by George R. Gerardi
“A new period in evolutionary history seems to be emerging that calls us to transcend our rational powers with their desires for security and survival, power and control, and self-pleasuring and esteem, and to open ourselves completely to God’s evolutionary plan. The discipline of Centering Prayer opens us to a Presence that is not accessible to rational consciousness, though it builds on it as a necessary stage to freedom. … We may be at the threshold of an immense breakthrough in the present human condition which will move people who are stuck in rational consciousness to the intuitive or unitive levels.”
– Thomas Keating, World Without End, pp. 90, 96
I have learned that true knowledge seems to come to me through a combination of learning in the classical sense, personal experience, in addition to a practice of prayer that opens me up to hear the knowledge that is imparted at ever deepening levels. Recently, while continuing a daily practice of Centering Prayer, I have been simultaneously drawn to the very concrete problem of climate change. In late fall of 2021, Hurricane Sandy, which killed 233 people across eight counties, hit us hard with devastating results in Long Beach, New York. The entire peninsula island was submerged in salt water with Atlantic Ocean floods occurring well above sea level in both the residential and business districts. On a main thoroughfare which splits the barrier island, fish were swimming in professional offices. My wife Kathy and I received no damage to our sixth-floor apartment overlooking the ocean front, but more than 100 vehicles in our common garage were inundated with sea water and rendered useless; the boiler was damaged, elevators filled with water, and electric service was interrupted for up to a month. Many homes required complete rebuilding. Electric fires broke out during the storm and burned some residences to the ground.
While local, state and federal responses to the hurricane were generally quick, some residents are only now seven years later able to move back into their newly-elevated homes. It is estimated by the scientists that due to the evidence of global warming, this 100-year storm is expected to repeat itself with much greater frequency.
As members of The Interfaith Association of Greater Long Beach, Kathy and I joined with others and looked for ways to help mitigate, mostly with educational efforts, the negative effects of the disaster. A series entitled “One Earth, Many Traditions” was offered by the association over a two-year period which focused on sharing the various faith perspectives on protection of the environment and eliciting practical ideas for the care and healing of the community. Further projects have unfolded since then. What does all this have to do with Centering Prayer? To put it another way, does Centering Prayer or any contemplative practice have anything to do with issues such global warming and climate justice? Religious leaders are weighing in on the topic, as did Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Se. In chapter VI entitled “Sacramental Signs and The Celebration of Rest 233,” he quotes Shaykh Ali al Khawas, a 16th-century Muslim Sufi poet and mystic: “‘The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.’ The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.”
Or as the interreligious scholar Raimon Panikkar said, “The spiritual experience that many call ‘mystical’ does not put us in touch with a third world, but lets us experience the third dimension of the one and the same world opening us up to a more real union with reality.” (The Rhythm of Being, The Unbroken Trinity)
My personal experience of practicing Centering Prayer for some 36 years and simultaneously being drawn to human concerns touching on the environment, human need and social justice, especially in the developing world, has reinforced my belief that seeing the world through the lens of the Cross is seeing the world through the eyes of the Creator. I think this is what Fr. Thomas had in mind as he referred to the intuitive and unitive level of human consciousness. In my experience, this takes place as a fruit of dedication to the prayer, and with grace, leads to action based upon that vision. Once the shackles of our false-self system begin to loosen, our freedom to truly respond to the fruits and gifts of the Spirit are unleashed in ourselves and upon the world. This occurs in solidarity and is not an ego trip but a recognition that only in unity and an attitude of forgiveness, which facilitated that solidarity, can we and the earth be healed and renewed. Our True Self, united with our God, is fortified daily by the Centering Prayer practice, which offers our consent to not only the presence and loving action of the Indwelling Spirit interiorly, but because we are a part of the evolutionary reality, we are consenting exteriorly on behalf of all of creation. This awareness of our cosmic role, in the transformation of individuals and social institutions, is gradually being recognized at a deeper level. In this unitive outlook, the characteristics of the vision include a love of creation, a sense of global oneness, inclusiveness, respect for diversity, kindness, solidarity and a sense of community rather than competition, avoidance of sexism, religious intolerance, avoidance of using people for our own purposes, finding the center of gravity so to speak in the “other” rather than in the ego-self, and finally to highlight a critical point often made by Fr. Thomas, “the very death of the separate self-sense”. I like to use the expression that life is not a zero-sum game. Your neighbor’s good fortune is your gain.
George is an attorney who served on the board of Contemplative Outreach, LTD., and was a presenter of Centering Prayer for approximately a dozen years in the late 1990’s. George helped establish Centering Prayer in the Dominican Republic, along with Fr. Thomas, Mary Mrozowski, Fr Carl Arico and Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler. In Dominican Republic he also spearheaded a program of water and sanitation projects through Hermandad, Inc., in poverty-stricken villages in the southwest part of the country. Currently he serves as a Board member of ButterfliesUSA Inc., a non-profit charity that assists destitute street children in India and south Asia.