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Center for Action and Contemplation
Crisis Contemplation
Crisis Contemplation

The Spirit Comes in Crisis

Sunday, June 25, 2023

I’m cracked open now / No longer drifting 
Running past their hate and mine / Tipping past “Come here, gal!”… 
I’m cracked open now / looking for myself,  
Maybe I spilled into the cleft of the rock / Hiding from the slave catching dogs 
Maybe I died trying too hard / To birth myself sane 
I’m cracked, not broken / Still searching for me 
Amid the shards of God’s broken heart. —Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable 

In season four of The Cosmic We podcast, Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes and co-host Rev. Donny Bryant discuss “crisis contemplation.” Holmes believes contemplative experience can emerge in times of collective crisis. 

Donny Bryant: Crisis contemplation begins with what you call the communal, village, or tribal experience of crisis. Many times, we tend to deal with crisis at the individual level. We tend to look at what’s happening to me, what I have lost, what I feel, how this impacts me … or my emotional stability. Experience of crisis at the individual level is critically important, and we don’t want to discount that. But you are inviting us to frame and understand how crisis can be experienced at the communal, tribal, national, and global levels.  

Barbara Holmes: When you’re experiencing crisis as an individual, that’s what St. John of the Cross calls “the dark night of the soul.” You’re wrestling with God. You’re doing what you need to do to handle what’s coming up out of you that you don’t understand. It’s personal. You’re getting a divorce, your child is ill … or you’re just having the catastrophe of everyday life.  

But that’s not the same thing for a group of people. I use three categories to talk about crisis contemplation—the event is without warning; the people upon whom it is inflicted can’t do anything about it. There is no recourse. You’re caught. There is no place to go in the hold of a slave ship. There is nothing to be done when you’re walking from North Carolina as a Native American to Oklahoma. Something else has to arise to keep you going, to enliven your spirit, to help you survive—if survival is in the cards.  

Crisis contemplation is that spirit that emerges when the breaking occurs. We find it in every single culture. The Chinese call this spirit chi (qi), the Egyptians call it Ma’at, and Hindus call it prana. Kuzipa Nalwamba writes of the concept of Mupasi, which is an African description of a spirit that dwells within all of us. [1] It’s individual but also communal…. When you are all suffering, Mupasi is that vital spiritual voice that weaves the lives of all of us into an inseparable bond. It makes reality one whole. It gives kinship to all of us. When you think about it, that means that loving our neighbors is not just a little anecdote or possibility. With the moving of the Spirit, it’s inherent to our being, for where the Spirit abides there’s always unity.  


[1] Kuzipa M. B. Nalwamba, “Mupasi as Cosmic s(S)pirit: The Universe as a Community of Life,” HTS Theological Studies 73, no. 3 (2017): 1–8. 

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

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Izzy Spitz, Untitled, watercolor. CAC Staff, Untitled, watercolor. Izzy Spitz, Field Study 2, oil pastel on canvas. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

When the world swirls around us we go to the sacred center. 

Story from Our Community:  

I’m a staff member for a faith-based organization dedicated to social and racial equity. I took great comfort in Richard Rohr’s meditation on how we cannot get through times of crisis without relying on each other. It reaffirmed my belief that we are all connected to each other through the connection of The Holy One. This insight gives me the strength to continue lifting up my brothers and sisters through the work I do. In the strains of upheaval and chaos of our times, I am grateful for the CAC, a place I can turn to for ancient wisdom and a sense of peace. —Linda G. 

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