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Center for Action and Contemplation
Tending the Fire Within
Tending the Fire Within

A Moment of Divine Fire

Sunday, April 7, 2024

In this video, CAC teacher James Finley reflects upon the theme of “tending the fire withinas a way to build capacity for radical resilience.  

I’m using the word “fire” as a metaphor for certain moments in our life where we’re graced with a heightened sense of communal presence. They have about them the feeling of that-which-never-ends.  

In our day-by-day life, most of the things we’re aware of, we’re aware of them while we’re passing by on our way to something else. But every so often, something catches our eye and gives us reason to pause. For example, we pause to see a tree. We’ve seen many trees before, we’re going to see many more, and it’s just a tree. But there’s a certain moment where we’re called to pause and ponder and be present to the tree. In that pausing, we experience ourselves undergoing a kind of a descent. It’s very subtle—a deeper, more interior dimension of the mystery of our own presence….  

We have the sense that in this deepening communal oneness with the tree, we’re dropping down together into an abyss-like depth that’s welling up and giving itself to us unexplainably as this moment of oneness with the tree. This depth of presence has no name, but we give it a name. In our tradition, it’s God. We experience the generosity of God, welling up and giving the infinity of God away as the mystery of this moment. We are being awakened to the divinity of the tree and ourselves and our communal, shared nothingness without God. There’s a sense of sacredness about this. This is the fire we want to attend to.  

We could make the same observation about every foundational dimension of our life: intimacy with another person, being in the presence of a child, a path of long-suffering patience, a moment of prayer, the quiet hour at day’s end, lying awake at night in the dark. From time to time the divine grants itself with this kind of fire, a quiet luminosity that has great depth and intimacy to it. 

These moments are quite intense sometimes, in the aftermath of which something is never quite the same. But usually it’s not that way at all. Such moments are so subtle that if we aren’t careful, we would miss them. They also tend to be very fleeting. We return to day-by-day life, go off to our next meeting, turn the TV up a little louder, or whatever it is we’re doing. 

But if we’re committed to a contemplative stance, little by little we start to see our day-by-day life from the standpoint of these moments of awakening. We notice that they have about them the feeling of effulgence or fullness or homecoming. In the light of those moments, we get this sense that in the momentum of the day’s demands, we’re skimming over the depths of our own life. We’re suffering from depth deprivation. What’s regrettable is that God’s unexplainable oneness with us is hidden in the depths over which we’re skimming.  

Adapted from James Finley, 2024 Daily Meditations Theme: Radical Resilience: Tending the Fire Within, Center for Action and Contemplation, video, 9:35.  

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Untitled (detail), Washington, 2020, photo, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image. Within our deep and tender inside spaces there is a bright light to tend and care for.

Story from Our Community:  

As I reach my 80th birthday, I have experienced a deepening awakening during my contemplative morning practice. After reading the Daily Meditation each day, I set a timer, light a candle, and turn off all the lights. I rest for a moment with my eyes closed, then very slowly open one of my eyes—just until I see the candle flame moving. Gazing at the candle, I am filled with a deep joy. For me, this is an experience of God’s actual presence, both in the candlelight and in my very heart.
—Mary W. 

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We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

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