CAC Staff, Author at Center for Action and Contemplation

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New Issue: The Cosmic Egg

Discover a universal and inclusive framework for liberation from the stories that confine us in the new issue of ONEING, the biannual journal of the Center for Action and Contemplation. Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, and alumni from CAC’s Living School program invite us to explore new relationships with the stories that shape us, our neighbors, and the world.

ONEING: The Cosmic Egg (Fall 2021)

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Introduction to ONEING: The Cosmic Egg

By Richard Rohr | ONEING Vol. 9 No. 2 | The Cosmic Egg

It was probably thirty years ago that I first discovered a rather plain image of several ovals or “domes” of meaning, which for me form the Cosmic Egg: “My Story,” “Our Story,” “Other Stories” (which I recently added), and “The Story.” The image has proven helpful through many years of teaching. There were certain retreats or conferences where I could tell that people, perhaps visual learners, “got” my message and direction only after seeing this diagram. It became a geometric imprint which helped the viewer comprehend the general shape of all wholeness, mental and emotional health, and good philosophy and theology too. One advantage of the image is that we do not have to be highly educated to understand it. Some academic types might consider it even too simplistic, but I do not think it is.

Medieval Franciscan William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347) coined a principle that other philosophers either loved or hated: “Do not multiply entities that are not necessary.” Because it amounted to a shaving-down process, it has long been referred to as Ockham’s Razor! My simple paraphrase of his formal Scholastic philosophical principle is this: Always trust and move forward with the simpler answer. This diagram is a clever result of Ockham’s Razor at work—and I might simplify it even a bit more in my “clean shave” explanation here!

Very few periods of history and a small minority of cultures and individuals have ever honored all four domes of meaning at the same time. Usually one was dominant, while a second, third, and fourth were neglected. Some, at least, got two, but missed out on the wholeness that would have been offered by the others. Here are some examples of the different honoring of all four domes of meaning, always remembering that each must include the others!

In most ancient religions and medieval Catholicism too, The Story and its “spiritual speak” were so dominant that Other Stories, Our Story, and My Story were largely deemed unreal or of little regard. The Jewish people did have the honesty to include much of their history (Our Story) in Sacred Scripture, and many stories of individuals like Abraham and David (My Story), but always as a part of the larger tribal story. There was not yet much appreciation for Other Stories, which is the gift of our modern age.

For most eras, My Story was completely lost as irrelevant or meaningless. The concept of the substantial human individual had not yet been developed (Buddhism would influence that shift toward individual recognition for Hinduism and Protestantism would do the same for Catholicism). My Story was largely of no concern—a few biblical characters and Augustine’s Confessions being early exceptions. There were some few individuals—those we would often call “great” or “Blessed” in every age—who could represent and somehow hold together all four domes of meaning at the same time. However, they still did so at their own cultural level of development, which explains perhaps how some saints could still be anti-Semitic, believe in fables, or, like St. Joan of Arc (d. 1431), lead her country of France in a violent war against the English.

Then there are those who have no real understanding of Other Stories, The Story, or My Story and live entirely inside the world of the comparisons, competitions, and violent rivalries which result from living only in Our Story. Much of Chinese history, most of Feudal Europe, and tribal Africa might be included here. “My group and its leaders, its ‘god,’ and its needs,” are their limited and limiting frame of reference.

Only recently have I felt it necessary to add a fourth dome of meaning to the Cosmic Egg, which shows, I believe, an evolution in human consciousness. The term Other Stories illustrates the painful recognition that my frame is not the only frame, not likely the most important frame, and maybe even a frame with a lot of shadow and blind spots when compared to other stories. This is the great advantage of studying history, literature beyond our own language, anthropology, world cultures, and, frankly, experiencing some world travel, if one is so privileged.

This expansion of perspective has only become widely possible in the last hundred years or so and reaction is showing itself in the worldwide “identity politics” which is leading people—with no evidence—to declare that Our Story is the measure of all things, and all Other Stories are evil, pagan, inferior, ignorant, or superstitious. As we encounter more and more of the world’s Other Stories, many are broadening their wisdom while others are broadening their fear. It looks like it will take us some time (centuries?) to resolve this drive to exclude, to scapegoat, to judge, and to dismiss other peoples’ stories. There is only one thing more dangerous than the individual ego and that is the group ego. Only non-dual, “second tier” folks, mystics, and not even all saints seem capable of such universal capacity. Yet this viewpoint is increasing quite rapidly worldwide, moved ahead by things like the United Nations, Doctors without Borders, many lifelong missionaries, emerging Christianity, and seekers and philosophers of universal truth.

Still, only a minority will venture into a universal and inclusive frame of reference (The Story), while others limit themselves to journeys into their own private soul and woundedness (My Story). These cannot give us any liberation from or even understanding of the tyrannies of tribe, family, and culture (Our Story). With no deep experience of actual transcendence, and with little self-knowledge, Our Story folks are highly open to massification, groupthink, and conformity passing for real knowledge. They generally use entertainment, sporting events, consumerism, or war itself as a substitute for true worship and true community or friendships. I personally believe much of USA culture is at this level—and trapped here because it is convinced that its story and culture are The Story. In fact, most groups participate in such group narcissism.

Finally, we either have people who live inside The Story or think they live inside The Story. Those who truly live there have embraced and integrated their personality, shadow, woundedness, family issues, culture, and contextualizing life experiences under The One. Those who think they live there (but do not) are those we would call fundamentalists, zealots, or people who use religion to disguise their real belief system (money, power, politics, classism, or security needs being the most common). They think they have the final “text,” but they just use it to hide from any real context that would expose them. Some call this “spiritual bypassing.” Jesus’ metaphors for this group are “Pharisees” and “teachers of the Law,” or just “the Rich Man.”

What makes the Bible so unique as a work of literature is that—surely without knowing it—it honors all four domes of meaning to some degree: the importance of the individual and personal responsibility (the foundational meaning being preoccupation with “sin”), the history and context of one individual religion (the “scandal of the particular”), Israel’s early confrontation and then Jesus’ specific confrontation with cultures other than Judaism, while their One God (YHWH) oversees, loves, liberates, and includes the whole process and every level.

This is a truly integral spirituality, a truly catholic worldview, and the unrecognized goal of all monotheistic religions. These, like Jesus, “have nowhere to rest their head” except in the One Love. These will “save” the world, because they can honor and include every part of history/herstory and no longer consider themselves the center of anything except as the beneficiary of a personal and amazing grace.

Order your copy of ONEING: The Cosmic Egg in print or downloadable PDF.

Honoring All Four Domes of Meaning

By Alison Kirkpatrick | ONEING Vol. 9 No. 2 | The Cosmic Egg

In his reflection on the Cosmic Egg, Fr. Richard Rohr laments that few people or places “have ever honored all four domes of meaning at the same time.” I feel fortunate to be one of the lucky few exposed to such a worldview. I was raised in a Franciscan parish in the early 1970s, just after the Second Vatican Council. The brownrobed friars, with their Birkenstocks and beards, embraced the spirit of the Council wholeheartedly. Where a crucified Jesus normally hung behind the altar, we had a risen Christ—holding his cross in one hand and making a sign of peace with the other. If I had to sum it up, The Story told through the Franciscan lens was Christ is risen. We shall too. Alleluia. The message didn’t negate the existence of suffering or diminish the importance of morality or justice, but it did put them in context with the mercy, forgiveness, love, and ultimate triumph of God and goodness.

In that Franciscan parish, I sensed the domes of meaning nested together. I was God’s beloved (My Story), and I was part of a beloved tradition and church (Our Story), but in the spirit of St. Francis, that love wasn’t exclusive. It belonged to everyone and everything (Other Stories). While that last theme was underdeveloped, I believed from my earliest days that there was no one, no thing, and no where that God wasn’t actively “in love” and seeking to bring new life. To this day, it remains the truest story I know.

It’s as if, at each juncture of my life, each turning point and challenge, the Universe seems to be asking me, Do you think this can be excluded? or I seem to be asking God, Do you love even this? and Can you help me to love this too?

There are so many ways that we get trapped in thinking that there is a perfect story or that the way our family, our religion, or our nation tells Our Story is, in fact, The Story. While this might comfort us or keep us in line for a while, it limits our imagination, our potential, and even more insidiously, it limits our ability to love ourselves and others as God loves us. In fact, I have learned over and over throughout my life that Other Stories—those that are shared with us or when we have felt “othered” ourselves—offer us the greatest opportunity for growth and transformation.

When I was nineteen, I got pregnant by a man I hardly knew and would not marry. Although my upbringing was progressive in many ways, every story I had heard growing up from family, church, and culture communicated quite clearly that I was “damaged goods,” unworthy and possibly even unlovable. I had two choices—abortion or adoption. While the former offered me some immediate relief and protection, I chose the latter, trusting that it had a greater chance of bringing “new life” in a literal and figurative way. I wanted to love my child as best as I could, and I believed that meant letting her go to be raised in a two-parent home with everything I wanted for her and could not give her myself. Beyond that, whether my parents’ love for me would be diminished in some permanent way, or whether I would ever be loved by anyone else, I trusted that God loved me and that I could still love myself. I believed that this “other story,” told in faith and love, belonged to The Story.

Although I moved away to “protect” my and my family’s reputations, I met my husband in that new town when I was seven months pregnant. The story I wanted to hide became the love story of my life. He was there when I went into labor and when I signed the adoption papers forty-eight hours later. Along with my parents and siblings, he was there for the weeks and months of overwhelming grief, trusting that I did the right thing while also healing from it. He has been there every day since and we have raised three children of our own who are young adults now. The daughter I gave up for adoption turns thirty this fall, and I feel privileged to be a part of her story, though it is not mine to tell.

For a while after my daughter’s adoption, I felt some frustration toward my parents and the church for the story they told me about a woman’s value, particularly as it related to her sexuality, but by the time I had teenagers of my own, I had fallen into the same trap. While I had jettisoned certain stories, I was guilty of repeating other wellworn tropes of church and culture that were in many ways just as damaging. As Richard Rohr often says, I had confused the container with the contents.

I wanted my children to find their True Selves, health, happiness, and an open-hearted love for themselves, others, and the world. What I communicated to them was a prescribed set of expectations that I thought would get them those things, which included church attendance, serious academics, athletics, work, and appropriate friendships. It worked well enough when they were young, but by the time they became teenagers it was costing all of us something precious—authentic and open relationships. Even with the best of intentions and my own experience of loss, I had succumbed to the overwhelming pressure to let Our Story stand in for The Story.

With the help of a transformative book, The Conscious Parent, and a good therapist, I set about trying to make it right by making space for our children’s individual stories to flourish. I started listening instead of suggesting, affirming instead of critiquing, trusting instead of hovering, hugging instead of pushing, being instead of doing. It was a contemplative practice all day, every day to release what I thought I knew and to trust that Love would do the rest.

Like most contemplative practices, it felt simultaneously like doing nothing and like the hardest thing in the world to “be still and know”1 I was not in control. And like any consistent contemplative practice, it eventually gave birth to greater compassion for everyone, including myself. In the words of Thomas Merton (1915–1968), “The beginning of this love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.”2 I had loved my children to the best of my ability, which is to say, not nearly enough. I surrendered my desire to perfect their stories, and I came to know on a deeper level that each and every story is lovingly held in The Story. Everyone participates in the cosmic pattern of life, death, and resurrection; it is simply my privilege to witness the journey and to mirror the beauty of their story back to them. The listening practice that began at my kitchen table turned out to be the training ground for my future work as a spiritual director.

There is one more story I’d like to tell. Our oldest daughter came out when she was sixteen years old. I’d like to think she wasn’t afraid of how we would react, but I don’t think that is entirely true. While we had been attending a welcoming church for a few years already, I cringed at how many sermons she had heard growing up that railed against gay marriage and promoted homophobia. I wept when I thought of any insensitive or ignorant comments we might have made. We immediately affirmed her in the fullness of her identity, and she has rewarded us over the last eight years by trusting us with more of her story. Even more significantly, she’s invited her friends to our home to share their lives and stories with us.

Sadly, some of the Other Stories that have been largely excluded by Christian churches, including much of the Roman Catholic Church, are those of the LGBTQIA+ community. Many of our daughter’s friends have been rejected by their family and friends. Churches that once welcomed them and called them beloved children of God told them in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that The Story no longer includes them. This is especially true for her trans and nonbinary friends whom I have been privileged to know. My heart breaks when their new names and pronouns are ignored by those who are supposed to love them the most. While I can understand the need to grieve who we thought our children were (which is true of any child—straight, gay, or trans), I cannot understand the wholesale rejection of who our children have discovered themselves to be. This is part of their story, so, as a family, it is part of Our Story, and it is certainly part of the evolving Story God is telling in and through creation. Ultimately, the cross reveals that love is the only story that matters, so I love their stories.

Paula D’Arcy has a succinct line often shared by Richard Rohr: “God comes to us disguised as our lives.” After twenty-plus years of Catholic education and a lifetime of seeking, that line pretty much sums up my operative theology. If it is in my life, then I know that God is speaking to me through it. I may feel blessed and nourished by it; I may find it confusing, challenging, and even downright unpleasant sometimes; but trusting in the Cosmic Egg leads me to greater wisdom and a more Christ-like love for the world.

Order your copy of ONEING: The Cosmic Egg in print or downloadable PDF.

Learning to See Beyond the Normative

By Leslye Colvin | ONEING Vol. 9 No. 2 | The Cosmic Egg

Returning to one’s childhood home as a mature adult can be a special time to ponder the cycles or stories of evolution in one’s life. The dynamics of remembering our earliest relationships and revisiting significant places may reveal answers to questions never asked. These are not necessarily articulated questions, but may be understandings arising from a deeper or expanded perspective. In a word, it can be lifegiving.

I moved home to be the caregiver for my then-eighty-two-year old mother in October 2015. At the time of this writing, she is receiving palliative care for late-stage dementia.

The small site on the map marking my birthplace is quite ordinary. Ozark is one of a zillion small towns across the globe. Yet, the location is personal, as it witnessed the birth of myself, my siblings, my parents, and two of my grandparents. It is the town from which my parents moved when they married. It is also the town where a biracial great-great-grandfather settled and changed his last name from “Lee” to “Boykin” because of a death threat.

The Certificate of Live Birth issued by the State of Alabama identified me as “colored” and “girl.” No newborn could know how these normative labels would be used to identify those options to which a person may or may not aspire. They were intended to consign the designated as powerless or inferior, to limit ways of thinking, of being. The two words reveal more about the constructed system that employs them than it does about the infant who simply wants to be fed when hungry, changed when wet, comforted when distraught, and always loved.

I entered the world, in a sense, as an extension of the lives of others. Looking back across six decades, I understand that circumstances impacting my existence were beyond my control and awareness. It is as though the multifaceted layers of humanity, time, and space converged to move me from stardust to the one known as Leslye Alise Colvin.

My journey has never been linear, nor was it intended to be. While, as children, our developing minds learn to move from A to B to C, hopefully our first teacher—our lived experience—teaches us differently. The process is enhanced as we learn to apply discernment and critical thinking skills to our lived experiences and how we navigate them. We come to know that the dominant narrative is not the only one, and we have the capacity to free ourselves from predictable and binary patterns.

Through my early years, a significant portion of my life unfolded in the extreme southeastern corner of Alabama, the land of the Muscogee. In the midst of extended family, it was commonplace for elders to share stories of their life, and to speak of ancestors whom I did not remember or never knew. Through this process, our humanity and belonging were affirmed through conversations revealing how normative practices were established to deny both.

Through summer drives to Ohio, I knew that, as a child, my mother had moved there from Alabama with her maternal family. It would be years before I understood their move to be part of the Great Migration, a massive movement of African Americans from the south to the north. The impetus was a hunger to experience a truer sense of freedom during the first half of the last century. Unfortunately, in this new region, they would find white supremacy to be different, but still ever-present. It was here that as children my siblings and I were first called “nigger,” as shouted by a boy in a white body while he was riding by my aunt’s house on a bicycle.

From the family unit, my identity expanded to understand the role of faith, community, region, and nation. My parents depended on several sources to stay abreast of current affairs. They read the local newspaper and Ebony magazine and watched morning and evening national news broadcasts to keep informed. I observed my extended family engaging in the same practices. I remember thinking as a child that it was a part of being a grownup. Less than 100 miles north of my home, Rosa Parks had chosen to keep her seat on a public bus. In doing so, she violated unjust yet normative practices and laws. This single act was the tipping point for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Current events did not unfold exclusively in distant places, but in our lives. My siblings and I attended, and my parents taught in, racially segregated schools that were deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court before my birth. Medical examinations required our using the building’s side door to enter a small, windowless waiting room, through which we accessed the single exam room reserved for us. Even so, in the safety of our home, we celebrated the struggle for Civil Rights and recited the mantra, “I’m Black and I’m proud.”

Some decisions made for or by us provide opportunities to expand our understandings. Christianity has been the faith tradition of my family for generations, a belief system supportive of a relationship with the Divine. The humble birth of a Jewish infant to a family living under oppression and his execution by the state were parallel to the challenges in this world for African Americans.

As descendants of kidnapped Africans who survived the Transatlantic Slave Trade, members of the Black Church feel a strong connection to the biblical narrative of the Hebrew people, who had themselves been enslaved in a foreign land. Their experience of God using Moses to guide them to freedom was a beacon of assurance that God would liberate Blacks as well.

This awareness was mine when three generations of my family entered the Roman Catholic Church in a region where Catholics were a small minority among Christians identifying as Protestant. My Oneing 58 paternal aunt and grandparents did so in Ozark a short time before my immediate family did in our hometown. With only one parish in a racially segregated community, the two priests openly welcomed us. The parishioners in white bodies included those who embraced us and those who were challenged by the Spirit’s invitation to us to become Catholic. Our mere presence and involvement in the life of the parish was an affront to the normative, as was Jesus’ embrace of the Samaritan woman.

As a child, it was surprising for me to see that some family members and friends also found it problematic that we would join a “white” church. While we belonged to a parish in which most parishioners were in white bodies, I did not think of it as a white church. In my young mind, it was simply a Catholic parish and, as such, part of the universal church. It was my church.

It was affirming for me to see annual televised news reports from the Vatican as the Pope celebrated Christmas Midnight Mass and the Easter Vigil. Among the throngs of people gathered, the universality of the Church was apparent, even on a black-and-white television, as I saw scores of people who looked like my family, unlike the parish of my hometown. There was something significant in these images, beyond what I was able to express. My Church was intended to be inclusive, thereby transcending the flawed racial construct that dominated our society.

Dwelling in a racially segregated environment constantly provides opportunities to question racism for those willing to see what is happening beyond the normative. For generations, my family has appreciated education as a way to improve the odds of advancement, regardless of racist obstacles, and a way to serve the community. This was more apparent when schools were segregated racially. What was gained through education—formal or informal—could never be taken from anyone.

As a high school student, I made my first retreat when the Office of Youth Ministry for the Archdiocese of Mobile introduced Search for Christian Maturity. The three-day retreat brought together teens from across the southern part of the state to Montgomery Catholic High School. The racially diverse event was a pivotal moment for me, as I first experienced a spiritual high. This gathering allowed me to engage with other African American Catholic teens for the first time.

It was this desire to be with others like myself that led me to enroll at Xavier University of Louisiana. Founded by Saint Katharine Drexel (1858–1955), Xavier is the only historically Black Roman Catholic college or university in the Western hemisphere. For the first time in my life, I lived in an environment that never questioned my faith.

Although I had wanted a Black Catholic environment as an undergraduate, there was no such consideration when planning for graduate school. After receiving the offer of an assistantship from the Office of Minority Graduate Student Recruitment at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I was bound for New England. During my two years of study, I resided in a dormitory for students who identified as graduate and/or international. With more than 60 percent of the residents being from other countries, this proved to be one of the most enriching experiences of my life as I was immersed in a rich environment of diverse cultures, faiths, foods, and languages. What better way is there to learn from others than living together?

For the first time in my life, I developed friendships with members of the global community and the world’s other great faith traditions. In meeting Catholics from other countries, I began to see in new ways how faith and culture influence one another beyond my personal experiences. The richness of this period offered new ways of thinking. One of the first surprises was students from other nations who questioned whether I was really from Alabama. My assumption was that I did not present the same limited stereotypes of Black women from the South as portrayed in American media.

Decades later, I remember the feeling of shifting my thinking. A woman from Taiwan was preparing a meal for a special cultural day. She was criticized by a citizen of the US for eating bacon that had been boiled as part of her recipe. Her quick response was to question the practice of placing a headless turkey on a holiday dinner table. How revealing was it that I had never considered the featured item on the Thanksgiving menu as a headless turkey? It is not as appealing as my father’s smoked turkey.

With friends who were Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh, it was commonplace to offer prayers across religious boundaries. It was during this period that my understanding of the Christian God began to expand to God, the Divine Mystery. It was a surprise for me that my more expansive perspective of the Divine enriched my Catholic faith in ways I can still not verbalize. Who am I to consider limiting or denying the enlivened expression of the Divine Mystery?

It was during my time in Massachusetts that I learned about parishes with ethnic identities. It was surprising to learn of cities that were home to an Irish parish, an Italian parish, a Polish parish, and a French-Canadian parish. This was new to me. While the ethnic identities were not necessarily accurate descriptors of the current membership, the labels of origin remained. I could never image such practices in Alabama, where the simple dualism of white supremacy reigned. In southern cities, African Americans who were denied full participation in parishes because of white supremacy established their own faith communities.

Upon my move home, I learned that Fr. Patrick Maher (1927– 2017), the priest who had accompanied my aunt and grandparents into the Catholic church in Ozark, was in retirement in my hometown parish. From our conversations, I learned that he had been ordained in Ireland in 1954 to serve in what was then the Diocese of Mobile. His first assignment was at St. Jude’s, the parish and school that served the African American community in Montgomery. In his own words, he said it was through this assignment that he first came to know and love Black people and that he would have been a very different priest without this lived experience. This was the only assignment in which he cried when it ended.

Fr. Maher arrived in Montgomery one year before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) began serving as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. When I asked about his support of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Fr. Maher said that he had provided transportation for those boycotting the unjust system, but he wished he had done more. My regret is not having invited him to share more.

My body experienced a visceral response to the continuing violence known as white-body supremacy upon the 2020 murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others. It led me to ask, “Am I next?” I had long forgotten the sensation, the angst, but clearly my body remembered it from my childhood during the challenges of the Civil Rights Movement. The enduring intergenerational trauma that began with my ancestors on the African continent and now resides within my body compels me to do more now, while breath is in my body.

In the southern US, public affirmations of faith by Christians are commonplace and considered virtuous. From my perspective, they are interwoven with the illusion of southern hospitality. People from other parts of the country quickly notice how easily southerners make eye contact and speak to passersby. “Have a good day,” rolls off our tongues as effortlessly as our southern accents. We can easily have polite conversations about blue skies, the need for rain, the intense heat, the high humidity, and college football.

Being from a rural part of the country, I recognize the value of manure as fertilizer. However, once it becomes rancid, it is of no value. Southern hospitality is a form of snow-covered, rancid manure. It is not how it appears. If it were genuine for the majority of those living in the region, our history and present would be models for the study of human dignity. The racial disparities revealing the enshrinement of white supremacy would be nonexistent.

A few years ago, I was interviewed by a journalist for Vatican Radio. A member of the African diaspora, she commented that Alabama was known as a place where Black people were famous for fighting against oppression. I was shocked as a sense of pride swept over me. Her words were true. How had I not recognized this truth?

Even in societies identifying as Christian, the heart of the Gospel of the Universal Christ is not normative. It always beats in response to Jesus’ reading from Torah (Isaiah 61:1): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”

Order your copy of ONEING: The Cosmic Egg in print or downloadable PDF.

A Book Recommendation:
Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village

By Lee Staman | ONEING Vol. 9 No. 2 | The Cosmic Egg

In the Spring 2021 edition of Oneing, I had the privilege of reviewing Resmaa Menakem’s powerful book on bodies and racialized trauma, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies. It seems fitting that Barbara Holmes’ latest book, Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village, looks beyond the individual and into the communities that make up our lives, specifically the communal trauma we experience and the subsequent response.

Crisis Contemplation begins with the thing that disrupts, the event that upends lives and communities. Holmes identifies three components: “The event is usually unexpected, the person or community is unprepared, and there is nothing that anyone could do to stop it from happening.”1 The chapter on crisis explores a variety of afflictions that can affect communities, from the natural to the systemic. Although this recurring list can leave us “gulping the darkness,”2 she has a realistic, clear-eyed hope that sees a possible rebirth of sorts through the crisis. Holmes does well to describe this unsettling and dismantling of “control and agency” that then opens a space for what she terms crisis contemplation: “This space that I name contemplative is a place of breaking, relinquishment, and waiting. This is not occurring in peaceful repose on our meditation pillows, not during the shared experiences of village life, but in the midst of a disorienting freefall.”

This refuge during disruption is not how contemplation is typically viewed or practiced. Crisis contemplation is not necessarily a choice that can be made but is frequently made for us because of the circumstances of our lives. For Holmes, contemplation is not a disconnect; it is not a retreat from the world. It is rather, first and foremost, a practice that we do with our bodies. Her examples include those we might often associate with contemplation—prayer and stillness—but she also includes music, writing, dance, social justice activism, and teaching.

Crisis contemplation prepares us and prepares communities by being honest with the trauma that has occurred and acknowledging that little will be the same. From here, we move into the village response and the latter half of the book. I felt that this was Holmes’ most important and powerfully written chapter. There was so much here that another book could easily come out of it. For example, she has a brief examination of the community lament response, a somewhat misunderstood form of prayer that can be incredibly powerful, as she does well to explain. She rightly identifies the sorrow component but reminds us of the sometimes-forgotten justice-oriented structure of the lament. As Walter Brueggemann puts it, “These prayers are real prayers and not merely psychological acts of catharsis whereby the speaker ‘feels better’ by expressing need out loud. These prayers are seriously addressed to God, who is expected to answer.”3 I would have loved to hear more of her thoughts on this but, again, maybe that is for another book.

Her conception of the village is helpful and commonsensical:

Villages are organizational spaces that hold our collective beginnings. They are spaces that we can return to (if only through memory) when we are in need of welcoming and familiar places…. The functions of such a group may include the fostering and maintenance of common needs, interests, and safety. To put it simply, our belonging in these associations includes social and sacred responsibilities to individuals and the group.

Cultures that have a strong collective understanding of what sustains them are often better able to weather trauma: “When there is a crisis, it takes a village to survive.” Songs, movement, sharing a meal, and connection with ancestral history are just some of the glues that bind communities. This type of idea of a village or community is often so foreign to what Wendell Berry calls, “a rootless and placeless monoculture”4 that frequently pervades modern society. The information that modernity tends to prioritize is often antithetical to the “everyday mysticism, and the spiritual vibrancy of multiple realities” that are core to a culture and community with deep, deep roots. As Holmes beautifully puts it,

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

Barbara Holmes could easily have ended Crisis Contemplation with her necessary chapter on healing, but I am thankful she took a future oriented route and concluded with a chapter that offers more possibilities. Her idea of “cosmic rebirthing” and the recovery of “everyday mysticism” grabbed ahold of my imagination and brought it into my body. She describes being

born into a family of shamans, root workers, and healers. These women and men saw beyond the veil and mediated the realms of life after life. They knew how to cure you of what ailed you, spiritually and in the natural world. The mystics that I knew could get a prayer through, birth a baby, and bring you a message or warning from the other side. They were amazing and sometimes a little bit scary

This is honest, in-the-dirt mysticism brought low from saints and thinkers of ages past and into our often careless, hopeful, stubbed-toe existence. I agree with her, it is scary, and I know I am wary of it, but it just brims with hope and possibility.

On the practical side of things—as also found in Menakem’s book—is the inclusion of questions and practices meant to take the reader deeper into what each chapter has covered. Thankfully, these range from the more cerebral and recollective, “Ask yourself the following questions about your shadows: What are you hiding—what fears, weaknesses? What do you want to shed?” to the physical and immersive, “Prepare art supplies of your choosing for intuitive or soul art.” I appreciated the reminder after the chapter on healing (which did not include practices) that it is a process, not a practice. I will add that there are also short but thorough summaries after most chapters that would be valuable in the pedagogical use of this book.

Order your copy of ONEING: The Cosmic Egg in print or downloadable PDF.

the Mendicant, Fall 2021, Vol. 11, No. 4

Click here to read the Fall 2021 Mendicant: Gratitude in a Time of Change: A Thanksgiving Special Edition.

This issue features:

  • “A Song of Gratitude” by Jean-François Godet-Calogeras
  • “Gratitude in a Time of Change” by Yahnia Rodríguez
  • “Build a Financial Love Life” by Doug Lynam
  • “On Gratitude” by Heidi Franklin
  • “‘Choosing Gratitude Until We Are Grateful’” by Ben Keesey

the Mendicant, Summer 2021, Vol. 11, No. 3

Click here to read the Summer 2021 Mendicant. This issue features:

  • “CAC’s Financial Philosophy: How you do anything is how you do everything” by Michael Poffenberger
  • “A Generosity of Spirit” by Barbara C. Otero-López
  • “Extravagant Love and Money” by Rose Feerick
  • “An Alternative Orthodoxy of Money” by Elizabeth Garlow
  • “Pigeon Economics” by Drew Jackson
  • Including a special insert by Ben Keesey, “Effective Generosity: Giving and Receiving Differently!”

What the Pandemic is Saying to the World

By Richard Rohr | ONEING Vol. 9 No. 1 | Trauma

You are one.
You are one global sickness.
There are no higher and lower in this world. There are only servants and served.
All the rest is posturing.

Those whom you have looked to for leadership have empty hands, minds, and hearts.
Do not look for explanations, answers, diversions, heroes or victims.

Never play the victim yourself. Never.
It is always a waste of time— God’s and yours. Just be ready to change places
so servants can also be served, and the served can

also be servants.

Oneing: Trauma is available now in print or as a downloadable PDF.

Sitting on a Hill with My Heart in My Hands

By Sara Palmer | ONEING Vol. 9 No. 1 | Trauma

Some wounds can’t be healed with bandages, only time and effort—
a lifetime of effort to stitch a patchwork heart.

Hide the hurts: Learn from the pictures lining the hallway that cover the holes in the walls.

Behind family vacations and forced picture-day smiles— generations of covering.

Did everyone see?
The what-ifs are always harder than the what-weres.

Happiness reflected in fragmented mirrors. Is this my mouth? Lift the corners,
shaky, shaky.
Is this my voice? Disembodied.

Practice, practice, practice.
There. That’ll do.

But you can’t feel anything in the uncanny valley. Can a patchwork person ever be real?
We can never remember
our dreams.

After he died, I sat on a hill,
rows of pine behind me,
rows of self in front.
I thought, How do I measure existence?

In breaths? In laughter? In moments of clarity? Unconsciously picking at the scabs of old wounds, the blood pumping around scars, smooth and raised, the patchwork seams
slowly fracturing, flowing, flooding.
Life begins at the cracks.

Oneing: Trauma is available now in print or as a downloadable PDF.


By Felicia Murrell | ONEING Vol. 9 No. 1 | Trauma

If you’re silent,
you can hear the forest breathe, the holy hush of the tree’s limb.

“Silence,” said Thomas Merton, “is God’s first language”: the way it soaks into your skin,
surrounds you,
blanketing you like the forest’s breath.

The cadence of the land at rest, the body asleep,
the heart awake.

The deep rhythmic breathing of a mind slowed down, an ocean still,
wet dew clinging to grass blade.

The sacred song trapped in a bird’s breast before its first

the still of night across a desert landscape

wrapped in a bone-aching chill
before the sun rises to scorch its parched earth.

The lusty gaze of onlookers staring at the negro on the

lynching tree, neck snapped,

life ended,
feet dangling, back and forth, back and forth.

Hands up, don’t shoot!
Body thrumming with a heady sense of power. Hands in pocket,
resting pose, knees embedded into a man’s neck.

Silence, please. I. Can’t. Breathe.


Oneing: Trauma is available now in print or as a downloadable PDF.

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