Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation

Holy Bewilderment

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Author Debie Thomas finds a worthy model of “holy bewilderment” in the faith of Mary, revealed at the Annunciation (Luke 1:26–38):

The second line I appreciate in the Annunciation story describes Mary’s confusion: “But she was much perplexed.”. . .

It is not that the Annunciation leads her out of doubt and into faith; it is that her encounter with the angel leads her out of certainty and into holy bewilderment. Out of familiar spiritual territory and into a lifetime of pondering, wondering, questioning, and wrestling. She was much perplexed. Or, as she puts it to Gabriel: “How can this be?”

Like Mary, I was raised with a fairly precise and comprehensive picture of who God is and how God operates in the world. If anyone had asked me to describe God when I was fifteen, twenty, or thirty years old, I would have rattled off a list of divine attributes as readily as a kindergartner recites the alphabet: “God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. God is Three and God is One. God is holy, perfect, loving, righteous, merciful, just, and sovereign.”. . .

What an interesting shock reality has been. Who knew that my life with God would actually be one long goodbye? That to know God is to unknow God?  To shed my neat conceptions of the divine like so many old snakeskins and emerge into the world bare, vulnerable, and new, again and again?

This, of course, is what Mary has to do in the aftermath of Gabriel’s announcement. She has to consent to evolve. To wonder. To stretch. She has to learn that faith and doubt are not opposites—that beyond all the easy platitudes and pieties of religion, we serve a God who dwells in mystery. If we agree to embark on a journey with this God, we will face periods of bewilderment.

But this frightens us, so we compartmentalize our spiritual lives, trying to hold our relationships with God at a sanitized remove from our actual circumstances. We don’t realize that such efforts leave us with a faith that’s rigid, inflexible, and stale. In his wise and beautiful memoir, My Bright Abyss, poet Christian Wiman writes,

Life is not an error, even when it is. That is to say, whatever faith you emerge with at the end of your life is going to be not simply affected by that life but intimately dependent upon it, for faith in God is, in the deepest sense, faith in life—which means that even the staunchest life of faith is a life of great change. It follows that if you believe at fifty what you believed at fifteen, then you have not lived—or have denied the reality of your life. [1]

In other words, it’s when our inherited beliefs collide with the messy circumstances of our lives that we go from a two-dimensional faith to one that is vibrant and textured.


[1] Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), 7.

Debie Thomas, Into the Mess and Other Jesus Stories: Reflections on the Life of Christ (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2022), 5–6. 

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 09 (detail), United States, photograph, used with permission. Tory Hallenburg, Walking on Water (detail), 2018, United States, photograph, Unsplash. Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 10 (detail), 2022, United States, photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

Image inspiration: Venturing beyond the monochrome of certainty, we walk into water and on ground we cannot always see. Our ripples spread beyond ourselves into this movement of faith.

Story from Our Community:

Last year when my faith was in tatters, a friend sent me the link to the CAC Daily Meditations after a chance meeting. I had just started receiving help for a stressful and frightening family situation. It was extraordinary how the Daily Meditations complemented my inner work over the course of 12 months. Embracing a non-dual way of thinking has helped me realize that I am fully known and fully loved—and it has become a bedrock for building a new and healthier way of being. This afternoon, I had a beautiful, real, and free conversation with my daughter who was almost estranged from me 18 months ago. My heart is full of gratitude. —Jackie B.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

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.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

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

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.