Thomas Keating: A Journey of Contemplation and Meditation
This paper explores the life, teachings, and contemplative practices of Father Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk and a pioneer of Christian meditation. It delves into Keating's understanding of contemplative Prayer, his method of Centering Prayer, and his unique approach to spiritual growth termed "the divine therapy."
Father Thomas Keating, born on March 7, 1923, in New York City, was a significant figure in the field of Christian contemplation. As a Trappist monk and priest, his teachings and practices have profoundly contributed to Christian spirituality, significantly influencing the contemplative prayer movement.
2. Biographical Overview
Keating attended Yale University and Fordham University before joining the Cistercians in Valley Falls, Rhode Island, in 1944. He was elected abbot of St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, in 1961 and served until 1981. During his time as abbot, Keating, along with William Meninger and Basil Pennington, developed the practice of Centering Prayer, a contemporary method of Christian contemplation.
3. Contemplation and Meditation Training
Keating described contemplative Prayer as the "way of pure faith" (Keating, 1997). For him, contemplation was not about feeling but about practicing. According to Keating, Contemplative Prayer is a transformative experience where one's self-constructed world ends, and a new divine reality emerges, albeit subtly.
Keating's teachings emphasized that contemplative Prayer is not about the absence of thoughts but detachment from them. It involves the whole being—mind, heart, body, and emotions—opening up to God, the ultimate mystery beyond words, thoughts, and feelings.
In his explanation of contemplative Prayer, Keating stressed that the practitioner does not need to go anywhere to find God. This perspective shifts the focus of Prayer from an outward search to an inward opening. The idea is to open oneself to an action that is already happening within us, recognizing that God is already drawing us into union with Him.
4. Centering Prayer
Keating's most significant contribution to Christian spirituality was arguably the development of Centering Prayer. This practice, designed to foster a deeper relationship with God, involves choosing a sacred word as a symbol of one's consent to God's presence and action within.
The Centering Prayer method is characterized by a gentle release of thoughts, focusing on the process rather than trying to stop thoughts from arising. The practitioner sits comfortably, closes their eyes, and silently introduces the sacred word. Whenever they find themselves engaged with thoughts, they gently return to the sacred word.
Keating advised practitioners to follow the "4 Rs" for unwanted thoughts, feelings, or emotions:
Resist no thought
Retain no thought
React to no thought
Return ever so gently to the sacred word
Keating was among the first spiritual teachers to term the Centering Prayer process "the divine therapy." According to him, this therapy leads to the purification and healing of the unconscious, thus deepening the practitioner's relationship with God. Keating's teaching suggests that Centering Prayer allows for the healing of deep psychological wounds and fosters spiritual growth, thus making it a kind of divine therapy. Through this contemplative process, practitioners can experience profound transformation and union with God.
Keating's approach to Centering Prayer has been instrumental in bringing the contemplative tradition back to a central role in Christian spirituality. He emphasized the importance of quantity and quality in Prayer. For Keating, a moment of divine union is more valuable than a long period of Prayer marked by fluctuations in and out of silence.
The legacy of Father Thomas Keating is monumental, paving the way for a deeper understanding of Christian contemplation and meditation. His teachings continue to guide many spiritual seekers, providing a distinctive and transformative path to divine encounter and spiritual growth.
Thomas Keating's life and teachings offer a profound and practical guide for those seeking to deepen their spiritual journey. His understanding of contemplative Prayer, his method of Centering Prayer, and his unique approach to spiritual growth termed "the divine therapy" provide valuable insights for anyone seeking to deepen their relationship with the divine. His work continues to inspire and guide countless spiritual seekers, testifying to the transformative power of contemplative Prayer.
Acknowledgments: The author appreciates the invaluable contribution of Contemplative Outreach and the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue for their continued preservation and dissemination of Father Thomas Keating's teachings.
References: Keating, T. (1997). Active Meditations for Contemplative Prayer. New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury.
Keywords: Thomas Keating, biography, contemplation, meditation, Centering Prayer, divine therapy, Christian contemplation.
Christian Contemplation Introduction