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Crisis Contemplation: Barbara A. Holmes Visits Alignment

Mar 2023 18

Contemplative practices open us to hearing, seeing, and knowing the presence of the divine
within us, beyond us, and in the connections we have with one another,
so that grounded and growing, we might have the strength to work for justice in the world around us.

Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Holmes bio picture
Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Holmes. Contemplative. Activist. Writer. Theologian. (Picture courtesy of drbarbaraholmes.com)

Renowned spiritual teacher and writer, Barbara A. Holmes, led the most recent session of Alignment: Interfaith Contemplative Practices. Her work is focused on African American spirituality and mysticism. Her pivotal work Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village advances the understanding that contemplative practice is not only healing at the individual level, but in the face of crises that affect communities. “Natural disaster, pandemics, violent oppression, systemic dehumanization, othering, and microaggressions that destroy health and wellbeing.” She breaks open the idea of contemplation  – inviting joy and movement into the practices that bring wellbeing and wholeness and connection where there is brokenness. Her work is deeply in tune with the work of Alignment in which we offer contemplative practices with the intention of creating connection. Through and in that connection we find our understanding of the divine.

Contemplation Does Not Have to Be Done Alone

Perhaps the most common understanding of the contemplative life is one of solitude and silence.
We think of the desert fathers leading lives of ascetic monasticism, as hermits, the bleak desert terrain becoming one in our mind with contemplation. We picture the Buddhist practice of stillness and silence, at times over the period of days. A mind focused on a koan, a question, a prayer, a seeking. Connecting with divine presence through an inward turning. Dr. Holmes, however, introduces crisis contemplation as the opening of a portal to the inner sanctum of the community that has been shattered by crisis. The response to an event or series of events that shifts the community understanding of reality. It is a falling into the center of both personal and collective being. Both. The individual as part of a community. The healing practice exists in the sacred space of community.

Contemplative Stillness

It is here that my persistent practice as a Latin teacher of picking apart words enters. Contemplation. The state of being together with (con) the sacred space (templum). Contemplation involves creating sacred space, space set apart. It includes the physical space set apart, the temporal space, time set apart, and the ritual, the action set apart from our ordinary space. And here is where stillness enters. In order to find that contemplative space, to set it apart, we still all else. We still the ordinary. We set is aside. And yes, that might include physical stillness, but let us not get confused that contemplative practice must be done with our bodies still. Dr. Holmes describes the wounded village that heals in the contemplative ritual of song, and movement, and moaning, and dancing, and eating. Her beautiful expression is that “Stillness is a state of wholeness, an antidote to the fragmentation of BIPOC people that comes with marginalization.”

Contemplation in Community

Alignment: Interfaith Contemplative Practices hosts sessions of contemplative practices online.
The intention is to create a community of understanding among people who seek spiritual meaning in their lives by providing experiences for contemplative spiritual practices from different traditions. Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Baha’i, Native American are among the traditions represented – both in practices and in participants. Practices range from chanted sessions of prayer to expressive reflection through art. Each Sunday evening people gather from their own spaces around the globe seeking connection. Connection to the divine that is within us, beyond us, and beside us. Some people come online every week, and some only attend when it is a practice that is of particular interest. Some people keep their cameras on and we recognize faces, and some never show themselves on camera. Some add comments to the chat in response to reflective prompts, and some do not ever interact. Nevertheless, they are there in community. Alignment exists because the contemplative life does not have to be the solitary life.

Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village by Barbara A. Holmes book cover with hands raised
Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village by Barbara A. Holmes. A book infused with her poetry and vision.

Barbara A. Holmes, Spiritual Leader

Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Holmes is President Emerita of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities and Professor Emerita of Ethics and African American Religious Studies at that Memphis Theological Seminary. She is currently a core faculty member with The Center for Action and Contemplation founded by Fr. Richard Rohr. She says, “My life is committed to the struggle for justice, the healing of the human spirit, and the art of relevant and radical creativity.” We are honored to have her share her work with Alignment and to center our understanding of contemplation in community. We hope you will join us for a thirty minute session of Alignment, to set aside time for yourself but also to support a community of those from a variety of different traditions and those who have no particular tradition. We feel that by sharing this sacred time, we can only create stronger communities which value the wellness of all beings.

Register for any of the free online sessions of Alignment at https://interfaithalignment.org/sessions


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