By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies and our Privacy Policy.

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.

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.

[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.

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.

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.

A Cosmology of Connection

Nature, Cosmos, and Connection

A Cosmology of Connection
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Ash Wednesday

Christians often use the season of Lent (which begins today), the six and a half weeks preceding Easter, to reconnect with God and the fullness of our own humanity—the good and the bad—in some intentional way. The act doesn’t need to be sacrificial or impressive, but I’ve found that some form of contemplative practice, reflection, or commitment is a wonderful way to draw closer to God during this time. The world insists that we are what we do and achieve, but contemplation invites us to practice under-doing and under-achieving, and reminds us of the simple grace and humility of being human. I offer you this description from Barbara Holmes about her own nature-based contemplative practice.

One of the ways I practice contemplation in my life is through fishing. It’s the space and the place where I find a real connection through the ocean, the waves, the sound of the water, the birds diving, and the struggle with the adversary, which is the fish. Now, normally we throw them back, but on occasion we bless them for giving us nurture and nourishment and we keep them.

I fish with my husband George. Because I am one of the Gullah [1] women who is a shaman in my family, I am really open. So I don’t look at a lot of violent movies and I don’t like to kill things and I can’t put live bait on. And I can’t take hooks out of fish that are wishing they could live. All of those sensitivities make this a practice that I need a partner for. And my husband George loves to be in support of it, so we don’t talk a lot. We commune, we listen to music sometimes, other times not. But it’s being in the cycle of life and enjoying that struggle. And enjoying giving life back and releasing some. And realizing that this is the dream that I asked God for long ago. And so God’s grace for me has been that my husband and I live out a dream I’ve had since I was a child, to breathe salt air, and to just learn how to be.

My parents had to struggle. Suddenly Martin Luther King had opened a way. And the cheer and the rallying cry behind us was “Go as far as you can go. Go as fast as you can go. Get as many degrees as you can. You now have a chance to be somebody!” And I ran at it as hard as I could and I got as many degrees as I could, and three or four careers. But to just be is such a blessing!

I suppose the equivalent of Barbara’s fishing in my life would be walking my dog. It really can be a contemplative practice where I engage with God, with nature, and with my own beloved friend, Opie. I’m not really doing anything. I’m just being me and being in love with the world.

[1] Barbara writes of her family origins in her book Joy Unspeakable: “My father was the son of Geechees, also known as Gullah people. They were rice growers transported to the Deep South from the coastal areas of West Africa, most probably Sierra Leone.” Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017), xxviii.

Barbara A. Holmes, Introduction, Race and the Cosmos, unpublished Living School curriculum (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019).

Story from Our Community:
I find myself more deeply connected to Nature during this pandemic. I pick dandelions, taste honeysuckle, sit by the river and listen to the song of its brown, muddy waters and then sing a song of my own. I come home from my outdoor wanderings with a heart full of gratitude for this beautiful world that gives and gives and gives. I pray that we will become better caregivers for the Earth. —Diane B.

Image credit: Warren K. Leffler, Demonstrators sit, with their feet in the Reflecting Pool, during the March on Washington, 1963 (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration:  When we look at nature do we think of the cosmos? When we look at the cosmos does it bring nature to mind? We are intimately connected on micro and macro scales beyond our human capacity to understand. We sit together to rest our feet, in the midst of nature, cosmos and great shifts in consciousness.

New Language for a New Story

Nature, Cosmos, and Connection

New Language for a New Story
Monday, February 15, 2021

The Spirit whispers,
the ancestors agree. 
You are star born
and God loved;
The universe awaits 
your gifts. —Barbara Holmes, Race and the Cosmos

The addition of Barbara Holmes to the CAC’s Living School has been a gift, with her wonderful teachings on the origins of the universe and what they have to teach us about our future. In this passage from a lecture given at the Living School in 2019, Barbara shares the internal shift that led her to write her book Race and the Cosmos:

Writing Race and the Cosmos was actually my own transformation and awakening. . . .  As I considered it, the truth of the matter was that we were living within an old story; and a new story needed to be told, but we didn’t have the language for it.

The old story was of victimization, marginalization, oppression, oppressors; and the new story would see all of us evolving, self-expanding, and finding a new place in this wonderful cosmology that is a reality we have not paid attention to. So, in order to get to that point—and here is where my transformation begins—I had to reconsider what I thought about people, because I had hardened my view of others and who they were and what they meant. I had spent my time raising two little African American boys who had to be taught how to survive in society. In doing that, I taught them to view the world in only one way; and I myself was hardened into a position that either you were with me or you were against me or us.

All of that had to change. I had to begin to think of us as spiritual beings having a human experience, and not bodily, embodied folks without spirit or soul. . . . That’s a very limited view of humankind, and I wanted to expand the story. . . .

Richard here: Barbara brilliantly turned to the languages of science, cosmology, and physics to expand our view of humanity.

The physics and cosmology revolution that is 100 years old has not been translated into the ordinary world of any of us, and specifically not in communities of color. The world that scientists describe now is so different than the world that I grew up in or even imagined. According to physicists, this is what the world is like: it is a universe permeated with movement and energy that vibrates and pulses with access to many dimensions. . . . We are all interconnected, not just spiritually or imaginally, but actually . . . and the explicate [or manifested] order that’s all around us makes us think that we’re separate. Finally, I learned that ideas of dominance are predicated on a Newtonian clockwork universe. So, like dominoes, you push one and they all fall down, and everything is in order. But quantum physics tells us that the world is completely different. Particles burst into existence in unpredictable ways, observations affect the observed, and dreams of order and rationality are not the building blocks of the universe.

Barbara A. Holmes, Lecture 1, Race and the Cosmos, unpublished Living School curriculum (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019).

Story from Our Community:
During this time of having lost so much of our regular activity, we have ironically gained so much by focusing on what really matters—our relationship with the Creator. This relationship for me is through everything that is created and everything we experience, including looking into the cosmos where we ALL belong. —Jim H.

Image credit: Warren K. Leffler, Demonstrators sit, with their feet in the Reflecting Pool, during the March on Washington, 1963 (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration:  When we look at nature do we think of the cosmos? When we look at the cosmos does it bring nature to mind? We are intimately connected on micro and macro scales beyond our human capacity to understand. We sit together to rest our feet, in the midst of nature, cosmos and great shifts in consciousness.

Contemplative Song

African American Spirituality and Song

Contemplative Song
Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The things that help us discover and return to a place of integrated knowing are both obvious and not obvious at all. Silence is one of them, and probably the one I speak of most often. Yet music and art create valuable channels to God as well. It is a gift to our Christian contemplation tradition that CAC faculty member Barbara Holmes names and claims moments that lie beyond the traditional monastic framework of solitude, silence, and stillness as authentic experiences of contemplation. Here she reflects on how worship in the Black church can create a communal contemplative experience:

The soloist moves toward the center of the podium. The congregation of about 1,500 breathes with her as she moans “Oh . . . oh . . . oh, Jesus.” Those are the only words to the song. Unless you are sitting within the sound of her voice, it is difficult to imagine how a song of two words can be a cry of anguish, balm, and celebration. In each soaring note, we participate in the unutterable spectrum of human striving. In this world, you will have trouble, but “oh, oh, oh, Jesus.” The shouts of exaltation give no indication of what is happening. Although it appears to be the usual charismatic congregational fare, in fact we are riding the stanzas through time to the hush arbors and swamp meetings, over the dangerous waters to safety. In this ordinary Sunday service, something has happened and we are changed. The worldly resistance to transcendence that we wore into the sanctuary has cracked open, and the contemplative moment carries us toward the very source of our being.

Moments like this occur regularly in the black church, yet if you ask congregants about their “contemplative practices,” they would be confounded. . . . Despite numerous exceptions, black church worship is known for its heartfelt, rhythmic, and charismatic character. This depiction has become such an accepted view that contemplative practices remain a subliminal and unexamined aspect of black religious life. As a consequence, the practices are not nurtured, encouraged, or passed on to future generations. Yet when contemplative moments occur, worship experiences seem to deepen. . . .

In the midst of worship, an imperceptible shift occurred that moved the worshipping community from intentional liturgical action to transcendent indwelling. There is no way to describe this shift other than to say that “something happened.” During this sacred time, the perpetual restlessness of the human heart was stilled and transformed into abiding presence. Time shimmered and paused, slowing its relentless pace, and the order of worship no longer took precedence for those enthralled by a joy unspeakable. [1]

This is the contemplative moment, the recognition that each and every member of the congregation shares the same angst over the troubles of the world and the need for reunion. . . . Those who listen know the Holy Spirit is in control. [2]

[1] Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017), xix–xx.

[2] Holmes, 84.

Story from Our Community:
Slowly but surely, the loving and open-ended language of the Daily Meditations is replacing the rigid vocabulary that I so readily absorbed in the earlier days of my faith. In fact, I feel that I am finally beginning to experience faith instead of just a list of things I was taught to accept. What freedom there is in this! I also appreciate how much Fr. Richard ‘passes the mic’ to amplify other voices. I am grateful to have been introduced to Barbara Holmes, Cynthia Bourgeault and many others. These voices help me find my own. —Alison D.

Image credit: Gjon Mili, Jamming at Gjon’s (detail), Photograph, copyright gettyimages.com, used with permission.
Image Inspiration: Jazz is many things: it is dance music, counter-cultural and a great connector of people. May we hear the Sacred lovingly woven into tone color, rhythmic pattern and collaborative improvisation.

True Liberation in God


True Liberation in God
Monday, January 18, 2021
Martin Luther King Jr. Day

There can be no outer freedom without some level of inner liberation. This is a universal truth, but a lesson that each of us must learn for ourselves. If we pursue freedom from a reactionary position, out of our own fear or anger, we are working on too small a scale. The path to full liberation always has its source in an Infinite God. My colleague Barbara Holmes puts it this way:

Although justice must be enacted in concrete ways, I agree with Václav Havel (1936–2011) [who] . . .  suggested that liberation is an awareness of connections to a reality “beyond our reach, a higher intention that is the source of all things, a higher memory recording everything, a higher authority to which we are all accountable in one way or another.” [1]

Barbara Holmes continues to explore this idea of God as the source of true and transcendent liberation through a creative, imagined conversation between civil rights icon Rosa Parks (1913–2005) and the Black mystic and theologian Howard Thurman (1899–1981). 

Parks First, don’t we have to redefine liberation? When I refused to get up from the bus seat, when Martin marched and Malcolm railed against the artificial constraints of segregation, it was not to grant a small sliver of freedom to earthbound people. It was the spiritual launch of a liberation too vast to be circumscribed by a single life. This is a liberation worth dying for, worth risking everything for. . . .

Thurman The power that is meaningful for future generations comes through the human spirit but emanates from a divine source. . . .

Parks Liberation requires individuals willing to stand when no one else will, to sit when others are threatening you with harm, to embrace an outsider in full view of an insider, to proclaim the wisdom of the ages and the already/not yet justice of God in the midst of horrific circumstances. We do this although we don’t know what the end will be, and we do this because liberation is the responsibility of each and every person. I know that the sacred heart of the liberation story lies in ordinary acts of obedience and resistance by ordinary people.

Thurman Thank you for that, Rosa. Liberation is not a goal or an event to be enjoyed. It is a series of events that draw us closer to true liberation in God. Liberation comes in the moment that we hear the leading of the Divine and follow. It is the freedom to unbind the shackled and to reunite with God and neighbor. Until we achieve that reunion, we move from liberation to liberation gathering seekers as we go, celebrating only long enough to encourage our spirits and then moving on to new struggles around old issues in different contexts. [2]

Barbara Holmes’ ability to “listen in” to these conversations between “the ancestors” is a sign of her own spiritual freedom, which she shares so generously with the world.

[1] Václav Havel, to the National Press Club, Canberra, Australia, March 29, 1995, The Art of the Impossible: Politics as Morality in Practice (Knopf: 1997), 196. Quoted in Holmes, Race and the Cosmos, 2nd ed. (CAC Publishing: 2020), 83.

[2] Barbara A. Holmes, Liberation and the Cosmos: Conversations with the Elders (Fortress Press: 2008), 68, 70–71.

Story from Our Community:
Millions of us pray daily, ‘let go and let God.’ I think and pray this is a big part of the transformation we need. We’ve let go of so much during the lockdowns, and continue to let go, but with hope . . . — Michelle J.

Image credit: Monastery Window (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
A window is an invitation. A break in the impervious stone of a wall. A way in or out. Covered in foliage, light, and shadow, this window speaks to the complex nature of reality, unveiled.

Repairing and Restoring

Order, Disorder, Reorder: Part Three

Repairing and Restoring
Thursday, August 27, 2020

Barbara Holmes, a member of our Living School faculty, writes about what I’m calling Reorder as a cosmological fact. When we return to the original Order—the unbroken unity of all of creation with and in God—with new eyes, we see the gifts of abundance, diversity, and interconnectedness always available to us.

Any community that we construct on earth will be only a small model of a universe whose community includes billions of stars and planetary systems. Are we alone? We don’t know, but if we don’t know how to become a community with our own species, how shall we find harmony with other life forms in the cosmos? Our ideas of community begin with fragmentation, difference, and disparity seeking wholeness.

Our beloved community is an attempt to hot-glue disparate cultures, language, and ethnic origins into one mutually committed whole. The universe tells a completely different story—that everything is enfolded into everything. [1] . . .

Even though the languages of the new physics and cosmology discard mechanistic understandings of the universe in favor of potential, we love order. We see it where it doesn’t exist and impose it through our narratives. Everything that we do conceals the unity that seems to be intrinsic to our life space. We take pictures of objects that seem to be outside of self, we demarcate national boundaries, we align with friends and break with enemies, we give and receive in what seem to be neat sequential packets of life and experience.

By contrast, [physicist David] Bohm [1917–1992] described the universe as a whole or implicate order that is “our primary reality . . . the subtle and universal reservoir of all life, the wellspring of all possibility, and the source of all meaning.” [2] The life space, Bohm wrote, is the . . . order that unfolds as a visible and discernable aspect of this unseen wholeness. . . .

We are one, and our wars and racial divisions cannot defeat the wholeness that lies just below the horizon of human awareness. . . . Diversity may not be a function of human effort or justice. It may just be the sea in which we swim. To enact a just order in human communities is to reclaim a sense of unity with divine and cosmological aspects of the life space. As Hebrew Scripture scholar Terence Fretheim suggests, the “Let us” discourse in Genesis [1:26] is a statement of the community of God. [3]

God is creating and ordering the universe, but does not do it alone. . . .

Perhaps in ways that we don’t yet understand, the struggle for justice on many fronts is an enfolding image of the whole—the embodiment of a holistic and unfragmented community. This community . . . would not be the logical outcome of progressive movements toward an ascertainable external goal, but would be the sum of past, present, and future expectations and disappointments. Then the community-called-beloved becomes all that we can and cannot conceive, all that lies beyond the horizon of apprehension but is available to us as part of the matrix of wholeness.

[1] David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order (Routledge: 2002, ©1980), 225.

[2] Diarmuid Ó Murchú, Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics, rev. ed. (Crossroad: 2004), 62.

[3] Terence E. Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation (Abingdon Press: 2005), 42–43.

Adapted from Barbara A. Holmes, Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently, 2nd ed. (CAC Publishing: 2020), 194-195, 196.

Image credit: Garden of Wish Fulfilment (detail), Arshile Gorki, 1944, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon Portugal.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Only the whole self is ever ready for the whole God, so Reorder always involves moving beyond the dualistic mind toward a more spacious, contemplative knowing. —Richard Rohr

The Cosmic Order

Order, Disorder, Reorder: Part One

The Cosmic Order
Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Matter is the common, universal, tangible setting, infinitely shifting and varied, in which we live. . . . By matter we are nourished, lifted up, linked to everything else, invaded by life. —Teilhard de Chardin

The physical structure of the universe is love. —Teilhard de Chardin

For Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), a French Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist, love is at the physical heart of the universe. He viewed love as the attraction of all things toward all things. We could say that love is the universal ordering principle. In this passage from Liberation and the Cosmos, CAC faculty member Dr. Barbara Holmes imagines a conversation between Civil Rights lawyer and educator Barbara Jordan (1936–1996) and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (1908–1993). It captures the essence of what is good and possible about Order—in both the laws of cosmos and the land.

Marshall: How about this, Barbara? Suppose, just for argument’s sake, that we consider the law to be a reflection of the order of the cosmos? Although there is chaos and synchronicity, there is also the potential for creative genesis.

Jordan: I remember reading the work of Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, mystic, and paleontologist who did a good deal of work on consciousness and the laws of the universe. . . .

The laws of nations give clues as to the state of mind of a populace, and sometimes they provide a history of our processive movement toward our highest good. That’s all of the science that I know. But from what I understand, there are laws of the universe as well as laws of nation-states. Matter and spirit are intertwined so that the “quanta of matter and spirit that once permeated the early universe become fibers of matter influenced by gravity and threads of spirit drawn by love.” [1] . . .

Marshall: Let me say a few cosmological things. While our laws are in place to prevent, proscribe, and punish, the laws of the universe seem to be focused on connection, attraction, and a cosmic holding mechanism. . . . Where was Teilhard when I needed him? The idea that we are connected to a future good, and moving toward something better, would have been a breath of fresh air . . . . Now that I am on this side of the continuum, I’m certain that the trajectory of human life is toward mutuality and care of self and neighbor. [2]

I wish more of us understood and accepted the “laws of the universe,” which include disruption, dynamism and evolution, instead of clinging so tightly to the “law and order” of church and country. Jesus himself indicated that “heavenly” and “human” laws are not on equal footing. He refused to enforce or even bother with what he considered secondary issues like ritual laws, purity codes, and membership requirements. He regarded them as human commandments, which far too often took the place of love (see Matthew 15:3, 69).

[1] Kathleen Duffy, “The Texture of the Evolutionary Cosmos: Matter and Spirit in Teilhard de Chardin,” in Teilhard in the 21st Century: The Emerging Spirit of Earth, ed. Arthur Fabel, Donald St. John (Orbis Books: 2003), 143.

[2] Barbara A. Holmes, Liberation and the Cosmos: Conversations with the Elders (Fortress Press: 2008), 52–53.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent Books: 2019), 68, 73.

Epigraphs: The Divine Milieu (Harper and Row: 1965), 106; and Human Energy, trans. J. M. Cohen (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich: 1969), 72.

Image credit: Last Tangle (detail), Leo Valledor, 1976.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: We need a very strong container to hold the contents and contradictions that arrive later in life. —Richard Rohr
Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
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.