Father Thomas Keating’s parting wisdom for a divided church and country

„On Oct. 26, one of the great spiritual leaders of our time, Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., died at the age of 95 at St. Joseph’s Monastery in Spencer, Mass. Though he was known only to a relatively small circle during his life, his loss is being felt by thousands who like me, met him, studied his thinking and counted him as a gentle guide to our most personal challenges and a soaring guide to the aspirations of the spiritual life. But beyond the impact on those of us who knew and loved him, he left us a powerful but unlikely solution to our current national crisis: centering prayer.

Father Keating was a member of one of the most austere and rigorous Christian religious communities—the Cistercians—and the strictest version of that community, known as the Trappists. Trappists are men and women monks like many others: They dedicate their lives to vigorous physical work, observe a strict schedule of chanting the Psalms, usually six times per day, live mostly in silence apart from others, and believe their vocation to be one that leads to deeper love of God and healing in the world. Father Keating entered the monastery at 21.

“I joined the Trappists,” he once told me, “because they were the most demanding, and that’s what I wanted.”

Father Keating left us a powerful but unlikely solution to our current national crisis: centering prayer.

But it was not the strict order of the monastery that captured Father Keating’s passion. Instead, it was the goal of all those disciplines and practices: to lead human beings to experience the unconditional “love beyond love” that is God’s presence within us and to have that love lead us “to respect and befriend and love one another.”

“Holiness,” he said at a retreat, “does not consist in any practice but in a disposition of heart…trusting to audacity in [God’s]…unconditional love. Only that can bring…[us] into full emotional or spiritual maturity.”

Father Keating and his fellow monks decided to try to teach an ancient way of developing a loving disposition of the heart. It was a practice that was deeply rooted in the history of Christianity and of many other religions, but to many believers it was new and original. They called it “centering prayer” and suggested that it was not just for monks; it was for everyone.

“Holiness,” Father Keating said, “does not consist in any practice but in a disposition of heart.”

Coming as he did from the Christian tradition, Father Keating drew on the overlooked insights of great spiritual masters of that tradition—the consciousness genius of the anonymous 14th-century author of The Cloud of Unknowing, the remarkable simplicity of the spiritual path of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and the transcendent unifying vision of the 13th-century monk Meister Eckhart, to name a few.

But because he saw through the false certainty that can warp all religions, he believed this path to God was open to Buddhists, Jews, other Christians and people of all religions or none at all—to anyone who sought the source and experience of unconditional love.

“People are unhappy with authority these days, and I understand why. But they shouldn’t be unhappy with direct and intuitive practices of direct relationship with God.”

“Everyone is religious just by coming into being,” he said. “We already are most of what we want to be, but it’s unconscious to us and our reason doesn’t function enough to let us see it…. So we learn listening, waiting and trusting, and these are the ways of contemplation that allow us to see.”

Centering prayer has grown dramatically since Father Keating and his fellow Trappists first taught it in the late 1970s. Today, there are several aligned organizations dedicated to the practice and hundreds of thousands of individual practitioners, as well as thousands of small community-based groups. Father Keating saw that centering prayer could help fill a void left when traditional religions focused too much on ideas and authority structures, especially when those ideas and authorities promote violence or division.

“People are unhappy with authority these days,” he said to me just a few months before his death, “and I understand why. But they shouldn’t be unhappy with direct and intuitive practices of direct relationship with God.”

If there is one thing our country needs right now, it is what Father Keating tried to teach: a disposition of the heart that leads us to love and respect one another. And even more, we need the calm and presence and silence that will help us reduce the toxicity in our public discourse and become present to the gentleness and goodness within each of us.

“Focus on trust. When you trust that we are all part of something beautiful beyond our wildest imagination, you will find healing.”

Spaciousness

„The world desperately needs people, free of cultural illusions, who are undertaking a dedicated exploration of true reality, not just to know the material nature of things, but also to know the very Source of everything that exists.

An unfolding contemplative practice eventually becomes total receptivity. In that receptivity, one is aware of a silence that is becoming an irresistible attraction. Silence leads to stillness; stillness leads to surrender.

While this doesn’t happen every time we sit down to pray, interior silence gradually opens to an inner spaciousness that is alive. In this context, if we speak of emptiness, we are not speaking of just emptiness, but of emptiness that is beginning to be filled with a Presence. Perhaps we could say that contemplation occurs when interior silence morphs into Presence. 

This Presence, once established in our inmost being, might be called spaciousness. There is nothing in it except a certain vibrancy and aliveness. You’re awake. But awake to what, you don’t know. You are awake to something that you can’t describe and which is absolutely marvelous, totally generous, and which manifests itself with increasing tenderness, sweetness, and intimacy.”

-Thomas Keating, „From the Mind to the Heart,” 2017

Father Thomas’ nephew read this at the memorial service

Visite dans un cimetière à la campagne*

 

IMG_5708

Par Henri Nouwen

„Chaque fois que je vais visiter mon père à Geysteren, je me rends à ce petit cimetière. Près de l’entrée, sur le côté gauche, se trouve la tombe de maman, avec une croix de bois toute simple, portant son nom et les dates de sa naissance et de sa mort, peints en blanc. Des plantes vivaces entourent l’endroit où repose son corps, et, au centre, poussent des violettes. Quand je me tiens devant cette tombe si dépouillée, les yeux à la croix, à écouter la brise chanter dans le feuillage des peupliers, je sais que je ne suis pas seul.

Maman est là, et elle me parle. Aucune voix mystérieuse ne se fait entendre, mais elle est là avec moi, comme toujours. Et cela en dépit des quatorze années écoulées depuis son départ. Je le sais, puisque j’en ai une connaissance intime. Bercé par le calme de ce beau cimetière où il m’est si facile de me recueillir en solitude, j’entends maman me parler : elle me dit que je dois rester fidèle à mon propre voyage, et qu’il ne faut pas avoir peur face à la perspective de la rejoindre un jour dans la mort.

 Comme je me tiens là, devant la tombe de ma mère, les cercles de défunts qui m’entourent s’élargit. Je ne suis pas seulement au milieu des villageois de Geysteren qui ont ici leur sépulture, mais aussi parmi des gens de ma famille et des amis. Le cercle de ceux dont les actes et les paroles ont façonné ma vie et ont modelé mes pensées est encore plus large. Au-delà, il y a les innombrables cercles d’hommes et de femmes dont je ne connais pas les noms : tout ce que je sais, c’est qu’ils ont fait le même voyage que je fais, qu’ils ont connu, chacun à sa façon, les peines et les joies de la vie humaine.

 Les peupliers de ce petit cimetière à Geysteren murmurent leur chant pour tous ceux qui y ont leur sépulture et pour tous les autres défunts. Il y en a qu’on a déposés dans leur tombe avec tendresse, comme le fut ma mère, mais d’aucuns y ont tout bonnement été déposés puis oubliés. Sans compter les nombreux êtres humains jetés dans des fosses communes dont peu de gens connaissent l’emplacement, où personne ne vient jamais se recueillir. Pour tous, chante le bruissement des feuilles de ces peupliers ; et moi, me tenant debout parmi les tombes, j’éprouve de la gratitude pour ce que je suis – un être humain comme l’ont été tous les défunts ensevelis ici ; comme eux, je suis aussi appelé à mourir un jour. Pour cela aussi, je suis reconnaissant.

C’est un grand don de savoir au plus profond de soi que nous sommes tous frères et sœurs dans la grande famille humaine et que, quelques différents que soient nos cultures, langues, religions, quel que soit notre style de vie, ou notre travail, nous sommes tous des mortels appelés à remettre nos vies entre les mains d’un Dieu aimant. Quel don, de se sentir lié à tant et tant d’autres hommes qui ont fait le grand passage; oui, c’est une source de paix et de sérénité… Quand je fais l’expérience de ce lien, je comprends d’une manière nouvelle ce que c’est qu’accompagner ceux qui meurent. C’est les relier au grand nombre de ceux qui quittent ce monde maintenant ou qui l’ont fait, et leur faire découvrir que la chaîne humaine remonte très loin, que la solidarité humaine va jusqu’au-delà des frontières de nos courtes vies.

 Frères et sœurs, ce passage est pour tous.”

* D’après Our Greatest Gift, a Meditation on dying and caring, 1994.

 

Thomas Keating On Death & Dying

Death & Dying, Life & Living

„When Centering Prayer reaches the full consent to our nothingness, and when the closeness of God becomes a permanent experience, it is, of course, the perfect preparation for death, because it is death.

One has already died to the false self in the Night of Sense, and in the Night of Spirit has died to the ego – and so, is there any self at all left? Nothing remains of the false self and the ego. And the True Self has been transcended.

So death is not the end of anything but the final completion of this process of becoming fully alive and manifesting the triumph of the grace of God in us.

Into your hands I commend my spirit; you will redeem me, Lord, God of truth. I will rejoice and be glad in your mercy. You will not abandon me. I trust in you, O Lord; you are my God. My destiny is in your hands. Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.”

Psalm 31: 6, 8, 15-17

****************

Powerlessness

By Fr. Thomas Keating

Christ is choosing the lowest place all the time; the very lowest place. Why? Because that is what God does. God is not attached to being God. He doesn’t care about praise or thanksgiving. What he is interested in is our consent to his love of us.

Paul was transformed by God’s communication of Godself to him, and so he writes, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses” (1 Cor. 12:9). That is the disposition of transformation. It is not great spiritual experiences but to come to terms with our own human weakness as we experience it. Paul then lists his other difficulties, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ for “whenever I am weak then I am strong.” When we understand that, we don’t need any more education.

 

 

Wikipedia

Keating was born in New York City and attended Deerfield AcademyYale University, and Fordham University, graduating in December 1943.

Keating entered the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance in Valley Falls, Rhode Island, in January 1944. He was appointed Superior of St. Benedict’s MonasterySnowmass, Colorado, in 1958, and was elected abbot of St. Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer, Massachusetts, in 1961. He returned to Snowmass after retiring as abbot of Spencer in 1981, where he established a program of ten-day intensive retreats in the practice of Centering Prayer, a contemporary form of the Christian contemplative tradition.

He was one of three principal developers of Centering Prayer, a contemporary method of contemplative prayer that emerged from St. Joseph’s Abbey in 1975. William Meninger and Basil Pennington, also Cistercianmonks, were the method’s other principal developers. When the concept was first proposed by Keating, Meninger started teaching a method based on the 14th century spiritual classic The Cloud of Unknowing. Meninger referred to this as the „Prayer of the Cloud” and taught it to priests at the retreat house. Pennington gave the first retreat to a lay audience in Connecticut where the participants suggested the term „Centering Prayer”. Since Thomas Merton had been known to use the term prior to this, it has been suggested the phrase may have originated from him.

In 1984, Keating along with Gustave Reininger and Edward Bednar, co-founded Contemplative Outreach, Ltd., an international and ecumenical spiritual network that teaches the practice of Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina, a method of prayer drawn from the Christian contemplative tradition. Contemplative Outreach provides a support system for those on the contemplative path through a wide variety of resources, workshops, and retreats.

Keating also helped found the Snowmass Interreligious Conference in 1982 and was a past president of the Temple of Understanding and of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue among other interreligious activities.

Bibliography

Silence is the language God speaks, and everything else a bad translation, Fr. Thomas Keating

Books

  • Crisis of Faith (1979) ISBN 0-932506-05-4
  • Finding Grace at the Center (1979) ISBN 0-932506-00-3
  • Heart of the World (1981) ISBN 0-8245-0014-8
  • And the Word Was Made Flesh (1982) ISBN 0-8245-0505-0
  • Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel (1986) ISBN 0-8264-0696-3
  • The Mystery of Christ: The Liturgy as Spiritual Experience (1987) ISBN 0-8264-0697-1
  • Heart of the World: Spiritual Catechism (1988) ISBN 0-8245-0903-X
  • Mystery of Christ (1988) ISBN 0-916349-41-1
  • Awakenings (1990) ISBN 0-8245-1044-5
  • Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality: A Pathway to Growth and Healing, by Philip St Romain, illus. Intro. by Thomas Keating (1991) ISBN 0-8245-1062-3
  • Reawakenings (1991) ISBN 0-8245-1149-2
  • Invitation to Love: The Way of Christian Contemplation (1992) ISBN 0-8264-0698-X
  • Intimacy with God (1994) ISBN 0-8245-1588-9
  • Loving Search for God: Contemplative Prayer and „The Cloud of Unknowing,”, with William A. Meninger (1994) ISBN 0-8264-0682-3
  • Crisis of Faith, Crisis of Love (1995) ISBN 0-8264-0805-2
  • Active Meditations for Contemplative Prayer (1997) ISBN 0-8264-1061-8
  • The Kingdom of God is Like… (1997) ISBN 0-8245-1659-1
  • Centering Prayer in Daily Life and Ministry, co-edited with Gustave Reininger (1998) ISBN 0-8264-1041-3
  • The Diversity of Centering Prayer (1998) ISBN 0-8264-1115-0
  • The Human Condition: Contemplation and Transformation (Wit Lectures) (1999) ISBN 0-8091-3882-4
  • Journey to the Center: A Lenten Passage (1999) ISBN 0-8245-1895-0
  • The Better Part: Stages of Contemplative Living (2000) ISBN 0-8264-1229-7
  • Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit (2000) ISBN 1-930051-21-2
  • St. Therese of Lisieux: A Transformation in Christ (2000) ISBN 1-930051-20-4
  • Divine Indwelling: Centering Prayer and Its Development, with George F. Cairns, Thomas R. Ward, Sarah A. Butler, Fitzpatrick-Hopler (2001) ISBN 1-930051-79-4
  • Sundays at the Magic Monastery: Homilies from the Trappists of St. Benedict’s Monastery with William Meninger, Joseph Boyle, and Theophane Boyd (2002) ISBN 1-59056-033-7
  • Transformation of Suffering: Reflections on September 11 and the Wedding Feast at Cana in Galilee (2002) ISBN 1-59056-036-1
  • The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O. : Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings (2003) ISBN 0-8264-1515-6
  • Foundations for Centering Prayer and the Christian Contemplative Life: Open Mind, Open Heart, Invitation to Love, Mystery of Christ (2003) ISBN 0-8264-1397-8
  • Manifesting God (2005) ISBN 1-59056-085-X
  • Active Prayer: On Retreat with Father Thomas Keating (2005) ISBN 0-8264-1783-3
  • Centering Prayer: On Retreat with Father Thomas Keating (2005) ISBN 0-8264-1780-9
  • Lectio Divina: On Retreat with Father Thomas Keating (2005) ISBN 0-8264-1782-5
  • Welcoming Prayer: On Retreat with Father Thomas Keating (2005) ISBN 0-8264-1781-7
  • Divine Therapy and Addiction: Centering Prayer and the Twelve Steps (2009) ISBN 978-1-59056-144-7
  • Reflections on the Unknowable (2014) ISBN 978-1590564370

Audio and video

RIP

„Sa straluceasca asupra noastra lumina Feței Tale, Doamne”.

Astazi, probabil chiar la ora asta, se desfasoara funeraliile bunului doctor Daniel Sirbat, oftalmologul din Strasbourg care ma îngrijea de multa vreme si în care am avut o mare încredere. Nu ma asteptam, nu se astepta nimeni, sa plece atât de repede… în ultima vreme, luase decizia de a-si inchide cabinetul din rue du Dôme, lânga catedrala. Urma sa se consacre chirurgiei, preluînd pacientii colegilor sai care ieseau la pensie… E mare criza în domeniu, nu stiu exact de ce. Ce s-a întâmplat nu stiu. Inima, poate?

Requiem aeternam luceat eis.

Si tot azi se fac 27 de ani de la ultimul zbor al lui Doru. Cauzele accidentului ramân pentru mine în domeniul speculatiilor si nu astept de la nimeni vreo dezvaluire care sa se apropie cât de cât de adevar. Cât despre cuvintele de pretuire, tot mai rare, ce sa zic? Majoritatea mi se par vorbe-n vânt… dar tot le caut.

Îmi pot închipui foarte usor ce simt cei ramasi în urma unui stâlp al vietii lor, prabusit pe neasteptate.