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Center for Action and Contemplation
Sacred Space
Sacred Space

Sacred Refuge

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

CAC faculty member Barbara Holmes teaches about contemplation that arises in collective experiences of crisis. Against all odds, crisis becomes transformative “sacred space.” In her podcast The Cosmic We, Holmes reflects that in such a space:

We let go of our narratives, our plans, and the stories that we tell ourselves about who we are and where we come from. We toss our resumes or CVs to the winds, and we finally realize with regard to our corporate or social climbing that there is no there, there. When a crisis impacts a community, we collectively plunge into a space of stillness and unknowing, a shared interiority of potential and spiritual re-birthing.

After each crisis, questions loom. Will we rise to the occasion and allow the planet to recover from our toxic greed? Or will we continue to destroy our planet, our only home? A crisis forces those caught in its clutches to come to terms with the fact that life as we knew it may never be the same. When the crisis strikes, the response from the village must be a pause. There’s little that we can do, but we can be. We can listen. We can love our neighbors and we can host the Spirit that utters over every dawning day. [1]

Barbara Holmes describes the transformative benefits that can emerge from crisis—if we allow them:

I see crisis contemplation becoming a refuge. When everything around you is beyond your control and you shatter, you find within you a space of solitude, peace, and refuge that allows you to begin to gather yourself again. Howard Thurman talks about an inner island that no one can breach without your permission.

A second benefit is that crisis contemplation becomes a wellspring of discernment in a disordered life space. In other words, there is this moment of shattering where we can do nothing, and we have an opportunity to be still. We are told in Psalm 46:10 to “Be still and know that I am God,” but how many of us allow time or even have the capability to be still? Our nervous systems are such a jangle that sitting still can also be nearly impossible for some of us. When we have no choice but to be still, though, there’s an opportunity to discern what comes next. Many of us operate on instinct and impulse, but there is a way to live where we’re operating out of discernment and where there is a knowing that is beyond our own. [2]

In her book Crisis Contemplation, Barbara Holmes—or “Dr B”—ends with a prayer of gratitude:

For the crises, the disruption of order,
and the plunge into contemplation,
we are grateful.
For the welcoming darkness
and the wounds that bring us
to a place of unknowing,
we thank God!
For the nurture of our many villages
Of belonging, we are grateful.
For healing that comes in unexpected ways,
and the imaginative pathways
of futurism and cosmic rebirth,
thanks be. [4]


[1] Adapted from Barbara Holmes and Donny Bryant, “Crisis,” The Cosmic We, season 4, episode 1 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2023), podcast, MP3 audio.

[2] Holmes and Bryant, “Crisis,” Cosmic We.

[3] Barbara A. Holmes, Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2021), 138.

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Taylor Wilson, Madonna and Messiah (detail), ink, used with permission. Alma Thomas, The Eclipse (detail), 1970, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian. Alma Thomas, Snow Reflections on Pond (detail), 1973, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian. Click here to enlarge image.

Creation is sacred space; the multi-colored spot of paint on canvas echoes the light through a stained-glass window.

Story from Our Community:  

I’m a Franciscan Sister, living in a shared residence. The sister I share my space with is a potter whose studio is a door down from our apartment. One day, she carried over a pottery creation she called “broken earth.” Through one of the pot’s openings, we put a small battery-powered candle. The broken pot has become an engaging presence in our living room. It reminds us that, though made of clay, our planet home and all our fellow bruised and broken creatures bear “sacred wounds.” As the light that shines through the cracks of the pot we reflect on the radiance shining through Jesus and ourselves—wounded and risen. The pot is often the focus of our wordless prayers and meditations. —S. Christina P.

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