Finding the Language of God

Posted on: November 16, 2018, by :

Thomas Keating died, aged 95, on October 25 this year. ‘Who’s Thomas Keating?’ I hear you ask. Not really a household name, I agree, but Thomas Keating was an American monk and priest of the Cistercian order (also known as Trappists), and as abbot of St. Joseph’s Abbey, Massachusetts, he was one of the principal developers of the reflective practice known as Centring Prayer. His influence on the resurgence and development of Christian spirituality in the 1970s was significant, with spiritual leaders and mystics such as Henri Nouwen being shaped by his teaching.

Anchoring himself in the long and ancient heritage of Christian contemplatives, Keating recognised that so much of Christian prayer was a human construct designed to manipulate God into seeing things our way! It was often cast as a ‘discipline’ – a duty that good Christians ‘ought’ to observe – and was often squeezed into tight spaces in our frenetic lifestyles, or uttered in a moment of acute need.  Our use of words, words and more words left little room for listening to what God might have to say to us.

Said Keating, Silence is the language God speaks, and everything else a bad translation. His model of centring prayer was based around stillness and silence, sometimes using mantras to help focus the mind and open the soul to the promptings of the Spirit of God. He was enthusiastic about interfaith dialogue in an era when that was not the norm, hosting the Temple of Understanding in 1975 to bring together religious and spiritual leaders of diverse faith traditions to engage in dialogue, and address problems of intolerance, injustice and religious persecution. Keating integrated Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Sufi and other spiritual traditions in his own contemplative practice.

Centring prayer seeks to create space for quiet contemplation as a means of evoking the ‘relaxation response’ instead of the ‘stress response’ that is so common in everyday life.  Centring prayer often focuses on our breath and/or our body sensations as a pathway to stillness. Practised regularly, contemplation can help cultivate a stillness and peace within us that enables us to deal more constructively with the pressures of everyday life and promotes our general health and wellbeing. Here’s an exercise you might like to try:

Settle yourself in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed.  Allow yourself to relax in body, mind and spirit to become open to God. Focus on the breath entering and leaving your body and imagine it flowing right through your body and to the tips of your toes bringing relaxation and peace. When ready, turn your attention to your soul and the spark of God’s Spirit planted deep within you. Is there one aspect of the nature of God that you wish to feel particularly at this time (love? grace? joy? etc.)? Dwell gently on that quality. It may be helpful to finish with a brief expression of gratitude for the opportunity that has been afforded you, and perhaps for the life of Thomas Keating in whose steps we follow.

David Brooker

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