Father Thomas Keating has been a key figure in the Centering Prayer movement since its early beginnings in the 1970s. Distilled from the profound teachings of the Christian contemplative heritage, reaching from the early Desert Fathers and Mothers to The Cloud of Unknowing, St John of the Cross, and St Teresa of Avila, Centering Prayer has aimed to bring a living spirituality into an age where God is either reduced to the New-Age vicissitudes of emotionality or simply pronounced dead.
Although it would embarrass him to hear it, many people consider Father Thomas Keating to be a living Christian saint in the truest sense of the term. We at Integral Life certainly do so, and it is therefore with honor and humility that we present a conversation with this deeply realized human being.
Father Thomas Keating has been a key figure in the Centering Prayer movement since its early beginnings in the 1970s. Distilled from the profound teachings of the Christian contemplative heritage—reaching from the early Desert Fathers and Mothers to The Cloud of Unknowing, St John of the Cross, and St Teresa of Avila—Centering Prayer has aimed to bring a living spirituality into an age where God is either reduced to the New-Age vicissitudes of emotionality or is simply pronounced dead.
It was as a freshman in college that Father Thomas was forced to confront “the death of God” in the form of a modern philosophy course. Having been raised a Catholic, but “without a profound understanding of its historical or theological background,” the assaults on religion by the likes of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer were quite unsettling.
Having resolved to confront this dilemma through study, Father Thomas returned to the work of the early Church Fathers and their understanding of the Gospel. As a result of this research,
It became clearer and clearer to me that the Christian religion was really about transformation…. I got thoroughly convinced that the contemplative dimension of the Gospel is what Christianity is really all about. It’s the heart of the Gospel. But when I started looking around for how I could get some help developing a contemplative life, there wasn’t anybody….
Thus, the seed that would eventually bloom into Centering Prayer was sown deep in Father Thomas’s heart. Even though he has spent the whole of his adult life in monasteries, Father Thomas’s gift to the world has been to help bring God back within reach of the average human soul. As he points out, the contemplative faculty is not a reward for austerity, but is fundamental to human nature.
Father Thomas touches on many subjects in this dialogue, ranging from the effects of Vatican II, to the influence of Eastern traditions, to the need for an integration of the contemplative heart and the discursive head. His is a beautiful story, drawing on a lifetime’s worth of experience and yet always grounded in the timeless Mystery of God. As Father Thomas reminds us, “It can’t be expressed as it actually is, but you have to say something!” And may we respectfully suggest that you listen to the soul behind those words, to the depth and presence of one in whom God shines?
Image by David Titterington [+view gallery]
Text by Colin Bigelow
About Father Thomas Keating
Father Thomas Keating is considered by many to be one of the few genuinely realized Christian saints in the world today. He continues to be a prominent voice in the Christian Centering Prayer movement through the organization he founded, Contemplative Outreach, an international network committed to renewing the contemplative dimension of the Gospel in daily life.
About Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.