by Father Thomas Keating
Today the Christian churches find themselves with a marvelous opportunity. Many sincere believers are eager to experience contemplative prayer. Along with this aspiration, there is a growing expectation that the leaders of local communities be able to teach the Gospel out of personal experience of contemplative prayer. This could happen if the training of future priests and ministers places formation in prayer and spirituality on an equal footing with academic training. It could also happen if spiritual teaching becomes a regular part of the lay ministry. In any case, until spiritual leadership becomes a reality in Christian circles, many will continue to look to other religious traditions for the spiritual experience they are not finding in their own churches. If there were a widespread renewal of the preaching and practice of the contemplative dimension of the Gospel, the reunion of the Christian churches would become a real possibility, dialogue with the other world religions would have a firm basis in spiritual experience, and the religions of the world would bear a clearer witness to the human values they hold in common.
Centering prayer is an effort to renew the teaching of the Christian tradition on contemplative prayer. It is an attempt to present that tradition in an up-to-date form and to put a certain order and method into it. Like the word contemplation, the term centering prayer has come to have a variety of meanings. For the sake of clarity it seems best to reserve the term centering prayer for the specific method of preparing for the gift of contemplation (described in Chapter Three) and to return to the traditional term contemplative prayer when describing its development under the more term direct inspiration of the Spirit.
This book has grown out of a number of seminars on the practice of centering prayer and incorporates the specific questions of participants coming from different levels of experience. The concerns expressed by the participants spring from the developing practice of centering prayer. Thus the questions that arise after some months of daily practice are different from those that arise in the first few weeks. The questioner is often asking more than the actual question contains. The responses are aimed at facilitating the listening process initiated by the method of centering prayer. Together with the presentations, they gradually weave a conceptual background for contemplative practice.
Contemplative prayer is a process of interior transformation, a conversation initiated by God and leading, if we consent, to divine union. One's way of seeing reality changes in this process. A restructuring of consciousness takes place which empowers one to perceive, relate and respond with increasing sensitivity to the divine presence in, through, and beyond everything that exists.
More information can be obtained by reading the book Open Mind Open Heart by Fr. Thomas Keating. It is offered in our Bookstore.