Lent is the season in which
the church as a whole enters into an extended retreat. Jesus went into
the desert for forty days and forty nights. The practice of Lent is a
participation in Jesus’ solitude, silence and privation.
The forty days of Lent bring
into focus a long biblical tradition beginning with the Flood in the
Book of Genesis, when rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty
nights. We read about Elijah walking forty days and forty nights to the
mountain of God, Mt. Horeb. We read about the forty years that the
Israelites wandered through the desert in order to reach the Promised
Land. The biblical desert is primarily a place of purification, a place
of passage. The biblical desert is not so much a geographical location –
a place of sand, stones or sagebrush – as a process of interior
purification leading to the complete liberation from the false-self
system with its programs for happiness that cannot possibly work.
Jesus deliberately took upon
himself the human condition – fragile, broken, alienated from God and
other people. A whole program of self-centered concerns has been built
up around our instinctual needs and have become energy centers – sources
of motivation around which our emotions, thoughts and behaviour patterns
circulate like planets around the sun. Whether consciously or
unconsciously, these programs for happiness influence our view of the
world and our relationship with God, nature, other people and ourselves.
This is the situation that Jesus went into the desert to heal. During
Lent our work is to confront these programs for happiness and to detach
ourselves from them. The scripture readings chosen for Lent and the
example of Jesus encourage us in this struggle for inner freedom and
Jesus redeemed us from the
consequences of our emotional programs for happiness by experiencing
them himself. As a human being, he passed through the pre-rational
stages of developing human consciousness: immersion in matter; the
emergence of a body-self; and the development of conformity
consciousness – over-identification with one’s family, nation, ethnic
group and religion. He had to deal with the particular but limited
values of each level of human development from infancy to the age of
reason, without, of course, ever ratifying with his will their illusory
projects for happiness.
Jesus appears in the desert
as the representative of the human race. He bears within himself the
experience of the human predicament in its raw intensity. Hence, he is
vulnerable to the temptations of Satan. Satan in the New Testament means
the Enemy or the Adversary, a mysterious and malicious spirit that seems
to be more than a mere personification of our unconscious evil
tendencies. The temptations of Satan are allowed by God to help us
confront our own evil tendencies. If relatives and friends fail to bring
out the worst in us, Satan is always around to finish the job.
Self-knowledge is experiential; it tastes the full depths of human
In the desert Jesus is
tempted by the primitive instincts of human nature. Satan first
addresses Jesus’ security/survival needs, which constitute the first
energy center: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to
After fasting forty days and
forty nights, Jesus must have been desperately hungry. His reply to
Satan’s suggestion is that it is not up to him to protect or save
himself; it is up to the Father to provide for him. “Not on bread alone
does one live, but one every word that comes from the mouth of God.” God
has promised to provide for everyone who trusts in him. Jesus refuses to
take his own salvation in hand and waits for God to rescue him.
The devil then took Jesus to
the holy city, set him on the parapet of the temple and suggested, “If
you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. Scripture has it, ‘He will
bid his angels take care of you; with their hands they will support you,
that you may not stumble upon a stone!’”
In other words, “If you are
the Son of God, manifest your power as a wonder-worker. Jump off this
skyscraper. When you stand up and walk, everybody will regard you as a
bigshot and bow down before you.” This is the temptation to love fame
and public esteem…
In the text, Satan subtly
quotes Psalm 90, the great theme song of Lent, a psalm of boundless
confidence in God under all circumstances. He suggests that if Jesus
leaps off the temple parapet, God will have to protect him. Jesus
responds, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” In other
words, no matter how many proofs of God’s special love we may have, we
may not take our salvation into our own hands. Jesus rejects the
happiness program that seeks the glorification of the self as a
wonder-worker or spiritual luminary.
The third energy center is
the desire to control events and to have power over others. Satan took
Jesus to a lofty mountain and displayed before him all the kingdoms of
the world, promising, “All these I will bestow on you if you prostrate
yourself in homage before me.” The temptation to worship Satan in
exchange for the symbols of unlimited power is the last-ditch effort of
the false self to achieve its own invulnerability and immortality. Jesus
replies, “Away with you, Satan. Scripture says, ‘You shall do homage to
the Lord your God; him alone shall you adore.’” Adoration of God is the
antidote to pride and the lust for power. Service of others and not
domination is the path to true happiness.
Thus, out of love for us,
Jesus experienced the temptations of the first three energy centers.
Each Lent he invites us to join him in the desert and to share his
trials. The Lenten observances are designed to facilitate the reduction
of our emotional investment in the programs of early childhood.
Liberation from the entire false-self system is the ultimate purpose of
Lent. This process always has Easter as its goal. The primary observance
of Lent is to confront the false-self. Fasting, prayer and almsgiving
are in the service of this project. As we dismantle our emotional
programs for happiness, the obstacles to the risen life of Jesus fall
away and our hearts are prepared for the infusion of divine life at
excerpt from "The Mystery of Christ, The Liturgy as Spiritual Experience"
"Divine love is
compassionate, tender, luminous,
totally self-giving, seeking no reward, unifying everything."
— Thomas Keating
CONTINUOUS INTIMACY WITH THE DIVINE
As we practice contemplative
prayer and learn to listen to the sound of sheer silence, we are
instructed to disregard thoughts that are going by due to our receptive
apparatus in the brain that receives all kinds of data. We let go into
God all that is happening, including our thoughts, and open ourselves
completely. God begins to work with us on a level of intimacy that might
be called the divine therapy. In this perspective God is the greatest
psychologist there ever was. Since the person we know least is
ourselves, we need all the help we can get.
As we move into the silence
of contemplative prayer, we experience in some degree who we really are,
which is beyond our thinking mind and more real than any sense
experience. If we give God the space to be God in us, he takes into
consideration all the limitations and weaknesses of our human situation
as reflective and self-conscious beings and heals our self-inflicted and
culturally imposed woundedness.
God is closer
than our name, resume, personality, character, temperament, or number on
the enneagram. At every moment he is manifesting God-self to us, healing
the wounds of a lifetime, and using our imperfections to transform our
weaknesses into humility and pure love.
deepens it morphs into the divine presence in contemplative prayer. This
is a pervasive presence that invites us to accept the embrace of divine
love and the realization of how much God loves us.
Life is a process
of increasing intimacy with God and of relaxing into the present moment
by accepting and consenting to whatever is happening. The wear and tear
of daily life tests the level of our transformation. If we can maintain
the peace of mind that is present during the time of prayer in external
difficulties and in the feeling of powerlessness, our spiritual maturity
is clearly advancing.
We don’t have to
succeed in this world, we just have to be. That means to consent to the
the human condition that God has given us. There are seven or eight
billion people in the world right now in whom God is working to build an
intimate personal relationship, one that has never been known before and
can never be repeated.
Trust in God
gives us the peace to endure anything. If you don’t feel you have the
strength to deal with some difficulty or trial, do not let that worry
you either, because then you are most identified with Christ and the
infinite mercy of God.
CO Newsletter Dec 2016
“RELAX – THEN JUST LET IT HAPPEN”
Fr. Carl J. Arico
That is what he
said to me when I asked him how he was doing. In his late 80’s, he has
been a faithful pray-er since the 1970’s. The Centering Prayer group he
started almost 35 years ago in his parish is still going strong. He is
filled with gratitude for all that has been received through the years
and so proud to have been on the ground floor of this miracle of God's
grace we call Contemplative Outreach, now in its 33rd year.
As Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler
likes to say, “None of us have it all together but together we have it
“Relax and then just let it
happen.” What does this mean? For me it means you do all you can to
offer your gifts to the experiences of life and then let go of any
expectations and results. One of the wisdom sayings I live by is, “Trust
the process,” which is another way of allowing the Holy Spirit to do
whatever needs to be done.
Send her forth
from your holy heavens and from your glorious throne dispatch her
That she may be with me and work with me, that I may know what is
pleasing to you.
For she knows
and understands all things, and will guide me prudently in my affairs
and safeguard me by her glory.
Wisdom 9: 10-11
The big stumbling block in
the way of full trust is over-conceptualing – always trying to figure it
out. Trying to figure everything out, thinking we know what is best
prevents us from seeing beyond our limitedness to other possibilities,
to the bigger picture. We can’t be led if we are trying to lead.
The wisdom of the desert
fathers has much to offer: “Thoughts lead to desires, desires lead to
passion and passion leads to action (Evagrius).” How true! Thoughts have
unintended consequences. Our thoughts are the seeds of our activity.
What is the motivating source of our
We talk a lot about the
energy centers and the thoughts that flow from them – security and
survival, affection and esteem, and power and control. These energies
are natural and necessary, but our intentions are what makes them life
giving or life inhibiting. Let us use the example of control.
If the source of
our motivations is a disproportionate attachment to power and control
then it will influence and color the desire, passion and action of the
activity. If there is no attachment and the action is being done with
“clean hands and clean heart” then the desire, passion and action will
look the same but will have a different feel and influence.
are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says that Lord.
As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above
and my thoughts above your thoughts.
It is interesting
that once the seed is planted – out of our hand – it has a life of its
own. We can nourish the area around where it is planted but cannot take
This is where a
nightly review of the day, an examen, can be so useful for our awakening
and growth in the Spirit. What were my motivations? What thoughts
dominated my day? Lord help me make them your thoughts.
Father, Son and
Spirit stir up in me today true power and control, true affection and
esteem, true security and survival. By true I mean that which flows from
our true self and the divine presence within us, which animates our life
with utmost charity and forgiveness.
I asked the
artist to make this tree sculpture especially for me because it shows
the essence of what the spiritual journey is about. It is modeled after
the Lone Pine in Pebble Beach, California, which hovers over the Pacific
Ocean, the wind blowing it whichever way, molding and shaping it. And so
I pray it is with me: may I allow the Holy Spirit – the Ruah, the Sacred
Breath — to mold and shape me as I consent to the presence and action of
God and grow where I am planted, putting on the mind of Christ (1
Corinthians 2: 16).
year is beginning again – another invitation to be molded and shaped.
Advent calls us to awaken, Lent calls us to repent (change the direction
we are looking for happiness) and the rest of the year in Ordinary Time
encourages us to do what we need to do and “relax – just let it happen.”
CO Newsletter Dec 2016
"The Divine Presence:
... is happening in, through, and amidst
every detail of life
... penetrates all that exists
... is in relationship to every part of creation.
... is trying to move humanity to the next stage
— Thomas Keating from
God is Love: The Heart of All Creation
Most people have never
actually met themselves. At every moment, all our lives long, we
identify with our thoughts, our self-image, or our feelings. We have to
find a way to get behind this view of ourselves to discover the face we
had before we were born. We must discover who we are in God, who we’ve
always been—long before we did anything right or anything wrong. This is
the first goal of contemplation.
Imagine you are sitting on
the bank of a river. Boats and ships—thoughts, feelings, and
sensations—are sailing past. While the stream flows by your inner eye,
name each of these vessels. For example, one of the boats could be
called “my anxiety about tomorrow.” Or along comes the ship “objections
to my husband” or the boat “I don’t do that well.” Every judgment that
you pass is one of those boats. Take the time to give each one of them a
name, and then let them move on down the river.
This can be a
difficult exercise because you’re used to jumping aboard the boats—your
thoughts—immediately. As soon as you own a boat and identify with it, it
picks up energy. This is a practice in un-possessing, detaching, letting
go. With every idea, with every image that comes into your head, say,
“No, I’m not that; I don’t need that; that’s not me.”
Sometimes, a boat turns
around and heads back upstream to demand your attention again. Habitual
thoughts are hard to not be hooked by. Sometimes you feel the need to
torpedo your boats. But don’t attack them. Don’t hate them or condemn
them. This is also an exercise in nonviolence. The point is to recognize
your thoughts, which are not you, and to say, “That’s not necessary; I
don’t need that.” But do it very amiably. If you learn to handle your
own soul tenderly and lovingly, you’ll be able to carry this same loving
wisdom out into the world.
— Richard Rohr
“The movement of
centering prayer is toward the integration of silence and activity,
activity not based on a naďve confidence in ourselves, but rather as a
response to the presence and action of the Spirit that is more and more
the guiding light in all our activities.
— Thomas Keating
NEW GOVERNING BOARD IN CO LTD.
An announcement was made in the Dec. Newsletter of CO Ltd. re the
transition from the former Circle of Service to a new Governing Board
“on behalf of all the individuals and all the groups that make up the
Contemplative Outreach community. The Board is now separate from
Management but collaborates closely with it through Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler,
whose title is now Executive Director.” Its functions include: setting
the overall direction for CO, approving the budget, and hiring/managing
the Executive Director. Like most non-profit boards, it is not involved
in daily operations.
Fr. Carl Arico, a member of the CO leadership team for many, many years
stepped down from his position, believing in the wisdom of passing on
the torch to other volunteers who are willing to serve the organization.
The new members of the Governing Board are Mary Dwyer (Chairperson),
Nick Cole, Lois Snowden, Tom Smith, Thomas Hall, Fr. Gilbert Walker and
Kathy Di Fede. As a primary oversight group, the Board embodies the
vision and mission of CO and upholds the spiritual and service aspects
of CO in harmony with the CO Vision, Theological and Administrative
Powerlessness is our
greatest treasure. Don't try to get rid of it. Everything in us wants us
to get rid of it. Grace is sufficient for you, but not something you can
understand. To be in too big a hurry to get over our difficulties is a
mistake because you don't know how valuable they are from God's
perspective, for without them you might never be transformed as deeply
and as thoroughly.....
FATHER THOMAS: GENTLY WAITING FOR THE BEGINNING
By Steven Standiford
For most of the last 30
years, our abba, Father Thomas, has been an indefatigable whirlwind
jetting around the world teaching, leading retreats, writing books and
preaching the good news of Centering Prayer. He racked up so many
frequent flyer miles traveling to far-flung places like the Philippines,
the Dominican Republic and South Korea that he could rest in the
executive lounge to wait for his flights. These days, however, Thomas is
finally allowing himself to return to the more secluded monastic life he
once knew. He concedes that at 92-years-old he doesn’t have the energy
he used to. But he gets around pretty well with his walker at his home
in the infirmary at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. I’m
on a mini retreat at Snowmass and Father Thomas has kindly invited me to
It is late September. The
cloudless western sky is cobalt blue and a brilliant array of fluttering
golden Aspens lights up the steep mountain slopes. The fall days are
sunny and warm but the nights are chilly – a reminder that winter comes
early to the Colorado Rockies.
When I first spot Father
Thomas, he is literally hopping out of an SUV. He explains that his
physical therapist taught him the best way to leverage himself out of a
chair was to suddenly “pop up” – sort of like a heavyweight lifter doing
a clean and jerk. In his civilian clothes – a plaid shirt, gray work
pants, and Patagonia down vest -- Thomas looks more like one of the
cattle ranchers in the valley than he does a Trappist monk. And, of
course, he is wearing his ever-present black knit cap to keep his head
warm and his thoughts flowing.
When we first meet, he seems
quite energized -- having just returned with other monks from a
neighbor’s house to watch Pope Francis on TV. (The monks still don’t
have newfangled gadgets like a flat screen TV.) He marvels that the Pope
publicly cited Dorothy Day and fellow Trappist, Thomas Merton, as
examples for the rest of the world to follow
“How are you filling your
days?” I ask.
“At my age I have to spend
most of my time just following doctors orders,” he kids. “In addition to
my personal physician, I have a physical therapist and four specialists.
Everybody is a specialist these days,” he laughs.
I had hoped to take Thomas
out to lunch, forgetting that he is not allowed to, now that he is back
at St. Benedict’s. Except for medical care at the Aspen hospital, he
almost never ventures out from the monastery. The one exception was his
trip three years ago to Boston to attend a conference with his dear
friends and fellow mystics, the Dalai Lama and Brother David
In addition to a lack of
energy and the monastery rules, there is another reason Thomas does not
dine out. As he explained, he has difficulty swallowing -- so most of
his food is either finely chopped, pureed, or liquid. I did manage to
sneak him a few almond cookies from a fancy New York bakery. Technically
they weren’t on his plan, but at 92, Thomas has become younger and more
flexible – and occasionally bends the rules.
Depending on his strength,
Thomas still spends time each day reading and writing. Books line the
top of the desk in his room. And the gazebo-like solarium across the
hall is filled with all kinds of popular magazines, scholarly journals
and Christian and non-Christian periodicals. One disappointment is that
he doesn’t have the energy to participate in regular worship with the
rest of the community. For several years he could make his way to the
chapel and slip into Mass just for communion -- but now even that is too
draining. As Thomas explained “I can’t really go down to communion
anymore because I may not have the energy to get back!” (Fortunately,
one of the younger monks serves communion in the infirmary after Mass
During our visit, Thomas did
solve one mystery. For over two decades I have heard him often say that,
“the minimum time recommended for Centering Prayer is twenty minutes,
two times a day.” But I never heard Thomas share what his own practice
was. The answer is that along with his doctor’s visits, physical therapy
and work with Contemplative Outreach, he sets aside three to four hours
a day for silent prayer. (I wondered if this might be a gentle nudge
from the Holy Spirit to double my own daily Centering Prayer practice.)
We reminisced about
Chrysalis House, the lay contemplative community in Warwick, New York
that Thomas nurtured in the 1980s and early 1990s -- and remembered
fondly Mary Mrozowski, the “Amma” of the house who died suddenly in
1993. For a while we sat transfixed listening to David Frenette’s gentle
teachings on his DVD about spiritual transformation through Centering
Prayer that Thomas had not seen before. After viewing the first half of
the video, Thomas was so moved he called it a “great treasure” and
offered suggestions about how to make David’s teaching more widely
available to advanced practitioners.
I asked Thomas if I could
come again to visit next April. “Sure,” he said with a broad smile and a
chuckle, “but I may be dead by then!”
“Then I will pray for you to
have as vigorous health as possible,” I offered.
“Well,” Thomas said,
becoming more reflective, “it would be better to pray that God’s will be
done.” He paused a moment and then added, “after all, I don’t want to
overstay my welcome here on God’s earth.” We sat silently for a few
moments longer in the late afternoon sunlight. Thomas continued slowly,
“as the Buddhists say, everything is temporary. And as we believe,
everything is an expression of the Divine. " Smiling broadly, he
concluded, “I’m hoping to go back to the Divine, whatever that is.”
I wanted to stay longer, to
drink in this sweet passing moment, but Thomas had graciously given me
an hour and a half and I didn’t want him to deplete his limited energy
any further. We both stood. He opened his long arms and huge hands to
give me a fatherly hug good-bye. Thomas has never been a touchy-feely
sort but we lingered a moment in a warm embrace. Perhaps he sensed my
need for a hug.
As we parted, it struck me
as remarkable that this man -- who endured a lonely childhood under a
stern, demanding father and a withdrawn, sickly mother – has become such
a warm, loving father to so many of us around the world. As I drove out
along the gravel road back to Rte. 82, I wondered if I would ever see
Thomas again. It had been a perfect, beautiful, warm fall day. But the
temperature was dropping and winter comes early in the Rockies.
Standiford, a psychotherapist practicing in Manhattan and Westchester
County, New York.
Taken from CO-e News, Jan.
THE BENEFITS OF CENTERING PRAYER
Centering Prayer is a
receptive method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift
of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God's presence
within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than
consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with
God and a discipline to foster that relationship.
Centering Prayer is not
meant to replace other kinds of prayer. Rather, it adds depth of meaning
to all prayer and facilitates the movement from more active modes of
prayer - verbal, mental or affective prayer - into a receptive prayer of
resting in God. Centering Prayer emphasizes prayer as a personal
relationship with God and as a movement beyond conversation with Christ
to communion with Christ.
To watch on YouTube, please
to God as God Is
This book collects the
intimate talks and daily presentations made by Thomas Keating to people
who have been practicing Centering Prayer for several years, have some
experience of the spiritual journey and especially to those engaged in
some form of contemplative service. $15 USD.
The Will of Divine Love
This book looks at the
process of spiritual evolution in created reality. It also looks at
Centering Prayer and other transformative spiritual practices –
Welcoming Prayer, forgiveness practice and creative self-expression –
that unload the unconscious and help us to enter the “promised land’ and
the inner wealth of our divine inheritance as souls created in God’s
image and likeness. $25 USD.
Solitude: Wherein Wisdom Dwells
Part of the Contemplative
Life Program (CLP), this 97-page booklet focuses on the practice and
disposition of silence and solitude. Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina
feature prominently in the practices of this 40-day mini-retreat, which
includes beautiful images, brief inspirational readings and a suggested
daily practice. Sections of the booklet include prayer in secret;
dimensions of silence; places of solitude; thoughts in solitude; and a
day of silence and solitude, which provides a format for your own
one-day retreat at home. Booklet or PDF version on sale for $10 USD.
Transformation in Christ series with Thomas Keating
all products in all formats:
DVDs with guidebook &
reflections cards (with English
& Spanish subtitles)
English digital version
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CD with reflection booklet
$20 USD. Mp3 version
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$12 USD; PDF version
Gift of Life: Death &
Dying, Life & Living series with Thomas Keating
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DVDs with guidebook (with English & Spanish subtitles)
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Spanish digital version
CD with reflection booklet
$20 USD Mp3 version
$12 USD; PDF version
$12 USD; PDF version
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