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Center for Action and Contemplation
Living Inside God's Great Story
Living Inside God's Great Story

Living Inside God’s Great Story: Weekly Summary

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Living Inside God’s Great Story

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Week Thirty-Five Summary and Practice

Sunday, August 29—Friday, September 3, 2021

I would gather my siblings and neighborhood friends and have them sit on a bench in the backyard. I would hold my penny catechism upside down since I couldn’t read yet, and I would pretend to teach “about Jesus.” I must have been a weird little kid, but I was happy too!

Everyone creates their own definition of perfection that they try to live up to, and then they experience the illusion that they’re either perfectly wonderful or completely inadequate.

Although one could find contemplative nuances in the communal prayers and everyday work of baking biscuits, it is in the legacy of the healers that I found the most overt practices. —Barbara Holmes

The reality of Thomas Merton made God’s unreality impossible to me. That is, his very reality was to me, the presence of God as a transformed person. —James Finley

I had this feeling of being seen. Known. Named. Loved. By a Someone bigger than the sky that expanded above me. It was as if the whole sky were an eye, and all space were a heart, and I was being targeted as a focal point for attention and love. —Brian McLaren

I was also one of the relatively rare few who also had it patterned into me that prayer was listening to God. Not even listening for messages, exactly . . . but just being there, quietly gathered in God’s presence. —Cynthia Bourgeault


Fishing with the Divine

The two, fish and God, go together like fish and water. —Brian McLaren

For two of our CAC faculty, Barbara Holmes and Brian McLaren, fishing is a deeply spiritual practice. Brian shares how fly fishing connects him with the force and source of Life.

There’s something about capturing a fish that feels both primal and holy, especially when I’m not fishing to get dinner, but “for sport” or for “catch and release,” as it’s called. When a fish takes my artificial fly, whether it’s a trout in Yellowstone or a tarpon in the Everglades, I feel that the line could be an electric cord, transferring the animal’s aliveness, its vital energy, its élan, like a current through my arm to my body and my soul.

The truth is that I don’t actually fish just “for sport,” as if fishing were a competition that involved me winning over the fish (or over other fishermen, although sometimes, that element is certainly present). Nor do I fish simply to catch and release. No, I fish for this sense of connection—to know the fish by feeling its power, its resistance, its strength, its aliveness. . . .

The old Scottish novelist (and Canadian Governor General) John Buchan (1875—1940) famously said, “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” [1] For some people, God seems easily attainable, as familiar as a lucky coin in the pocket, as conjurable as steam from a teapot. But for many of us, God is more elusive, and at best, we hope God is there, here, in here, but we can claim no rational certainty. In this way, encountering God is a lot like encountering a cutthroat trout that you can’t see. You can place yourself in a suitable location, prepare yourself, reach out your line, and—wait. And hope. And wait. And hope some more. And wait some more. [2]

A photo of Barbara Holmes fishing off a dock. Barbara Holmes shares: “One of the ways I practice contemplation in my life is through fishing. It’s the place and the space 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.” [3]

We invite you to watch this video where Barbara talks about her love of fishing as a practice of contemplation, connection, and community. 

[1] John Buchan, “Lost Monsters,” in Great Hours in Sport, ed. John Buchan (Thomas Nelson and Sons: 1921), 15.

[2] Brian D. McLaren, The Galápagos Islands: A Spiritual Journey (Fortress Press: 2019), 173, 174.

[3] Barbara A. Holmes, “Introduction,” Our Teachers (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2021), faculty presentation, May 5, 2021, video.

Image credit: Raul Diaz, White Sands New Mexico (detail), 2006, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: The natural grandeur of this photo reveals the creative and mysterious aspects of the Divine. But it doesn’t capture the dryness of the air, the heat of the sand, the sounds, the smells, and the tastes. That requires us to be there, present inside the landscape and story.
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