Crisis Contemplation


What a month it has been. When March started, the world was as normal as it usually is. But now as the month ends tomorrow, what a different world! Much of the world, including where I’m writing, is in lockdown. Not able to go out except for essential items, schedules postponed or cancelled. In our situation, travel and work involving six nations in the next six months all cancelled, with many more Zoom and Skype meetings from home.

We are trying to find a clearing, as this beautiful poem expresses that is with this post.(Thanks Tonya S. for alerting me to it). A clearing to pause, to trust, to wait. A place where we can be changed first, to help in whatever small way to help change the world. Last week in this blog I wrote about three words that start with this clearing to pause: pause, reset and shift. See Pause, Reset, Shift in 2020

There are shifts coming that will change our lives, our nations, our earth. It appears more and more each day that these shifts will not be small, but large and perhaps even overwhelming. As I wrote in my last post, some jobs will sadly not come back, some losses will be permanent. But the seeds of a new world will also be there as well.

As hard as it is for most of us, we need to embrace uncertainty right now. Last night the US President announced an extension of guidelines for ‘social distancing’ for another month until the end of April. This extends the incredible economic hardship for many, but hopefully also will save lives. Other nations like India and South Africa are in the first week of a three week shut down, with increasing hardship for millions. In India, it was reported today that more people are on the move in migration back to villages and towns (often by foot as trains, flights and even many buses are not operating) than any time since the partition of 1947.

Today I read a post by a trusted counselor and writer, Father Richard Rohr, written last week. It includes a section of writing by Dr. Barbara Holmes, another writer I love. I love the emphasis of not only what this crisis is doing to us as individuals, but to our communities and nations. Lots to ponder below:

The curtailing of individual freedom to live, move, and work may be a new experience for some of us—but is familiar to communities who have suffered from oppression for centuries. By necessity, they have developed ways of coping with fear and uncertainty on an individual and communal level. During the CONSPIRE 2018 conference, Living School faculty member Dr. Barbara Holmes shared some of her experience working with the path of descent.

During crisis, individuals put to sleep the light of rationality, and descend during dark nights of the soul. As William Shannon puts it, “We darken and blind the exterior self and awaken to the inner self as we grow closer to God.”

But crisis doesn’t just happen to individuals. . . . It also happens to communities, particularly when a community shatters on the anvil of injustice. Crisis contemplation . . . is [the] point of spiritual and psychic dissolution. Shattering events that create the crisis displace the ordinary until the suffering reaches the point of no return. We are bereft. We are unable to articulate the extent of our suffering or even to reintegrate our fractured meaning structures. And so, the descent begins, and we are in free fall toward the center of our being. . . .

In my book Joy Unspeakable, I use the black community’s experience of slavery as an extreme example of crisis contemplation, a breaking of extraordinary magnitude. When the crisis is communal, communities may be victimized by systems because of immutable traits like race, gender, ethnicity, sexual identity or fluidity, class, political or social differences, real or imagined, and more. When communities are in crisis, first comes the fear. Perhaps you’re Harriet Tubman hiding and trying to make it to Canada with your community, or you’re a person of color today, wondering when the powers that be will decide to put you in the same foil blankets and cages that they’re currently using for Mexican babies.

After the fear comes the cruelty and the oppression along with the wondering, “Where is God?” Here’s the rub: even as a member of an oppressed community, you’re always an individual, but during a crisis of this magnitude, you do not have the luxury of responding as an individual. Suffering [of community in crisis] cannot be absorbed by individuals, no matter how tenuous and invisible the bonds of community are. Individuals cannot respond. You must do it as community, for safety, for comfort, and for survival.

I want to echo her final point here: We cannot face large-scale crises as individuals; we cannot carry the pain of this reality on our own, nor can we only look out for ourselves. The pain is communal and so too must be the response.

As Father Rohr ends this piece, we need to carry this pain of the present reality with others, not just on our own. I have found myself praying prayers of lament for our world in these past days, but conscious that as I pray, I do not pray alone. I pray with the community of others, however visible or invisible to me. I lament but not without hope, and not alone.

These global problems and struggles, but also the new seeds of life sprouting all over, are too big for us, too majestic, too terrible.

Carry them with others.

3 thoughts on “Crisis Contemplation

  1. Hi Steve, I tried to forward this Jo and Cathie and Dalen, but it wouldn’t send. And they don’t seem to have it. I sure think it’s worth sharing. Thank you for remembering me to our dependence on each other and God.


    1. Thanks Sandy! Thanks for trying to forward the post. You could let them know that they can find it at my website,, and once they get there it is easy to see as it is on the list of recent posts.

      Hope you and Steve are well and safe!


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