Wisdom beyond the Veil — Center for Action and Contemplation

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See the schedule and event session details for the final CONSPIRE conference (Sep. 24 – 26)

Wisdom beyond the Veil

Communion of Saints

Wisdom beyond the Veil
Tuesday, March 9, 2021

By passing along the narrow road they widened it, and while they went along, trampling on the rough ways, they went ahead of us. —Augustine of Hippo, Sermon for the feast of Saint Quadratus

I can’t imagine that God expects all human beings to start from zero and to reinvent the wheel of life in their own small lifetimes. We must build on the common “communion of saints” throughout the ages. This is the inherited fruit and gift that is sometimes called the “wisdom tradition.” (In the Catholic Church, we refer to it as the Big Tradition and it is held in the same esteem as Holy Scripture.) It is not always inherited simply by belonging to one group or religion. It largely depends on how informed, mature, and experienced our particular teachers are. CAC faculty member Barbara Holmes honors the wisdom she has been gifted by the teachers in her own faith and culture:

I know that African foremothers and forefathers would have referred to the assembled leaders [in my book Liberation and the Cosmos] as ancestors and that the place would be understood to be “beyond the veil.” Although some folks use a very narrow definition of the word ancestor, I use the word as an indicator of legacy and interconnections. The ancestors are elders who pour their lives into the community as a libation of love and commitment. They live and die well, and when they transition, they do so in full connection with an engaged community.

Thereafter, they dwell in the spaces carved out by our spiritual and cultural expectations. They may be in another life dimension, but they connect with us in dreams, in memories, and in stories. . . .

The stories reveal a promise that the community will continue beyond the breath of one individual and that all transitions will be well attended by relatives from the other side. This is a cosmology of connection that values but also transcends cultural contexts; life is considered to be a continuum of transitions, ruptures, and returns. Those who admit that the “ordinary” is punctuated by the ineffable cherish those indescribable and nonrational events as an enigmatic but welcome gift. The fact that I grew up in a family that included the presumptions of transcendence and the unseen in our everyday lives has affected my journey in powerful ways. . .

The end result is that I know that I am not alone. I am connected to the past and the future by the ligatures of well-lived lives, the mysteries of “beyondness,” and the memories and narratives that lovingly bind and support me. While I hope that when I die, one of the elders in my family who have crossed over to the realm of the ancestors will be at my bedside, I certainly did not expect contact prior to that time. And yet here I am, [in my work] hearing from liberation leaders I have never personally met. They are also my elders as certainly as if they occupied a branch of my family tree. They have bequeathed to all of us a legacy of resolve, resistance, and spiritual expansiveness.

Barbara A. Holmes, Liberation and the Cosmos: Conversations with the Elders (Fortress Press: 2008), 3.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Yes, And . . . : Daily Meditations (Franciscan Media: 2019), 26.

Story from Our Community:
I’d always struggled with a sense that there was something so deeply unworthy about me that even God had rejected me. Then my first and only daughter died during birth. It was then that reality began to dawn on me: If I, a mere human, could see this child as infinitely precious and irreplaceable, how much more was I, and every human being, in the eyes of God! For the first time I felt this love, not only for myself, but also shining on every person. —Wanda W.

Image credit: U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. ca. 1953-ca. 1978, Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. Young men and women sitting in front of the Lincoln Memorial, (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: What do Chuck Taylors and office dress shoes, high heels and sandals have in common? They shod the feet of our community of saints. The intergenerational wisdom of both the young ones and elders blesses us all.
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