For this reason, I kneel before the Father,
from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name,
that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory
to be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit in the inner self,
and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;
that you, rooted and grounded in love,
may have strength to comprehend …
the breadth and length and height and depth,
and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
– Ephesians 3:14-19
As the human family enters into rational consciousness, there are three essential relationships that every human being is capable of experiencing. The first is with God, an encounter with the Ultimate Reality which is the depth of our own being – the unmediated interpenetration of spirits.
“It is one thing to be so close as to touch someone, another to penetrate the spirit of the other. Only God who dwells within can be experienced at such an intimate and profound level. When we taste something, we usually consume it and transform it into ourselves; it becomes a part of us. In divine union the presence of God arises not only as an irresistible attraction or embrace, but as a presence in our inmost being. It is there that the grace of Pentecost takes place: Christ living our life, or more exactly, living us. When our whole being is rooted in God, we see [God] in everything and everything in [God]. This is not the fruit of one experience, at least not as a rule, but the full development of the spiritual senses.”
-Thomas Keating, Crisis of Faith, Crisis of Love
The second essential relationship is the respect and service of other persons, where we are called to love one another as Jesus loved us. The third is stewardship for the earth with all its creation, and the cosmos. This seems so logical until we realize that we are experiencing turmoil in our lives and in the world because the emotional programs are ruling over our reason, intellect and will – our higher faculties. When Fr. Thomas talks about the emotional programs co-opting our higher faculties, this is what he means. We have the ability to make rational judgments from a place of will, but instead, we make emotional judgments based upon our programs for happiness and the acculturation of a lifetime. He says we are being pushed around by these emotions.
The Christian journey can restore the faculties to their proper place, first through the example of Jesus who is a model of the spiritual journey. Resting in God allows the intuitive faculties to function at the deepest level, bringing us to relating to God beyond thoughts, feelings and particular acts. We begin to feel the love of God infused into our being and, in gratitude, consent to God’s presence. With the emotions at rest we no longer resist the movement of the Spirit. Over time, we begin to experience God in everything and everyone, in all of creation, which is another way of saying we are now living the contemplative dimension of the Gospel.
“Our rational intellect is only a step on the way to more profound forms of relating with God. While we never despise or dispose of the intellect, we use it with discretion knowing its limitations. There are relationships that are much more intimate and profound than our intellect can grasp. Of course, consciousness, like other aspects of life, can get stuck on one level of development, and we may retain childish attitudes even as we become adolescents, confused young adults, or unchangeable old timers. All of these stuck points hinder the growth of prayer. Hence, the need for purification at the deepest level of our being. Most of our problems are stored deep in the depths of our psychological unconscious.
“Contemplative prayer is gradually detaching us from the God we know to the God who actually is and whom we don’t know. At a certain point in our spiritual development, we realize we have known [God] only through our human limitations. The nature of our prayer reflects our idea of God, and that idea changes as our consciousness continues to evolve. A child becomes an adult who is capable of more intimate relationships, especially relationships of love. Every human being has the potential for a unique relationship with God, and God is totally committed to the transformation of each of us into [Godself].”
– Thomas Keating, From the Mind to the Heart
- View the video excerpt “The Philosophical Model, Part 2.” It is about 23 minutes in length.
- Reflect that our rational intellect is the human faculty that helps us to not be ruled by our emotional programs, to restore the faculties to their proper place. Yet, as Fr. Thomas says in From the Mind to the Heart, it is only a step on the way to more profound forms of relating to God. How are you experiencing relating to God these days as your Centering Prayer practice matures?
Resources for Further Study:
You may wish to read Chapters 15 and 17 in Invitation to Love (20th anniversary edition), Chapters 14 and 16 in older editions.
You also may wish to read Chapters 4 and 5 in Intimacy with God (20th anniversary edition), Chapters 8 and 9 in older editions.