Personal and communal joy require authenticity. We have to stop performing the blackness that whiteness created, the stereotypes and secret-keeping. We have to sing ourselves sane and dance ourselves free. Each act of public joy is one step closer to that risky leap toward transcendence. . . .

Performing joy offers healing from our addictive engagement with domination systems. We are not required to fight for our reality; we can just live it. . . . We are being invited to awaken to our true nature as spirit beings, energy sharers, and prophets of potential. The joy spoken of in Holy Scripture is accessible, but also has a certain “beyondness” to it: The world didn’t give it and the world can’t take it away. As we hear from Jesus in John 16:22: “So you have pain now; but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” [2]

Sikh human rights activist and writer Valarie Kaur understands the healing power of joy, even amidst what she describes as the necessary “labors” of life:

Joy is possible even amid great labors—the labor of dying, the labor of birthing, and the labors between. We cannot force it. But when we create moments to breathe between labor pains, and surrender our senses to the present moment, notice the colors and light and feeling of being alive, here, together, joy comes more easily. It is a felt sense in our bodies. In the face of horrors visited upon our world daily, in the struggle to protect our loved ones, choosing to let in joy is a revolutionary act. Joy returns us to everything good and beautiful and worth fighting for. It gives us energy for the long labor. . . . Joy is the gift of love: it makes the labor an end in itself. I believe laboring in joy is the meaning of life. [3]

References:
[1] The acronym BIPOC refers to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

[2] Barbara A. Holmes, Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Global Village (CAC Publishing: 2021), 117­­, 119.

[3] Valarie Kaur, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love (One World: 2020), 307.

Story from Our Community:
In the early 1990s I met myself in a very elaborate lucid dream. Upon shaking my hand, I said, “I Am You.” I woke knowing that my personal identity is identical to everyone else’s. What if oneness means “I Am You”? The “I” with which God sees me is the same “I” with which “I” look for God. This is the mysticism of love of neighbor. From that dream on I treated my wife, family, friends, and patients as if “I Am You,” and learned that our core self-interests were as identical as our identity. —Roger K.

Image credit: Oliver, River Steps (detail), 2014, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: Water on stairs brings up questions that the angle of this photo cannot answer. Are these waters rising or receding? We are navigating in this place of tension, in the eye of the hurricane, unsure if where we stand will flood. Water and Stone: Where is safety? Where is danger?

Communal Lament

Crisis Contemplation

Communal Lament
Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Psalms of lament are powerful expressions of the experience of disorientation. They express the pain, grief, dismay, and anger that life is not good. They also refuse to settle for things as they are, and so they assert hope. —Walter Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms

Most of us have not been told that we could or should “complain” to God, but lamentation might be the most honest form of prayer. It takes great trust and patience to remain stunned, sad, and silenced by the tragedy and absurdity of human events. My CAC colleague Barbara Holmes sees lamentation as a healing practice in the midst of crisis contemplation: 

Communal lament is important for several reasons. It wakes us up and, in doing so, makes us mindful of the pain of our neighbors, who no longer can go about business as usual when the women begin to wail. Their keening rattles both marrow and bone. Who can remain in a stupor with all of that yelling?! But lament is important for another reason: The collective wail reminds us that we are not alone. The sheer power and resonance of a grief-stricken chorus reminds us that we are beings of quantum potential. We still have agency in every cell of our being, enough to survive—even this!

Lament is risky business. . . . The reasons that lament is risky are because it challenges power structures, it calls for justice, and it makes demands on our relationships with the “powers that be,” one another, and God. Once lament is released, it cannot be recalled. Lament is risky because we never know until the act is done whether or not we have gone too far.

Lament allows the pain to escape and stitches us to our neighbors. We are called to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. Our tears are our prayers when we can’t speak, a baptism of sorts, a salty healing, a sign of our vulnerability, and a liturgical response to violence. . . .

Lament is a collective response to tyranny and injustice. When we are confronted with the horror of our violence-laden society, our mindless killing of innocents, we shift from individual sob and solitary whine to collective moans. . . . In similar fashion, the Holy Spirit groans prayers on our behalf. In the Epistle to the Romans (8:26, NIV) Paul states, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit . . . intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

Throughout Romans chapter 8, Paul writes of sacred utterances of creation and humankind in crisis. We don’t know what will emerge from this time of tarrying, but we do know that something is being born. Like a woman in labor, there is expectation in the darkness, anticipation amid the suffering, hope permeating the pain. Something new is being born and something old is being transformed.

Reference:
Barbara A. Holmes, Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Global Village (CAC Publishing: 2021), 95–96.

Story from Our Community:
As a theology student many years ago, I did my thesis on transformative transformation. Recently I revisited it and realized I only included points that confirmed what I already believed and made me feel good and “inspired.” The past 35 years have confronted and challenged my previously held assumptions; the Spirit reveals new truths and more ultimate meaning about myself and the workings of Christ in my life. With each day I find Spirit challenging me to shed biases that hold me back from experiencing and embracing all life presents with open eyes, ears, and heart. —Dennis K.

Image credit: Oliver, River Steps (detail), 2014, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: Water on stairs brings up questions that the angle of this photo cannot answer. Are these waters rising or receding? We are navigating in this place of tension, in the eye of the hurricane, unsure if where we stand will flood. Water and Stone: Where is safety? Where is danger?

Crisis Contemplation

Crisis Contemplation

Crisis Contemplation
Monday, July 26, 2021

CAC faculty member Barbara Holmes brilliantly teaches about contemplation but not in the way we typically think about it. She understands contemplation as the soul’s arising even in the midst of the most challenging crises humanity faces. Her new book Crisis Contemplation describes how this is the case:

In the midst of devastating crises, we are asked to do the counterintuitive. When the times call for anxiety, flight, or fight . . .  [we are asked] to allow for the possibility of contemplative refuge, respite, and renewal. To slow down and be still is to allow both the source of our troubles and options for recovery to emerge. . . .

However, in its historically understood context, contemplation requires the privilege and time to retreat from the frontlines of everyday life, if only for a little while. For most people of color/culture and communities under siege, such comforts are inconceivable. We dare not shift our gaze for even a moment to consider an alternative reality. Survival requires an alert spiritual and embodied stance. To contemplate (in the ordinary sense of the word) during a crisis might increase the possibility that we miss or misread signs of danger in our immediate environment. . . .

Contemplation is not just an effective response to crisis. It can also arise during the most intense aspects of the event. When bodies are being tortured, when minds are pushed to the breaking point, the human spirit falls through the cracks of the crisis into the center of contemplation. Howard Thurman [1900–1981] referred to this inner space as an island, a place that cannot be breached without personal consent: “When all hope for release in this world seems unrealistic and groundless, the heart turns to a way of escape beyond the present order.” [1]

When the ordinary isn’t ordinary anymore and the crisis is upon us, the self can center in this refuge that I am calling “crisis contemplation,” a space that is neither the result of spiritual seeking nor the voluntary entry into meditative spaces. It is a cracking open, the rupture and shattering of self, community, expectations, and presumptions about how the world works. . . . When we let go, the only constants are God’s love and God’s promise that we will never be left alone.

Barbara’s naming of “crisis contemplation” expands the traditional understanding of contemplation, which has quite frankly been largely formed by educated, privileged (by time and resources if not by the circumstances of their lives), and often celibate male teachers. Crisis contemplation opens the door to an inclusive recognition of how God works in and through all things—even the worst things of life itself.

References:
[1] Howard Thurman, Deep River: Reflections on the Religious Insight of Certain of the Negro Spirituals (Harper & Brothers: 1945, 1955), 25.

Barbara A. Holmes, Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village (CAC Publishing: 2021), 42, 44, 47.

Story from Our Community:
After reading Barbara Holmes, I pray that the world she describes—where people are interconnected in respect and love—will bring true equality. I am 76 and contribute to a food pantry, donate clothes, and recently participated in a peaceful protest, but I feel like I’m trying to build a sandcastle with tiny grains of sand. I am grateful for these daily meditations; I start each day with them and God soothes my spirit and I continue doing my tiny grains of sand. —Mary W.

Image credit: Oliver, River Steps (detail), 2014, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: Water on stairs brings up questions that the angle of this photo cannot answer. Are these waters rising or receding? We are navigating in this place of tension, in the eye of the hurricane, unsure if where we stand will flood. Water and Stone: Where is safety? Where is danger?

When Crisis Comes

Crisis Contemplation

When Crisis Comes
Sunday, July 25, 2021

Living in a transitional age such as ours is scary: things are falling apart, the future is unknowable, so much doesn’t cohere or make sense. We can’t seem to put order to it. This is the postmodern panic. It lies beneath most of our cynicism, our anxiety, and our aggression. Yet, there is little in the biblical revelation that ever promised us an ordered universe. The whole Bible is about meeting God in the actual, in the incarnate moment, in the scandal of particularity. It is rather amazing that we ever tried to codify and control the whole thing.

Chaos often precedes great creativity, and faith precedes great leaps into new knowledge. The pattern of transformation begins in order, but it very quickly yields to disorder and—if we stay with it long enough in love—eventual reordering. Our uncertainty is the doorway into mystery, the doorway into surrender, the path to God that Jesus called “faith.” In her work on “crisis contemplation,” CAC teacher Barbara Holmes confirms what we and others have long suspected—that great suffering and great love are the two universal paths of transformation. Both are the ultimate crises for the human ego. Barbara writes:

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. . . .

If life, as we experience it, is a fragile crystal orb that holds our daily routines and dreams of order and stability, then sudden and catastrophic crises shatter this illusion of normalcy. . . . I am referring to oppression, violence, pandemics, abuses of power, or natural disasters and planetary disturbances. . . .

We can identity three common elements in every crisis: The event is usually unexpected, the person or community is unprepared, and there is nothing that anyone could do to stop it from happening. Even if there are signs everywhere that something is not right, we tend to ignore the warnings and the signposts. Not even sky writing, or messengers from other worlds, would be able to shift our gaze from the comfort of our daily routines. Thus, the slave catchers, the roundups for native removal, the pandemics, devastating hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions catch us off guard. . . .

When the unexpected happens during a communal crisis, we are not alone. We are with friends and neighboring villagers, and we all experience the same break in reality. Bereft of words, all of us hold the same question: How could this be happening? . . .

I consider crisis contemplation to be an aspect of disorder that prepares communities for a leap toward the future. This is a leap toward our beginnings. We are not just organisms functioning on a biological level; our sphere of being also includes stardust and consciousness. We all have a spark of divinity within, a flicker of Holy Fire that can be diminished, but never extinguished.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Franciscan Media: 2020), 15–16.

Barbara A. Holmes, Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village (CAC Publishing: 2021), 19–20, 21, 124.

Story from Our Community:
After reading Barbara Holmes, I pray that the world she describes—where people are interconnected in respect and love—will bring true equality. I am 76 and contribute to a food pantry, donate clothes, and recently participated in a peaceful protest, but I feel like I’m trying to build a sandcastle with tiny grains of sand. I am grateful for these daily meditations; I start each day with them and God soothes my spirit and I continue doing my tiny grains of sand. —Mary W.

Image credit: Oliver, River Steps (detail), 2014, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: Water on stairs brings up questions that the angle of this photo cannot answer. Are these waters rising or receding? We are navigating in this place of tension, in the eye of the hurricane, unsure if where we stand will flood. Water and Stone: Where is safety? Where is danger?

Wisdom beyond the Veil

Communion of Saints

Wisdom beyond the Veil
Tuesday, March 9, 2021

By passing along the narrow road they widened it, and while they went along, trampling on the rough ways, they went ahead of us. —Augustine of Hippo, Sermon for the feast of Saint Quadratus

I can’t imagine that God expects all human beings to start from zero and to reinvent the wheel of life in their own small lifetimes. We must build on the common “communion of saints” throughout the ages. This is the inherited fruit and gift that is sometimes called the “wisdom tradition.” (In the Catholic Church, we refer to it as the Big Tradition and it is held in the same esteem as Holy Scripture.) It is not always inherited simply by belonging to one group or religion. It largely depends on how informed, mature, and experienced our particular teachers are. CAC faculty member Barbara Holmes honors the wisdom she has been gifted by the teachers in her own faith and culture:

I know that African foremothers and forefathers would have referred to the assembled leaders [in my book Liberation and the Cosmos] as ancestors and that the place would be understood to be “beyond the veil.” Although some folks use a very narrow definition of the word ancestor, I use the word as an indicator of legacy and interconnections. The ancestors are elders who pour their lives into the community as a libation of love and commitment. They live and die well, and when they transition, they do so in full connection with an engaged community.

Thereafter, they dwell in the spaces carved out by our spiritual and cultural expectations. They may be in another life dimension, but they connect with us in dreams, in memories, and in stories. . . .

The stories reveal a promise that the community will continue beyond the breath of one individual and that all transitions will be well attended by relatives from the other side. This is a cosmology of connection that values but also transcends cultural contexts; life is considered to be a continuum of transitions, ruptures, and returns. Those who admit that the “ordinary” is punctuated by the ineffable cherish those indescribable and nonrational events as an enigmatic but welcome gift. The fact that I grew up in a family that included the presumptions of transcendence and the unseen in our everyday lives has affected my journey in powerful ways. . .

The end result is that I know that I am not alone. I am connected to the past and the future by the ligatures of well-lived lives, the mysteries of “beyondness,” and the memories and narratives that lovingly bind and support me. While I hope that when I die, one of the elders in my family who have crossed over to the realm of the ancestors will be at my bedside, I certainly did not expect contact prior to that time. And yet here I am, [in my work] hearing from liberation leaders I have never personally met. They are also my elders as certainly as if they occupied a branch of my family tree. They have bequeathed to all of us a legacy of resolve, resistance, and spiritual expansiveness.

References:
Barbara A. Holmes, Liberation and the Cosmos: Conversations with the Elders (Fortress Press: 2008), 3.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Yes, And . . . : Daily Meditations (Franciscan Media: 2019), 26.

Story from Our Community:
I’d always struggled with a sense that there was something so deeply unworthy about me that even God had rejected me. Then my first and only daughter died during birth. It was then that reality began to dawn on me: If I, a mere human, could see this child as infinitely precious and irreplaceable, how much more was I, and every human being, in the eyes of God! For the first time I felt this love, not only for myself, but also shining on every person. —Wanda W.

Image credit: U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. ca. 1953-ca. 1978, Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. Young men and women sitting in front of the Lincoln Memorial, (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: What do Chuck Taylors and office dress shoes, high heels and sandals have in common? They shod the feet of our community of saints. The intergenerational wisdom of both the young ones and elders blesses us all.
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