Barbara Holmes, Author at Center for Action and Contemplation — Page 2 of 3

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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, 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

Civil Rights Contemplative

Contemplative Activists

Civil Rights Contemplative
Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977) is remembered for her strength and courage in the face of an oppressive system. During the Civil Rights Movement, she inspired others to reclaim their God-given dignity and demand full citizenship in the United States. CAC faculty member Barbara Holmes writes:

[Fannie Lou Hamer is] a contemplative exemplar because of her spiritual focus and resolve. Her practices spoke to the depth of her contemplative spirit. In the face of catastrophic suffering, Hamer worked, loved, sang, and resisted the powers that be. She was jailed, beaten, and hunted by the enforcers of the social order after registering to vote. The treatment was so brutal that [civil rights leader] Andrew Young was sent to get her out of jail. Yet, she was kind to jailers who had been beating her for a week. . . .

Hamer was centered; she drew power from the example of her parents in their struggle to transcend the impossible situation of their lives. She faced daunting odds, as she was not dealing with an abusive individual but instead the power of federal, state, and local governments and cultural traditions that deemed her to be a nonperson. This designation of non-personhood did not deter her, for her contemplative entry into a deeper “knowing” came through her commitment to nonviolence. Adherence to the spiritual disciplines of civil rights activism required that she love the crucifier, bless the torturer, embrace the jailer, and pray for his or her salvation. . . .

According to her friend Virginia Gray Adams, “her back hurt and her spirit waged war without proper food or medicine. So when the movement came, there was rest”—not the rest that pervades the lives of most contemplatives [or what many imagine of monks and mystics], but rest nonetheless. Rest as you tell Congress to let your people go. Rest as you testify and lead a delegation off the floor of the Democratic Convention. Rest comes as rest comes—sometimes in the great feather beds of the wealthy and sometimes just a step away from hard labor. When it comes, it is balm to the spirit and solace to the soul. This is a rest that wafts from a wellspring of intentional justice seeking as spiritual practice. These practices allow one to live in and out of the body and to inhabit hope as an ethereal but more permanent enfleshment. Fannie Lou Hamer was cloistered in an activist movement, finding her focus, restoration, and life in God in the midst of the beloved community already here and yet coming. . . .

Once upon a time there was a contemplative mother, a brave and wise woman of few words who entered the Civil Rights Movement as a [novice] enters a convent—not for retreat but for the restorative love of the community and the space to fight for justice.

Adapted from Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017), 125‒126, 127, 128.

Image credit: Fannie Lou Hamer (detail), courtesy of artist Robert Shetterly and Americans Who Tell the Truth, c. 2007. The portrait is not for sale and travels with the collection. It is currently on exhibition in Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Fannie Lou Hamer faced daunting odds, as she was not dealing with an abusive individual but instead the power of federal, state, and local governments and cultural traditions that deemed her to be a nonperson.  —Barbara Holmes

Social Renewal as Spiritual Practice

Wisdom in Times of Crisis

Social Renewal as Spiritual Practice
Friday, July 10, 2020

CAC Faculty member Dr. Barbara Holmes points us to the interwoven nature of love— love of God, of self, and of neighbor. We cannot keep the Great Commandment without fully engaging in all three. In her wisdom, she sees this time of crisis as an opportunity for a great re-imagining of our society and how it might function for the good of all. Barbara says:

The practice I’m focusing on is self-love and love of neighbor. We tend not to be very good at either one, but during this time of isolation, we have equal opportunities to rest and to heal, to love and be loved. . . .

For me a spiritual practice that matters includes social renewal. Instead of blaming others about the state of our union, instead of blaming one political party or another, we actually can reflect on our own complicity and support of systems that abandoned the poor, warehoused our children in failing schools, and failed to provide adequate health care, even under normal circumstances. As a spiritual practice, we can wake up to the possibility of building a new order. We can improvise those possibilities; try them out in the creative microcosm of a shared public life, realizing that our way of life before the pandemic was not perfect. It could be improved so that all members of the society thrive. We’ve received reports that COVID-19 is disproportionally impacting communities of color. There are many reasons for this outcome, including the fact that people of color often have chronic health problems that make them particularly vulnerable to the disease as a result of poverty, poor or nonexistent health care, and economic disparities.

We should reconsider the contours of our national social contract. Our social and economic systems work on a zero-sum game where there are winners and losers. It didn’t have to be that way. We have the opportunity to restructure society, so it works as well for the have-nots and the almost-haves as well as it does for the wealthy. Do we really want a society organized to support the rich with the toiling of an underclass of marginalized laborers? Do we believe that it is every man, every woman for themselves, or do we want a society safety net for those who have fewer options and fewer resources?

From an article I wrote titled “Still on the Journey,” I believe that as a spiritual practice we can imagine and create “a political system responsive to the people and respectful of global neighbors, a health system that is comprehensive in scope and not profit driven, an educational system shaped by innovation, improvisation, technology, and practicality.” [1] The pandemic [and widespread demonstrations for Black Lives] have lifted the veil from our eyes.

Can we be honest now about what is not working? Can we re-envision new options? I believe that we can, if we want to.

[1] Barbara A. Holmes, “Still on the Journey: Moral Witness, Imagination, and Improvisation in Public Life,” Ethics That Matters: African, Caribbean, and African American Sources, eds. Marcia Y. Riggs and James Samuel Logan (Fortress Press: 2012), 238.

From Barbara A. Holmes, “Love of Neighbor and the Practice of Social Renewal,” Wisdom in Times of Crisis (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), faculty presentation (May 4, 2020), YouTube video,

Image credit: Cueva de las Manos (detail), Cañadón del Río, Santa Cruz, Argentina. Photograph copyright ©️ 2012 Pablo Gimenez.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: As a spiritual practice we can wake up to the possibility of building a new order. We can improvise those possibilities; try them out in the creative microcosm of a shared public life, realizing that our way of life before the pandemic was not perfect. —Barbara Holmes

Awakening in the Cosmos

Cosmology and Nature

Awakening in the Cosmos
Wednesday, June 24, 2020

My friend and fellow CAC teacher Dr. Barbara Holmes has the ability to bear witness to the expansiveness of the cosmos, the major systemic shifts taking place in society, and the small and sacred moments of daily life—all at the same time. Her writing is a poetic and prophetic call for us to wake up and pay attention to everything that is happening around us.

It is time to awaken to self, society, and the cosmos, for none of us has the luxury of sleepwalking through impending cultural and scientific revolutions. In the last sermon that he preached before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. urged us to “remain awake through a great revolution.” [1] . . .

Up above our heads, there are worlds unknown and a canopy of grace, light, air, and water that supports our survival. Without realizing it, we expend massive amounts of energy to block out the vastness of our universe. This is to be expected, for, in its totality, this information can be more than human systems can take. However, by riveting our attention on the mundane, we filter out the wonder that is available with each breath.

Although we have a fascination with space and the possibility of life in other realms, we steadfastly refuse to respond when the universe invites us to broaden our lines of sight. We are beckoned by blazing sunsets and the pictures returned by powerful telescopic lenses, yet, on any given day, we court a busyness that beguiles us into focusing on the limited perspectives in our immediate space.

Today, scientific information about the universe is increasing exponentially while ethnic and racial balances within the United States are shifting radically. In the scientific realm, the epistemological foundations for hierarchy, dominance, and rationality are crumbling, while proponents of gender, class, [racial,] and sexual equity have found their public voices. . . .

We are not hamsters on a wheel, waiting to fall into the cedar shavings at the bottom of the cage. We are seekers of light and life, bearers of shadows and burdens. We are struggling to journey together toward moral fulfillment. We are learning to embrace the unfathomable darkness where God dwells with enthusiasm that equals our love of light. Physics and cosmology have metaphors and languages to help us awaken to these and other possibilities. . . . We are not just citizens of one nation or another, but of the human and cosmic community.

Awareness is the moment when we rise with eyes crusted from self-induced dreams of control, domination, victimization, and self-hatred to catch a glimpse of the divine in the face of “the other.” Then God’s self-identification, “I am that I am / I will be who I will be” (Exodus 3:14) becomes a liberating example of awareness, mutuality, and self-revelation.

Barbara teaches us that “everything belongs”—from moments of personal awakening, to mind-bending discoveries with the potential to change everything. Growing in awareness of a “Christ-soaked universe” helps us to awaken to wonder and see the divine in all things.

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., Sermon at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C. (March 31, 1968). See A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. James M. Washington (HarperCollins: 1986), 270.

Barbara A. Holmes, Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently, 2nd ed. (CAC Publishing: 2020), 42, 43, 57.

Image Credit: Una “rete” di rami all’Arte Sella (Wood and Art in the Forest of Italy) (detail), 2008, Arte Sella, Trento, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: God is the web, the energy, the light—not captured in them, as if any of those concepts were more real than what unites them—but revealed in that singular, vast net of relationship that animates everything that is. —Barbara Brown Taylor

Contemplating Anger

We are sharing this article from a past issue of ONEING on Anger written by Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) faculty member Dr. Barbara Holmes in hopes that her words will inspire people to step across the boundaries of our comfortable certainties and embrace a communal contemplative moment of racial solidarity.

In these times of suffering and disorder, we look for a path to solidarity with those held down by the hands of dehumanizing systems of oppression. Contemplation is a profoundly transformative tool for discerning right action. As Dr. Holmes writes, “During these times of deep division and unnecessary harm to the vulnerable, the anger of decent people everywhere is appropriate. Public and peaceful expression of that anger is a first step toward creating safe boundaries.”


By Barbara Holmes | ONEING Vol. 6 No. 1 | Anger

“Anger can actually be an expression of compassion, a willingness to uphold boundaries that are sacred, or stand up for someone who is being oppressed.” —Julie Peters, The Spirituality of Anger

Anger is intense. Often, there is a flash of heat and disorientation and the need to justify or retaliate. When I was a child, anger was my response to hurt feelings. When offended, I would lash out or run crying to my mom. In her arms, and with her reassurances, I could quell a heat of rage so intense that it threatened to overtake me. Anger is an emotion that consumes mind and body—but sometimes anger is necessary for survival.

I remember the anger of my baby sister, when she was only five years old and I was eight. As the eldest of my siblings, I decided that she could not play with us. I guess, from her perspective, my eight-year-old dictatorial mandates were too much to bear. She got angry, in only the way that a five-year-old can. She leaped on my back, wrapped her little legs around my waist, and bit me as hard as she could.

I was shocked by her anger and tenacity. The pain was secondary. There was not much that I could do: She would not let go, so I ran screaming through the house with my sister attached to my back, biting me. My mother tried to pry her loose but she held on tight. In retrospect, I don’t blame her. I was quite the eight-year-old tyrant. When they finally pried her loose, she was completely oblivious to my parents’ chastising or my tears. Instead, she was clapping and laughing, completely delighted with herself.

The next morning, just as I was waking up, she kissed my face. She was no longer angry, but I saw my tiny sibling in a different light and never excluded her again. This little one was not to be messed with. Her anger opened my eyes and made our relationship better. She was angry, and rightfully so. Her expression of anger was personal.

But anger is not limited to individuals. The anger expressed by marginalized communities is both personal and collective. In either context, righteous anger can be a catalyst for change.


A Theology of Anger

We should not be ashamed of anger. It’s a very good and a very powerful thing that motivates us. But what we need to be ashamed of is the way we abuse it. —Mahatma Gandhi

Many spiritual traditions warn us against anger. We are told that anger provides fertile ground for seeds of discontent, anxiety, and potential harm to self and others. This is true. However, when systems of injustice inflict generational abuses upon people and communities because of their ethnicity, race, sexuality, and/or gender, anger as righteous indignation is appropriate, healthy, and necessary for survival.

Jesus expressed righteous indignation when he encountered the unjust systems of religious and Roman authorities, yet Christian theologies shy away from the integration of anger into their canons. How can churches continue to ignore anger and still be relevant during this era when everyone is angry about everything? People of color are angry about police brutality, white supremacy, white privilege, and economic marginalization.

However, recent polls show that white men are the angriest group in the United States. They feel marginalized although they maintain dominance in the economic and social structures of our society. They feel threatened by immigration, diversity, and their declining percentage of the population. White women are angry about sexual harassment, glass ceilings in their workplaces, and some of the above. With all of this anger permeating society, I am suggesting that we all need a way to channel and reconcile our anger with our faith.

For people of color, we need this outlet to save our lives. We are dying from stress-related diseases and health disorders, with no way to interpret our anger through the lens of faith. Accordingly, I am proposing a theology of anger for communities under siege. A theology of anger assumes that anger as a response to injustice is spiritually healthy. My intent is to highlight three ways that anger can contribute to spiritual restoration.

First, a theology of anger invites us to wake up from the hypnotic influences of unrelenting oppression so that individuals and communities can shake off the shackles of denial, resignation, and nihilism. Cornel West defines nihilism as “the lived experience of coping with a life of horrifying meaninglessness, hopelessness, and (most important) lovelessness.”[i] Second, a theology of anger can help us to construct healthy boundaries. Finally, the healthy expression of righteous anger can translate communal despair into compassionate action and justice-seeking. The Rev. Nelson Johnson reminds us that the dominant culture is also extremely traumatized by its own history of abuse. Many came to the west as bond and indentured servants. The question is whether or not we will recognize our wounds and the source of our anger so that we can heal ourselves and others, and awaken to our potential to embody the beloved community.


Staying Woke

Charlottesville was a wakeup call. When angry white men carry torches and march through town chanting Nazi slogans, it’s time to wake up. It was a shock to be reminded yet again that the only nation that I claim as a space of belonging isn’t safe for many of us. To make things worse, the forty-fifth president of the United States openly supported their racism by equating perpetrators and resistors. Perhaps we were naïve when we hoped that the election of one black president would heal our racial tensions.

In the midst of blatant communal oppression, anger wakes us up to the realization that change can only occur when we put our cell phones down and turn off our systems of entertainment. In my book Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently, I offer the following observation,

We weave gossamer webs of habit and familiarity that lull, sustain, and entangle us. But it is difficult to articulate creative solutions to intransigent problems while dazed.[ii]

For people of color, anger wakes us up from our daze and desire to “fit in,” no matter the cost. Writer Lawrence Ware discusses his own journey toward anger, a journey that ignited his love for the community. He says,

I’d spent most of my life worrying if white folks would like me . . . wanting white employers to look favorably upon me. I spoke in a way meant to make white folks see me as intelligent. My whole life was spent centering whiteness. . . . I’d bought into the lie of white supremacy, and I had unwittingly arranged my life around the white gaze.[iii]

He concludes,

Yes, I am angry about the conditions of black, brown and red people in this country. Yes, I do think that the norms of oppression and marginalization need to change. I am radical, and I am angry. I am all these things because I unapologetically love my blackness and yours.[iv]

During these times of deep division and unnecessary harm to the vulnerable, the anger of decent people everywhere is appropriate. Public and peaceful expression of that anger is a first step toward creating safe boundaries.


Creating Sacred Boundaries

When the human rights of people of color are violated, it is assumed that they will protest a little and forgive quickly. This grotesque ritual was evident after the murders of unarmed black teens by police and after the assassinations at Emmanuel AME Church of Charleston, South Carolina. One day after Dylann Roof killed the pastor and church members during Bible study, the families of the slain began offering forgiveness. They offered forgiveness without repentance, forgiveness without discussion of the underlying racism in this nation that fueled Roof’s anger.

While we know that forgiveness is necessary, our communities and the nation need time to recognize the horror of these events. This is a communal contemplative moment, a time to sit with our anger and consider the path that we are on. Chaplain Joshua Lazard contends that rushing past anger to reconciliation short-circuits the opportunity to have necessary conversations about cause and effect and pathways toward resolution.

Why does society expect the harmed to forgive before the slain are even laid to rest? When my sister bit me, she was the one who kissed my face the next day to restore our relationship. Even at five years old, she knew that she’d hurt me, so she initiated the first steps toward forgiveness. As actor Jesse Williams noted during the 2016 BET awards, “The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander.”[v] Is it the responsibility of the terrorized to forgive quickly, without any acknowledgement of wrongdoing or any attempt to heal the wounds? A theology of anger helps us to move forward when harm is done, but does not require instantaneous forgiveness. Instead, it invites us to create sacred boundaries so that we can express our righteous indignation as the first step toward a process of healing.

If we take a theology of anger seriously, first we come together, then we grieve together, then we consider where we are and where we are going. If there is opportunity, we engage in deep considerations of cause and effect, and we listen for the whispers of the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness is a process, not a quick antidote to hatred’s slow-acting poison. Our health and wholeness require that we take off our masks of Christian piety and do the difficult work of acknowledging our anger, our vulnerability, and our pain. It is this contemplative work that moves us toward forgiveness, for when we recognize our own human frailty, we can more easily forgive the fragility and failings of others.


Channeling Anger for Spiritual Wholeness

This idea of having to explain why it’s racial, while standing in our own blood is silly. It’s racial because it doesn’t happen to white people. —Jesse Williams

Collective and productive anger redirects our attention to the everyday survival and healing of our own community. As Williams notes, we cannot waste our energy explaining our anger when it should be obvious to all. Sometimes the anger of black folks is resistance but, more often, it is grief. During a demonstration in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after the police shot an unarmed black man, pastor Danny Givens of Above Every Name Ministry, publicly and peacefully challenged the Governor of Minnesota. He shouted into a microphone,

Your people keep killing my people. You keep telling me that you are going to do something. I just want you to put some action on it, put some respect on our people’s names. . . . This isn’t black anger. This is black grief![vi]

Pastor Givens wanted the governor to understand that grief, anger, and black joy are hard to separate. At funerals of young people slain by the police, expressions of black joy are common. This is not “joy” in the ordinary sense of the word. This is not the embodiment of the myth of the “happy Negro” dancing mindlessly. This is the communal performance of resistance and resilience through dancing and rhythmic movement. Funeral-car doors fly open, music is thumping, and the community dances its defiance of death and the society that produces it.

We are angry, we are grieving, we are performing black joy as a sign of our determination to survive. When my parents tried to pry my sister off my back, they were, in essence, letting her know that her behavior was inappropriate. My sister refused to respond to their commands because they had not intervened when I was excluding her. She was determined and so are we. She would not let go and neither will the most vulnerable among us. All we have is our tenacity and our refusal to passively submit to aggressions that threaten our existence. Until the killing of black and brown people stops, all peaceful methods of resistance are appropriate. Right now, our anger is our truth, and our anger is a sacred part of our humanity and our faith.

ONEING: Anger features Richard Rohr, Barbara Brown Taylor, Walter Brueggemann, Joan Halifax, Barbara Holmes, Brian McLaren, Mirabai Starr, and others.


[i] Cornel West, Race Matters (New York: Vintage, 1994), 118.
[ii] Barbara A. Holmes, Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently (New York: T & T Clark, 2002), 15.
[iii] Lawrence Ware, “Why I’m Comfortable Being an Angry Black Man,” The Root, November 6, 2016,
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Jesse Williams, as cited in Veronica Toney, “Jesse Williams gave one of the most memorable speeches in award show history,” The Washington Post, June 27, 2016,
[vi] Morgan Winsor and Julia Jacobo, “Pastor Shouts at Governor: ‘This Is Black Grief,’ After Police Shooting of Minnesota Man,” ABC News, July 7, 2016,
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