Reflections on Contemplative Prayer

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Our spiritual friend and mentor Fr. Thomas Keating is Home!  “C’est magnifique” (That’s great news — magnificent.)  During his long life on earth he had uniquely “Become” our good God.  Throughout his lifetime Thomas’ spirit and God’s Spirit merged into One fulfilling Christ’s deepest desire — “Father may they be One in us as you are in me and I am in you.” (John 17:21)

Fr. Keating’s intense life-long search and intimate wholehearted love for God and others has also taught us who we each really are — identified with Christ.

Thomas saw God’s cherished Human Family evolving through three stages of spiritual maturity:

1)       There is an Other

2)       Become the Other

3)       There is no Other 

1)     There is an Other  — As a free unearned gift before the origins of the universe God personally chose to create each of us uniquely in His own Divine-Human Image and Likeness.  He is living intimately within us as us.  Our whole life is spent “Becoming who we already are.”

For Fr. Thomas, his death was always a beginning, not an end.  Each of us mourns the loss of a loved one in our own way.  However, I am sure that after losing Fr. Thomas most of us have transformed our grief into Rejoicing!  After a long wait, Thomas in his playfulness would say — “It’s Party Time”!  He is at a Banquet so sumptuous and yummy, it far exceeds what our mind can comprehend — “Taste and see the Goodness of the Lord”.  We might have an intuitive glimpse of the monumental largesse of God’s benevolent generosity; but that true knowledge of eternal happiness far surpasses our imagination!  It’s fun to speculate what heaven is all about, but as St. Paul put it so well — “Never has it entered the mind of the Human Family what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

Now, Thomas is present right here with us closer to us than ever before!  We can be gratefully confident that he will continue to share himself with us, especially through the rich array of his contemplative experiences found in his writings which he thoughtfully left for our “Lectio Divina”.

St. John Chrysostom (the Golden Mouth) confirms Thomas’ presence with us — “Those who we love and lose are no longer where they were before.  They are now wherever we are.”  Thomas is intimately present to us in Christ’s own unceasing Presence everywhere.  Like the invisible air we continually breathe, Christ’s Spirit of Love is pouring Himself out, giving Himself away into our receptive innermost heart from moment to moment.  There, intimately within us as us, He sustains us in a Deified Life that will never cease to be.  Nothing can ever separate us from His Image which St. John of the Cross says is the Substantial Union that God has freely Gifted to each of us as essential to our very creation as a Human-Divine Being.

God may not always protect His loveable Human Family from everything (including this tragic pandemic) but He sustains us, always abiding intimately within us, through both thick and thin.  Since we are “Nothing” of ourselves and depend entirely on God, it is okay for us to feel the full fragility of our lives, realizing that God at some point in time will bring good out of it.

2)     Become the Other:

We spend most of our life becoming who we already are.  Through his experience St. Paul knew that — “All things are working together for our good” whether weal or woe and “in all circumstances (every Present moment) give thanks, for this is the will (Love) of God for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Th. 5:17)  God’s will in every Present moment and detail of our life is always a manifestation of God’s immense Love for each of us in whom he sees and Loves Himself.  By embracing His Love in everything happening we return His Love to Him.  It is our way of giving back by trusting that God even brings Good out of the bad things happening.  This is obvious from Christ’s tragic Passion out of which emerged His Glorious Resurrection.  Christ was able to surrender His own will to His Father’s will since HHHe trusted in His Father’s Love for Him.  His Father is also our Father and He always proves Trustworthy as the source of all Goodness.

While our ego is unfortunately struggling to earn the loveableness that has already Been Gifted to us as God’s Image and Likeness, Christ is within us desiring us to be receptive and allow Him to awaken us to His intimately abiding Presence where He dwells as us in our innermost heart of hearts.H

His tender Love for each of us is both personal and unique.  We are each Special to God who sees Himself in us.  It is as if we were each His One and only “Beloved” or “Tight Squeeze”.  However, in our spiritual poverty and fragmentation that may sound almost too good to be true.  But it is the truth we learned from countless Saints, even if we don’t accept or believe it.

God is more “US” than we are ourselves, or how we think and feel about ourselves.  It has nothing to do with our virtuousness nor with our sinfulness, but with “who we Truly are”, identified with Christ.  In our brokenness and powerlessness God’s compassionate Love and kindness reaches out to us through all the ups and downs of our daily lives.  He protects us from nothing, but is always Present within us, sustaining us through everything happening both good and bad.

As incredible as it may seem, our God became Incarnate as a human being!  Both Fr. Thomas Keating and Teihard de Chardin recognized the awesomeness of God’s infinite Love for us when He emptied Himself and became flesh in Emmanuel (God with us).  Not only was “God with us”, but born intimately within us as us!  Love is our Identity!

God had become a human being to “wake up” His spiritually evolving Human Family to who each of us truly and already is  before the origins of the universe (Ep. 1:4).  Identified with Christ we are each gifted with an inherent loveableness as God’s own Image and Likeness.  With His Incarnation God has “awakened” His whole Human Family, after sleep-walking for ages, to who we Truly are, Oned in Christ.  Our spiritual maturation was propelled from zero to infinity.

Not only are we Oned with God, but in Him Oned with One another and creation, all of which are united in Christ.  As the mystical Body of Christ, the whole Human Family is spiritually interconnected as sisters and brothers never to be separated from our Loving God or each other.

Since God is not merely “a being” but “Pure Being Itself,” He becomes everything He creates and embraces all of reality in Himself.  Our Incarnate God had showed up on earth to let us know how loveable and valuable everyone is, Oned with Him and with each other.

Every human being is extremely important as a unique manifestation of Christ, no matter how broken we are or how distant we may feel from God.  He chose each of us personally to share in His own Divine Being.  Our life is not our own — we belong to God and are made for Him alone.  “You have created us for yourself alone, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (St. Augustine). Everything else suffers from “not enoughness” and can never complete or fulfill us.  However, we have difficulty accepting this tremendous Gift since we are all spiritually poor and dependent solely on God’s unconditionally Loving and compassionate Heart.  God loves us just the way we are as broken sinners in need of constant forgiveness and His Infinite mercy.  Nothing can change His Faithful Love for us since that Is who He is — Love.  Christ sees and Loves Himself within each of us even if we are the worst sinner in the world.  If we sin we “Fall Up” into His merciful embrace rather than “Fall Down” into shame and guilt.  When we realize God sees Himself in us and loves us as sinners we try to love God in return.

Identified with Him who is Love, Fr. Keating reminds us how wholeheartedly God desires us to be Equal to Himself.  That Truth may sound too good to be True but it is the God Almighty Truth!  Only Love Himself can do such things.  If you have ever fallen deeply in love with another person, you have experienced your own inmost heart wide awake to the equality you share with each other.

There is an Infinite difference between Creator and creature.  Our Equality with Him does not eliminate that distinction.  Since we were created both in God’s Image and Likeness, St. John of the Cross said that our Substantial Union with God is the Image of God in us and our Affective Union with God is His Likeness in us which is Love.

Thomas Merton experienced our true identity as Love, since Christ not only lives within us, in our innermost being, but as each of us, manifesting Christ in our own unique way.  Merton realized — “that all of us are hidden with Christ in God and whatever is in God is really identical with Him</u>; for His infinite simplicity admits no division and no distinction.”  He is totally in every grain of sand.  God doesn’t come in bits and pieces!  Christ is wholly Present within each of us even though it might take us a lifetime to Awaken to His unceasing Presence and become who we already are.  Through His intimate Presence and unconditional Love and Mercy within us, God Gifts us with an inner Peace that surpasses our understanding.  No wonder the recluse, Lady Julian of Norwich could say — “All is well … All will be well.”  Just like Fr. Keating, we mellow and become peacefully content with our life, just the way it is with all our warts and wayward hearts, aware that God is Loving us into existence from moment to moment, in all the details of our simple and ordinary daily lives.

As finite creatures we are striving to do the impossible and plummet the depths of an Infinitely Loveable God.  Our eternal life is a continual celebration of God joyfully awakening us to the Love we already are.  This is what St. Gregory of Nyssa called deepening “From Glory to Glory”.  He paints the picture of heaven to be a profundity of unitive Love that has no bottom … It just keeps deepening and deepening!  The truth is that the happiness of heaven is beyond our wildest imagination even though it is fun to speculate.  For example, when I was a little boy a priest promised me I could bring my dog along to heaven with me!

What Thomas Merton cherished most of all was the enormous Gift of Life itself where God has personally chosen to share His very Being and Divinized Existence with him.  He realized that — “we all exist solely for this, to be the place of God’s Presence.”  Living as our own deepest self, the Indwelling Presence of God is where He delights to make His home in each of us.  This Reality is a sadly forgotten Gift that transcends our comprehension.  An unspeakable Mystery intimately Oned with us!

Fr. Keating reminded us numerous times in his writings that We Are Born to be contemplatives!  As a free Gift, God has personally chosen each of us to share in His own existence and participate intimately in His own Divine Nature (2 Peter: 4).

True humility is not the same as exercising our “inner self critic”.  Psychology has proven that this disastrous “inner critic” has a penchant to negativity.  We are often on our own case, knocking down our mistaken ego identity which is so in need of our compassion.

Since God has Gifted us with an inherent loveableness at birth as His own Divine Image and Likeness, He wants us to have a healthy well-balanced ego full of good self-esteem.  Our loveableness is a pure unearned Gift, not the reward of a hard-earned sparkling personality.  Big blow-hard personalities are just as bad as knocking oneself down.

True humility is not only accepting, but happily embracing the truth that we are nothing of ourselves.  Rather, we trust solely in the pure unearned Gift of God’s own Goodness in His unconditionally Loving and merciful Heart to heal our brokenness.  God wants us to come to Him empty-handed so that He can fill us to overflowing with His Everythingness.  Any Love we have for God or others is His Gift to us.  It’s wonderful that God, as the source of all Goodness, does not allow us to live our life the way we want to.  It would be chuck full of self-serving ego trips.  We have nothing to fear from God, since we are all spiritually poor, broken and sinful.  “How happy the poor in spirit, the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” (Matt 5)  This quote from St. Matthew is ironic and the very opposite of how we have been taught.  The wisdom of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is essential to His “Good News”.  The Beatitudes are brimming with paradox.  It is our very Spiritual Poverty and Nothingness that attracts God’s Compassionate Heart to us because He Loves us unconditionally as sinners who are weak and broken.  In embracing His unearned Love for us, we return it to Him who is the source of all love.  Fr. Keating realized how smitten God is with each of us just the way we are and summed it up — “God knows everything about you and nothing bothers Him”!His

Thomas Merton weighed in on this subject of who we really are, as our True Self, and who we are not as our mistaken false ego self.  One of the primary questions of the Desert Fathers and Mothers was, “Who are you?

Countless Fathers of the Church both from the West and the East, in as early as the 3rd Century, identified our True Self with our intimate Oneness with God.

Supported by many Biblical texts Clement of Alexandria (150-215) was one of the first to speak of our Divinization.  “I say the Logos (word) of God became a human being so that you may learn from a human being (Christ) how human beings become God.

For me, Thomas Merton’s most meaningful contribution to the Human Family was his distinction between our True Self, identified with Christ, and the False part of our ego identify which confuses our best ego self with our True Self.  Not knowing and not even being told who we really and truly are has been disastrous for the Human Family.  Each of us is much more than our psychological self, or how we think and feel about ourself as an ego.  We have in all sincerity confused our best or most virtuous ego self with our True Self and continue to live out this lie that is a huge obstacle to the awakening of who we “Truly Are”.  Our ego is not bad in itself and, as Fr. Keating said, is necessary for our survival.  However, when it becomes our only identity we are in deep troubled waters!  We are much more than our psychological self, or how we think and feel about ourself.

Each one of us is united as One Spirit with Christ who is living closer to us than we are to ourself.  According to St. Paul, before the origins of the universe each of us is created in the Image and Likeness of God, and is uniquely identified with Christ who has chosen to live intimately within us.  Christ (Love) is our True Self.  St. Paul experienced this intimate union — “I live no longer, not I (ego), but Christ lives in me.” (Ph. 1:21)  When we are awake to our True Self, our ego is gradually incorporated into our Whole True Self and is transformed into an awesome and unique manifestation of Christ.

Until then, when our ego self is controlling and dominant, like a little Napoleon, God is sending us a noisy signal to wake us up.  Be Compassionate with yourself.  If you are not Compassionate with yourself, you will not be Compassionate with anyone else.  God is loving you unconditionally in every moment (Now) of your life.  Even when we are wide awake to our True Self identical with Christ, our “mistaken ego identitynever dies!

We can use this ‘negative’ egoic mishap as an effective and ‘positive’ segue to come closer to our Compassionate God.  Our union and love for Him is the Be All and End All of our life.  Thomas Merton realized through everyone’s invisible intimate Oneness with God and others as Christ’s mystical Body, we have a huge influence on the whole human family.  Only when we are home in heaven will we be fully awake and grateful for the Goodness God has shared with each of us.  How else could we love our enemies, if true love is not unconditional?

Most of us don’t have a clue of how loveable we are to our good God who abides within us giving Himself away to us unceasingly.  Every parent knows there can’t be anything their precious children can do that will stop them from loving them unconditionally.  If parents are such good lovers, imagine how unconditionally lovable we each are as God’s children in whom He sees and loves Himself.  Our loveableness is a free unearned Gift given to us when our caring God personally chose to create and dwell intimately within us where He delights to make His home.

God becomes everyone and everything He creates.  We cannot let our own sinful wayward hearts and fragmentation separate us from God and others.  God loves us in our brokenness and sinfulness and we have to love our spiritual sisters and brothers in their sin.  The primary purpose in life is for Christ to transform us into Himself.  God does not love us if or when we change, He loves us so that we can change.  When we fail, we fall up into God’s loving compassionate and merciful arms, rather than falling down into the shame and guilt of a crestfallen ego.  Our good Pope Francis realized that when we know who we really are, identified with Christ, we wholeheartedly begin to manifest the Love and goodness Christ has shared with us as free Gift.

Thomas Merton more than 60 years ago clarified the huge difference between our True Self and our False ego self.  Most of us don’t get it!  Perhaps we don’t understand the difference, because we have never heard we are more than our ego?  We have a tendency to cling to our ego because it is familiar to us.  We have been told that this mistaken ego identity is who we really are.  Not true!  Merton was aware the human family was Christ’s own Body brimming with His Spirit, yet still evolving and maturing very slowly.  He was full of hope — “We have inherently in our hearts and in the very ground of our being a natural (Sacred) certainty that reassures us we exist and are penetrated through and through with the sense and reality of God, even if we are unable to believe or experience this.

Everyone is created in God’s Image and Likeness.  It is the common denominator uniting the whole human family.  Two thousand years before Christ in the Hindu Vedas (scriptures), written in Sanskrit, they experienced a divine union with a Supreme Being.  The Hindu’s knew for certain through their experiential knowledge that — “We are Who we seek.”  They experienced that they were identical with the Ultimate Reality.  As Christians, we know Christ is that Reality.  Cardinal Mercier in the early 1900’s said — “Reality is God dwelling within us.  Many people are ignorant of this mystery and remain unaware of it their whole lives.  The very people whose mission is to preach it throughout the world neglect it, forget it, and when it is brought home to them, are astonished”!

This is amazing!  Christ is alive and Present in all of us as our own True Self.  Merton, aware of our mistaken ego identity and brokenness, continues to fill us with hope.  “Even though we might not know Him, He is at work in all of us drawing us closer to Himself even when we think we are far from Him.

Then again Merton assures us that “Hope Springs Eternal” — “not because we think we can be good, but because God loves us irrespective of our merits, and whatever is good in us comes as a Gift of His Love, not from our own doing.  No one on earth has reason to despair of Jesus because Jesus loves His Human Family.  He loves us in our sinfulness and brokenness and we too must love the whole Human Family in their sinfulness.

Early in his long life, Fr. Keating, when he was still at Yale University, was being consoled by the intimacy of God’s indwelling Divine Presence.  He was so deeply moved that he spent most of his time reading and absorbing the Fathers of the Church, even though it interfered with his studies.  When reading St. Augustine he discovered the true definition of a Christian:

Christians you are Christ …  For there is but One Son of God.”  We are all being identified with Christ as children of God; whether female or male we are all equal.  However, we exist solely “in Christ” who is God’s One and only Son.  St. Augustine was giving us another indication that the whole Human Family is already Oned in Christ and with one another.

If you don’t believe that Christ is God, the great German theologian, Karl Rahner would still call you an “anonymous Christian”.  Christ while on earth defined Himself several times as “I Am”.  He said “Before Abraham was, I Am.”  This was to identify Himself with Yahweh:  God Himself spoke to Moses in the Burning Bush as — “I Am who Am”.  God was not merely “a being” but Being Itself and all other beings have to exist in Him.  “Yet in fact He is not far from any of us since it is in Him that we live and move and have our being.” (Ac. 17:28)

Thomas while still at Yale was being interiorly called to give himself entirely to God even though his good parents did not understand his vocation.  What was so appealing to Keating and so many people is St. Augustine’s famous insight. — “You have made us for yourself alone, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

In his wisdom St. Augustine knew from experience that no one or nothing finite can complete or fulfill us other than our infinite God.  Everything else suffers from “not enoughness”.  Seldom are we reminded of this, but God longs for an intimate personal love relationship with each of us in whom He sees Himself, and dwells in our own True Self.

The priority of our direct personal love for God also increases our beautiful love relationships with our family and friends in whom we see the Goodness of Christ’s intimate indwelling Presence.  We love them the way God loves them unconditionally, not merely as we love ourselves.  If that self is our ego self, it can be filled with self-serving and self-centered motivation. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul with all your mind.”  When we are intuitively aware of God’s unceasing Presence, we are not only manifesting our love for Him, but simultaneously loving others including our family and friends who abide in Him.  We can’t love God directly without at the same time loving others in whom He sees and Loves Himself.  Our love for God increases our love for our families and friends in whom we see the goodness and kindness of His indwelling Divine Presence.  

Meister Eckhart said — “That the Love by which God loves us is the same love by which we love Him;  being aware of this truth deifies us.”  God alone is the author and the endless source of all Love because that is who He is.  When God chose to create all of us in His Likeness He shared Himself and His Love with His precious Human Family.  Merton experienced the truth that we are this same “Identical Love” that Christ is, since we are created in His Image and Likeness.  Merton was echoing St. John of the Cross and expressed our identity beautifully:

To say that I am made in the Image of God is to say that Love is the reason for my existence,

For God is Love.

Love is my True Identity.

Selflessness is my true self.   

Love in my true character. 

Love is my name.

 

(3)  There is no Other  —  I found this 3rd and final stage of our spiritual maturity was most evident to me in Fr. Keating’s beautiful poetry;  especially in the poem Twilight of the Self.

 

                “My heart is solitary now

 

                It finds no companionship anywhere

 

                And no wish to find any

 

                My sole desire is You

 

                And You are always absent

 

                Can we have absence so intensely

 

                That even Your Presence

 

                Seems like an intrusion?

                Thomas might well be referring to St. John of the Cross who has the most enlightening answer to this question when he speaks of the Luminous Dark Night of the Spirit as the safest way to travel to God!  Thomas experienced God so close and “Oned with him” that he is blinded by the brilliance of the Divine Light which seems like darkness or absence to him.  Thomas had one desire which was to welcome and surrender to whatever God desired for him.  He didn’t want to experience God’s Presence if God wanted him to experience His absence.  He knew God was unceasingly Present even in His absence.  This is another indication that Thomas was at peace and content with his life just the way it was in the simple and ordinary details of the Present moment which he realized was a manifestation of God’s Love for him.  Even if we might not understand this right now, we can still enjoy the beauty and Giftness of this Truth.  Thomas was in such an intimate union with God that there was no longer “An Other” but only God Alone.  Two had become One.  Our presence becomes God’s Presence.  Thomas had become God’s Presence and the unique manifestation of Christ’s unceasing Presence in the simple and ordinary details of his daily life.

                We don’t have a clue of the Joy that Thomas is now experiencing in heaven, but we do know that nothing can ever separate Him from the free Gift of substantial Oneness that we all have with God as our own Image and Likeness.

                Thomas spent a life-time searching for our own loving God and discerned God was not merely an object of his thoughts, but the subject of who he already was and now is, identified with Christ.  He knew like St. Paul that “For me to live is Christ”.

                Is this why Fr. Keating experienced God so intimately close to us that we are more Him than we are ourselves?  Thomas often spoke of “One Self” as Christ, whether we experience ourselves living “In Him”, or, we experience Him living “in usas our own True Self.

                God is smitten with us just the way we are and madly in love with each one of us.  He desires us to “wake up” and experience who we truly are, identified with Christ.  We don’t have a clue of how loveable we each are to Him who is pouring Himself out into our inmost being right “now” moment to moment.  There is a difference between believing this with our mind and experiencing it contemplatively beyond our mind.

                Along with Fr. Keating and St. Paul we too can have the joy and happiness of an intimate and personal love relationship with Christ who is loving each of us into existence this Present moment.

                “Now we see indistinctly as a faint reflection in a mirror;  then we shall see face to face.  Now we know only in part;  then we shall know fully  (1 Cor. 12:12). 

                It is The Hallelujah we will all become from head to toe in our celebration of eternal life when we are Together Forever!

 


 

What a magnificent Epiphany (“Manifestation of Christ”) our good Pope Francis has given us in his Christmas homily to the human family.

Pope Francis’ Christmas 2019 message 

 

Francis is basically saying that Christianity is not about morality as we have been taught in the past.  That is going to shock a lot of people who cling to their virtue as their reward.  Rather, Francis seems to be telling the whole human family that we are All going to heaven as a free Gift (Grace) and that even now on earth we can begin experiencing heaven all the way to heaven because we are identified so closely with Christ with whom we are Oned as His Image and are the same Love that He is living intimately within each of us, through us and disguised as our own True Self.  In theology whoever is “in Christ” = “is Christ” because God cannot be divided or separated. 

The Pope’s Christmas message is extremely important for us:  It Rocks!  Francis is confirming our own experience and countless Saints in our Catholic mystical tradition.  

Hope your celebration of the Christmas Season becomes more and more joyous as you listen to the Silent Presence of Christ in Centering Prayer, there with you so intimately close that He is more you than you are yourself(!)  Our Love for you guys has its source in our intimate Christ who delights to make His home in the bottom of our hearts where He pours out His warmth and compassion into your own innermost being.

 


 

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 (enclosure) 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 awareawareaware 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:
Pure Consciousness
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.

 

Sublime Fire
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!

 


 

Thomas Merton quoteIf any of your Keating group is interested, they can read pages 275-295 of Merton’s book “New Seeds of Contemplation” trying to grasp the mystery of True Self – False ego self.  They will know for sure why the Church never understood Merton and could never incorporate his experiential contemplative interpretation of Christ’s “Good News” into their Catechism and teachings.  Until God gifts us with the experience of His intimate Oneness with Himself (as Thomas Keating said – “There is no other”) will we ever understand the beauty of what our good God desires for each of us.  Merton felt that most of us will have to die and meet God face to face before we will “get it”!  Fortunately, you guys at Contemplative Network have God Himself attracting you to more and more time with Him alone in Centering Prayer, which is such an efficacious segue to contemplation.  But all of us will get it for sure because we are each Christ’s Image in our own unique way and He personally chose us each to be His One and Only Beloved!  That sounds impossible to our mind but it is the Truth.  We are each indispensable to Him.  We can’t do anything without God, but He created each of us personally in such a way that He needs us and can’t do anything without each one of us who play different roles in His plan.  He even needed people like Judas to fulfill His plan.  We are each so dear and loveable to Him in whom He sees His own Divine Image.  Each of us is His only Tight Squeeze or Beloved.  That means each of us has an intimate personal love affair with the Creator of the Universe and He can’t do without us.  Our good God has gifted us with an awesome mentor – Thomas Keating – to remind us that our generous unrelenting God has through the ages tried to convince all of us in His human family how personally loveable we are to Him as His One and Only Beloved or Tight Squeeze, but our ego’s are so programmed to put ourselves down or get on our case that we inexplicably run away and are slow to accept the free gift of our “loveableness.”  Our good Pope Francis is always encouraging us, “Allow Him to caress you.”  By accepting His unconditional merciful love for you, you in turn as Merton said, are returning His love to Him.  He is loving Himself through you.  He desires with desire to embrace and caress you as His most precious wounded child.

We hermits here are so old we are not afraid to share what is in our heart as Truth Tellers.  Merton did that 60 years ago pointing to our identification with Christ as our True Self and we don’t think the Church knew what he was talking about.  If you are not a contemplative you won’t get it!  Keating and Rohr in their last DVD’s and books are Truth Tellers, but we see that what probably is more efficacious in influencing ordinary people on their search for God is someone like St. Therese of Lisieux (attached).

Therese has the contemplative message and intimacy with Christ in her simplicity of life.  Even the Church recognized her contemplative prayer as the most influential way to touch the lives of the whole Mystical Body of Christ (human family) when they made her a Missionary??  She was not only a Doctor of the Church but also Principal Patroness of All Missionaries and Missions equal to St. Francis Xavier, S.J.

Listen to what Merton has to say about the Mystical Body of Christ and how valuable you guys at Contemplative Network are in influencing the human family.  We are each necessary for Christ to heal all of us through our Centering Prayer and intimacy with Christ:

“When we are united with God in silence, our prayer and the grace that is given to us tend of their very nature to overflow invisible through the Mystical Body of Christ and we who dwell together invisibly in the bond of One Spirit affect one another more than we can ever realize by our own union with God by our spiritual vitality in Him.”

Therese saw she had no goodness of her own that was not Christ’s own Divine Goodness abiding in the center of her being.  Everything was a gift (grace) and that’s why she loved her nothingness.  She trusted in God for everything.  That meant her good desires for the human family had to be Christ’s own desires and that He would fulfill them especially if she was free from desiring particular results.  She had no virtues or any goodness to give to Christ, but loved her nothingness and emptiness so she could depend entirely on the gifts that God so generously poured out into her heart from moment to moment.  We all have been programmed to accumulate virtues and to try harder to earn our “loveableness” by the quantity and quality of what we do for Him.  She knew her “loveableness” was a pure gift of Christ living intimately within her.  When we have an intimate love relationship with Christ, we will automatically see Him in everyone and become virtuous and loving human beings.  Our True Self recognizes the True Self of everyone else whether we like their personality of not.  True love is not about ego compatibility.  Even our enemies are truly loveable.

Prayer works whether we see results or not.  God is pouring out His love for us in every situation and detail of our daily life no matter if it is weal or woe.  Fr. Keating’s contentment and peace are born out of his complete conformity of his will with God’s Will.  That inner Peace is what heals even the bad stuff.

Be assured we hold you guys at Contemplative Network close in our hearts where our good God delights to make His home.  There Christ’s Spirit is crying out within each of us holding all of us, aware or not, in the peaceful contentment of His loving Presence and our Happy Place!

About this Author

 


 

In his letter to Contemplative Network, our hermit-monk friend never tires of reminding us that, whether we are aware of it or not, God is pouring himself and his Love out unceasingly into our heart of hearts in the midst of our brokenness and weakness.  God has a burning desire that we wake up to our unearned loveableness, just as we are, in our helplessness, with all our unfaithfulness.  The greatest Saints knew throughout their entire lives that they were unfortunately “faithful to their unfaithfulness”, yet infinitely loveable nonetheless.  We have to know from experience that unconditional Divine Love is different from conditional human love that has to be earned.  A reward-punishment God of the Old Testament of his very nature would have to be feared and, therefore, this God cannot and does not exist for the Saints.  For them, to “fear” God means to be in “awe” of him, who loves so generously and freely that there is no need to earn his Love with our virtuousness.  That doesn’t mean we don’t try to be virtuous.  What it means is that God doesn’t love us if or when we transform our lives, but so that we can transform our lives.

Gandhi reminds us that –  The most efficacious way to transform the world is to transform ourselves first of all.  Everything begins at home within us.  And when we try to try and transform ourselves, we realize it is impossible for us to change without our merciful indwelling God moving us interiorly.  He alone is the only source of our goodness.

We start behaving better when we realize how immensely loveable we are to our good God, even with all our failings and helplessness.  We cannot merely tolerate our brokenness, but have to love ourselves in our brokenness like God does.  The “hurting place” and wound within us that seems to separate us from our loving God can, in reality, be used as a means to draw us closer to him by attracting his tender compassionate, merciful heart to us.  We are precious to God in our brokenness and he loves our brokenness out of existence.  Punishing wounds doesn’t work.  We only bleed more and try to put on band-aids to cover up, realizing they have no possibility of healing the gash of our wounded “egoitis” with its illusion of separateness.  This false part of our ego has immense difficulty letting go of its programming and falling in love with our Whole or True Self, which includes our weakness and broken ego.  It is constantly trying to earn God’s love, which is  Grace = the free gift of God, loving each of us into existence at this very moment.  Although the false part of our ego is very sincere, it remains counterfeit and a mistake.  It will be with us on our death bed, but we have to keep trying to love it out of existence with mercy and compassion.  Then, we pass on that same mercy to the rest of the human family, who don’t have a clue of how loveable they are to God in their brokenness.

Unearned Love seems too good to be true for the false part of our ego, yet what is unbelievable is that we do not believe this beautiful Truth, so evident in scripture, that we are precious to God in our very brokenness.  It is Christ’s primary message when he identified himself with us and became human, so that we could become Divine.  “For you to live is Christ” (St. Paul).  We are already Oned with the Father as Christ is Oned with the Father.  We only have to become awake to this intimate union.  It is impossible for God not to love us because we are him “by participation” (St. John of the Cross).  This knowledge is what heals us.  And in its ideal form, we call it Wisdom or experiential knowledge.  It is another way to express contemplation, which is experiencing intuitively our intimate union and love relationship with God beyond our rational consciousness and empirical ego.

This experiential knowledge of our Oneness with God is like grasping him directly without gloves on, not as an object of our thoughts outside of ourself, but as our very own deepest True Self  =  God living intimately in us as us. (The Divine Indwelling – 2 Peter 1:4)  If we walked into a fancy restaurant and saw deranged people “chewing on the menu” where steak is listed, instead of enjoying the delicious taste of a juicy steak, we might think we are in the wrong place !  Let’s try McDonald’s!  The words and thoughts about a steak are not the reality of a steak, which we can only know experientially by tasting the deliciousness of a steak.  So also, our ideas, words and thoughts about God are not God.  We only know God truthfully when we experience him intuitively beyond thoughts and words about him (contemplation).  We experience an intimate Oneness with him so that his Presence living in us as us is known without a doubt to also be – “Who we really are”.  We are identified with him.  “I want you to be One with the Father even as I am One” (St. John).  “Taste and see the Goodness of the Lord.”

God emptied himself of his Divinity to become human so that he might awaken us to the Truth that we are already Divine at our conception, and as precious to him at our birth as we will be at our death, when we see him face to face and recognize how much we are like him as we gaze into his comely eyes.

A precursor to this Divine Meeting and union is experiential contemplative love going on right “now” within each of us, if we are awake to it.  It comes and goes as it pleases, like the wind.  Our mind and ego has no control over making it appear.  Suddenly, a little glimpse, a foretaste, an intuition of how immensely loveable, valueable, important and precious we each are to God, just as we are, with all of our woundedness and daily failings.  We can do nothing to change this pure gift of Love through our mind, thinking it out of existence, or through the brutalities of our own will.  God is simply living in the center of our being as the Divine Light of our Life, and he will never be extinguished in his Timelessness.  As the Alpha & Omega, he never had a beginning and will never have an end.  Nor will we –  because, in him, “we live and move and have our being.”  God living in and as our True Self is what most efficaciously heals each and every one of us of our false ego-identity, making us aware of our Divinization and who we really are.  “I live, no longer I (ego), but Christ lives in me.” (St. Paul).

Contemplation is an intuitive experience of our Divinization, which makes us aware of who we really are and who we are not (false part of our ego).  Knowing experientially who we really are pours the balm of compassion on the brokenness of who we are not, and heals its fragility and woundedness with mercy.  Trying to punish the false part of our ego only tends to allow it to dig in its heals.  We are precious to God holistically, and that includes the false part of our ego.

Struggling to live out the ideals of the First Commandment to the full, by loving God directly and wholeheartedly, is simply what contemplation is all about.  It affirms what we already know deep down, that we are created for “God Alone”.  Realizing this enhances our love for others and creation.

This contemplative prayer is not something we have or come by as a possession,  but someone we already are, as we uncover as hidden treasure within us a direct love affair with God, which he is initiating within our deepest consciousness constantly from moment to moment.  There is no way to “get it” because we already “got it”, and only have to awake to this awesome and unceasing love relationship that God is nurturing within us, as us.  We are already Oned.  “I want you to be One with the Father as I am One.”  This is Christ’s primary purpose in showing up on earth to awaken us to our Oneness with him, with ourselves, with others, and with creation.  Unity  =  Love and equality.  Father Thomas Keating called this Divine love affair and Oneness  – “Hot Stuff”!

So often we hear contemplative prayer experienced as a means or a way to love others better.  Loving others is one of the beautiful fruits of this direct love affair and personal intimacy with God himself.  However, contemplation is more importantly an “end in itself”, and not merely a means to obtain something else.  It is the experience of our Love union with God and, in loving God directly in this contemplative way, we are loving the whole human family in him, and moving them closer to God, which is the only reason they are in existence.  The human family is all inter-connected spiritually in the One Mystical Body of Christ.  Every cell in this Divine Body is brimming with God’s own Presence and Light, which makes each of us extremely valuable and important for the health of the rest of the cells.  The intimate love affair of our union with God experienced in contemplation is at the heart of the “wellness” of the whole human family, who rarely have a clue of how loveable we are in our brokenness.

In contemplation, God is real to us, not as an object of our thoughts or ideas, but as a subject of our experience.  What awakens in us is our intimate personal and spiritual union with God, who gives birth to the intuition of our loveableness beyond our wildest expectations!  Our worts, mistakes and daily failings are absolutely irrelevant to God in the face of this Divine Lover “communing” with us constantly, loving each of us into existence in this Present Moment.

Centering Prayer

 

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