Saturday, December 19, 2009

Open Mind, Open Heart

20th Anniversary edition, by Thomas Keating, Continuum Books, Continuum Books, 190 pages.

In his sophisticated book on Catholic spirituality, Thomas Keating states that prayer is not principally about you, but about God. Prayer is about seeking God.

Open Mind, Open Heart is of interest to people with some theological knowledge or those seeking spiritual discipline, but Keating, American Trappist monk and teacher of Centering Prayer, also writes incisively about human psychology.

Even more than all that, however, he offers the simple, down-home advice that good priests and religious have often been able to offer to the rest of us over the centuries: “Before you reflect on whether a particular period of prayer is going well, you are having a good period of prayer. After you reflect, it is not so good. If you are drenched with thoughts and can't do anything about them, acquiesce to the fact that that's the way it is for today. The less you wiggle and scream, the sooner the work can be done.”

This is the sort of excellent Catholic spirituality and theology that can answer the New Age movement or the Da Vinci Code's me-me-me spirituality. Keating does focus on the individual, but cautions against self-centeredness and aims instead for critical self-awareness.

Thus Keating writes, “Not contemplative prayer but the contemplative state is the purpose of our practice; not experiences, however exotic or reassuring, but the permanent and abiding awareness of God that comes through the mysterious restructuring of consciousness. At some point in your life, it could be in the middle of the night, on a subway, or in the midst of prayer, the necessary changes in the nervous system and psyche finally come to completion.”

These words make modern pop culture and spirituality (including that which has invaded the Catholic Church) look not evil and destructive but small and petty. To borrow from this pop culture, Brother Keating is a kind of Anthony Robbins of the soul, telling us in a straightforward manner that there's so much more to life.

He is not satisfied with Sunday Catholicism or five-minute spirituality, challenging us instead to the repentance and change of heart that Jesus and the first Christians called the world to: “Divine love is not an attitude that one puts on like a cloak. It is rather the right way to respond to reality. It is the right relationship to being, including our own being. And that relationship is primarily one of receiving. No one has any degree of divine love except what one has received.”

These words evoke a primitive, ancient Christianity—an eternal Christianity. Keating repeatedly gets to the heart of the matter, which is the human heart and its relationship with Christ.

No comments:

Post a Comment