Session 89 Christian Non-Duality

Session 89 Christian Non-Duality

Father Keating discusses how we are all one with each other and one with God.  Jesus came to earth to join us to the Father and we become one with God by becoming empty of our will and letting God’s will take over in us.

Keating notes, “Non-dual originally is the idea that the separate-self sense disappears and so everything that happens is the direct experience of reality, without being necessarily a great experience. It is just being able to lead ordinary life without thinking of oneself. So that when you look at a tree, it is the tree and not you looking at the tree, which is the normal response of our rational intellect. So, how do we grow in this?”

Keating tells us that Jesus is our model for how to do this.  He is the new Adam and comes to earth to show us how we are to be one with each other and one with God. Keating says, “But what is clear, was that he was manifesting the love of God for human beings by becoming one with them in order that human beings might become one with God. And this is one of the classical statements of the early Church Fathers: that God become man in order that people might become God.

Father Keating explains, “Each human being is invited – and those who do – certainly become a New Creature in Christ as cells in the Mystical Body. So, we bring our little holon or our little fractal expression of the divine geometry into ordinary life and everything we do cannot be separated from this Oneness. It dwells in us as a kind of deepest self. And little by little, we are meant to develop into a capacity of being conscious of that higher self from which we come.”

He continues, “In the Christian tradition love is the bottom line: Love God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself because the same God is in them and in us. So that all humans basically; are equal in dignity and in their nature, and they’re also inserted now into the Mystical Body of Christ with a call to be, to serve, and to build-up the Body of Christ in various ways.”

Extraordinarily, Keating clarifies, “You’re a living cell in a living body that has the Holy Spirit as the life blood. It fills the whole, every cell and, indeed, every particle of cells. Since we are made up of trillions of them, we are saturated, really, with God.”

And how do we become aware that we are saturated with God?  Keating believes it is through experientially knowing, not by logical reasoning. As our relationship with God becomes more and more intimate, we are able to let go of our false self, so that it is not the focus of our conversations.  As our false self is diminished, our oneness with God grows.

Keating explains, “ . . .  (It) is the importance of cultivating an awareness or a faith or a conviction in the Divine Indwelling. That is really the source and root of the spiritual life: That it is possible, that it is here, and so we do not have to become anybody. We already are all that we can be, so when there is nobody to become, think of how free you would be! Relaxed. We only have to be what we are already, which is the creature and the beloved of God.

So, non-duality for the Christian is to be guided by the Spirit, not by one of the false selves or the ego. Effortless total receptivity is the best way to be open to God’s guidance. It is like being a container for God. So, for a container to be filled, what is the best response? Emptiness. Openness. It is very simple, but very hard to do. All you have to do is nothing. Try it! But it does not mean you actually do nothing. It means that you are empty of all will proposals but open to God’s actions, so that you do what he wants to do. Emptiness is not total nothingness, but emptiness with an openness to becoming more – by God’s will.”

Next week, Father Keating has more ideas on how to be open to God’s actions. 

 

 

 

Session 87 The Divine Dance Part 2

Session 87  The Divine Dance Part 2

Centering Prayer is rooted in several theological principles.  The first theological principle is the grace we receive through Baptism.  This grace is experienced from our practice of Centering Prayer.  Father Keating notes “Along with the divine indwelling goes a package, you might say, or a trousseau, a kind of wedding trousseau that includes all of the potentials that we need – I spoke of it before as DNA – in order to be transformed in our inmost nature. Thus the trousseau consists of the four infused moral virtues of justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude, and the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, enumerated in Isaiah, which lead to the Beatitudes, actually, when they are activated, and the eight or nine Fruits of the Spirit that Paul enumerates in Galatians 5: charity, joy, peace, gentleness, self-control, patience, goodness, and fidelity.

All of these precious treasures are signs that Christ is truly risen in us. In other words, this is the positive expression of the grace we received in baptism, and it’s unfolding within us manifests itself in a great variety of acts and constitutes our kind of spiritual poise. So that the divine Spirit can guide this body, soul and spirit through the intricate steps that the divine action may wish to take with us depending upon our vocation. And God doesn’t look for an audience. He enjoys this game with each of us. There’s this playful character about God. You only have to look at some animals, like a penguin and a few other things, or lambs gamboling, to realize that this creator has a delightful sense of humor. And if you see how Jesus sometimes dealt with his disciples you see that their faults didn’t disturb him much but that he sometimes made a gentle fun of them in order to gently bring to their attention that there was something in their behavior that reflected a selfishness that had to be confronted and let go of.

So, the divine indwelling is the basic root, the most radical in the sense of deeply rooted, root of contemplative prayer. It needs to be constantly refreshed by doing a practice that focuses its attention on consenting to God’s presence and action. This, of course, as you know, is the main focus of the Centering Prayer practice. Another way of looking at it: it’s a way of learning God’s language, which is silence.”

The second theological principle is the Paschal Mystery, Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.  We experience this through our practice of Centering Prayer.  Keating says, “The Paschal mystery, then, is a sharing in Christ’s redemptive activity so that when we sit down in Centering Prayer, for instance, we think of ourselves as sitting on the cross with Christ.”

Keating continues, “What we are experiencing, then, in Centering Prayer, is God’s presence affirming our goodness, but at the same time, leading us towards an ever-deeper self-knowledge so that we may give up those things in us that are basically selfish and that look to the ego as the great “I” of the universe, which, of course, it is not. And so, people need to realize that the sense of being unworthy of God is neurotic. It should be put in the waste basket as an idea. Everybody needs God. It’s not a question of being worthy or not. The issue is ... will you, like those people in the third category of the great banquet, whether you’re willing to come in and sit down with the one who joins us. And it’s that joint endeavor, that joint sharing of the human condition with its joys and sorrows, its ordinariness, its profane character, its endless waiting, its deprivations – this is not just our suffering, if we experience that, but rather the experience of the prayer is gradually educating us in what contemplative prayer really is, an education in undeserved mercy. And so, everybody is not getting there on the basis of their deserts but on the basis of God’s generosity and gratuity and other parables seem to say the same thing too.”

In addition Keating adds, “As we look at what Christ has taken upon himself in his passion, death and resurrection, our realization of what the salvation of the world has cost both him and God because in a certain sense God dies in the crucifixion. If Jesus is God, then in a sense, God dies, or he experiences what death is. Of course, he can’t stay dead and of course there is no time sequence in God. But it means that he’s taken into himself all our pain and that means the ultimate pain for most people which is death itself. And so God is not just an onlooker or is applauding our efforts from the bleachers. He’s come down, sat down with us right in the sufferings that are most acute.”

And Keating explains, “And so what Jesus has taken upon himself, in the great saying of Paul – that God made him who knew not sin into sin – is precisely the consequences of our failure to follow our conscience or in obvious acts of misbehavior that trample on the rights of others and our own true good in order to get what we want or to get away from what we don’t want. And so personal sin is that kind of experience, but it’s not the sin itself that causes God pain or offense. It’s the consequences in us of guilt feelings, humiliation, shame, discouragement, despair, feeling no good, hopelessness, desolation, loneliness. It is those terrible dispositions which are the natural sanctions of going against our conscience. This is what hurts God, because it hurts us!”

And he continues, “And so, rather than feeling unworthy of God, the right disposition for the contemplative is to recognize that God is totally joined to us in our difficulties and that the difficulties don’t reflect God’s displeasure but only the desire he has to assimilate us to his redeeming passion and perhaps to invite us beyond our own healing process to share our pain for the redemption of the whole human family; because the whole human family is the object of God’s desire for transformation and it’s into this project that he invites us the farther we go into the spiritual journey and the more intimate the dance becomes. The contemplative prayer, then, is really a profound, and the profoundest, perhaps; participation in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.”

And Keating concludes, “This is a window or a door into the very heart of God in which he could give up his only begotten son, the son of his bosom, in whom he lived as God, more than in himself. And to allow this to happen for people who had declined the invitation to the banquet or whom nobody else would have ever thought of inviting. His divinity laying down his life for the poorest and most desperate and needy of creatures, creatures who have enough freedom to experience the fullness of human desolation. On the cross, then, Jesus finds himself in agony, and notice he calls God no longer Father but God: My God why have you forsaken me? ME, the son of your bosom, the one who knows you the best? And finally, following the Greek Orthodox liturgy which believes that he then descended into the state of mind or the state of consciousness of hell means that Christ took upon himself the ultimate of human misery in the way of feeling, consciousness, and the depths of the spirit, even lost his identity as the Son of God in some degree that seems ... so, so mysterious. And hence this experience of desolation and hellishness is the moment of redemption in which everybody’s sins are taken away as if they never existed. And it’s out of that place where Christ passively, who cannot save himself (he’s dead) cannot make an act of self-surrender, he has absolutely nothing but the Father’s pure confidence and trust. And it’s out of that place that he rises to the glory, later fulfilled in the Ascension, of the vindication of God’s love and God’s humility.”

Resources for Further Study: You may wish to read Chapters 8 and 9, "The Divine Indwelling" and "The Cost of Christ's Redemptive Activity" from Manifesting God

You also may wish to read Chapter 12, "From the Inside Out" from Intimacy with God (latest edition), or Chapter 3, "The Theological Basis of Centering Prayer" (in older editions). 

 

 

Session 84 The Householder Parable Continues

Session 84 The Householder Parable continues

Father Keating again uses the Householder parable to illustrate how Jesus reveals just who God the Father is.  He is the householder, who sits down with the poor and disabled, yes, but also, a third category of people, “the dregs of society=sinners” as Father Keating says, and identifies Himself with them.  Through this, we receive the model of how to be and how God would like for us to be in this world. 

Father Keating goes on to note that just by virtue of being born, one is on the spiritual journey.  Does this mean that even those who are not baptized are welcome into the kingdom Father Keating is asked and he responds, “But it seems to me that, given this parable and other parables in which Jesus takes down all kinds of barriers, social status and what-not, as being contrary to the kingdom of God, that the essential Christian experience is the experience of Abba, that is, of the Ultimate Reality as motherly, loving, nurturing, caring, bending over us, desiring to communicate its life to us in the fullest possible sense. That’s why this third category of people at the banquet are so significant. It means that God wants to save everybody and offer the same goodness and reward without any respect of persons but as a sheer gratuity.”

Keating concludes, “You’re invited, you don’t need any, you don’t need to win God’s love to earn it, you’ve already got it. And hence, it’s the question of relaxing into the being that you actually are, or according to this diagram, relax into the ground of your being, which is God’s expression of himself in our particular uniqueness.”

 

Session 83 The Divine Dance and the Householder Parable

Session 83  The Divine Dance and the Householder Parable

Part One

As we continue on the spiritual journey, we may being to experience a dryness to our sense of the spiritual.  What before brought us great joy or peace, no longer works and we may wonder if God is absent.  This is a place on the path and it comes to those who have been traveling on the journey for some time.  The secret is to remember and to Know, that God continues to be with you at all times, even when those small pleasures/signs of His presence are no longer are available.  What happens instead is that one’s faith deepens and one becomes aware that ordinary life is full of God’s love and we are filled with God’s love at our very deepest center and to act through it. 

Keating says, “And it may take some very searching forms that alert us to the fact that an enormous intelligence is working with us and in spite of us and around us and underneath us and above us and respecting mightily our freedom but finding ways to bring us around to what God really wants us to do for our own benefit, even at times against our will or what we thought was against our will. And this immense intelligence, therefore, reveals itself in time as an enormous love which is much more wonderful than signs and wonders and much more wonderful than what we thought the spiritual journey would terminate in; in other words, not in moral perfection or in spiritual consolation or in experiences of ecstatic quality.”

Keating continues, “What is our experience, then, from this point on in the spiritual journey with this God who we know is present but whose presence is hidden from us? And we call this the life of faith; that is, where our trust in God is not based on human props or examples or re-encouragement of a spiritual nature, but simply on the trust in God’s infinite mercy, his forgiveness, his love, his support, his protection. But that is totally at the service, again to refer to Paul, of the growth in love within us. So, all of those wonderful gifts also include the challenges that upset, or question, or invite us to an ever-deeper self-knowledge which, in turn, moves us to ever increasing total dependence on God’s love.”

One begins to be more and more aware of God “taking over” one’s life.  Keating uses the image of a pencil to illustrate what happens for people at this point in the spiritual journey.  They feel like a pencil that God picks up and uses to write with and they are aware that the energy they have for the writing is not coming from them but from another source and so they have a greater dependency upon God to help them.  They realize they are not alone and God is doing for them what they cannot do for themselves.

Keating notes,” With this view that Jesus has communicated to us, that the Kingdom is present in the most ordinary circumstances and is not any less when circumstances are difficult, begins to increase this sensitivity to the movements of the Spirit within us. So that now, life, with a little more grace, can become a little dance ... a little dance.” 

And Keating continues, “So that now Divine Love is the partner and it’s inviting us to respond in the details of life to this movement which always the initial movement comes from the partner and then one follows, but follows with every increasing skill, so that each movement is in synchronicity with the divine movement. This, it seems to me, is what it means to be transformed.”

Keating explains, “The dance, then, of God with us is an effort to exercise this hymn of divine love in terms of action, not just in terms of words. So now, as Paul says, love is kind – this is the movement – love bears no grudges, love has endless forbearance, love has no end or limit to its trust. And so, you can see here how the Divine Partner is sort of leading you and twirling you and standing on your toes and then bending over you with some embrace. Everything becomes a sensitivity to this action. But people as a whole may not notice this at all because it’s so ordinary. It’s so much the way things are supposed to be anyway, that it can completely escape notice because it’s so ordinary; unless there’s someone there with the eyes of faith and a sensitivity to the transmission of divine life that is going on there in secret.”

Father Keating goes on to relate the gospel story of the Householder who invites his friends to a party at his house and no one comes so he invites in everyone else who is available to the party instead.  He doesn’t care who they are, if they accept the invitation, and Keating says that this is the story of Jesus.  Jesus was the rabbi who loved everyone and he joined the poor and the destitute where they were and became one with them.  And this is our message, that Jesus doesn’t care about “honor” but about love.  And He received this love from his father, Jesus was total receptivity to this love as it was poured into him. 

Keating concludes, “This means that the Son is absolutely everything that the Father is, except the relationship of receptivity. So, the Father has the Godhead to give and the Son to receive. And together they rejoice in this incredible goodness in an act of total self-surrender in which each of these persons try to give themselves totally away in order to express an inconceivable love that is unconditional; a sigh of love that is not an aspiration for something, but is the expression of infinite satisfaction in being nothing. That is to say, of having no particular identity ... no thing-ness ... just by being. And they want to communicate that capacity just to be and just to enjoy it to everyone who is willing to accept the invitation. Anyone. That means everyone is invited”

Resources for Further Study: You may wish to read Chapter 7, "Dancing with God" from Manifesting God and Chapter 19, "The Great Dinner" from Meditations on The Parables of Jesus or Chapter 12, "The Parable of the Great Dinner" from The Kingdom of God is Like...

 

 

 

Session 82 Suffering Leads to Wisdom when it is Accepted

Session 82                Suffering Leads to Wisdom, When It is Accepted 

From Father Keating: Suffering is when we resist the pain of life or the circumstances of life which are challenging our idea of ourselves and undermining the way that we understood our life and its meaning for us, which is now obviously not happening, and empty of the promises it may have held out for us, and the culture we were over-identified with. So, suffering is the psychological consequences of the situation of the pain and of the inevitability of death and now its proximity and the impossibility of avoiding it.

So, if there are any issues in the history of the person that are very painful – people that they’ve ceased to speak to, or parents that they’ve never seen or forgotten about, or friends that they felt betrayed them, or children that are obviously too busy about their own affairs to be really concerned, and then there are the beloved ones, who are concerned who can do nothing for the person.  And the sufferer can’t do anything either because he is barely able to handle his own suffering – no doubt one can be at a point that, where the situation is, as it continues, absolutely unbearable.

And yet, as sometimes happens in deep prayer, especially in the context of the Night of the Spirit, when one is most at the fullest extent of one’s endurance, and that isn’t working – out of nowhere comes the release or the grace of God that appears from nowhere and can put the person in a sense of great peace or lead them into a further transcendence of their present stage of consciousness into one of total acceptance and surrender.

So, when there is surrender, then suffering – one’s personal suffering – is not really suffering anymore. It’s suffering that leads to wisdom, when it’s accepted. And wisdom is the perception of the divine goodness and purpose in everything that happens. So, it’s the wisdom and the peace and calm and faith – that is to say, perfect trust in God – that transforms suffering into a – I won’t quite say ‘joy’ – but it gives it a meaning that takes away the resistance so that one sees a value to suffering that is ... well, God-like. There is this shift into a new state of consciousness in which the increased awareness of this Ground of Being, or of the Holy Spirit, or of Christ ... of being embraced by God, of being in this divine house, you might say, where there are many mansions.

And so, although the suffering, the reasons that it doesn’t go away, the attitude towards the negativities of the dying process are balanced by the beginning of a power to enjoy the eternal life that is dawning. In other words, there is still suffering and sometimes more than they can even articulate. But at this deepest level of the ground of being, it’s not blowing them away because they have the further intuition that the suffering is meaningful, that it is bringing – including their own participation in the suffering of the loved one – is providing the energy of love that is transforming the whole body in varying degrees, depending on the intensity and purity of the love that is there. Christ’s example is the major example. There’s no self-centeredness in the transcendence, or the transformative purpose, as there was no preference in Christ, but a compassion that is willing to take on the sufferings of others, without an undue regard for oneself.

So, death really is resurrection because the rising from the dead, as Christ did, is inherent in the very process of suffering.

Session 81 Direct from Father Keating

There’s another marvelous wisdom saying, this time of Paul, that I’d like to introduce at this point because it warns us that as we progress in the spiritual journey . . . You are now changed. You’re not the same as you were when you began. And now some of the tools you used to support your spiritual journey or some of the experiences, sensible, or mental or even spiritual, that you counted on to sustain your faith and your hope and to move you along in the ever deeper and purer love of God ... these are challenged.

And we find it in 1 Corinthians, toward the end of that first chapter. Jews, he says and read progressives in the spiritual journey, demand signs and the Greeks again, translate into a certain kind of progressive look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and an absurdity to Gentiles; but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ, who is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s folly is wiser than men and his weakness more powerful than men. There’s an intriguing juxtaposition of words and paradoxes, a kind-of magnificent jumble of images that need to be properly reflected upon and interpreted .  .  . .  Paul’s poking a little bit of fun at the Jews, not as a people, but as a symbol of those who are progressing and think that they’re serving God greatly and deserve, you know, the admiration and praises of the people that they are serving; not that that’s wrong. It’s just that it’s not enough. It’s not the purity of love that is this path, which is the more excellent way, eventually requires. 

But once faith has been established with a certain depth, then you don’t need signs anymore because you believe without the reassurance of these human props or events that support the weakness of our faith. We see that especially in several places in the Gospel where Jesus deliberately congratulates people on their faith. Think of the Canaanite woman where she persevered in faith even in the presence of God’s seeming indifference to her needs. In the end he said: Dear woman, your faith is marvelous. You can have anything you want.

As he said on that occasion or at another one a little later: This generation is looking for signs and wonders and none will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. Now Jonah, as you know, was three days in the belly of the whale and has become a symbol of the Paschal mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. What Jesus is substantially saying is: That’s the only sign you need, if you’re progressing in faith to a certain degree of solidity and depth, then you’re not going to get these signs and wonders anymore because you don’t need them.

And so, the miracles of Jesus, then, need to be interpreted or at least reinterpreted to mean he wasn’t just trying to persuade people of how great a wonder worker he was. That meant nothing to him; but rather to give them enough evidence that would support the weakness of their faith and help it to grow to a solid strength that could then meet the demands of daily life where faith is constantly challenged by various difficulties: the struggle with the false self, and the daily routine of everyday life which tends to bring back the same old problems, the same routines, the same difficult relatives, the same friends who forget you, and the same jobs that you get fired from, and all the things that we experience as humdrum and of no importance . . .

And so, in the New Testament, faith should normally be translated as trust. It’s very close, the two ideas. And so, it’s trusting in God that makes signs and wonders unnecessary. Still you may get a few and you may have more than you had before, but the point is what God demands of us through the purity of this love is that we give up the attachment or the dependency on signs and wonders, or spiritual experiences, or spiritual consolations – all of which are just human props. Because, as I said earlier, we cannot see God just as he is in this world and still live. So, we have to live contentedly on the other side of vision and this is the side of faith that see through a glass, as Paul puts it, in a dark manner. But that doesn’t mean that God is not there. It’s just that he’s not there for our selfish or our self-centered demands for consolation, reassurance and for the gratification of our instinctual needs for happiness, for security, power, control, affection, esteem and approval translated to the spiritual life. So that instead of looking for them in material goods or climbing the corporate or ecclesiastical ladder; we now are interested in the truth about ourselves and about God. And we’re aware that now we need a new relationship with God or to modify our attitudes towards this new depth ... not of punishment, please, but of love.

 In God’s relationship with us, there is no such thing as punishment. God is love. Where could punishment come from? It doesn’t belong there. And so, what we project from God as punishment is what we would expect big shots to do to us if we misbehaved or didn’t keep their laws, or whatever it was. But God isn’t this way. What we interpret as disastrous events or disappointments or a failure on God, the sovereign power, to take care of us and to make sure that we never get sick and we never have an accident, that natural disasters never overtake us, that we never get shot by a terrorist’s bullet or something ... who said that we wouldn’t get the same kind of treatment as every other human being? It’s not a sign that God doesn’t love us, but that God is inviting us always into ever more sophisticated, sublime, and glorious even participation in the ultimate divine plan for humanity, which is the transformation of the whole human family, past, present and to come, into the fullness of the divine light, love and life. And so, what we interpret as disasters are, in actual fact, the mercy of God confronting us in a way that is necessary because of our density of mind, at the depth of our attachments to our own way of wanting God to help us or to even dictate to God how he’s supposed to treat us. And this is not pure love. This is love that is looking for reward first of all and if God doesn’t measure up to that standard, too bad for Daddy!

What it means is that Jesus is challenging what people regard as unassailable standard for judging what is good and what is evil. And in the religious atmosphere of Jesus’ time what was good was the feast day, the holiday, the sacred place, the sacred person and what Jesus is teaching is saying: that’s not so. The kingdom is no longer exclusively in the temple, in the holy day, in the feast day, in the temple rituals. Where is it then? It’s in everyday life. . .  Jesus has revolutionized the idea of the sacred. So now the Kingdom of God is at work in where you least think it, or where you can’t believe it is, or where nobody can find it. In other words, it’s in the storm; it’s in what strikes me as tragedy; it’s in what strikes me as moral disaster or spiritual loss or mental disaster. And so, we find Jesus saying that now the maximum of the Kingdom of God is not where you think it is; but is where you don’t expect to find it. And, hence, if you change your attitude, you give up the myth of trying to rise to some kind of serenity in which nothing can ever disturb you, in which you enjoy all knowledge and all truth, can answer all questions. Everybody comes to you for the bottom line in how to solve their difficulties; or the ambition to be a spiritual master, to be beyond the ordinary human boredom, routines, ups and downs of daily life, whatever your particular lifestyle is. THE GOD OF EVERYDAY LIFE. If we accept the God of everyday life, you have him right now. If you’re looking for the God who is going to rescue you from oppression and from the difficulties of everyday life, forget it. Try another universe. In any case, this is the extraordinary teaching that Jesus delivers . . .

the Kingdom of God is in the most ordinary circumstances and more so if these circumstances are difficult; because difficulties tend to accelerate the spiritual journey and move us beyond the routines of selfishness that are so deeply rooted in us that we’ve brought with us from early childhood and that in general we call the ego or the false self and its two basic roots: one is the emotional programs for gratification, through power/control, affection/esteem and security and survival, and our over-identification with the social group from which we come or which we join.

GOD IS RIGHT WITHIN US What Jesus is saying in this parable is: God is so close, is so loving, is so present, you don’t have to go anywhere to find him.  God is right within us twenty-four hours a day, in sickness and health, life and death. There’s no place to go to find him because he’s already here. It’s rather, us who have to stop going other places mentally or physically on a regular basis so that we can begin to access the mystery of God’s presence within us. And this is the work that Paul recommends.

 Jesus says when you don’t know where you’re going; when you have no proof that you’re on the right road; when you’re totally confused; when everybody rejects you; when you’re persecuted; when everybody speaks ill of you; rejoice!, he says because this is the gift of divine wisdom that opens our eyes to the fact that God’s kingdom is most accessible at times in the most unexpected, difficult, and unacceptable situations.

Session 80 Retreat Directors on The Most Excellent Path

Session 80

From the Retreat Directors based on The Most Excellent Path:

"Go into the whole world 
and proclaim the gospel 
to every creature!"
-- Mark 16: 15

"I would like to emphasize the heart of the Christian spiritual journey ... is the divine love and its unbelievable but determined will to transmit to us the absolute maximum of the divine life, light, love and happiness that we can possibly receive. .... the extraordinary gift of inward transformation in which the divine life is actually transmitted to individual human beings and through them transmitted to the community, not so much through action but through being; that is, transformation of the inmost being into dependence [on], sensitivity [to] and manifestations of the Spirit. 

" ... So love, then, is the secret of secrets: God is love and God is hidden from us chiefly because we don't know how to love in this way. And this is the purpose of the spiritual journey and of contemplative prayer and of Centering Prayer, which is totally in the service of this project to get to know through a practice the deep knowledge of God, as Paul calls it; and to open ourselves profoundly and ever more comprehensively to the influence of the Spirit who communicates to us, 24 hours a day if we're willing, this presence which is basically love.

" ... Just how important this is in the Christian perspective is a little hard to grasp without a [contemplative] practice. It's hard to grasp it because we're not used to thinking of love in so many different ways. ... the love of friendship ... love between lovers, a child for its parents, the love of a parent for the child, the love of one's country, and indeed, the love of ourselves. The word that Paul is using ... is not just any kind of these loves, but is everything that is good and beautiful and true in each of those relationships -- magnified trillions of times to a presence that is burning with love, a fire that is so intense that we can't see it in this life without turning into a grease spot!

" ... Each of us has within ourselves the whole program of divine transformation because the Spirit of God, like the soul in the body, fills the whole body spiritually and every part of it and every cell of it. ... The Spirit dwelling in each holon of the Mystical Body has a program and puts at our disposal all the potentials we need to be transformed from the very roots up into the mind of Christ, into the divine light and love, and into the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God, of course, is not a geopolitical institution; it's not a form of politics; it's not a project for world supremacy. It's a state of consciousness."
-- Thomas Keating, Monday's video

A Meditation

"All the sacraments, all prayer, all ritual are designed to awaken us to our Christ nature, out of which we and all our faculties are merging at every microcosmic moment. Jesus, in commissioning the apostles, seems to speak to this experience: 'Go and make all nations your disciples!' ... Does this text refer only to the geographical world? This is the usual interpretation, but it does not exhaust the profound meaning of the text. We are invited, or more exactly commanded, to go into the expanding worlds that open to us as we move from one level of faith to the next. It is as if Jesus were to say, 'Go forth from the narrow limits of your preconceived ideas and prepackaged value systems! Penetrate every possible level of human consciousness! Enter into the fullness of divine union and then, out of that experience, preach the Gospel to all creation and transform it through the empowerment which union and unity with me will instill in you.'

"Divine love makes us apostles in our inmost being. From there comes the irresistible presence and example that can transform the world."
-- Thomas Keating, The Mystery of Christ

Session 79 The Most Excellent Path

Session 79 The Most Excellent Path

Father Keating is concluding the Spiritual Journey series with this video from Snowmass, CO.  The Spiritual Journey series consists of over twenty videos by Father Keating in which he takes the listener on the spiritual path, using psychology, theology and spiritual practices.  These videos have been used by the retreat directors as the basis of this online retreat.

Father Keating begins with the gospel reading of 1 Corinthians, chapter 12 in which Paul exhorts us “Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not jealous. It does not put on airs. It is not snobbish. Love is never rude. It is not self-seeking. It is not prone to anger. Neither does it brood over injuries. Love does not rejoice in what is wrong; but rejoices in the truth. There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure. Love never fails.” 

Keating notes “The wisdom of this passage is enhanced by that other saying of John, which is simply: “God is love;” that is to say, God doesn’t just show love; but God is love.”  This helps me to comprehend chapter 12 a bit easier as some of the expectations of human love seem pretty high in this gospel.  It is good to realize it is God who is patient and kind and when I open myself to God and act through God, I am also capable of this love but it is God who gives me this capability and it is not of my own means, as hard as I try at times. 

Keating hopes we realize we cannot understand wholly how much we are loved by God but we get glimpses of this through the love we experience in our families, our friends, our neighbors and at times, from those strangers who help us when we mistakenly think we are all alone. 

As Father Keating reminds us, “This word that Paul is using in that text I described is not just any kind of these loves; but is everything that is good and beautiful and true in each of those relationships magnified trillions of times to a presence that is burning with love, a fire that is so intense that we can’t see it in this life without turning into a grease spot. No one can see God and live, as the Scripture tells us in another place. And so, God has to sort of veil his presence with various forms of hiddenness and by working through secondary causes so that we don’t feel the intensity of his love in such a degree that it forces the soul out of the body.”   Saint Augustine uses the metaphor of an infant beginning with milk and moving on to soft foods to help us realize what we can first understand about the love of God for us.  And as we move into a closer relationship with Christ, we begin to know more of the love we receive and more of the love we can carry to others through our relationship with Love, or Christ.  

We come to know this more through the Eucharist.  Father Keating notes “We think of the Eucharist perhaps; too much as a ritual. And the ritual is important, but it’s a sign to us of a mystical peak of Christian experience when it’s properly understood. When we receive the Eucharist, we’re plunged instantaneously into the depths of the Trinity. Through contemplative prayer this extraordinary inflow or explosion of energy is gradually unpacked so that, little by little, we begin to perceive what great gifts we have received in the communication of the divine life which could not be more intimate. When we eat something, what happens to the food? It’s transformed into our very bodies and cells and bones and sinews. So here the intensity of God’s love recommends itself to us because God gives himself into our hands to be eaten. This is the ultimate vulnerability of God, the ultimate expression of the divine humility which literally is giving himself away to sinners, and sometimes to people who don’t care, sometimes to people who haven’t the remotest idea of the incredible love behind this, this gift in which God is saying: ‘Don’t you love me enough that you want to eat me up too?’”

And so, by partaking in the Eucharist, our cells become cells in the Mystical Body of Christ.  Father Keating goes on to discuss how much we are loved by Christ and how intimate this love is, yet the Kingdom of God is like a narrow gate and only a few will be admitted.  Keating discusses how the wisdom teachings of Jesus were greatly exaggerated to make the points He tried to give to his disciples. And the gospel story of the rich young man who cannot follow Christ because of his many possessions is a metaphor for all of us and our attachments.  The love that we experience in this life, which gives us a “sense” of the love we are receiving from God at all times, must also be realized as a form of attachment to be let go of.  Our attachments to our families, our friends, our neighbors and our possessions can keep us from realizing the full glory of the love of Christ for us. 

Father Keating concludes with “All these are symbols that the love that lies on the other side of the narrow gate is so pure, so precious, that you just can’t live there or be happy there or feel at home there if you bring with you the self-centered projects for happiness, especially those that we’ve described earlier as the emotional programs for happiness which are false values and which are basically self-centered values, or identifications with the group; whether ethnic, family, national or even religious, in which we have an attachment – usually to be accepted by the group. This divine love, then, is totally gratuitous. But it’s realistic. It challenges us at the same time as offering us this immense gift. What we have to let go and allow God to take away any attachment that is self-centered. So, the divine action goes after our selfishness. And this is the source of what we call sin: our unwillingness to let go of the support systems that we counted on to keep our false values in place and our idealized image secure.”

Further Study: Chapter 5, "The Most Excellent Path" from Manifesting God by Thomas Keating. 

 

 

Session 78 Recap of last month of the online retreat

Session 78  (Taken directly from the Retreat Leaders)

 The Divine Therapy illuminates the Christian model of growth and transformation starting with the Dark Night of the Soul, the work of Saint John of the Cross. There are two aspects to the Dark Night. The night of sense brings about the dismantling of the emotional programs. The night of spirit is a more intimate purification where all "felt" experiences of God disappear, but we enter a process of liberation from the false-self system. As the dark nights deepen, Gerald May says, "We are freed to join the dance of life in fullness without having a clue about what the steps are." Consenting to God's action in the dark nights leads us towards transforming union where we enter the cloud of unknowing. 

We looked at the beatitudes as another way to explore the Christian path alongside the models of the human condition. The beatitudes came out of the heart of Jesus when he realized that the multitudes who were following him were like sheep without a shepherd, which describes how many of us feel at times in this school of life. They are affirmations that summarize Jesus' teaching about the true meaning of happiness. Fr. Thomas says, "... the beatitudes are all directed to one project ... inner freedom: freeing us from the fascination of programs for happiness that are doomed to failure; freeing us from an over-dependency on unquestioning values, what might be called pre-packaged values, preconceived ideas."

As our spiritual growth and development matures, we start to experience the fruits and gifts of the Spirit -- the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, piety, reverence. Fr. Thomas calls the beatitudes the ripe fruits of the gifts of the Spirit. They encourage us to participate in our life and healing, in the dismantling of our emotional programs. He cautions us to not "give too passive a meaning to some of these wisdom sayings of Jesus in which he urges us to accept what is. He always wants us to be ready to do something about the situation once we've accepted it."

The story of Mary and Martha illustrates the back and forth of daily life and contemplative practice. The anxiety and worry set off in daily life by the emotional programs can be balanced by the "better part" that Mary has chosen, which is the awakening of spiritual attentiveness, where she moved beyond listening with the ears to a kind of heart listening. Fr. Thomas says, "The gentle activity of consenting to God during the time of contemplative prayer sustains spiritual attentiveness and distinguishes it from mere emptiness of mind. It is rather, the emptiness of self. The divine presence fills that emptiness and transforms our motivation into that of the Spirit."

Once spiritual attentiveness is awakened we become more attuned to the Spirit in all of life. Our whole being experiences God no longer as an attraction, but as a Presence, and becomes rooted in God. We see God in everything and everything in God. As our faith matures and we more and more experience the pure love of God, our contemplative practice and experiences lead us into action. We are able to feel the suffering of others, we take responsibility for being part of the human family, and we look for ways to contribute -- to those right in front of us in our own family and among the people in our daily lives. 

Fr. Thomas reminds us that "you have the destiny to be transformed and the capacity to transmit your personal transformation, that is, your absorption of the divine mystery, your assimilation into the Word of God, into daily life among the people you know and with whom you live."

A Meditation

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
-- John 15:12

"To love as Jesus loved us is to love with Divine Love, with the Love of the persons of the Trinity which is total self-surrender. They love not in order to receive love in return, but because it is the nature of divine love to give, to pour itself out, to surrender, and to do so for no other reason than because it is what it is -- sheer gift. We too must love not in order to become something, but because we are called to be stewards of divine love; to be identified with it and to be channels for this immense energy, till the world is transformed by Christ and he is all in all. We surrender not because we choose to, but because Jesus has chosen us and commanded us to love as he has loved us."  
-- Thomas Keating, Awakenings

 

Session 76 by Father William Meninger

Session 76 is taken directly from a talk by Father William Meninger

 ...When someone treats you in such a way that it makes you think of God, then they're a sacrament of God. And the sacraments are really meant to make us into sacraments; that is to say, to enable us to transmit the experience of divine love in some way.

 "And so, do your part to cooperate with grace and win this great gift, for truly it will teach the one who possesses it how to govern himself and all that is his. He will even be able to discern the character and temperament of others when necessary. He will know how to accommodate himself to everyone and (to the astonishment of all) even to inveterate sinners, without sinning himself. God's grace will work through him, drawing others to desire that very contemplative love which the Spirit awakens in him. His countenance and conversation will be rich in spiritual wisdom, fire and the fruits of love."
-- The Cloud of Unknowing

"You have the destiny to be transformed and the capacity to transmit your personal transformation, that is your absorption of the divine mystery, your assimilation into the Word of God, into daily life among the people you know and with whom you live. And it's the very failure of your efforts to serve that teaches you little by little how to serve, which is with complete dependency on the divine inspiration, mercy, so that you serve without demanding success.  And this is what changes the world, maybe not in your lifetime, but it will bring people into union and unity with the Ultimate Mystery whom we call God."
-- Thomas Keating, Monday's video

A Meditation

"Bro. Bernie [see Session 45] was one of the Ancients. This is a very difficult word to explain. While it doesn't specifically have anything to do with age, one does not become an Ancient without spending many years in faithful monastic living. No one knows just how long it takes, nor can anyone put his finger on just when the change from ordinary monk to Ancient occurs. Everybody knows which monks are Ancients, but nobody can say just when they become so or how. One monk can be an Ancient at fifty, another at seventy, still another not until eighty. 

"An Ancient is not what a monk does but rather what a monk is: It is something that radiates from his very being and that manifests itself in everything he does. It shows in the way he says, 'Thank you!' It reveals itself in his smile, in the depth of his stillness at prayer, his patience in illness and his fidelity to the small daily duties of his community service.

"Not everyone becomes an Ancient. It is the end product of a life given over to faith, hope, love and prayerful service. When it is there, you know it. ... Obviously, the quality of being an Ancient is not limited to people in the monastic scene. 

"... The unknown author of The Cloud of Unknowing tells us to expect the qualities of an Ancient to show themselves in persons given to prayer over a long period of years. 

"... We are all called to be Ancients. In fact, each of us should be at least partly on the way to this goal. It does not happen overnight; it is a gradual happening that comes from a continual response to grace showing itself in our loving service."
-- William Meninger, 1012 Monastery Road

 

Session 75 From Contemplation to Action

Session 75    From Contemplation to Action

Father Keating begins with the question we all ask of ourselves, “’What can I do as a single individual?’” Or, again, others will raise the question a little differently: “How can I contribute to peace, to some social ministry, however much I see it’s demanded and it needs to be done, when I, myself, am experiencing so much of the residue of the false-self system . . .”   And yet Keating reassures us that we only need to live our ordinary lives and look for those who need our help as we go along our way each day.  “In other words,” Father Keating reminds us, “Jesus isn’t asking for so much. He says whatever you did to the least of these little ones, my little people, you did to me. So “whatever” doesn’t sound like a great deal. It could be as simple as giving someone a cup of water, a smile, or to be concerned if they’ve lost someone in the family, or to take responsibility to get them medical help or psychiatric help if they’re very disturbed, or to help them to deal with their addictions if they’re hopelessly caught in them.”

Father Keating shares a story about a couple who ran a catering business who hired an ex-convict and when their customers heard about it, they stopped using their business.  But the couple believed in the ex-convict and they started a new business with him and they were more successful than they had been before.  When we act out of compassion and love, “you may not get the return that you’re expecting. But you’ll get something infinitely better. You may lose on these sub-human levels, but you will reap your investment on the higher levels of consciousness, inner freedom, and the joy of service, which Jesus seems to say ... if you do it right, for the love of God, is the greatest happiness there is” says Father Keating.

Father encourages us to use the Beatitudes as our instrument of reflection on “how are we doing?” in our compassion for others.   He uses the example of “The great archbishop, Dom. Helder Camara (who) really started what are called the Base Communities in South America and Central America. Which are just people reading the Gospel as if they were part of it, as if they were the characters in the Gospel; and applying those principles, not only to their daily life, but as a community. In other words, here is the first time to my knowledge where a group of people have addressed the question, can you lead the Beatitudes not just as an individual, but as a community, as an institution? If there were a few institutions with that “magna carta,” they would change the world. Because then there would be a network of individuals practicing the Beatitudes, and the power that is inherent in each individual would be multiplied geometrically, astronomically, as a group of people actually puts the Beatitudes into effect as an institution.”

Father Keating shares the story of Dom Helder Camara speaking before many of the world religious at a conference in New York City and as he spoke about the poor, or “the destitute” as Father Keating called them, Dom Helder began to cry and tears ran down his face for five minutes and he could not speak.  No words could have been more powerful to convey the sadness of how the people lived and yet in this community they are learning how to live through the Beatitudes and responding to their situation through non-violent means of change. 

And Father Keating again reminds us that in our daily lives we have the power to help others, “That is to say, you have the destiny to be transformed and the capacity to transmit your personal transformation, that is your absorption of the divine mystery, your assimilation into the Word of God, into daily life among the people you know and with whom you live. And it’s the very failure of your efforts to serve that teaches you little by little how to serve, which is with complete dependency on the divine inspiration, mercy, so that you serve without demanding success. And this is what changes the world, maybe not in your lifetime, but it will bring people into union and unity with the Ultimate Mystery whom we call God.”

Another point that Father Keating makes in this video is that we take with us after we die what we have done or not done in this lifetime.  There is no “Let someone else worry about it” because we will “never leave! You may have a new relationship to the earth and the human family. But whatever your attitude to it was when you were alive, it will continue after death to your weal or to your woe. And that’s the meaning of the last judgment. Humanity isn’t going to go away. Whatever you did to the least of these little ones, that’s what’s going to happen to us in eternity, according to Jesus’ teaching, which is coming out of the higher levels of consciousness, indeed the very highest levels; and hence, is wisdom.”

So Father Keating encourages us to stay on the spiritual journey, to reflect on the Beatitudes and live with compassion and love towards everyone and all things and the earth each day in our ordinary lives. 

 

Resources for Further Study: You may wish to read Chapter 22, "From Contemplation to Action" and 23, "Contemplation in Action" from Invitation to Love, Chapters 20 and 21 in older editions.  

 

 

 

 

Session 74

Session 74 is from a woman who wrote the Monks at St. Benedict’s before she went to protest at a nuclear power plant.  This is what she wrote:

" 'Last month at a peace conference I was asked to give a five-minute speech ... I was sick of words so I gave a one-minute speech instead. I wanted to share it with you because I will be seeking to amplify and refine these ideas during my time of solitude. 

 " ' ... The big question that I'm struggling with is: How do I live in and out of the existential reality of the Resurrection of Christ in these times of crises?

" 'I really don't take my cues on how to live from the bomb. I don't act out of fear, despair, or desperation. My hope is solely founded on the belief that the Resurrection is efficacious in our time. Christ has the final word. ... In fact, the bomb does not exist outside the world which Christ created and continues to uphold moment by moment by his Power and Love.

" '... So when I go to a nuclear weapons plant to pray for peace, my prayer is a prayer of celebration and a proclamation of the efficacy of Christ's Resurrection over the illusory power of the bomb.

" '... It is my hunch, and I am experimenting with this, that to dance and celebrate in the midst of Babylon has the potential (if Christ so blesses it) of turning Babylon into the New Jerusalem. But for the celebration to be genuine and authentic, it must come out of a heart open and vulnerable to the world's suffering.

" 'May God grant us such a heart and teach us to dance celebrating and victoriously.' 

"... I don't think you could find anywhere a more profound understanding and expression of what Christ's victory means and what our share in that victory involves!"
-- William Meninger, 1012 Monastery Road

Session 73 From Contemplation to Action

Session 73    From Contemplation to Action

Father Keating begins this session with a reminder of how we develop our attitudes and behaviors as humans, “One of the most important facts of the human condition to keep up front in our time is the amount of cultural conditioning that each of us has absorbed and is subjected to and which prevents us from responding to the values of the Gospel. In other words, we bring unconsciously to human problems, to social problems, to our attitudes to family, world, church, nation, preconceived ideas, pre-packaged values that are very deeply laid up in us. And it’s precisely this Beatitude that hungers and thirsts for justice that addresses that over-identification, that naive loyalty to our so-called traditions, and fails to take account of the living tradition of the Gospel, which is a call to personal response to Christ as a new form of world view, a new self-image in relation to Christ’s Gospel values and the Beatitudes. And this is what frees us to take responsibility for our attitude to God, to other people, to the earth, and to the great social problems of our time.”

Father Keating uses the movie “The Mission” to explore the values of the Gospel when those values are in direct contradiction to what is “legal.”  He uses examples from the Civil Rights Movement and even notes that what the Nazi’s did in the Holocaust was “legal” at the time.  He notes that as one is on the spiritual journey, one begins to question what is taken for granted about how people are treated in our culture.  And the idea of the Mythic Membership begins to fade for the individual.

Father Keating asks, “WHO IS RESPONSIBLE? If people are starving in the ghettos of South America and India, who is responsible? As globalization takes place around the world, which is absolutely inevitable given the mass media and the interconnectedness of nations on every level of human exchange, unfortunately except spirituality, which would be the catalyst that would provide a perspective to discuss, negotiate and resolve some of these world problems; we simply have this inevitable interaction and networking. And it’s spotlighting and focusing the injustice of mass populations that are accustomed to one way of seeing reality and settling differences by violence. Nothing could be more inhuman than to try to settle or resolve problems by violence. It’s ridiculous.”

Father Keating believes that religions in the world have a responsibility to work together to end the violence we see every day happening throughout the world.  He says “And so, they (world religions), perhaps, more than any other category of human institutions, have an obligation in our time to do something together to address these great world problems of hunger, but especially of peace, and to emphasize the great, common human values that they all share, and preach, and teach. And yet they have not yet a networking process or place where they could speak as one voice about the deepest human values and in which their collective conscience could challenge the nationalistic interests of powers of the world and perhaps make war socially unacceptable.”

Although he acknowledges that world religions have yet to form a cohesive group to help the sufferings of the world, Father Keating notes of those on the spiritual journey “These are the ones who are beginning to perceive the necessity to be a human being of harmony, negotiation, forgiveness, compassion. Those dispositions will become more clarified, more urgent, more powerful as humanity moves to the intuitive level, or as more and more individual people through the spiritual journey access the energy that we call the intuitive level of consciousness, and at that level we perceive intuitively the oneness of the human family.”

Father Keating knows that letting go of the mythic membership connections and acting in a new way can be disruptive to others whom we are in relationship with, “If we take personal responsibility, make our judgments about the injustices that are perpetrated all over the world, then we might be excluded from our group. Hence the Beatitude corresponds to the virtue of fortitude, because it takes courage to walk away from our preconceived ideas and our group, if that group is a hindrance to our following the values of the Gospel.”

Father Keating reminds us that there are enough resources for all to be fed and for no one to go hungry and he believes this happens because “unconscious greed.”  He says, “It’s a greed that comes from a mindset that doesn’t ask the right questions; that is still living in a world view that is totally out of date, and unhistorical, antiquated, and is totally incapable of dealing with the problems of our time, which have to be dealt with creatively and from the inner freedom to rethink things anew. Even the world religions must rethink their ethical principles in the light of the new consciousness that is coming into the world, with its sense of personal responsibility made acute by the intuitive vision of Christ suffering in the oppressed and the hungry.”

Father Keating concludes this week’s session, in which he emotionally asks us to change what is unjust, “Now this is a concern of a person of prayer, of contemplative prayer, whose journey, of its very nature is evolving into personal responsibility and a sensitivity not only to act in a human way, but under the higher gifts of the Spirit which give the energy to work, not just to accept what is, but to change what is unjust.”

 

 

 

Session 72 Guest Quotes for this Week

Session 72

No video from Father Keating this week, but instead a brief note from two other spiritual seekers, Cynthia Bourgeault and Barbara Brown Taylor:

"... I enter the cave of the heart and discover there that God is alive and interpenetrating, in, of, and around, illumining and enflaming all. My own heart is a hologram of the divine triune heart, love in motion, and the finite and infinite realms are connected by an unbreakable bond of mutual yearning This 'in here' vision of God is not only closer to the vison of Jesus and the mystics; it is also increasingly confirmed by the discoveries of contemporary scientific understanding. As the popular Episcopal preacher and theologian Barbara Brown Taylor writes, regarding the radical shift in her image of God brought about by her exposure to quantum physics:

" 'Where is God in this picture? God is all over the place. God is up there, down here, inside my skin and out. God is the web, the energy, the space, the light -- not captured in them, as if any of those concepts were more real than what unites them -- but revealed in that singular, vast net of relationships that animates everything there is.' **

"Contemplation, understood in the light of a hologram universe, is not a special gift. It is simply seeing from the perspective of oneness, or in other words, from, the level of our spiritual awareness. It can indeed be practiced, and over time, with sincerity and persistence, it becomes an abiding state of consciousness. At times this unitive seeing may sweep you up into rapt adoration; at other times, it simply deposits you powerfully and nakedly in the present moment. Either form is an expression of the same under laying consciousness. It is this consciousness itself that is the attained state of contemplation, and it is neither infused nor acquired, because it was never absent -- only unrecognized."
-- Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening

 * Thomas Merton, Contemplation in A World of Action
** Barbara Brown Taylor, The Luminous We: Essays on Science and Religion 

 

Session 68 Live in the Present Moment

Session 68

“So, what’s the point of living? As far as I can see, it’s only a day at a time to give God a chance to take over our very complicated human situation completely, or more completely. And whatever we do is in the service of that project, so we don’t have to think about it if you’re in the present moment.”

The above paragraph is the last paragraph written of Session 68 by Father Keating.  He has led us to this point by reminding us that we are never alone and although we may not appreciate what is happening in our lives on any given moment, we can trust that God knows and God is with us.

Father Keating suggests, “.  .  .  we stop making effort and just take everything as it comes. And then you’re in the present moment. That’s the only place God is. So, if you’re there too, then all you have to do is accept what’s happening; or do what God wants you to do about what’s happening, which will be infused, and you believe that you’ll be guided there, regardless of how many faults you have. And in fact, you rather like your faults, because they help to keep you humble and to realize there’s more reason for staying in this world if you have to be here anyway.”

I appreciate hearing this because I am trying to live my life like this and yesterday, I talked to my sister about acceptance and staying in the present moment as she was relating a disaster that had occurred at work.  And I was meeting with some women to take a look at the place we are holding a baby shower and the security alarm went off and the whole thing was like a Keystone Cop event and we all just had to laugh about it later.  It is about staying humble and letting God be in Charge. 

And to emphasize this point, Father Keating remarks, “The awakened state or the non-dual is not to even think about right and wrong, because you’re always doing what is right, because you’re under the influence of the Spirit. So, there’s no need to think of self or the past or to worry about the future. It’s now. Now, now, now, now, now.”

So, our very real task, which becomes easier as we sit quietly in Centering Prayer, is to stay present with the knowledge that we are always in the presence of God and that presence is Now.  Wow.

Further Resources: Chapters 11 and 12, "The Development of Spiritual Attentiveness" and "The Spiritual Senses" in Crisis of Faith, Crisis of Love by Thomas Keating

Session 67 Spiritual Senses, part 2

Father Keating continues to try and describe for us what is meant by the Spiritual Senses as written about by the Desert Fathers.  He likens the first sign of spiritual attentiveness to a perfume.  When we smell a flower as we walk by it, we notice it and sometimes try to identify it.  Keating says, “Similarly, what the Fathers mean is that the first sign of spiritual attentiveness is the attraction for interior silence, the desire for a time of prayer in which to be still, for a place of solitude, for a few moments of quiet.”

He goes on to give this wonderful description, “It’s as if God, who dwells here in the ground unconscious and beyond [points to top of skyscraper chart], lifts a corner, so to speak, of the veil and a little whiff of the delicious and delightful scent, so to speak, of God’s beauty and goodness slips out, and a waft, or a little breeze of this, gets down into the spiritual faculties of passive intellect. And the will, then, is attracted with great desire to rest in this presence, to open to it, and to surrender to it.”

The second spiritual sense is when you begin to desire to take the time to practice your centering prayer twice daily.  One is aware that the experience may not be of solace, or rest, but the desire, the attentiveness and attraction to centering prayer is present and one responds to this.  Keating says this spiritual sense is more like a “touch.”  He notes “But an attraction that pulls you into your daily practice of prayer, to which you are committed rain or shine, in sickness and health, no matter what the content of that is in the form from boredom, distress, bombardment of thoughts, the unloading of the unconscious, the intense purification and humiliation of the false self system that gradually takes place through the dynamic of purification, healing, unloading the unconscious damage of a lifetime.”

The third spiritual sense is one that is compared to taste because one feels the presence of God as an interior presence.  One experiences unity with the Ultimate Reality and one may experience this occasionally and it comes and goes.  Keating notes “One experiences the presence of God as an interpenetration of spirits, as a decisive presence within us that is living our life, so to speak, or living in us, or, more simply, living you and I.”

Father Keating uses Mary of Bethany and St. John, the apostle, as examples of people with spiritual senses.  But he continues and acknowledges that we all have been enabled to receive the Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus “So that you and I, as we receive the Eucharist, are offered the interior grace that corresponds to the spiritual sense of taste, the highest of all the experiences of spiritual awakening, at least in the doctrine of these Fathers of the Church. Taste then is the most intimate of the spiritual experiences in which the object of our knowledge of God disappears.”

And finally, Father Keating gives examples of what St. Teresa of Avila experienced, “And this is the grace that gradually develops from that prayer, the “lights on” mysticism, in which the presences of God gradually unfold as “felt” experiences at deepening levels of union, assimilation and transformation. This grace is the fruit of moving beyond experiences into the restructuring of consciousness and the transforming union where it takes place, in which the fruit of those experiences, of the undifferentiated presence of God, are now an abiding state of being …” 

Father Keating says “In other words, all that we experience of God, however exalted, is only a radiance of God. It can’t be God as he is in himself, because he infinitely transcends all our categories and experiences. So even these great experiences of union that St. Teresa describes, or the Fathers in the spiritual senses, is not the goal of the Christian life, but rather the transforming union in which the energy of faith and trust and love is constantly beamed to us, whether we experience it or not. And the body itself has become sufficiently stabilized and able to receive the divine communication. So that this gift of God’s person, his self, his love can be manifested in all our activities in daily life, even in the most ordinary.”

He also claims “This is total freedom, the freedom not only of union, but of a union that is maturing into unity. Thus, if you could envisage the divine energy as infinite potentiality, infinite possibility, and it gets localized in you and I, then, if there’s no obstacles in us, no self projects, no false self-system, then one becomes a pure light through which the Divine Presence can manifest itself as it is, as distinct from a stained-glass window in which the divine light is serving your virtues or your beauty.”

What a wonderful plan for us and I appreciate Father Keating bringing these possibilities to our awareness so we can possibly bring them into our lives through our practice of centering prayer.  Thank you.

 

Session 65 Mary and Martha from a new perspective

Father Keating begins the story of Mary and Martha that we have heard so many times before at the beginning of this session. And he acknowledges that analysis we commonly hear, that Mary was listening to Jesus and she had “taken the better part.” Keating goes on though and says that Mary perhaps is listening to the Word, she is listening past the personhood of Jesus and is going deeper to the spiritual center of the Divine. He compares Mary’s attention to the practice of Lectio Divina, when we listen to the Word of God and the meaning it has for us. And Lectio Divina, in the way Mary was present to the Lord in the gospel story, Keating notes “… is to give us God’s thoughts and these good thoughts kind of push out the ordinary run of worldly concerns and self-centered programs, and the whole world of the false self system around which our thoughts and reactions to events circulate and produce behavior in accordance with the value systems of our childish programs for happiness: security ... pleasure ... power, as absolutes. “

Keating compares what is happening for Mary as she sits listening to Jesus to what happens for us when we are listening to someone who is fascinating and there is a shift, or a blurring, that occurs and we go deeper in our understanding of that person, beyond the words being said to the sacredness of the speaker. Keating says, “So, having left aside, then, the thoughts and the concepts in some degree as this process deepens, one also begins to lose track of the images and reflections that you were making on the texts or the words that you were hearing in Scripture. And now one is beginning to wait upon God, listening to his person and entering into union with that person.”

Father Keating discusses further that we surrender to the presence of the Divine and we need help to do that. He says that the sacred word helps us “. . . to maintain that surrender, given the distractive-ness of human nature, we need some little help. And that help is simply the sacred word, which gently, ever so gently, maintains our attentiveness to the Presence. It doesn’t create the Presence. It doesn’t hold it in place. It simply holds us in the attitude of waiting upon God in general loving attentiveness. Not to his words, not to concepts, but to the Presence itself. “

He next identifies the sacred glance and the sacred breath as other ways to help us surrender to the Divine within us. Keating says, “What happens, then, as one practices the sacred word as the take-off point, or the sacred glance towards God, or the sacred breath, is that one begins to realize that these gestures are like what is happening on the spiritual level, where one is in the presence of God “as if” you were looking, “as if” you were hearing, “as if” you were breathing the Spirit. But you’re no longer on the external level. You’re not involved in the external senses. But you’re involved in the awakening of a spiritual experience which is removed from the senses; but is similar to them. In spiritual things you can’t explain what is happening because there’s no language for immaterial experience.”

Keating ties it all together in the final paragraph and I am just going to quote it so you can get the entire point, “ It’s as if you were looking at a tree and then your gaze expands and you’re looking at the whole woods. Only in this case the difference is maximal, because when you move from a tree to the woods, you’re still on the same horizontal plane of reality. Here you move from the senses to the Spirit and there’s a vast difference in the vertical plane that we’re dealing with on those two levels. And so, spiritual attentiveness, then, is the fruit of the practice of listening to the Word of God, of looking lovingly upon God, icon, or at the tabernacle, or at the Eucharist exposed on the altar, or in breathing, following one’s own breath as a symbol of opening, receiving, and surrendering to the Spirit. And at that point, then, one becomes aware of the undifferentiated presence of God beyond thinking, feeling and particular acts. And this is where every method of contemplative practice is designed to bring us.”

And though Father Keating doesn’t bring it back to Mary here, the implication is that this is what happened for Mary as she sat “listening to Jesus.”

Session 63 Beatitudes as Spiritual Journey

Session 63 The Next Four Beatitudes

In much the same way as the previous session, Father Keating goes through four beatitudes explaining their place on the spiritual journey.

Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.

Keating explains “The beatitude, then, that corresponds to the full reflective self-consciousness of the Mental Egoic level is the beatitude of the Merciful: “Blessed ... Oh how happy you’ll be if you show mercy, forgiveness and compassion because you will then receive the same.” And as Jesus says in another place ... “in ever increasing abundance.”

He notes that we are to love one another as Jesus loved us, not merely as we would want someone to love us, but to love as Jesus did.  “To love one another as Jesus has loved us is to love one another in our humanness, individuality, in our opinionated-ness, in the things that drive you up the wall, in the personality conflicts. In other words, it’s to put up with this guy or this person with love and to continue to show love no matter what the provocation may be in the opposite direction for us coming from them. This is great freedom indeed ... not to react in kind out of compulsivity: to attack, insult, abuse, or whatever.”

Keating reminds us that we need to have loving kindness and compassion for ourselves as well.  “Another aspect that’s important at this level and which goes with this beatitude and which is something that we can do, is to practice also great compassion for ourselves. It’s astonishing how important that is, especially in our time, when so many people have a low self-image and experience self-hatred, which is simply the pride system in reverse . . . . we don’t measure up to the idealized glory or perfection that our preconceived ideas require. And so, the pride system, not God, says: “You’re no good. “

We are responsible at this stage to continually keep our connection with God, “we are responsible for this co-operating with divine transformation, . . .  to develop the devotion and dedication to God that comes through prayer. And prayer as a relationship, then, as we saw, becomes more intimate, more of a resting in God’s presence.”

Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.

At this level, we are approaching the Intuitive stage of development. “all our relationships change towards ourselves, towards God, towards other people, towards the cosmos, etc. And we then spend a period of time integrating and adjusting ourselves and all our faculties to this new experience or level of being.  And the promise is “they will see God.” Not with bodily eyes, of course, but with the x-ray eye of faith that is purified in the Night of Sense and which now penetrates through experiences. .  . In other words, our sensitivity to the message of divine love that is beamed to the whole universe is sensitizing us to how it speaks to every creature at every level of its being.”

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 

And this is the beatitude of the peacemakers. These are peacemakers not so much because they demonstrate (although this is useful perhaps) or run all over the world, or preach it; but, more important, they have become peacemakers in their inmost being by establishing, through their sensitivity to the Spirit, peace within themselves.   Keating relates that one is able to act through and with Jesus and not through the ego. 

And finally Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

People are at a pretty well-developed level for this beatitude because suffering for righteousness sake can be very difficult.  In this category is someone like Nelson Mandela, but it may be your next door neighbor and you are unaware of his circumstances. Keating says “And one perceives that in persecution, one is actually serving in the most decisive and perhaps effective way of all the means of exercising ministry.  In the experience of union, one not only enters the peace of Christ, but becomes oneself a transmitter of the divine life. This energy that God has given us is being transmitted constantly to those with whom we live and love and beyond. As even the physicists say, you can’t have a thought without the rest of the universe being instantly affected.”

For Further Study, read Invitation to Love by Father Keating.

 

Session 61 The Beatitudes as Spiritual Journey

The Beatitudes as an Indicator of the Spiritual Journey

Father Keating looks at the Beatitudes and compares them to the stages of consciousness the human goes through in the spiritual journey.  He notes how each of the Beatitudes illustrates to us how we can free ourselves from what causes us to suffer through our false self-system once we become aware of these challenges and how to “repent” or change the direction in which we are looking for happiness. 

Keating notes, “The false self-system, with its longing or desires or demands for various forms of happiness that can’t possibly happen, is constantly being frustrated; hence the upsetting emotions of anger and grief which put us into emotional binges of one kind or another, day after day, maybe several times a day.”

He continues, “That’s the source of frustration: to demand from the legitimate pleasures of life an absolute happiness. This is idolatry. This is making this particular pleasure or experience an idol, something to substitute for the happiness that we are not experiencing from union with God. That’s the human condition.”

How does this happen?  Keating reminds us, “Each one of these energy centers develops in the context of isolation and in the consciousness of an identity, a self-consciousness, that is developing without the experience and reassurance of divine union. So, each time we move to a new level of self-consciousness, we move to a new level of fear, dread, isolation, alienation that comes from the separate self-sense. This is what the Spirit of God is trying to heal, along with the damage that developed because of our ways of coping with these impossible situations. “

We can use our study of the Beatitudes to help us heal.  Father Keating uses four Beatitudes in this session to show us how they apply to our growth or lack of growth of consciousness.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Father Keating notes that the gift of piety is asked of us to be “poor in spirit.”   We are asked to be aware of reality and to accept reality as it is and not how we want it to be.  He says “This attitude of happiness in the face of destitution, poverty and affliction, is the fruit of letting go and of acceptance of what is. But it’s not just a passive acceptance. The eighth Beatitude is the “Beatitude of Those Who are Persecuted for the Truth or for God’s Sake.” And their reward is exactly the same as that offered in the first Beatitude; namely, “the Kingdom will be yours.” In other words, by accepting reality and events, one is free of the predetermined goals and demands and shoulds.”

We are to remember that God may be asking us to change a situation that we see as a reality and so Keating uses both of these Beatitudes to illustrate moving beyond our demands for security.  

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Keating believes the Beatitudes are wisdom sayings and they help us to let go of what holds us back while not taking all of our knowledge from us.  Here he discusses the discipline required in fasting, or praying in a certain situation, or a type of work.  We mourn how we want it to be and use discipline to help us do what we are called to do and to be rather than how we envision it should be.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Father Keating says “And here the Beatitude is ‘Oh how happy you would be if you don’t want to have control over anybody, dominate situations, other people and try to control your life and events and even God, if you could get away with it.’

Here the happiness consists of the freedom to be able to accept . . .  and to get along with people who you don’t like, or whom your chemistry doesn’t seem to agree too well, or who drive you up the wall.

One of the great traditional means of working this distortion or malformation out of our system is the vigorous practice of serving others . . .”

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Keating goes on to explore “The fourth stage of our development, then, moves out of these childish programs for happiness and brings them into a new dimension which is the ... fourth stage-mythic membership consciousness.

Here the Beatitude addresses over-identification with a group to free us from too great a dependence on social pressure, from human respect, from wanting to belong to the group to such a degree that we do not respond to the request of the Gospel to go beyond the conformity level of morality or the respectable behavior that may be an honor in a particular peer group we might be in. This is the Beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. They will have their fill.’”

Keating concludes “Notice how the Beatitudes are all directed to one project ... inner freedom: freeing us from the fascination of programs for happiness that are doomed to failure; freeing us from an over-dependency on unquestioning values, what might be called pre-packaged values, preconceived ideas.”

Keating relates “ . . .  these first four Beatitudes correspond really to the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. Because it is through these Beatitudes that we finally let go of those demands or needs which, when frustrated, tend to push us to disregard or despise or neglect the needs or rights of other people. And when we ratify such attitudes, this is what leads to personal sin. And so, these first four Beatitudes are preparing us to graduate from our childish programs for happiness and our over-dependency on our early relationships so that we may begin to hear the Word of God in the Gospel addressing our hearts and to respond now with the kind of freedom that will enable us to negotiate the higher levels of consciousness.”

 

July 30, 2018

Session 58 is a rewording and “staying with” the presentation of Session 57 of St. John of the Cross and the dark night of the soul.

Session 59: The Night of the Spirit as summarized by the Retreat Directors

     "God as he is in himself can be fully accessed only by pure faith. The purification of faith and love, not spiritual consolation, leads to transforming union. ... For those enjoying the path of exuberant mysticism (the path described by Teresa), as well for those on the hidden ladder, there comes the further purification of the night of spirit. Even in the experience of the unfolding stages of prayer, the false self is at work, subtly transferring its worldly desires for satisfaction to the good things that are now available on the spiritual path." 
-- Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love 

In past sessions we talked about the dismantling of the false-self system and in the above quote from Fr. Thomas, we see that despite our best efforts, the false self persists. Up to this point on our spiritual journey we are largely engaged in getting to know this false self as we progress in self-knowledge, what some say is the purpose of a spiritual journey. Mary Mrozowski, one of the founders of Contemplative Outreach, used to say that we should be gentle with our false selves because for most of us it is the only self we know. During the dark night of the soul, as Gerald May reminds us, we are being led by God into places we could not or would not go on our own, the purpose of which is to get to know who we really are in God. The night of sense moves us in that direction but doesn't quite get us there, so we enter into the night of spirit. 

The night of spirit is a more intimate purification where all "felt" experiences of God disappear, but we enter into a process of liberation. In today's video, Fr. Thomas describes five significant fruits of the night of spirit. The first is freedom from the temptation to assume a glamorous role because of our spiritual gifts and charisms (humility). The second fruit is freedom from domination of any emotion. Third is purification of our idea of God, the God of our childhood or the God worshipped by the particular group to which we belong. The fourth is the purification of what are traditionally known as the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. And the fifth fruit is the longing to let go of the selfishness that still lingers in us and to be free of every obstacle that might hinder our growth in divine union. 

Experiencing these fruits "we are free to devote ourselves to the needs of others without becoming unduly absorbed in their emotional pain. We are present to people at the deepest level and perceive the presence of Christ suffering in them. We long to share with them something of the inner freedom we have been given, but without anxiety and without trying to change them or to obtain anything from them. We simply have the divine life as sheer gift and offer it to anyone who wants it."
-- Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love 

Resources for Further Study: You may wish to read Chapter 15 - 17 in Invitation to Love (20th anniversary edition), Chapters 14 - 16 in older editions. 

You also may wish to read The Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald May.