Father Keating and Jesus
Our beloved Father Thomas Keating (1923 – 2018), American Catholic monk and priest of the Order of Cistercians, transitioned to his eternal home last year. He was one of the primary developers of Centering Prayer, which is making a huge contribution to Christian communities all around the world. He was also a major proponent of Integral theory and the value it has for Christian seekers of the divine.
A key contribution of integral to our spiritual life is an understanding of the three faces of God. There is God-Beyond-Us: the God big enough for our minds and even beyond our minds. Centering prayer is a vital practice to take us to this place. Indeed, Keating may have introduced more Christians who have found Centering Prayer helpful to what I call God-Beyond-Us than any other person in today’s world!
There is also God-Being-Us, what Father Thomas called becoming who you are—being fully Divine. He wrote, “For human beings, the most daunting challenge is to become fully human. For to become fully human is to become fully Divine.” (Manifesting God)
“If you don't want to become God, you've missed the boat. If you're too humble to think you can become God, if you think you are not worthy, that is a false humility, because it's not yours to decide.” (Integral Contemplative Christianity, The Purpose of Being Human)
And then there is God-Beside-Us, the personal relationship with the divine. What many of Father Keating’s fans do not know is that he was also an advocate of vocal, relational prayer spoken directly to Jesus! Did you know that?
He evidently did not feel called to talk about it very much, lest it detract from the practice of Centering Prayer. However, Keating said, “Centering Prayer is not meant to replace other kinds of prayers, rather it casts a new light and depth of meaning on them.”
In reality though, many postmodern Christians have already given up on “traditional” prayer and now use Centering Prayer or other classic meditation practices in its place. This is probably in part because so many are unable to include and integrate a healthy picture of Jesus from traditional level limited views and mischaracterizations.
I recently became friends with a close friend of Father Keating who was mentored by him for some time. In the course of talking with my new friend I introduced him to “Sitting with Jesus” prayer where one acknowledges the presence of Jesus and relates to him as one would a close friend. This kind of personal relationship with Jesus was entirely new to my friend and somewhat disconcerting.
So the next time he visited with Keating, shortly before he transitioned, he asked him about it.
The context of my friend’s question is that Father Thomas considered the Cosmic Christ to be the divine essence itself encountered in Centering Prayer. My friend was asking if, rather than only practicing the awareness of the transpersonal Cosmic Christ in Centering Prayer, is it also okay to talk to Jesus in a personal way.
Here is a transcript of that conversation:
Father Keating: “Remember, if Jesus is just as human as he is divine, you can get a little too much into Cosmic Christ, unless you keep a relationship personal with Jesus in his glorified humanity. . . . When I talk to him I ask him for his advice in all my decisions. . . . I don’t think you leave devotion to Jesus behind in going into the Cosmic Jesus.
What helps you best is that you can have your cosmic relationship with Christ [Centering Prayer] without distinguishing it from your human relationship. They go on together. And you move from one to the other. As long as you have to live in this world, what are you going to do when you are not in prayer? Christ lives in you in the details of your life. I think that’s what he wants to do. ‘Without me you can do nothing,’ he said. How can you do that without getting acquainted with some of the ways he functions?
So it’s like a very advanced state of consciousness. You know where you are in solitude and constant contact with God at the super-rational level. But you have to live in this world – you have to come back down. What are you going to do? You want to be able to move back and forth according to circumstances. So I find talking with Jesus is a way to keep your mind in a recollect state all the time. As it gets deeper, you just do it automatically.”
My friend: “What’s different between addressing our Mother and Jesus? How do you know when to address our Mother Mary versus addressing Jesus?”
Thomas: Oh, they are about the same. Do what you like. They work together. . . You don’t have to visualize Jesus, but sometimes he manifests himself. He touches us and it feels like an embrace. You don’t have to depend on it – that’s the main thing. You can have any experience you like if you are detached from it.”
Our best, most integrated form of spirituality includes all three faces of God. Indeed, it is even the major gift of Christianity that we have such a personal figure of the divine like Jesus who we can sit with, talk to, and give and receive love. Welcoming the personal Jesus may feel strange, unfamiliar, or perhaps even childish for many postmoderns. But Jesus is there, waiting for us, loving us. He never left.
If Jesus is not part of your practice yet, acknowledge his presence and just sit with him while he is there with you, loving you and listening to you. You can have a conversation with him at any time. He responds in words that come to your mind, sensations, images, and intuitions. It’s that simple!
You can practice this individually, or with a group. Our Integral Christian Network WeSpace groups are safe spaces for people explore the 2nd person face of God with Jesus and with other evolving Christians. Sign up now or you can also learn more about them here.