Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Interview With Thomas Keating

In yesterday's post, I mentioned an interview with Thomas Keating that I stumbled upon while researching (googling) the connection between Christianity and Buddhism...which led to articles about Merton and Keating and centering/contemplative prayer. Keating is considered one of the founders of contemplative prayer, which is similar in many ways to Zen mediation. The article begins with a bit of history about Keating and the origins of contemplative prayer:

As a student at Yale in the early 1940s, Keating, the scion of a wealthy but not particularly religious Park Avenue family, found his Roman Catholic worldview sufficiently challenged by a freshman philosophy class to seriously investigate the roots of his faith. While in the library reading Thomas Aquinas's Catena Aurea, a line-by-line exposition of the four Gospels by the great Church fathers, he experienced a profound conversion: He deeply grasped the fact that Christianity was a contemplative religion. He realized that the spiritual sense of the Scripture was much more important than the literal and that union with the Divine was not only possible but available to all. "That insight," says the 74-year-old Trappist monk, 'was the seed that has continued to grow all through my life. What I am doing now is trying to share that insight."

The article goes on to say that:

Keating defines centering prayer as a contemplative practice, "a very simple method in which one opens oneself to God and consents to His presence in us and to His actions with us." When Keating uses the word "contemplation," however, he is not referring to rumination or reflection. He is using the term in its classical sense: being with God. Thus, through centering prayer one moves beyond images, emotions, and thoughts. According to Keating, it is like "two friends sitting in silence, being in each other's presence."

Keating's little snippet about friends made me think of the chapters in Exodus that tell us about the relationship Moses shared with God.  In the excerpt that follows, the Lord "speaks" to Moses face to face.  Were there words, spoken words, exchanged or was there silent communication similar to what Keating talks about?  The word translated "spoke" is the Hebrew word "dabar."  According to the Strong's Concordance it can mean to speak, declare, converse, command, promise, warn, threaten, sing.  Also, according to Strong's, it is translated 20 times in the KJV as "commune."  I like that word...commune.  It means to be in close or intimate communication.  It encompasses all kinds of expression...both verbal and nonverbal.  Following is what scripture has to say about what took place in The Tent of Meeting. 

Exodus 33:7 Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the "tent of meeting." Anyone inquiring of the LORD would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. 8 And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. 9 As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the LORD spoke with Moses. 10 Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to his tent. 11 The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.

Later in the chapter Moses asks God to "teach me your ways" and "show me your Glory."

God replies, "My Presence will go with you and I will give you rest." and "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence."

Wow....like two friends being in each other's presence.  And how else do we see his glory...but by abiding in his presence? By hoofing it to our very own Tent of Meeting (where ever that might be...and who says it has to be a specific geographic location.  Perhaps the Tent of Meeting is another name for the prayer closet Jesus talks about...the place we find within...where we commune with the Spirit within....with "the Christ in you...the hope of Glory"  And in that special place he causes all of his goodness to pass in front of us. 

In his book, Friendship With God, Neale Walsch says:

"You must be willing to suspend what you imagine you already know about God in order to know God as you never imagined"

And so many of us have a skewed image of God....clinging to what we imagine we already know about  God.  Too frightened and leery to seek his face...to sit in silence in his presence. 

Keating touches on this distorted image of God in this interview.  More on that tomorrow...... 

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