In Spirituality, Contemplation & Transformation, some of the leading practitioners of centering prayer—the contemporary expression of the Christian contemplative tradition as developed by the desert fathers and mothers and elaborated by mystics such as saints John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila—write about the many and varied benefits of this dynamic and intimate means of connecting with the Divine.
Thomas Keating and David Frenette examine the sources of centering prayer:
- Justin Langille and Jennifer Michael explore different facets of the wisdom of silence
- and Paul David Lawson, David G.R. Keller, and Tom Macfie explain the vital role centering prayer can play in fostering communities of faith. Cynthia Bourgeault explicates philosopher and spiritual practitioner Beatrice Bruteau's study of the meaning of contemplation
- Brian Taylor uncovers the positive mental changes that centering prayer can bring about
- and Thomas Ward reflects on spirituality in the twenty-first century, as well as the inspiring experience of attending a centering prayer retreat.
Of interest to anyone involved with contemporary Christian life, these essays, originally published in the Sewanee Theological Review, contribute to the growing body of literature on centering prayer—its practice, theory, and applications—and offer valuable entry points for all those interested in deepening their spiritual practice and fostering a more profound relationship with the Divine.
Table of Contents:
Introduction – I’m Really Not Religious: Spirituality in Twenty-First Century by Thomas R. Ward, Jr,
Chapter 1 A Traditional Blend: The Contemplative Sources of Centering Prayer by Thomas Keating, OCSO
Chapter 2 Three Contemplative Waves by David Frenette
Chapter 3 There is Nothing Between God and You: Awakening to the Wisdom of Contemplative Silence by Justin Langille
Chapter 4 Beatrice Bruteau's Prayer and Identity: An Introduction with Text and Commentary by Cynthia Bourgeault
Chapter 5 Reading Living Water: The Integral Place of Contemplative Prayer in Christian Transformation by David G. R. Keller
Chapter 6 Binding Head and Heart: A Conversation Concerning Theological Education: The Contemplative Ministry Project by David G. R. Keller
Chapter 7 Centering Prayer and the Work of Clergy and Congregations: Prayer, Priests, and the Postmodern World by Paul David Lawson
Chapter 8 Seeking a Deeper Knowledge of God: Centering Prayer and the Life of a Parish by Tom Macfie
Chapter 9 Spirituality, Contemplation, and Transformation: An Opportunity for the Episcopal Church by Thomas R. Ward, Jr.
Chapter 10 Keep the Rest: Practicing Silence while Professing Poetry by Jennifer Michael
Chapter 11 Changing Your Mind: Contemplative Prayer and Personal Transformation by Brian C. Taylor
Chapter 12 Centering Prayer Retreats by Thomas R. Ward, Jr.
About the Contributors
||Father Thomas Keating is known throughout the world as an exponent, teacher, and writer on contemplative prayer. A Cistercian (Trappist) monk of St. Benedict's Monastery, Snowmass, Colorado, he is a founder of the Centering Prayer Movement and of Contemplative Outreach. He is the author of numerous books, particularly of the trilogy Open Mind, Open Heart; Invitation to Love; and The Mystery of Christ. Among his most recent books is The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living, compiled by S. Stephanie Iachetta.
"I'm Really not Religious" - Spirituality in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas R. Ward, Jr.
"Spirituality" is in the air. Consider the following quotation:
"I'm really not religious, at least not in any institutional sense," students often say to me. Then they add, with varying degrees of urgency, "But I have a strong commitment to spirituality."
Mark McIntosh begins his insightful Mystical Theology with these words, which are familiar to those of us who serve the institutional church. In an atypical but spectacular error of judgment, Paul Tillich suggested in 1963 that, while almost anything else in religious symbolism could be resuscitated, "spiritual" and "spirituality" were irrevocably dead and certainly not likely to be culturally present again. Yet here we are, some four decades later, awash with books that have the word "spirituality" in their titles! The most evident thing that they have in common is the difference in the meaning that each attaches to this word. Parish search committee members looking for a new rector often say that they are seeking a spiritual leader. When asked what they mean by that, otherwise articulate people fall back on the cliché, "I'm not sure. It's like great art. I know it when I see it." Martin Marty laughed at himself in what he called a "turn of the millennium" issue of Context, writing that he and many other prognosticators missed this emphasis on spirituality as they looked ahead to the year 2000 in 1967. He indicated that something unusually significant occurred—"a gradual and subtle but—in the end—drastic shift in sentiment and sensibility."
The revival of contemplative dimensions of the Christian gospel is a remarkable part of this larger phenomenon, and the centering prayer movement is a major manifestation of the contemplative revival. What distinguishes this movement from many of the current spiritualities is its grounding in the Christian tradition and the institutional church. It is as if some of our buried treasures are being discovered, brought to life, and put to use. One thinks of The Cloud of Unknowing, for instance, or of the Spiritual Espousals of Jan van Ruysbroeck. As important as our rediscovery of such texts is, even more important are specific practices that emerge from them and the tradition they embody. Centering prayer as taught by Thomas Keating is one such practice.
The centering prayer movement is a responsible attempt on the part of laity, parish clergy, monks, and seekers to respond to the obvious spiritual hunger of our day. This book offers a glimpse into this movement through the eyes of some faithful participants. From my perspective this movement offers one good way to maintain the institutional integrity of our tradition while we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, that beauty ever ancient and ever new is the source of all spirituality.
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On October 12, 2005, Thomas Keating addressed my class of juniors at The School of Theology during a visit to the Sewanee Mountain. This was a one-semester class that had as its title "Spirituality for Ministry." We read several books together and had much conversation, but the central focus of the class was to encourage these prospective priests to develop a deep, regular life of personal prayer. When I told Keating what my overall intention was, I did not ask him to address any particular theme in this session. I wanted to leave him free to say what he would to the group. In the course of his presentation he made the following comments, among others:
The Christian religion is primarily about a transformation of consciousness. This takes spiritual practice and the cultivation of wisdom. In another time this was called cultivating the supernatural organism, what Paul called "a new creation." So the main thing is to be transformed into God, what the early church called deification, theosis, divinization.
He went on to develop this theme in more detail.
Later in the refectory over lunch, Keating and Christopher Bryan talked about what became the Pentecost 2007 issue of the Sewanee Theological Review and what the theme should be. Bryan said, "What about ‘transformation?' That was the subject of the class. It is certainly timely and appropriate. I think it would provide a good theme for our next issue devoted to contemplation." And so the issue of STR began to take shape.
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom. 12:2). We know we ought to be transformed. In the depths of our hearts we know that we have been transformed in our baptisms. But we also know that we are works in progress, that God has more transforming work to do in us.
Through our knowing Christ in the Paschal Mystery, God transforms us. And by God's grace through the liturgy—and in personal prayer beyond the liturgy—we make ourselves available for Christ Jesus to continue to make us his own.
If the main theme of this book is transformation, a secondary and related theme is contemplation. For Thomas Keating and many others, contemplation is a means to the transformation that Paul describes. As Keating said in that class on that day, the tradition tells us that we need a spiritual practice that will open us to the transforming power of God.