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Center for Action and Contemplation
One Reality
One Reality

Sustained Breath by Breath

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

CAC teacher James Finley shares how he experienced “the oneness of presence that alone is ultimately real” when he was a monk at the Abbey of Gethsemane:  

One day as I walked back and forth in the loft of the barn reading the Psalms, I began to realize that what we tend to think of as the air is actually God. In a subtle, interior way I sensed that I was walking back and forth in the atmospheric, all-encompassing presence of God, who was sustaining me breath by breath….  

The most intimate depth of this awakening moment was a simple awareness that God, who was sustaining my life breath by breath, knew me through and through as mercy within mercy within mercy. I was so overtaken by the intimate depths of my very presence being accessed by the presence of God in this way that I stopped reading the Psalms and simply sat on a bale of straw breathing God as I looked out over the meadow….  

What was even more amazing is that this graced awareness of God and I inhaling and exhaling ourselves into each other continued for the next three days. It’s not that I walked around in some kind of trance. Quite the opposite, actually, in that I felt very present to each thing that I did throughout the day, but present in a pervasive underlying awareness of being in the presence of God, sustaining me breath by breath, knowing me through and through with an infused sense of mercy without end.  

The third day of my God-breathing way of life fell on a Sunday…. As I walked along [a] narrow dirt path with its overarching canopy of trees, I paused and touched a leaf hanging from a low-lying branch. As I touched the leaf, I looked up and saw a single cloud hanging in the clear blue sky and whispered, “It’s one!” The infinite presence of God I was breathing, the cloud in the sky, the leaf I was touching, the earth on which I was standing, and the immediacy of feeling myself blessed and awakened to this all-encompassing presence were, in that instant, realized to be inexplicably and all-pervasively one. Please know that the words I am using in attempting to describe this intimately realized oneness are impoverished in a superficial, wordy kind of way compared to the transcendent oneness beyond words that I was so graced and privileged to experience.  

Moved by the all-encompassing presence in which I was immersed, I walked off the path onto a field, where I sat in the tall grass moved by a strong wind with the blue sky overhead, all of which were experienced as bodying forth the endless diversity of the oneness of presence that alone is ultimately real.  


James Finley, The Healing Path: A Memoir and an Invitation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2023), 66–67, 68–69. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next— Izzy Spitz, Untitled. CAC Staff, Untitled. Izzy Spitz, Untitled. Watercolor. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Our divinely-given identities and experiences color our horizons like a sunrise. 

Story from Our Community:  

I have been on a long journey since I was diagnosed with schizophrenia 20 years ago. Prayer and meditation have become increasingly vital. My spiritual practice began when my religious counselor asked me: “Can you pray?” …. I told her that often when I walked I repeated to myself: “I can’t go on!” In response she asked, “Is that a prayer?” The idea touched me deeply. It was the beginning of my openness and increasing honesty with God. CAC’s Daily Meditations have been a source of encouragement on my journey of healing, along with good therapy, finally finding the right medications, and the support of friends and family. —Judy S. 

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