Episode 1: Centering Prayer as a Gesture of Consent

“The gesture of centering prayer is a gesture of consent, willingness, openness, receptivity and basically saying to the spirit ‘Here I am and you are love’. I am thrilled to be responding to your love and I’m choosing to spend the next minutes available to you ” - Carl McColman

On this very first episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts, we welcome special guest and friend of Contemplative Outreach, Carl McColman. Carl is a spiritual leader, author, and teacher on mystical spirituality and contemplative living. Although Carl is a practicing Christian, his approach to contemplation and mysticism is inclusive and expansive. Carl sees the elegance and simplicity of the method of centering prayer as a larger conversation that the Christian community is having about reclaiming this contemplative practice.

What’s in this episode:
  • The relationship and distinctions between mystical traditions, Christian meditation, contemplation, and Centering Prayer. 
  • Silence, sacred words, and the daily practice of Centering Prayer.
  • Father Thomas Keetings’s metaphor: Centering Prayer compared to boats on a river
  • Exploring the four guidelines of the method of Centering Prayer.
  • Mysticism as theology and the accessibility of Christianity through the gift of contemplation. 
  • The four questions used in spiritual direction and slowing down to savor the graces. 
  • The importance of interfaith dialogue, diversity, and inclusion in relation to the struggle for justice.

“The mystic is not a special kind of person; every person is a special kind of mystic.”

- Father Willam McNamara

To connect further with Carl McColman:

Visit his website: www.anamchara.com
Check out his course:
The Contemplative Study of Mystical Writings - coming in January 2023 on Patreon.
To provide financial support for Carl McCloman and to have access to his teachings visit his Patreon:
Carl McCloman is the author of many books including:
The Big Book of Christian Mysticism
Eternal Heart: The Mystical Path to a Joyful Life
Unteachable Lessons: Why Wisdom Can’t Be Taught and Why That’s Okay
He is also one of the co-hosts of the Encountering Silence podcast.

Opening Minds, Opening Hearts EP #1: Centering Prayer as a Gesture of Consent with Carl McColman

[cheerful music plays]
Colleen Thomas [00:00:00] Welcome to the first season of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts, a podcast about the transformative practice of Centering Prayer. 
In each episode, we will talk to friends of Contemplative Outreach about their personal practice. Listen in as our guests share insights about the teachings of Father Thomas Keating, how the practice impacts their work in the world, and their thoughts about how Centering Prayer connects to the living traditions of contemplation and meditation. We are your hosts, Colleen Thomas,
Mark Dannenfelser [00:00:36] And Mark Dannenfelser,
Colleen Thomas [00:00:34] Centering Prayer practitioners and contemplative life seekers who love to talk a little too much about how the practice of Contemplative Prayer transforms our inner and outer worlds. Our hope this season is to open the door for you to explore more deeply this powerful practice of Centering Prayer.. 

Colleen Thomas [00:00:59] Welcome to the very first episode of the Contemplative Outreach podcast, Opening Minds, Opening Hearts. I'm Colleen.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:10] And I'm Mark, and we're finally doing a podcast. 

Colleen Thomas [00:01:16] We are. And I'm so grateful to you, Mark, for having this idea and just saying, “Hey, do you want to do this with me?”, and especially now that we're actually doing it because ideas come and then so many ideas never get followed up on, but you had a vision and ran with it and it's exciting. It's exciting to get to talk about the stuff that we love to talk about.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:43] Yeah, and I'm so grateful you said yes to it and it's exciting to be able to do this together and I hope in some small way that this podcast will be some kind of contribution to the contemplative tradition and to continuing to advance the works of Thomas Keating and the method of Centering Prayer. So, it's very exciting.

Colleen Thomas [00:02:04] It is. And today, our very first guest for our very first season of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts is a friend of Contemplative Outreach, and so much more, which we'll hear about and learn about, Carl McColman.

Carl McColman [00:02:24] Thank you so much. I'm so happy to be part of this podcast and just feel delighted that I get to be the, what do we call this? the inaugural episode. Part of the inaugural episode. So that's a real joy for me. So, what are we going to talk about? Centering Prayer? Contemplation? Thomas Keating? All of the above? 

Mark Dannenfelser [00:02:43] Everything. All of it.

Colleen Thomas [00:02:45] Exactly. This is a podcast about the transformative practice of Centering Prayer. So it's fitting. To start our conversation, maybe you can tell us when you were first introduced to the practice of Centering Prayer or how the practice of Centering Prayer found you.

Carl McColman [00:03:08] I can answer that in stages, because I was first introduced to contemplative practice through a sister organization of Contemplative Outreach, the Shalem Institute. I did my graduate work at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, just outside of Washington and Shalem is based in Washington. So it was through Shalem that I first started working with a spiritual director, that I first started taking classes on personal spiritual deepening, and that I was introduced to what then we called Christian meditation and to narrow it down to Contemplative Outreach and this Centering Prayer practice.
I'm trying to remember if my first introduction was Basil Pennington’s book on Centering Prayer or one of Father Thomas's books. In the misty murky waters of time, I can't tell you which came first. But it was certainly those two amazing voices and their writing that introduced me to the concept of Centering Prayer and the particular methodology of this Centering Prayer practice. 
And then from there, my relationship with the Trappists here in Georgia. There's the Trappist monastery in Conyers. The first event that I attended, there was an introductory Centering Prayer workshop led by the wonderful and amazing father, Thomas Francis Smith, and about that same time I attended an event with Father Thomas. It was 2005. But I did that intro workshop with Father Thomas Francis in Conyers. As soon as I learned the method, of course, part of the beauty of Centering Prayer is the elegant simplicity of the method with the four guidelines. I just really took it to heart. 
And then fast forward a few years, but between Mark and Maggie Winfrey, who is the director of Contemplative Outreach, I became plugged into Contemplative Outreach here at the local level and received my commissioning as a Centering Prayer Presenter for introductory workshops and of course, I'm now involved in my own weekly group. I just cycled off of being facilitator. I was facilitator of the group for about, I don't know, three and a half, four years, and they've decided to give me a break. But it's still obviously very, very important to me. There's a long history there with Centering Prayer and seeing Centering Prayer as part of this larger conversation that the Christian community is having about reclaiming its contemplative practice.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:05:31] It's wonderful to hear your perspective in terms of your own experience coming into all of this and I know, this has been a long-standing interest of yours, the contemplative life in the mystical traditions, many different traditions. 
I'm kind of curious if you could maybe say more because you mentioned Christian meditation.
So, there's Christian meditation, and then we hear contemplation and then we hear Centering Prayer and mysticism, and there's a lot of words there and there's a relationship there, I think, but you're a good person to ask, what would you say is the relationship to all of that? These different traditions and these different expressions that are somehow linked?

Carl McColman [00:06:15] Let me begin with my understanding of how Contemplative Outreach or how Father Thomas taught the distinction between Centering Prayer and contemplation or contemplative prayer, because I think it's a very subtle distinction. But I think it's very helpful. 
I'm just paraphrasing here, forgive me, my words aren't the most artful, but it seems to me that what Father Thomas consistently taught was that Centering Prayer is a preparation for the gift of contemplation. It technically doesn't qualify in and of itself as, quote, contemplative prayer, unquote. 
If you look at the history of Christian spirituality, you find language like infused contemplation, acquired contemplation, these different ways that spiritual theologians down the centuries have tried to parse all this out and of course, the mystery here is the mystery of contemplation as a divine gift. What I like to say is, it's not something we achieve, it's something we receive. 
So, this idea that the gesture of Centering Prayer, and I do believe it's a gesture, is the gesture of consent. It's the gesture of willingness and openness of receptivity, of basically saying to the spirit, here I am, here I am, and you are love and I am thrilled to be responding to your love and so I'm choosing to spend the next 2025, 30, however many minutes available to you. 
What is contemplation? If you look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I think it has as good a definition as anybody. It defines contemplation as wordless adoration. So you have this idea of moving beyond the confines of cognitive thought, and I'm choosing my words carefully the confines of cognitive thought, moving into the spacious place of silent freedom and then adoration is kind of like letting the heart take over and that really, the point here is love and we enter into the silence and, and of course, when we can talk about the relationship between silence and thoughts, because that's a very interesting conversation to you. 
But even when we're caught up in our thoughts, and I can tell you after doing this for many years, give me 20 minutes of Centering Prayer, and I'll have 80 minutes of thought, on a good day, that’s 90 minutes and 55 seconds. Because the brain is a thought generator. It's a thought maker, it cranks it out, but within and beneath all our thoughts, all our feelings, all our daydreams, our imaginings, the itchy nose, everything that arises is the silence. 
The silence never goes away. Even if you are so caught up in a daydream that you forgotten you're doing Centering Prayer happened to me, but the silence never goes away and one of the reasons why I'm such a strong believer in having a stable practice, a daily practice, and perseverance is that I think the real gift of this practice slowly emerges over time, we talked about transformation.
I think that's part of the transformative work of Centering Prayer is that we just slowly recognize what's been there all along the luminous time is what Martin Laird calls an ocean of light, the ocean of light is within us. You can say the ocean is not our blood, we carry an ocean in our bodies and the light is the spirit is the luminous presence of the Spirit, who loves us who created us has been poured into our hearts. So Centering Prayer is and again, it's wordless. It's not like you're sitting here thinking, “Oh, I'm swimming in the ocean of love” 
If you're thinking that what do you do your return to your sacred word? The whole idea is just this gentle cycle. have whatever thoughts arise, it can be the most pious thoughts in the world, or they can be the most mean-spirited thoughts. I've certainly seen the whole gamut, which has gently set them aside because we are in this posture of receiving. 
What is contemplation? Contemplation is the gift that is given, and I believe that gift is given whether we are conscious of it or not. That's another important issue. So you may be sitting there, I'll speak for myself, I may be sitting there, again, daydreaming, my mind is stuck out on Deep Space Nine somewhere and yet, underneath that kind of crazy monkey mind, my heart is engaged in the gift of wordless adoration, which has been given to me by the Spirit, the method of Centering Prayer, engaging in the four guidelines showing up taking those 20 minutes or so is simply making myself available. What's the old saying “90% of life is showing up. Saying your prayer is a gesture of showing up”.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:10:59] I love that, Carl, too, how you are talking about “it's a relationship that's beyond words.” But words are still around, and words are going to come into the practice. You've said that about silence too. That's sort of a relative term, it's not like you can have absolutely no noise at all. It's something about the relationship to that not engaging in the words or not being limited simply by the word, the words that are there, there's beyond that, I think that's so important in the way you expressed it so beautifully, that it's just this ocean of light, this energy running through us that we take time to just sit back and experience it. Get in it too, consciously.

Colleen Thomas [00:11:39] And I wonder, too. I love how you phrase this Centering Prayer as the gesture of consent and referencing the guideline. The guideline talks specifically about choosing a sacred word or symbol as your intention to consent and it says to consent to the presence and action of God within. 
But I wonder, are we also consenting to our human condition? Where words come in, regardless of whether we can control it? Can you talk a little bit about the intention to consent the gesture of consent? What are we consenting to?

Carl McColman [00:12:21] We can start with the guidelines, as you yourself mentioned calling the idea of consenting to God's action within us. I totally agree. I'm just gonna say yes, I agree that consenting to our own humaneness. 
It's funny, for people who are listening, I’m wearing a shirt that says “human” on it, because I think that is the reality. Our humaneness is such a core reality of the spiritual life and so what does that mean? 
What is our humaneness? Our humaneness is a glorious mess. We're physical creatures. We're creatures that eat and poop. We're creatures that get tired and get grumpy and we have good days and bad days, and we can look at some of the language of our tradition. We’ve got this language like of original sin and it's language that I hold very gently, because I think it's language that has been weaponized and has been used to hurt people. 
But I think that underneath that language, there's just kind of this acknowledgement that we're all broken in some way, shape, or form. Where we're all imperfect. We're all in process. We all have cutting edges, places where we're invited to grow, places where we're invited to be healed or to be transformed with Divine Grace, bring healing and transformation to one another. 
So back to the thoughts, the arising of thoughts to me one of the biggest misunderstandings about Centering Prayer in particular, or contemplative practices in general, is this idea that it's about emptying the mind and whenever somebody will say that to me, or I read it online, I always bristle and my response is, if you want to empty the mind, you kind of have to go into a coma. Or at the very least very deep sleep. You've popped three Benadryls. [indiscernible 00:14:02]

Mark Dannenfelser [00:14:04] That's a different practice.

Carl McColman [00:14:07] It's no judgement here. But that's not what Centering Prayer is. Centering Prayer is an attentiveness and awareness, a showing up again and I love Father Thomas's metaphor, “The boats on the river”. I think it's so useful, and everybody gets it.

Colleen Thomas [00:14:27] Can you share that with us? 

Carl McColman [00:14:29] Sure. So, the idea is that the Centering Prayer experience is like sitting on a riverbank and you've got this beautiful river, the waters glistening, there's sunlight, and there's birds and fish hopping around, and it's just this wonderful bucolic setting and then along comes a freighter and its belching smoke and it's making noise and it kind of spoils the scenery, but it also a good thing. It represents human activity and commerce and really and so forth. Then it goes on and then now along comes a sailboat a little bit more attractive, but it's still a boat and then a rowboat, and then a dinghy and I don't know ocean liner how God on the river, who knows. 
All these boats come chugging along and the reality is, is that when the boat comes along, you notice it maybe or even tempted to get on the boat. But then you're not there to simply enjoy the water to enjoy the river and so it's this kind of constant reminding you of yourself, to let the boat go on by that we don't have to get on the boat. 
Sometimes we do. That's getting lost and the Buddhists call it forgetting the instructions and I think that's a useful analogy. 
So, what are the instructions for us? It's the guidelines, those are the instructions and sometimes we forget the instructions we get on the boat and suddenly we find we're down.
We've gotten to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and we're like, what am I doing on this boat? And sometimes that doesn't happen until the bell rings at the end of your 20 minutes. But the practice is giving ourselves the invitation, the permission, if you will, or the discipline to not get on the boat. When the boats come, you just let them go on by.
In my experience, I imagine the experience of anybody who perseveres in this practice is that oftentimes at the beginning the river it's like rush hour on the river, or there's lots of boats coming along big boats, little boats, sailboats, motorboats and then as the time progresses, it's like, I just relax into the practice and so the sacred word, that the sacred word really kind of represents that gesture of pulling your attention off of the boat and back onto the river or just back on to nature and it seems that just as time goes by, there seems to be fewer and fewer boats, not always, sometimes it's the other way around, maybe I'll enter into the silence and the boats to start, come on along and I think this is back to the gesture of consent to our humaneness calling, it's learning to accept what is and not. The last thing I want to do is to try to build a dam, I'm going to build a dam and none of these boats are going to come by anymore, then where do you end up with a dry riverbed? 
There's this kind of existential relationship between the water and the boats. 
For us, what does that mean? That means the silence and our consciousness, the stream of consciousness, our thoughts, our feelings, our daydreams, all this stuff, there's just an interconnectedness. 
That Centering Prayer does not sever and is not meant to sever. 
It is meant to expand our awareness not to go in and perform surgery on ourselves.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:17:36] Carl, I love that description, the way you described the river, it's Keating had talked about it that way. But this is clearly very familiar to you, in your own practice and how you talk about it. You mentioned the sacred word sacred symbol often is described as a word, a short word, or an image or the breath, but that there's something about allowing that sacred symbol to be part of this dynamic of jumping in the river after a boat or getting completely lost in thought engaged in thought. 
I just wonder if you could say more about that, because I hear from people is that like a mantra? What exactly is this sacred symbol? And how do we work with that as part of the practice, I wonder if you could say more about that.

Carl McColman [00:18:23] if you read the guidelines, the guidelines do not talk about necessarily repeating the sacred word, the guidelines say that we repeat the sacred word, as thoughts arise, or when thoughts arise, I take that for what it's worth and to me, the sacred word, or the sacred symbol is not a mantra in the sense of something that is meant to be repeated over the course of the prayer or meditation period. 
So, I think that it's perfectly appropriate that thoughts drop away, and this sacred word drops away and we are simply resting in the presence or resting in the silence. 
Sooner or later, another book comes chugging along, sooner or later it's like, wow, I'm in silence. This is great. I must be a mystic. Guess what? That’s the boat and so as soon as the boat comes along, what do you do? You reintroduce the sacred word or attentiveness to your breath, or whatever method you're using to symbolize that consent. 
It's almost like a waltz. It's like a three-step dance, that you've got the silence got the sacred word, or sacred symbol, and you've got thoughts, and they're all part of the process. It's not like the silence is the good stuff and the thoughts are the bad stuff. 
That's dualistic thinking, to have a more non dual experience of Centering Prayer is to simply embrace it all. In the words of one of my spiritual heroes, Pete the cat It's good. 
Thoughts arise, you're alive. Your brain is generating ideas. Sometimes they're crappy ideas. But sometimes they're luminous ideas. They're wonderful ideas. They're words of love and of care and compassion and justice and relationship and reconciliation, et cetera. 
Again, in Centering Prayer, we let them go and if the thought is a thought, you're ashamed of or embarrassed by or it has to do with a strong emotion or anger or whatever you let that go to. We can talk about the whole idea of the unloading of the unconscious. This is back to Centering Prayer is a transformative experience. 
Because certainly that's been my experience is that to use Yong Yong language, my shadow shows up. The stuff that I'm trying to keep locked away, in, walks out and says, here, I am healed and so yeah, and it's not me that's doing the healing. It's the spirit. Of course, my job is to create the space for that to happen, trusting that God's presence in my heart. It's a promise from scripture, God is present in my heart and God is there to love me and to bring me healing. This is the theology I think of contemplation.

[solemn music starts]

Mark Dannenfelser: In the Christian tradition, Contemplative Prayer is the opening of your mind and heart to God who is beyond thoughts, words, and emotions. Centering Prayer is a method designed to facilitate contemplation. The method suggests four guidelines. 
One, choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God's presence and action within you. 
Two, sit comfortably and relatively still close your eyes or leave them slightly open and silently introduce your sacred word. 
Three, when you notice you have become engaged with a thought, simply return ever so gently to your sacred word. 
And four, at the end of the 20-minute prayer period, let go of the sacred word and remain in silence for a couple of minutes. The additional time invites you to bring the atmosphere of silence into everyday life.

[solemn music ends]

Colleen Thomas [00:22:18] I'm thinking about Thomas Keating, who introduced this practice of Centering Prayer to us, and he was more than just a teacher of a method. He also taught us about these emotional programs, the ways in which we see the world and see ourselves and one of his most seminal works, he talks about invitation to love, he uses mystical prayer synonymously with contemplative prayer, and I really want to talk with you about this relationship between mystical prayer and contemplative prayer because you do so much work. 
You're a teacher of mysticism, and I want to share briefly to that in the mystery of God, Thomas Keating talks about the spiritual journey as a process that happens to us that we don't do it, the mystery unfolds, and he calls the Christian mystical tradition, is a process that is appropriate for those devoting themselves to seeking the mystery that is at once awesome and irresistible. 
These seekers are motivated by the desire to know to serve, and to do the will of this immense goodness and he sounds like a mystic. So, I'm curious, do you see Thomas Keating as a mystic? And can you talk with us a little bit about how you see mystical prayer, and contemplative prayer as being in relationship with one another?

Carl McColman [00:23:56] It's a big question. First of all, yes, absolutely. Thomas Keating, from my mind is and will be regarded as one of the great Christian mystics. Incidentally, there's a saying, and I can't tell you who said it first. But there's a saying that a mystic is not a special kind of person. Each person is a special kind of mystic and I believe that wholeheartedly. 
Saying, is this person a mystic is that person, a mystic, I think is almost a meaningless conversation. Of course, we're mystics, we were born, we came out of our mother's womb, that's the requirement for being a mystic. 
The question is, how does the mystical life embody in this particular person? And with Thomas Keating, we have just an amazing teacher, somebody who clearly was immersed in the Christian mystical tradition, and who did just tremendous service, not only to the Christian community, but I think to the global community, in terms of bringing their tradition to the public in a way that is very accessible and meaningful and useful for people in our time. 
So absolutely. I think Keating is one of the great It's I think he'll rank up there with Thomas Merton, Simone Weil, Evelyn Underhill as one of the great mystics of our time so that I'm just clear on now to get into muddier waters. 
What is the relationship between mysticism and contemplation, and a simplistic but maybe a good starting point would be to say mysticism is the theory and contemplation is the practice that when we talk about mysticism, we're talking about a theology. 
In fact, before the word mysticism existed, you have the concept of mystical theology that goes really all the way back to the fifth sixth century, maybe even earlier in the Christian tradition.
Teresa of Avila, when she talks about mysticism, she never uses the word mysticism. It didn't exist in the 1500s. But she does talk about mystical theology. So, it begins as a theology as a narrative as a story. It is the story of God as infinite love as what it means to be human, is to be in response to that love. 
This is what I think is the foundation point for us. Again, contemplation, I'm an etymology geek. So, let's also talk about the etymology of these words.
Mysticism comes from the same Greek root, that we get the word “mystery”, but also that we get the word “mute”, like the mute button on Zoom, or on your phone or your TV remote. 
So, it has this kind of embodied quality of shouting, like shutting the mouth, shutting the eyes, when you press the mute button, you have shut off the mouth of your TV, you've turned off the speakers. 
Mysticism immediately has something to do, obviously, with mystery, but also a silence, shutting the mouth, but then interiority shutting the eyes, the word goes back to the pagan Greeks, the idea of the mystery religions, these were initiatory religions, where people went through some sort of a sacred secret ceremony in which the God or the Goddess that the particular Mystery Religion worshipped with gives special secrets or special insights to the initiates. So, there's this quality of secrecy and kind of the pagan meaning of the word, but then you get into the New Testament get into the Christian tradition, and Christianity turns mystery inside out and the whole idea in the New Testament is that the mystery of Christ is hidden things have gotten made manifest. 
The emphasis is less on secrets, as in a secret that is kept a secret that is curated and more on for lack of a better word, ineffability, that those things that can't be put into words that really are available to anyone who wants to stop and pay attention
When we say the mystery of Christ, what is the mystery of Christ? Mystery of Christ is God in human form. When we say the mystery of God, what do we mean? We mean the mystery of infinite love, of endless reconciliation of unrelenting justice, of community of care of compassion, of enlightenment, of consciousness, metanoia, the word that we get translated very anemic Glee, as repentance, but never noia really has this idea of going beyond your mind moving into a higher consciousness. 
This is what all of this kind of factors into what has come to be known as mysticism.

Colleen Thomas [00:28:11] Yeah, I hear everybody is a mystic. Everybody can be a mystic and the gift of contemplation is opening ourselves, perhaps to the possibility of being open to the mystery of God and to think about the transformative dynamic of Centering Prayer. 
In my own life, I think about this evolution, ongoing evolution from a need to know the doctrine, the meaning of complex, mysterious things, like the cross, for example. 
Whereas as I practice the prayer and live into this contemplative gift, I become less obsessed with needing to understand things and willing to just simply rest in the mystery and I think, Mark, maybe that's where you were leading to is how does this prayer and this practice, affect our living in the world?

Mark Dannenfelser [00:29:22] I was going to add to that to the car, because in addition to your writing, and your teaching, you're also a spiritual director. So, I know many people come to you with a similar kind of question, how do I live this out? How do these practices help me to live my life in some way? And in fact, your website is called Anam Chara, which means some form of “soul friend”, and I think you befriend people in this practice also, and assist people in living the life so I'm wondering what kind of help can we get for trying to live this way? And how do you offer that to people who are genuinely interested in this mystical life and living it. 

Carl McColman [00:30:04] Spiritual direction, spiritual accompaniment, soul friendship, there's a number of words to describe this is the contemporary expression of a long standing ministry in the Christian tradition. You see it with the desert mothers and fathers, you see between Teresa of Avila and John of The Cross. Between Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, St. Francis De Sales, and St. Shan Shan Tal, and again and again and again. This shows up where we mentor one another, we accompany one another, we befriend one another and, in that relationship, we are able to more immediately make ourselves available to listening to this Spirits work in our lives. 
The first thing about spiritual direction which may seem counterintuitive is that you don't direct you listen, you ask questions, you celebrate. A line from St. Ignatius, and I just love, “You savor the Graces”. I savor that line, and somebody comes to me, and they tell me a story about the experience of God, oftentimes, first thing I will say is, “can we just sit, and savor the answers?”. 
Because we live in a culture that's not about savoring. We live in a culture that's about fast food. Go through the drive thru, get the carbs and stuff it down your gullet as fast as you can, because you're on to the next thing. 
This is a four-course gourmet French meal, we're going to savor this and we're gonna love it. 
There are four questions in spiritual direction, at least kind of my philosophy of spiritual direction. Question number one, who is God? Question number two, who am I? Question number three, who are we out of community factor into the spiritual life? Who am I in relationship with? How does my relationship with God and self-impinge on those relations? And then question number four, who are they? Who are those who my experience is other? Those who trigger me who challenged me, who frightened me who oppress me who suffer because of my privilege? And what are my obligations to those people? Why does the relationship between me and God how does that impact all of those relationships, the “we relationships” ended “they relationships”, and a spoiler alert, I think Jesus is interested in getting us to expand the way and to and to deconstruct. 
We live where we are and start where we are and most of us have a “we” and have a “that” and we have to grapple with that. But to even begin to deal with that. There's also this interior work of who am I? Who is God? What does it mean for me and God to be in a relationship. 
So many people that I encounter, whether it's in a formal spiritual direction relationship, or just in a more informal setting. So many people are trampled by a sense of God is angry, God is judgmental, God is mean, God is exclusionary, God is homophobic, or sexist, or racist, or whatever. We got to go after that. We've got a lot of baggage that has to be deconstructed. 
So that's part of the process. Here. Again, this goes back to mysticism is a story. For every one of us the story of how do we understand God? How do we experience God? Sometimes those two don't connect. We have to pay attention to that. This incredible journey of just knowing my image of God, understanding my image of God, understanding who I believe God has created me to be who I believe God has created others to be.

Colleen Thomas [00:33:11] 
This was foundational to Thomas Keating teachings, too. It's kind of circling back to the human condition that it's almost like before we can do something in the world. We have to know who we are and does the practice of Centering Prayer help us with this knowing who we are and how?

Carl McColman [00:33:35] 
I think so, I think it's certainly been true in my own life. As far as the “how”, one of the things that Centering Prayer does is it slows us down and I think that we live in a noisy, busy culture. Mark and I live in Atlanta, and I can tell you get on to 85 and you feel like you're taking your life in your hand. 
I'm sure, Coleen, where you live, I'm sure there's a similar road that's everywhere and it's so fast and we get impatient. Think about if you're driving the speed limit, how many people zoom around you? It certainly happens here in Atlanta, that it happens most places. 
And so, it's the price we pay for our convenience oriented, fast paced, loud, noisy culture is that what is leached away from us is the time and the space and the leisure that is necessary to know ourselves. 
Our culture is crazy fast, Centering Prayer slows us down. I think it really is that simple and I think in the slowing down, we encounter ourselves and I think many of us, again, I'll speak very personally, I have my own issues of shame, my own issues of anxiety and depression, just the challenging issues of life, that learning to be friend of myself, it wasn't something I just picked up as a kid, it was something I had to grow into, or I had to relax into. 
I've lived a very privileged life, I say that with a tinge of embarrassment, because I know so many people can't say that. So many people have been traumatized have experienced the brunt of a culture that privileges some people over others. 
We are who we are and that's what we bring to the Centering Prayer table. But I know there are many people that silence is frightening for them, that that silence, puts them in touch with their trauma, or puts them in touch with their experience of oppression or experience of other people having privilege that they're denied, et cetera and a person in that kind of situation, it may really have to be a very, very gentle process of little by little giving themselves permission to be present to the pain for the purposes of healing. 
And it's learning to trust that the God who is in our hearts has our back that this is love, and that this is kindness, and that this God wants to heal our broken places are hurt places are suffering places, and then wants to equip us and those of us who maybe because of gender, or race or sexual orientation, or educational level, financial, whatever, are the beneficiaries of privilege. 
Listen, I'm not interested in shame. But I am interested in dismantling privilege. 
So, then I think you do this kind of work and you cannot help but notice that we live in a world that's unequal. 
We live in a world where there's a lack of justice and if we notice that, that means we're being equipped to do something about it and I'm talking about something that may happen over months, or years or even decades, this Spirit works slowly in many of our hearts and a lot of us, especially if we have political awakening, and we see how much suffering there is in the world, we get on fire, and we just want to go out and make it better and I think that fire is good. But I also think that the spirits playing a long game, too and we all know we've all seen what happens when there's a violent revolution, oppression shifts from one group to another, and the Spirit wants to dismantle oppression, wants to dismantle prejudice wants to foster justice, foster reconciliation, foster beloved community. That's going to take time, but each one of us has a piece to play in that process.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:37:12] Yeah, and there's a need for support there to sometimes a difficult and frightening kind of prospect to be transformed and to challenge some of these very things that you're talking about, Carl, and this is an interest of Contemplative Outreach as an organization, how do we continue to support the people in not just in the practice itself, but in this whole process of kind of deconstructing and reconstructing. I wonder if you have other thoughts about that, Carl?

Carl McColman [00:36:42] I’m excited to live in the future and see what God's up to. I think there's tradition as part of any faith community and so certainly, there is a mystical tradition within Christianity, there's a theological tradition, there's a tradition of social justice and various strands of tradition and so those of us who are alive today, we represent the opportunity to be part of a tradition for a short period of time.
I'm in my early 60s, probably I've lived over half my life already, maybe three quarters of a mile, who knows, we're only here for a short time and so this time is precious, and it is a gift, and the reality is that tradition does evolve just like a river, the Mississippi river looks different in Minneapolis than it does in New Orleans. It's just that's the nature of the river. It's tradition, a tradition is a river. 
So, what is our job, our job is to receive the tradition, to reflect on it, pray on it, be in it and then to pass that on to our children and grandchildren and hopefully, to pass on something that we feel good about passing on. 
For example, Jesus says 2000 years ago, He says, “Love your enemies”. 
We haven't even begun to crack that and what does that really mean? What does that mean, in a world where you have this horrible ground war going on in Ukraine, in a world where you still have police brutality, and you still have violence against women and violence against transgender people et cetera?
How can we even have a political conversation in our country today without getting so angry at the other side, this is the world we find ourselves in and so here comes Jesus, and he says, “Love your enemies”. He says forgive 70 times 70. He says be perfect and what he means by be perfect is God sends the rain on everybody. God sends the sunshine to everybody. Love without condition. 
Now, that doesn't mean we don't fight for what's right that we don't take a stand. I don't think there's a contradiction there. But it's taking a stand out of love, rather than out of aggression and that's where I think a lot of us miss the boat and again, going back to these teachings from 2000 years ago, so I think if I'm understanding your question, what is the future of Centering Prayer? What is the future of contemplation? What is the future of Christian mysticism? What do we have that we didn't have 20 years ago? 
We have cell phones, we have the internet, we have new communications technology, we have access, I mean, about I'm sure that there are efforts being made right now to digitize the works of Father Thomas Keating, all the books of Thomas Merton, that are now on Kindle, and you can search them. 
We have access to so much knowledge that generations before us didn't have, you know, again, thanks to cellular technology, we're so much more dialed into the injustice in the world and the negative impacts of oppression or privilege. 
This is what we're given. So, we have to be a mystic and a contemplative in this world. 
There's no going back to Teresa of Avila, or to Julian of Norwich, or even to Howard Thurman, we live in a different world. This is the world that we're being called in today. 
So, if you want to know just a few thoughts kind of already touched on most of them. I think that contemplation in the future is going to be embedded in the struggle for justice. It's just I don't think you can separate the two. I think that the struggle for justice without contemplation turns into revolution, violent revolution, and contemplation without the struggle for justice is navel gazing. To go together, there's no separation. 
So that's the first piece. The second piece is I think we've really got to hunker down and have some real come to Jesus talks about interfaith dialogue and about the fact that that Christianity has to play well, or are some T-shirts, they play well with others prays well with others. 
Christianity needs to be in conversation with Islam, needs to be in conversation with Judaism, with Buddhism, with Hinduism, with earth-centered religions, with shamanism, with goddess spirituality, those conversations. And we've got to be serious about them, which means we have to deconstruct the triumphalist religion where our God wins and all the rest of them are demons. That date has expired. It has expired a lot.

Colleen Thomas [00:41:52]
And I think Father Thomas knew this, too. Because in his vision and principles, he alludes to the importance of this interfaith, interspiritual dialogue and embracing beyond what is and was in his time when he introduced the practice of very Catholic, I think often how do we continue to share this practice with the voice and teacher of the practice being with the kids call a white cisgendered male, priest of an institution that has arguably done lots of harm, and I see younger contemplatives very uncomfortable with practicing their spirituality in spaces where there is no diversity or inclusion and so that's an ongoing work for Contemplative Outreach and I see an excitement about the future and this podcast is a good example too. 
We have to have you back, Carl, because I want to ask you like 50 more questions.

Carl McColman [00:43:06] 
These conversations of course I would love to come back, and I think that it sounds like Contemplative Outreach has some really wonderful kind of bullet points in terms of your vision. 
I guess I could say our vision since I do identify with Contemplative Outreach and think that the ministry is so important, but relationships are the key. All that we've talked about, whether it's interfaith, whether it's the struggle for justice, whether it's increasing diversity, another issue that is just really on my heart is the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, transgender, queer, non-binary persons into any faith context and as we know, there's a lot of work that needs to be done there as well and then we haven't even addressed the question of the environment, the question of economic injustice, there's so fertile ground. 
I think God calls us to be where we are, and to meet what arises today. But then to do that, with this gesture of consent, if we do that, the future of Contemplative Outreach of Centering Prayer will take care of itself because the Spirit will be in charge. There's a Trappist monk down in Conyers, who says don't worry about the future God's already there, which is not to abdicate our responsibility in the present which, among other things includes planning for an optimal future. 
But to do that, out of a place of trust, and adventure, isn't this exciting, the auspicious Joy each one of us has been given but 70, 80, 90, 100 years, and we get to contribute to the grand experiment of law that is the human race and the human family.
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Colleen Thomas [00:44:38] 
Thanks for joining us on this episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts. 
Visit our website, Contemplativeoutreach.org to subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever else you listen to podcasts. You can also follow us on Instagram @contemplativeoutreachLtd. To learn more about our guests and their work, you can find info in the show notes for each episode. 
If you enjoyed this episode, you might want to check out our YouTube channel: C-O-U-T-R-E-A-C-H. Coutreach. 
Thanks for listening and see you next time. 
This episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts is produced by Crys & Tiana.
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