Thomas Keating

thomas keating

Fr. Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O. (born 7 March 1923) is a Trappist monk (Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance) and priest, known as one of the architects of Centering Prayer, a contemporary method of contemplative prayer, that emerged from St. Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer, Massachusetts, in 1975. He is a founder of the Centering Prayer movement and of Contemplative Outreach, Ltd.. William Meninger and Basil Pennington, also Cistercian monks, were the other architects.

When the concept was first proposed by Father Keating, Fr. William Meninger started teaching a method based on the 14th century spiritual classic, The Cloud of Unknowing. Fr. Meninger referred to this as the Prayer of the Cloud and taught it to priests at the retreat house. Fr. Basil Pennington gave the first retreat to a lay audience in Connecticut where the participants suggested the term Centering Prayer. Since Thomas Merton had been known to use the term prior to this, it has been suggested the phrase may have originated from him.

Keating was born in New York City and attended Deerfield Academy, Yale University, and Fordham University, graduating in December 1943. He entered the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance in Valley Falls, Rhode Island, in January, 1944. He was appointed Superior of St. Benedict’s Monastery, Snowmass, Colorado, in 1958, and was elected abbot of St. Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer, Massachusetts, in 1961. He returned to Snowmass after retiring as abbot of Spencer in 1981, where he established a program of ten-day intensive retreats in the practice of Centering Prayer.

In 1984, Fr. Thomas Keating along with Gustave Reininger and Edward Bednar, co-founded Contemplative Outreach, Ltd., an international, ecumenical spiritual network that teaches the practice of Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina, a method of prayer drawn from the Christian contemplative tradition. Contemplative Outreach provides a support system for those on the contemplative path through a wide variety of resources, workshops, and retreats. Fr. Keating currently lives at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. He has participated in “Monastic Interreligious Dialogue,” an effort that brings together Benedictine and Trappist religious with “contemplative practitioners of diverse religious traditions,” including non-Christians such as the Dalai Lama and various other Buddhist and Hindu practitioners (for which he is sometimes condemned as a mystical heretic by certain fundamentalist elements within his own religion, which regard Centering Prayer as “dangerously close” to Eastern yoga and zen meditation modalities).

Sources include:

Excerpts from his writings:

“Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation. In order to hear that language, we must learn to be still and to rest in God.”

“The complementary movement towards divine love is growth in humility which is the acceptance of the reality about ourselves, our own weakness and limitations.”

“If we refuse to think of anything except what we are doing or the person that we are with, we develop the habit of being present to the present moment. In a way, the present moment becomes as sacred as being in church. Far better to be present to your duty if you are a bartender, than to be present in church and to be thinking about being in a bar. At least you are present to yourself when you are paying attention to what you are doing.

Attention, then, is a way of doing what we are doing. It cracks the crust of the false self (our psychological awareness of daily life) in which we are the center of the universe while everything else is circling around our particular needs or desires. This is an illusion, but unfortunately it is the heritage we all bring with us from early life.”

“Just by the very nature of our birth, we are on the spiritual journey.”

“Centering prayer is a training in letting go.”

“Centering prayer is a contemporary name for the practice that Jesus refers to as ‘prayer in secret’ in the Sermon on the Mount. In the course of time this prayer has been given other names such as ‘pure prayer,’ ‘prayer of faith,’ ‘prayer of the heart,’ and ‘prayer of simplicity.’”

“Contemplative prayer is the world in which God can do anything. To move into that realm is the greatest adventure. It is to be open to the Infinite and hence to infinite possibilities. Our private, self-made worlds come to an end; a new world appears within and around us and the impossible becomes an everyday experience. Yet the world that prayer reveals is barely noticeable in the ordinary course of events.”

“Christian life and growth are founded on faith in our own basic goodness, in the being that God has given us with its transcendent potential. This gift of being is our true Self. Through our consent by faith, Christ is born in us and the Risen Christ and our true Self become one. Our awakening to the presence and action of the Spirit is the unfolding of Christ’s resurrection in us.”

“The root of prayer is interior silence. We may think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words, but this is only one of its forms. ‘Prayer,’ according to (Church Father) Evagrius, ‘is the laying aside of thoughts.’ This definition presupposes that there are thoughts. Centering prayer is not so much the absence of thoughts as detachment from them. It is the opening of mind and heart, body and emotions–our whole being–to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond words, thoughts, and emotions–beyond, in other words, the psychological content of the present moment. In centering prayer we do not deny or repress what is in our (conscious thinking process). We simply accept the fact of whatever is there and go beyond it, not by effort, but by letting go of whatever is there.”

“Centering Prayer is not just a method. It is true prayer at the same time, a prayer of consenting to God’s presence and action within…In Centering Prayer we withdraw our attention from the ordinary flow of thoughts. We tend to identify ourselves with that flow. But there is a deeper part of ourselves — the spiritual level. Centering Prayer opens our awareness to this deep level of our being. Practicing this prayer is not doing nothing. It is a very gentle kind of activity.”

“Contemplative, centering prayer is a process of inner transformation, a conversation initiated by God and leading, if we consent, to divine union. One’s way of seeing reality changes in the process. A restructuring of consciousness takes place which empowers one to perceive, relate and respond with increasing sensitivity to the divine presence in, through, and beyond everything that exists.”

“Seekers are people of faith even if they do not belong to a particular religion. Faith in this sense is deeper than one’s belief system. Belief systems belong to the level of pluralism; faith to the level of unity. Faith is constitutive of human nature itself. It is openness to Ultimate Mystery before it is broken down into various belief systems. It is the acceptance of authentic living with all its creativity and the acceptance of dying with its potential for a greater fullness of life.”

“When all striving ceases I awaken to behold ever-present Awareness keeping silent watch.”

“We may enjoy an experience of God that is so delightful that we may think all our troubles are over and we have at last completed the journey. Then after a few hours or a few days we find ourselves on the spiral staircase again and cannot even remember the pleasures of that transient experience of divine union. The whole purpose of this alternation is to bring the soul to the total transformation of love.”

“God is everywhere. The animals and flowers all manifest God’s presence, as does the marvelous ecological balance we’re becoming more aware of in recent times. Everything seems to work together over time to produce a certain consciousness of God’s presence.”

“Love has given humans very real gifts. The chief one is the divine indwelling, God’s own presence within us, sustaining us by this creative action and embracing us, or trying to heal or transform us through the redeeming love that is distinctively motherly. As the spiritual journey progresses, one comes face to face with the divine presence.”

“The ordinary circumstances of daily life bring back the same routines, and often the sense of going nowhere! But “nowhere” is where God is most active. God and daily life are always in dialogue and sometimes in a state of war. There is a struggle to figure out what god is saying in the events and circumstances of daily life and how daily life is meant to transform us… Listening to God in silent loving attentiveness, enables us to let go of our preconceptions and over-identifications with the events of daily life, which tends to dominate our emotional reactions rather than invite our free response.”

“Contemplative prayer is not a conversation in words, but an exchange of hearts.”

“God will bring people and events into our lives, and whatever we may think about them, they are designed for the evolution of His life in us.”

“For human beings, the most daunting challenge is to become fully human. For to become fully human is to become fully divine.”

“Nothing is more helpful to reduce pride than the actual experience of self-knowledge. If we are discouraged by it, we have misunderstood its meaning.”

“St. Teresa of Avila wrote: ‘All difficulties in prayer can be traced to one cause: praying as if God were absent.’ This is the conviction that we bring with us from early childhood and apply to everyday life and to our lives in general. It gets stronger as we grow up, unless we are touched by the Gospel and begin the spiritual journey. This journey is a process of dismantling the monumental illusion that God is distant or absent.”

“Only when we can accept God as he is can we give up the desire for spiritual experiences that we can feel.”

“The fact that we experience anxiety and annoyance is the certain sign that, in the unconscious, there is an emotional program for happiness that has just been frustrated.”

“The false self is deeply entrenched. You can change your name and address, religion, country, and clothes. But as long as you don’t ask it to change, the false self simply adjusts to the new environment. For example, instead of drinking your friends under the table as a significant sign of self-worth and esteem, if you enter a monastery, as I did, fasting the other monks under the table could become your new path to glory.”

“As the Spirit gradually takes more and more charge of your prayer, you may move into pure consciousness, which is an intuition into your True Self. In that state, there is no consciousness of self. When your ordinary faculties come back again, there may be a sense of peaceful delight.”

“When you sit down for prayer, your whole psyche gathers itself and melts into God.”

“God and our true Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing.”

“God will bring people and events into our lives, and whatever we may think about them, they are designed for the evolution of His life in us.”

“The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from God.”

“The acceptance of all that God has given us and the willingness to let it go – to give it back to him at a moment’s notice – that’s true human freedom.”

“To become who we are as creatures made in the image and likeness of God, we have to be nothing and everything at once, since this is what God is. … If we accept who we are, we are manifesting God and radiating Christ. The latter unfolding of the divine life within us does not need to go anywhere or do anything special.”

We are kept from the experience of Spirit because our inner world is cluttered with past traumas . . . As we begin to clear away this clutter, the energy of divine light and love begins to flow through our being.”

“The root of prayer is interior silence.”

See also:


About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: Verses and ramblings on life as it is: Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: Verses on the Play of Consciousness: Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: Poems of the Mountain Hermit: Love Poems from The Book of Yes: Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: Thank You!
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