Today is Ash Wednesday and in the Gospel, Jesus sends us His personal recommendation – “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret and your Father who sees you in secret will repay you.” This is especially true when we know who we really are identified with Christ as St. Augustine makes clear, “Christians you are Christ.” This is a free gift that is impossible for us to earn. Our inner search for God is also the gift of Christ living intimately within us seeking and loving Himself through us and as our own True Self. How can we seek rewards or repayment for free gifts! God is unceasingly Present in us as us and the very center and heart of our prayer life is – To be “intuitively aware” or present to His unceasing Presence. This is an awesome manifestation of Him loving Himself through us as we desire to simply hang out with Someone who loves us deeply. The very desire to please Him when we show up daily for our Centering Prayer times is already pleasing Him no matter if we have any transcendent experiences or not.
Per your letter, you would not even be faithful to your Centering Prayer times unless Christ was intimately present within you as the very source of your goodness desiring to please Him by just hanging out with Him present to His Presence. If you fall asleep, it is an indication to me that you are like a little child secure and trusting in the loving arms of our Heavenly Father and “allowing Him to caress you” as our good Pope Francis suggests. I’m sure our Pope realizes psychologists have demonstrated that we are often inexplicably prone to be negative about ourself and others.
St. Paul experienced the transformation of his false ego self and the wakening and birth of his True Self = Christ living in him as him – "I live no longer .. not "I" (ego) but Christ now lives in me" and as me.
Our false self and our True Self are going on within us at the same time as two different dimensions of our consciousness and it is confusing for all of us because we experience ourselves in a struggle to live contentedly with our discontent. Our True Self keeps asking us why are we so afraid to let go of what violates our deepest desires for intimacy with God? We are addicted to our mistaken ego identity and it gives us a feeling of belonging because most everyone has this same addiction and we have never been told who we really are as our True Self – Oned with Christ and therefore ignorant of the unearned Gift of our immense innate Loveableness as Christ's Image.
It sounds crazy for people to hear that they are identified with Christ (God). Sounds ridiculous! St. John of the Cross explains it to us here where, as Scripture says, we are God's Image + Likeness.
Explanation of the Nature of Union with God by St. John of the Cross
Here I only intend to discuss this total and permanent union in the substance and faculties of the soul. And I shall be speaking of the obscure habit of union, for we will explain later, with God's help, how a permanent actual union of the faculties in this life is impossible; such a union can only be transient.
To understand the nature of this union, one should first know that God sustains every soul and dwells in it substantially, even though it may be that of the greatest sinner in the world. This union between God and creatures always exists. By it He conserves their being so that if the union would end they would immediately be annihilated and cease to exist.
Consequently, in discussing union with God, we are not discussing the substantial union which is always existing, but the union and transformation of the soul in God. This union is not always existing, but we find it only where there is likeness of love. We call it "the union of likeness”, and the former "the essential or substantial union." The union of likeness is supernatural, the other natural. The supernatural union exists when God's will and the soul's are in conformity, so that nothing in the one is repugnant to the other. When the soul completely rids itself of what is repugnant and unconformed to the divine will, it rests transformed in God through love.
We are not identical to God where He dwells in us Substantially as our Image never to be separated. God is Infinite Creator and we are finite creatures. However, we are identical to Christ in the "union of Likeness" where we are the same Love as He is as His will and our will are in complete conformity. God cannot be divided because He is "I am who am" … Being Itself and not merely a being. Everyone and everything exists in this One (Being) Love that God is and is the same Love He is. That is why St. Paul said, "For me to live is Christ." He identified Himself with Christ.
The worst part of our “mistaken ego identity” is our reluctance to accept and embrace our God-given “loveableness” from the first moment He personally chose to create us in His own Image in our mother’s womb. To exist is our most cherished Gift! “We exist solely for this, to be the place God has chosen for His Presence.” (Thomas Merton) Our existence (life) is a unique manifestation (epiphany) of Christ as we each continue His Incarnation on earth.
We are always looking for tangible, concrete experiences or signs of God’s Presence. The reason we don’t see Him whom we seek is because He whom we seek is so intimately “Oned” with us that He is the very deepest and truest you that is seeking and loving Himself within and through you. When we think about Him, we end up separating ourselves from Him as an object of our thoughts rather than the subject of our True Self. As Fr. Keating said – God is more us that we are ourselves. Our Divine-Human Consciousness (being) is a participation in His Divine-Human consciousness where we are “oned” because God cannot be split up and divided. He is wholly and Holy in each one of us!
“Since our inmost ‘I’ is the perfect image of God, then when that ‘I’ awakens, he finds within himself the Presence of Him Whose image he is. And, by paradox beyond all human expression, God and the soul seem to have but one single ‘I’. They are (by divine grace) as though one single person. They breathe and live and act as one. ‘Neither’ of the ‘two’ is seen as object … Yet it is nothing else but the message of Christ calling us to awake from sleep, to return from exile, and find our true selves within ourselves.” — Thomas Merton
How dearly Jesus wants you to be His – “One and Only Child” so you have a very personal and intimate love relationship with Him that is entirely unique and transcends your ideas about Him. We are each entirely Dependent on Him for everything. The only love we can give Him is the love He first of all gives us. Christ wants us not only to accept but to love our Nothingness so we come to Him empty-handed and dependent entirely on His no strings attached unconditionally loving and merciful heart. He wants us to use even our failings to come closer to Him by falling up into His merciful arms rather than fall down into guilt, shame and depression. Christ’s Holy Spirit is like the Divine Air we are breathing in this present moment and loving us into existence day by day. God is coming to us unceasingly disguised as our own life.
Most of us have made our Christianity into more of a moral contest than what it truly is – an intimate union and love affair with God. Pope Benedict told us (in "Intimacy in with God in Christ") that the essence of our Christianity is all about our personal intimacy with Christ and not about morality. This is now confirmed by our good Bishop Robert Barron (see below) who, quoting the Fathers of the Church, realized that the heart of Christ’s “Good News” is our Deification = our participation in His Divine Nature where we are identified with Christ. In the quote, “God became a human being so human beings might become God”, Bishop Barron points to the 4th century Father of the Church, St. Athanasius (297-373), to prove that Christ became Incarnate so that the human family might wake up to our True Self – Oned with Christ.
“A tendency on massive display in our culture is the reduction of religion to ethics. Very much in the spirit of Immanuel Kant, many people today feel that everything else in religion – art, liturgy, prayer, mysticism, the sacraments, etc. – finally centers around and leads back to morality. How often we hear some version of the following: ‘Well, as long as you’re a good person, what does it really matter what you believe or how you worship God?’
“Mind you, I don’t mean to speak, even for a moment, against upright behavior, but if you had asked one of the Church Fathers or medieval masters what Christianity is finally all about, they would definitely not have said ethics. They probably would have said theiosis (if they spoke Greek) or deificatio (if they spoke Latin). Both terms mean ‘deification,’ or becoming conformed to the divine nature. An adage constantly on the lips of the Fathers was Deus fit homo ut homo fieret Deus (‘God became man that man might become God.’).” — Bp. Robert Barron
Jesus is madly and personally in love with you like He is with no other just the way you are as both sinner and saint. You are His Child “Oned” with Him and loveable beyond your wildest expectations even when your negative “mistaken ego identity” does not want to be open to this purely unearned Gift of your “Divinization” which is your True Self = Christ living within you as you. Waking up to and believing in this Truth is what our Lenten “Metanoia” is all about.
Our best preparation for our Centering Prayer periods and more important to these times is our search for union with God. We do this by opening our “Intuitive Awareness” to God’s unceasing loving Presence no matter where we are or what we are doing. This awareness is a different transcendent (metaphysical) dimension of our consciousness beyond our rational consciousness. This is what Merton called our Pure Consciousness and is available to everyone just by being in existence and “Oned” with Christ. You can be “intuitively aware” of God’s Presence even when you are having a conversation with a friend or listening to a professor in the classroom. This awareness has nothing to do with our mind or thoughts and everything to do with our faith aware, aware, aware of both God’s constant Presence and love for us and our desire to love Him in return. It is Consciousness itself which is the source of our rational consciousness. Rene Descartes should have said – “I am (consciousness) therefore I think” – rather than “I think therefore I am.” Our Being (Pure Consciousness) precedes our thinking and it is what comes awake in us when we contemplate beyond thoughts.
I’m enclosing these thoughts of Merton on how this consciousness applies to prayer beyond our thoughts:
by Thomas Merton
Let us remind ourselves that another, metaphysical, consciousness is still available to modern man. It starts not from the thinking and self-aware subject but from Being, ontologically seen to be beyond and prior to the subject-object division. Underlying the subjective experience of the individual self, there is an experience of Being. This is totally different from an experience of self-consciousness. It is completely non-objective. It has in it none of the split and alienation that occurs when the subject becomes aware of itself as a quasi-object. The consciousness of Being … is an immediate experience that goes beyond reflexive awareness. It is not “consciousness of” but pure consciousness, in which the subject as such “disappears.”
Contemplation can be validly seen as a human act carried on at a specific time by a specific individual. Likewise, contemplation certainly has deep implications in the daily life of the one who engages in it. But relative to all of that, contemplation of itself is not something infused by God into a created subject, so much as God living in God and identifying a created life with his own life so that there is nothing left of any significance but God living in God … God alone is left. He is the “I” who act there. He is the one Who loves and knows and rejoices.
by Thomas Merton
In practice, there is only one vocation: [Intimacy with God – Contemplative union]. Whether you teach, live in the cloister or nurse the sick, whether you are in religion or out of it, married or single, no matter who you are or what you are, you are called to the summit of perfection: you are called to interior life, perhaps to mystical prayer, and to pass the fruits of your contemplation on to others.
If the sublime fire of infused love burns in your soul, it will inevitably send forth throughout the Church and the world an influence more tremendous than could be estimated by measuring the radius reached by words or by example.
Saint John of the Cross writes: “A very little of this pure love is more precious in the sight of God and of greater profit to the Church – even though the soul appear to be doing nothing – than are all other works put together.”
God loves you personally and uniquely like no one else. St. Augustine knew God’s love for each of us is both personal and experiential – “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us” (as if I was the only one in existence!). St. Therese of Lisieux confirmed this truth and she trusted solely in the pure gift of God’s merciful Love for her and not on any of her virtuous experiences or goodness – “Our Lord is occupied particularly with each soul as though there was no others like it.”
We never want to make Centering Prayer into a certain category of prayer or a bunch of techniques. Prayer is an intimate love relationship with God. When we wake up to who we really are identified with Christ our prayer becomes “someone we are” more than something we do. Our True Self is identified with Christ who is unceasingly Present to us as our own presence and we desire to be awake to this reality and truth more and more until it dominates our “intuitive awareness” beyond our mind. Often Centering Prayer becomes not only a segue to this intuitive awareness but the place where we wake up to it. What a huge blessing Fr. Keating was for the human family for sharing his lifelong search and desire for union with God with us. I’m sure he never expected his contemplative Trappist calling to increase into such a universal gift to the whole human family!
Our prayer is the most efficacious way to touch people’s lives interiorly where God delights to make His home as the very source of our goodness. Now that Fr. Keating is home with God intimately awake to his Oneness with and in Christ where there “is no other,” his Spirit is also vitally alive in each of us. Our mind does not know how this happens but our faith is certain that this is True!