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Center for Action and Contemplation
A Contemplative Heart
A Contemplative Heart

A Cosmic Dance 

Sunday, August 27, 2023

When he teaches about living a contemplative life, CAC faculty member James Finley often uses an image he learned from Thomas Merton (1915–1968)—the cosmic dance. In Merton’s words:  

If we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear [God’s] call and follow Him in His mysterious cosmic dance…. 

For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not. 

Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance. [1]  

Finley expands on Merton’s metaphor in his book The Contemplative Heart 

Learning to dance the cosmic dance—this is why we are here on this earth, living the life we are living. At least this is one way of expressing the heart’s conviction concerning the need to recognize and move with the divinity manifested in the primordial rhythms of the day-by-day life we are living. [2]  

There’s a dance of being awake and being asleep, of being alone and being with others. It’s a dance of being seen and understood and not seen and understood at all. There’s a dance of being happy and being sad. There’s a dance of feeling so happy you think you’re finally beginning to understand the spiritual dimension, and then this part where you don’t think you ever will. The dance of being confused and having clarity, going back and forth. And if we were to set it to music, we would say that God is the infinity of the primordial rhythms of your life, and God waits for you to find Her there. God is the infinity of the very rhythms of your day, breathing in, breathing out, being awake, being asleep, standing up and sitting down.  

It’s like God forever comes to visit, but we’re rarely at home. We’re probably out buying a spiritual book or something, or getting in an argument with somebody about God. So we’re always trying to step into this rhythm…. How can you learn to move with the God-given Godly nature of the primordial unfolding rhythms of your life and your passage through time from birth to death? [3] 


[1] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1961), 296, 297. 

[2] James Finley, The Contemplative Heart (Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2000), 23. 

[3] Adapted from James Finley, Turning to the Mystics: Virtual Retreat, day 2 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2022). Video and transcript unavailable.  

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Taylor Wilson, Ruah (detail), print. Izzy Spitz, Chemistry of Self 3 (detail), digital oil pastels. Izzy Spitz, momentary peace (detail), digital oil pastels. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Like this simple shape, the contemplative heart is found in the simplicity of everyday life. 

Story from Our Community:  

I am an ordained metaphysical minister and a heart-centered thought leader for recovery from addiction. After 37 years of continuous sobriety, I found myself overwhelmed by disconnectedness and anxiety that had slowly crept into my life in the past few years. James Finley’s writing in the Daily Meditations about depression came to me at just the right moment. It may have saved my life. In the past two days, I have finally been able to admit that I need help. Incredibly, help has arrived. I compassionately encourage others who are struggling to reach out and welcome the support that is available to you. As I begin this new journey, I am walking with the words: “To thine own self Be True.” —Katherine B. 

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