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Can I Trust Father Thomas Keating?

September 28, 2015 by  
Filed under Can I Trust?, Centering Prayer, Connie Rossini, New Age

Can I Trust Father Thomas Keating?
Open Mind, Open Heart” Book Review

Trappist Abbot Thomas Keating is one of the foremost promoters of the practice of Centering Prayer. His book Open Mind, Open Heart, first published in 1986, has sold over half a million copies. Is this book a good resource for growth in prayer? Can I trust Fr. Thomas Keating as a guide to the spiritual life? In this post we'll take an in-depth look at this book and the theology behind it.

DetailThomasKeatingDiscussionWithTheDalaiLamaBoston2012Fr. Keating, like all those who promote and teach Centering Prayer, claims to follow the tradition of Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Thérèse of Lisieux, and others. However, he provides no evidence to back up this claim. He quotes none of these saints. In fact, he has very few quotes from any Catholic sources and none that give us their complete context.

In the introduction, Keating describes Centering Prayer as a “specific method of awakening the gift of contemplation” (page ix).* In contrast, the Carmelite saints rarely speak of techniques or methods of prayer. Instead, they urge a life surrendered to Christ. In order to avoid such criticism, Centering Prayer advocates insist they are not teaching a “technique” but a “method.” They seem to think that substituting the synonym “method” for “technique” solves the issue. It does not. The real problem lies in the idea that we can attain to infused contemplation by following a set of steps in our prayer time, thus making states of consciousness more central than Christ. Such an idea is antithetical to the teaching of the Carmelite saints. Humility, perseverance in prayer and virtue, and faithfulness to God's grace throughout the day–supported by growing detachment to created things–are what constitute the necessary preparation for contemplative prayer.

Throughout Open Mind, Open Heart, Keating over-emphasizes the soul's role in attaining contemplation. I expected this would be the case from what I already knew about Centering Prayer. What surprised me were the many theological errors I found–some of them egregious. To be fair, a few of Keating's descriptions of how the soul should behave during Centering Prayer are very close to orthodox teaching about acquired contemplation–the final stage of prayer in the Purgative Way. But we must remember the adage lex orandi, lex credendi–prayer is the expression of what we believe. If our theology is bad, our method of prayer will also likely be bad.

I cannot address every error in the book in a blog post, so I will confine myself to those that are most troubling. Let's look at Keating's teaching about the nature of God, man, sin, redemption, and the proper focus of our prayer.

1. Who is God?

Perhaps the greatest error, and the one most widely known, is Fr. Keating's blurring of the distinction between God and man. Accused of pantheism, he and other Centering Prayer advocates respond that they teach panentheism. Not only the term (which this book doesn't use), but its meaning, contradicts true Catholic spirituality. Here is just one quote among many that shows the problem:

“God and our true Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing” (158).*

In orthodox Catholic teaching, even at the highest stages of union with God, the soul always remains a distinct personality.

Another problem centers on our ability to know God. Keating writes that we don't know exactly who or what God is (41),* and as we mature in faith, we do not even want to know (66).* This is repudiated by such Scripture passages as this:

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)

In other words, we do not fully understand God now, but our spiritual transformation entails knowing Him as He is. Our desire to know Him, as well as our understanding itself, move in the opposite direction that Keating proposes.

2. Who is Man?

Writing about the method of Centering Prayer, which involves letting thoughts slip past your mind without taking notice of them, Fr. Keating says the method prepares one to accept that “when the body slips away from the spirit, no great change is going to take place” (53).* He does not elaborate, but he is obviously speaking of death, the separation of the soul from the body. If death brings “no great change,” why do we need a resurrection? The body is an essential part of the human person. And, we profess the resurrection of the body in the Creed every Sunday at Mass, and every time we pray the Rosary.

3. Sin and Redemption

Fr. Keating writes that the main thing separating us from God “is the thought that we are separated from Him” (33).* This same error shows up in his discussion of Baptism, in which he says “our sense of separation from God and from others is destroyed” (159)* and is in his definition of original sin, wherein he repeats the error that separation from God is an illusion.  Of course, separation from God due to sin is a reality (cf Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1849-1850), not an illusion that we must be set free from.

How can we grow towards union with God? Keating says repeatedly that our thoughts and emotions are what primarily keep us away from Him. (See, for example, page 164.)*

4. The Focus of Prayer

JeanBennerLExtase(TheEcstasyJeanBennerPrayer)Finally, Fr. Keating gets the focus of our prayer time entirely wrong. This may not seem like such a big deal, until one reads exactly what his error is. This is where the bad theology ends in a bad prayer method. The focus is completely off.

Keating writes, “The method consists of letting go of every kind of thought during the time of prayer, even the most devout thoughts” (21).* He clearly states more than once that this includes every type of communication and inspiration coming from God Himself. He urges his followers to use a “sacred word” during prayer, but not only can that word be something completely secular if one chooses, Keating says that “the less the word means to you, the better” (40).*

Where is Christ in this prayer? He is not at the center of it. Keating, without any evidence to back up his assertion, states that God's first language is silence, so that, if we attain silence, God will come and fill it (48).* In contrast, we read in Scripture, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. And the Word was God” (John 1:1). From all eternity, God has been speaking. The Word He speaks is God the Son. Jesus is God's first and eternal language. If we are truly open to God in prayer, we will seek Him through His Son, not through a forced silence of the mind.

Elsewhere, Fr. Keating mentions Jacob's dream of a ladder going up to heaven. Keating says the ladder “represents different levels of consciousness or faith” (90).* But in the Gospel, Jacob's ladder represents Christ:

“[Jesus] said to [Nathanael] ‘…I say to you, you will see…the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1: 51).

Some Closing Thoughts

In this post, we've examined some of the teachings about the nature of God, the nature of man, sin and redemption, and the focus of prayer according to Fr. Thomas Keating. We've demonstrated how Fr. Keating's thought differs from authentic Catholic spirituality, by quoting from just a few of the many examples of error in his book Open Mind, Open Heart and showing how they differ from authentic Catholic spirituality. His text says a lot about how states of consciousness, in Centering Prayer, are more central than Jesus is.

Centering Prayer, as taught by Fr. Thomas Keating, is not traditional Christian prayer. It is based on a theology more influenced by Zen Buddhism than by the saints whose names Keating sprinkles throughout his text. It will not help a person prepare for infused contemplation. The evidence speaks for itself. My advice about Fr. Keating is to completely avoid his “theology”.

 

* Quotes from “Open Mind, Open Heart” are taken from the 20th Anniversary Edition (Bloomsbury: London, 2006).

Editor's Note: Click here for more posts in our “Can I Trust?” Series.

Art: Detail from Thomas Keating, discussion with the Dalai Lama Boston 2012, “christopher”, 14 October 2012, CCA; L'Extase (The Ecstasy), Jean Benner (1836-1906), before 1896, PD-US; both Wikimedia Commons.

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About Connie Rossini

Connie Rossini gives whole families practical help to grow in holiness. She is the author of several books, including "Trusting God with St. Thérèse" and her latest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila written with Dan Burke. Besides her blog Contemplative Homeschool, she has started a new site discussing errors concerning prayer, named after her book Is Centering Prayer Catholic? She has written a spirituality column for the diocesan press for nearly ten years.

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  • veritasetgratia

    Connie, do you know anything about …………..

    Laurence Freeman was born in England in 1951 where he was educated by the Benedictines and studied English Literature at New College, Oxford University. Before entering monastic life, he had experience with the United Nations in New York, banking and journalism. Today Fr Laurence is a Benedictine monk of the Monastery of Christ our Saviour, Turvey, England, a monastery of the Congregation of Monte Oliveto. He is Director of The World Community for Christian Meditation. He seems to advocate centering prayer. He recommends mantras and clearing the mind of thought. Have you heard of him and what is your opinion ?

    • LizEst

      Lawrence Freeman is also not faithful to the Magiesterium…and Women of Grace has also done a post on this: http://www.womenofgrace.com/blog/?p=879
      Here is a quote from that post, an attempt to redefine original sin by Freeman:

      “Mythically, we explain it by some kind of “Fall”, a primal disobedience or transgression whose consequences get passed down the line forever. But in the light of modern knowledge about history and psychology we read these myths differently, less literally. Perhaps it is not so much a fall as a faltering ascent which explains our predicament and the disorderly pattern of human development. Maybe we are slowly climbing a ladder of consciousness.”

      A “faltering ascent” negates the reason for Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.

      • Dom C

        Liz and Connie, Thanks for your work in keeping the “faithful” faithful!

      • veritasetgratia

        Liz thanks so much for directing me to women of grace to this particular article on Laurence Freeman. Very unfortunately, this man was active (and probably still is) at World Youth Days and insinuated himself into the good graces of our Archbishop who invited him into the Diocese some time back. That became an entry into the Catholic School system under the banner of teaching children spirituality. He ran Sessions for Teachers and that has been a problem with a couple of members of our teaching team, their reasoning being that if the Archb. approves who are they to judge? This has been the first article I have come across which specifically mentions the errors of Laurence Freeman himself and his movement. I can channel this through to some influential people here, and hopefully, we can limit his effects amongst our Catholic children in this Diocese some time soon.

        • The influence that Laurence Freeman has in the Church in the UK is frightening. I have written many articles on the subject as well as letters to influential magazines that promote his retreats, pointing out that he strays from the authentic Catholic teaching on prayer. Sadly, authentic prayer is not always taught or understood, hence its counterfeit flourishes in our parishes.

          • veritasetgratia

            David, I have just gone to your blog. As you dont have a search engine, please tell me where I can read those articles you’ve written mentioning Freeman? and then there is some good reading there for later I can see. Thank you for your help.

          • My website has extracts from articles on the mantra movement in particular. http://www.davidtorkington.com All my talks and forthcoming podcasts will deal particularly with authentic prayer in the Christian tradition. I expect my new website to be ready mid October.

          • That’s so sad, David. We can’t have true intimacy with Christ without prayer, and the average Catholic is ignorant about how to pray and the stages of prayer. How I wish we would hear homilies about how to meditate on the Scriptures, for example! Why aren’t priests preaching this? It’s simple enough for an adolescent to do (I know, because even my 11-y-old is getting started in it). Oh, please, any priests reading this, please think and pray about how you can preach on authentic prayer!

          • Connie, teaching the young is truly blessed! You are fulfilling a priestly duty. But priests need to pray first, then teach the faithful.

    • Laurence Freeman is continuing the work of Fr. John Main, who taught what he called “Christian meditation.” It wasn’t lectio divina, though, it was mantra meditation. Fr. Main’s teaching and practice were very similar to Centering Prayer, but had some differences. I hope to do some posts on his movement in the future.

      • Fr. Main learned his approach to prayer from a Hindu Guru named Swami Satyananda. His teachings on prayer are problematic.

        • veritasetgratia

          Dan thanks for replying on this as well. Laurence Freeman is doing some damage here in our Diocese. If “catechesis” had not collapsed (in the words of Pope Benedict XVI) people like him would never get off the ground because people would be able to join the dots. Anything further on this guy you know of, would be gratefully received here.

      • marybernadette

        ‘Yes, we must remember that Satan is very ‘subtle’ as Genesis calls him (paraphrase) ‘the craftiest of creatures.’ ‘In the new-age movement, he shows up as an ‘angel of light.’ That is why as Dan said, St. Paul’s teaching to ‘test all things and hold fast to that which is true.’

  • Thank you so much for pointing this out, Connie Rossini! Reflections on the Gospel and ONLY Jesus name has truly been my saving grace that I too hope to share with others. I deeply appreciate any help to guide me forward through this too:

    • LizEst

      Catherine: Your link has been disallowed because it linked to a post regarding something which is not faithful to the Magisterium and is, in fact, a dangerous book leading people slowly away from God toward believing that salvation comes from oneself. Women of Grace has an excellent post on this subject here: http://www.womenofgrace.com/blog/?p=42500

    • I believe Fr. Benedict Groeschel also talks about this book in A Still, Small Voice, his work on discernment of private revelations. He knew the author personally and points out the dangers in her book.

  • pscuglik

    Thank you for this article. Can you please shed
    some light on another author….Ernest E. Larkin, O.Carm. His book is: Christian Meditation, Contemplative Prayer
    for Today.

    • Dear Friend, I suspect Fr. Larkin was a good man (God rest his soul) but he did fall prey to and promoted Centering prayer. This would be enough for me to look elsewhere for spiritual sustenance.

    • I concur with Dan’s reply. Some of the things Fr. Larkin has written about prayer are troubling.

  • Nowellyn

    I am a South African from Cape Town and I love these articles.
    Excuse my ignorance, but are clergy not held accountable to their superiors for the content of their writings or their teaching?

    • Since Fr. Keating is an order priest, there is no bishop to discipline him. We have to rely on his superiors in the order and I don’t know what their position is. Ultimately, the Vatican will have to act. But in a way they already have. While they have not criticized Fr. Keating by name, two Vatican documents have cautioned against New Age spirituality. The broad criticisms that are meant to include a wide variety of New Age practices clearly include Centering Prayer as well. The two documents are Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning Some Aspects of Christian Mediation (by the CDF under Ratzinger) and Jesus Christ: the Bearer of the Water of Life (by the Pontifical Councils for Interreligious Dialogue and Culture).

      Centering Prayer is only one of many bad practices being promoted throughout the world. It will take some time for the Vatican to deal directly with all of them. I wish it were faster, but I do believe the specific condemnation will come.

      • Dee

        Connie, may I impose upon you regarding your thoughts on The Jesus Prayer?

        • The Jesus Prayer is orthodox (yes, that’s a pun) and revered. It has superficial similarities to CP and some modern westerners have tried to make it into a mantra meditation technique. That’s not what it is. I have found great help in understanding the essence of the Jesus Prayer at http://orthodoxprayer.org/. Basically, it can’t be separated from a life of penance and a deep desire for God. The focus is on Jesus, not avoiding thoughts or feelings. And the method changes and deepens depending on one’s level of spiritual growth. None of these are true of CP.

          • Dee

            Thanks Connie. I am a revert to the Church and got caught up in CP the first month of my return. Then I discovered Catholic Answers and Sharon Lee Giganti, who really set me straight. I also read Ratzinger’s and JPII’s documents – really eye openers. I have been doing the Jesus Prayer, which I learned from John Michael Talbot about 3 years, and it has truly changed my life. By the way — yesterday I bought the Kindle version of your book, which I just finished – WOW – a real page-turner! I couldn’t put it down! I just ordered 3 copies in paperback. Good stuff! Peace and every blessing, Dee

          • Glad to have you back in the Church! And thanks for buying the paperback.

  • ThirstforTruth

    I have been looking for a Catholic analysis of Father Keating’s books as they are frequently donated to our Church library. HIs books have raised a red flag for me as “custodian” of what goes on our shelves. We want only truly Catholic
    teaching reflected in our library. I have known that Centering Prayer is more New Age than Catholic and have thus rejected Father Keating’s works. This blog has given solid and concrete reasons for rejecting Father Keating’s books when building a Catholic library. I will print this article out and keep on file to defend
    the decision when facing opposition. Thanks and God bless.

    • You’re welcome. Keep Fr. Keating’s books off the Church library shelves, if you can. Fill it with works by the saints instead.

      • ThirstforTruth

        Connie …thanks for your encouragement. I try to do this as surreptitiously as possible but I am still in come circles the equivalent to the proverbial “book burner”. Since Father Keating is not “denounced” by the church for his writings ( he even has
        a popular retreat center in New England) it is difficult to convince others he is NOT Catholic in his writings. His books have some truth in them and his dissident message often tickles the ears of those who prefer the New Age to the more difficult narrow way. In this day and age of poor catechesis, secularism, etc., the truth gets harder and harder to proclaim to hardened hearts. Thus the need for every parish to have a truly Catholic library as well as an
        authentic on-going Adult Education program.

        • Virtually every book has some truth in it. And while Fr. Keating has not been denounced by name, many of the things he teaches have been criticized by the Vatican more than once. Prayers for your endeavors.

  • Maria Gabriela Salvarrey Rodri

    Thank you very much Connie. Very Clear, excellent.

  • Dee

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am going to print this out and give it to the pastors in my area, who allow Centering Prayer to be taught in their parishes and advertised in the bulletins.

    • Be prepared for some backlash. If you need more information, I have recently published a book about Centering Prayer, which is available on Amazon. It’s called Is Centering Prayer Catholic? An excerpt will be published here soon.

      • Dee

        Thank you. I will order it. Peace and every good, Dee

  • Angels-In-L.A.

    Thanks Connie and Liz! I have some experience with Centering Prayer as it is offered at my current parish. I was attending for about 1 year in 2013 and we also had the opportunity to meet Laurence Freeman when he came to an event in Southern California. Deep in my gut I sensed that this practice/method of prayer wasn’t quite right…but I stopped attending Centering Prayer when I had a bad experience during the meditations where we empty our minds. When I tried to meditate at home and had my eyes closed I kept seeing a dark face that gave me the creeps. This scared me and I instead stepped up my Rosary praying. Also, the facilitator of the parish meditation group had explained that centering prayer can reach deep into your psyche and some people have had break-downs, but that this is part of finding your true self. These two revelations convinced me to stop the practice. In my continued search for a deeper spirituality I found (I am convinced it was through divine intervention) the Ignatius Spiritual Exercises taught at another parish, St. Peter Chanel Church in Hawaiian Gardens. They are facilitated by wonderful priests who are Oblates of the Virgin Mary. This is exactly what I had been searching for and now highly recommend. I am also grateful that through this journey I found your website with all the
    wonderful resources. Thanks to you and your team for all that you do for the faithful! (Sorry for the long post 🙂 )

    • You’re welcome! There are so many tried and true methods of prayer coming from the saints, we don’t need one that originated in non-Christian religions. The Spiritual Exercises will lead you to greater intimacy with Christ.

  • Jenn

    Thank you, Connie! Before you came out with your original post on your website in July, I wrote a long email to my parish DRE with many links I found online denouncing centering prayer and Keating’s method, even using his own words. However, my words fell on deaf ears which really saddened and angered me at the same time. I’m hoping maybe this article will be seen and the message heeded by otherwise very faithful Catholics. While we do not have a CP group at our parish, I will be moving to a parish that does. Any recommendations on how to approach a pastor that has a CP group at their parish, particularly in a very “unorthodox” area of the country?

    • That’s very difficult. I have yet to encounter a single person who is practicing or promoting CP who is open to my criticisms. Not one. But very few of them will address the theological errors I have pointed out either. They just accuse me of being uncharitable or ignore the points I make altogether. Or they try to connect CP with the prayer methods recommended by the saints. As you know, they are very different, but it’s easier to misunderstand a bad prayer method than bad theology. That’s why I concentrated on theology in this post. You could give the pastor a copy of my book, but he may not even read it. I am always opened to discussing this with him or anyone else who has questions or who doubts what I say. Feel free to pass on my blog address, etc.

    • DD

      Try asking questions rather than making statements, which can be interpreted as accusations and provoke defensive responses. Just ask but how does….fit with Christ’s words that….? Plant the seed of doubt (the question) and let God water it (grace)?

  • Dear Cecil, Connie’s post is merely an attempt to be faithful to the Holy Spirit’s admonition through St. Paul in scripture to “Test all things and hold fast to that which is true.” In this case, she has not attacked Fr. Keating but has simply tested his claims against the tradition of the Church. To say that it is an attack on his name is, in itself, an egregious misrepresentation of the truth. That said I suspect it comes out of a sincere love for the man. Regardless, if you would like to engage in specific points she made and show that they are false, we would be grateful to be proven wrong.

  • Good for you for listening to the Holy Spirit. I think many people who read about or hear about Centering Prayer brush aside that little voice that is telling them there is something wrong. The errors in Fr. Keating’s teachings are many. The Church agrees with you that you can use a kind of meditation to quiet the mind before beginning praying. But we should not confuse this quieting of the mind with prayer. Prayer is an exchange with God.

  • But when you fail to address what I have said, you leave the impression that my criticisms are valid. All of my quotes are right from Fr. Keating’s book. I could have included much more. In fact, it was after writing this post that I decided to write a book on the subject, because I could never adequately address all the problems in even a series of blog posts. Time and again when I bring up the theological problems with Centering Prayer, its practitioners run away. Why is no one willing to debate this if it has really been so helpful to them?

    • Cecil Cullen

      First of all, to maintain that “All of my quotes are from Father Keating’s book” is incorrect. 1 John 3:2 is quoted, purportedly in rejection of Keating’s statement that we don’t know exactly who are what God is (41). John’s statement in my interpretation tells us that we will at some future point (the next life) see him as he is, not that any of us humans know Him now. No way do I know God – I know of Him only by His works and by what He has chosen to reveal through Jesus and the prophets.
      I am falling into the trap I wished to avoid – debate concerning the many, many points in the article which could be questioned, which constitute Ms Rossini’s opinion, and that only. To engage with all of them would be futile, and perhaps “Jesuitical”, to coin a term. Father Keating has been a good and beneficial influence to many in their faith, in their search for God – some of these are personal acquaintances. Perhaps a fair question would be, “Had I not been influenced by Centring Prayer, where would I be?”. This discipline is designed to let God do the talking – to still our ever-ready practice of telling Him who He is, who we are, and what we should be doing for Him. We are not the centre of the Universe, we are not God.

      • Dear Cecil, God loves you very much. Like with me and millions of other, if we draw near to Him, He promises to draw near to us. In my case it was through the New Age movement and another false teacher in Catholicism. God used those errors as a stepping stone for my redemption. Fr. Keating is not the one to be praised for whatever real progress you have made, God is. Offer your praise to Him and seek the truth in the teachings of the Church. You are right that we are not the center of the Universe but Fr. Keating believes that there is no difference between us and God. Thus you disagree with Fr. Keating on this essential truth which tells me that you have not been completely infected by his teachings and have the opportunity to move past them into deeper relationship with God.

      • You are right that the quote from 1 John 3:2 does not appear in Fr. Keating’s book (though I don’t think anyone would have believed I was saying it does). He does not quote much Scripture in his works. It is true that we do not fully know God on this earth, but we were made to know Him and as we progress in the spiritual life we get to know Him better. That was my point. Fr. Keating does not teach that. He teaches that God becomes more and more obscure to us as we grow spiritually. Now, we do go through a maturation process in which we realize that our knowledge of God is minuscule and not worthy of the term “knowledge.” But even that recognition is itself a growth towards understanding Him. Keating’s mistake is in thinking that the dark knowledge of contemplation is not knowledge at all. This causes him to say a mature Christian doesn’t even want to know who God is. That’s like saying a man who is truly in love does not want to understand the woman he loves. Of course he does! Our minds are limited, but God can give us a knowledge of Himself that is infused. In contemplation we truly get to know God better. Infused knowledge IS knowledge, even though it originates with God and not with us. It is knowledge par excellence. The Beatific Vision should be just the next step in our spiritual lives if we mature as we should. We really do start to know God in this life if we allow Him to give Himself to us. May His Name be praised for the greatness of this gift! So, we humbly recognize that we cannot really know God on our own, then we give ourselves to him and let Him reveal Himself to us as only He can. And through this growth in knowledge we are able to grow in love. That’s the essence of the spiritual life.

  • Dear Kokyjo, I must admit your comment made me smile. I suspect I would like you in person. First, I am not a priest (though I am grateful for the compliment). Second, do you reject Jesus and his teachings, and the teachings of the Holy Spirit in tradition as a valid measuring stick? Third, a preface is necessary – I have no doubt that there are many good people in the CP movement. I have taken a course and the folks were nice. I have met other well meaning folks from the CP movement. However, I rarely encounter a group more lacking in charity and concern for the Truth and the work of the Holy Spirit through the magisterium than Centering Prayer practitioners. They are typically uncharitable, aggressive, and spiteful when a dialogue like this one surfaces. So, if their fruits indicate the health of the movement, in my experience, the movement is very sick and in need of reform. This does not mean I hold them in disdain. My hope and prayer is that they will fall in love with Christ and His Church.

    • MarcAlcan

      Bravo!

  • And I’m not a priest either. 🙂 The “fruits” argument is largely a subjective one. While some people tell me how CP has helped their prayer life, others tell me how it ruined theirs. A book I mentioned in an earlier comment is helpful for understanding the place of these fruits in discernment: A Still, Small Voice by Fr. Benedict Groeschel. Keep serving Jesus and seek His face in prayer. Intimacy with Jesus, who is Other than the soul, is the goal of the spiritual life.

  • marybernadette

    ‘If only people would realize that ‘centering prayer’ is really worshipping the ‘self as god.’ I have experienced ‘anger’ from a priest because I questioned the use of it at a retreat called ‘we are more than conquerors.’ Also, one evening I attended a ‘Lenten prayer service’ and was appalled at seeing a picture of Jesus in the ‘lotus position.’ We really are in a ‘fierce spiritual battle.’

    • The full quote is, “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom 8:37). The omission of the second half of the verse says it all.

  • Bernadette

    At our parish and several other parishes in the area, we have what is called “prayer of the heart”. I have attended several times but find it to be just another name for centering prayer. Personally, I have found it to be very uncomfortable. In trying to empty the mind, you open yourself to many unwanted things entering in. Scary!!!

    • Yes, the term “prayer of the heart” is sometimes used as a synonym for Centering Prayer. But since in Centering Prayer you are instructed to turn away from every emotion as well as thought about God, this is a terrible misnomer. We should allow our hearts to lead us to Christ, not stifle our affections in prayer.

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  • Dear Cecil, thank you for the your correction. I find your emotional language “attack” as interesting and consistent with responses to these dialogues. Is Fr. Keating against Jesus? Certainly not by admission but no doubt true by his teaching. Of course you know that he teaches that you and I are God and that were we to reach the heights of contemplation we would realize that “there is no other,” meaning that we are not distinct creatures created by God but that we are God. This, of course is heresy and thus against Christ and the teaching of the Church. This does not mean that he is not a good man or well intentioned. It simply means that his teaching is in error and gravely dangerous for the soul.

  • So, even though the Church has issued two documents about New Age errors, we are tattle-tales if we point out someone is spreading these very errors? Truth matters. Fr. Keating’s teaching, if it is followed, will lead people away from Jesus. That is why I speak out against it. I want everyone to reach intimacy with Christ. CP cannot help you get there. It is at best a distraction. Fr. Keating is teaching “another gospel” and St. Paul didn’t have kind words for such people. I’ll leave anathemas to the Church. I believe Fr. Keating at the very least began with good intentions, but his teaching went far, far astray. I will continue to speak the truth to help save others from falling into error. Fr. Pennington was involved in the same errors. I pray for both him and Fr. Keating daily.

  • MarcAlcan

    Excellent article!

    God bless your work.

    • Thanks, MarcAlan. Blessing much needed and appreciated.

    • Dan Burke

      Hey Marc – you you the guy I talked with on the phone a while back? If so, would be grateful if you could contact me. If so, you can send an email to question@myavila.com

      • MarcAlcan

        I don’t remember calling. I did write to you however about a concern I had with an article in another website and I wanted your thoughts on it.

  • MarcAlcan

    I really don’t get why priests need to go somewhere else to learn to pray when we have a treasure trove or real prayer in the Church.

  • MarcAlcan

    Did you actually read the article?
    I think if you have a counter argument to the points that Connie presented, now is a good time to say it rather than dismissing the article offhand and making a very subjective claim that Centering prayer is helpful.

  • MarcAlcan

    Finally got my copy of your book and am now midway.
    I wish I had it 6 months ago. It would have helped my friend who was sold out on Keating and Merton understand .
    Praise the Lord for the work He is doing through you.

    • MarcAlan, Sorry I missed your comment until now. Of course, the book didn’t exist 5 months ago, except as an idea. It was my husband who encouraged me to work on the project at once. Sorry to hear about your friend. I’ll say a prayer for him. Yes, all praise be to the Lord!

  • Wambui

    Don’t know if am allowed to comment, but have found CP helpful. I gaze at God the Holy Spirit who is within me during centering prayer. I stand totally open before God. I have become a bit more tolerant, less impatient and may be a little more trusting of God and of others. I doubt we should condemn it totally. Jesus works in different people in different ways, but he is the giver of all gifts.

    • Of course you can comment, as long as you follow the “house rules!” One of the problems with CP is that people get it all mixed up with traditional and orthodox prayer methods. One person does New Age meditation and calls it CP. Another practices mental prayer and is at the stage of acquired recollection and calls that CP. The former is not Christian prayer and the latter is. The former has been strongly criticized by the Church, the latter is a traditional stage of prayer growth. The center of all prayer must be the Lord, especially the Incarnate Lord Jesus. Any prayer that focuses on a method rather than an intimate relationship with God (who is Other than the soul) is not Christian prayer and should be avoided, no matter what one calls it.

  • Sandy Dell

    Very interesting and very different from the philosophies and beliefs I was taught as a child in the Catholic church.

    Just as a side note, this method is very much the same as is taught in New Thought churches. New Age depicts looking to outside objects (like crystals etc.) for Spiritual answers; whereas, New Thought says we are one with God and thus, find the answers within.

    “God and our true Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing” (158).* This is one of the basic principles of New Thought churches (which have several denominations that sprang from the Transcendental Movement — Ralph Emerson & friends — in the late 19th century).

    Thanks for writing and sharing this wonderful article.

    Sandy

  • LizEst

    Antun – Both the author of this post, Connie Rossini, as well as the founder of this blog, Dan Burke, very much know what they are talking about, as does the Magisterium of the Church. These things: centering prayer, TM, all new age practices, are indeed problematic. Just because a person practices something doesn’t necessarily mean that it is free of error. The authority belongs to God and the Church, whom Christ entrusted it to, not ourselves.

    • Antun

      That’s exactly what I was talking about. You cannot put centering prayer and TM in the same basket – they are immensely different, and anyone that says they are the same did not understand centering prayer.

      • LizEst

        The techniques may be different, but the end results lead in the same direction. As Connie has said, “in Centering Prayer you are instructed to turn away from every emotion as well as thought about God”. It is one of the hallmarks of New Age prayer to sooner, or later, lead a person away from God and ultimately lead them to the belief that that person is God. There is a vast gulf between the creature and the creator.

      • Hi, Antun. I do not know the details of your personal practice of Centering Prayer. But I have done detailed study on what Fr. Thomas Keating and the other monks who created the Centering Prayer method teach and practice. Fr. Keating’s teaching is just what I have detailed above. This is a review of his most popular book. I now have an entire blog devoted to this subject, as well as a short book on it. Fr. Keating’s teaching has more in common with New Age spirituality than traditional Christian prayer. He mixes truth and error so much in his writings and teachings, that many people are deceived. Sometimes he does talk about a relationship of love and trust. But other times he says that God is not essentially different than one’s self. You can not have a relationship unless there are at least two people. http://iscenteringprayercatholic.wordpress.com

        • Antun

          Father Keating clearly says there is no separation between us and God, yes, but he also emphasizes that there is infinite distinction. In other words, Fr. Keating is saying the same thing St. John of the Cross and other saints were saying: at the very core of our being is God.
          (keep in mind that distinction and separation are not the same thing).
          As for Fr. Keating’s teachings having more in common with new age than traditional Christian spirituality – is there anyone “more catholic” than those monks who spend their days in silence, prayer and ascetic work? He has entered the monastery in his twenties, so he spend seventy years giving mass every day, praying Divine Office seven times per day, praying Lection Divina every day… and you say he is into new age spirituality? I really can’t understand how can you think that.

          • LizEst

            Many of us know folks who are very good at attending Mass, offering Mass every day, praying the Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours seven times a day, praying Lectio Divina, who are not obedient to the teaching of the Magisterium. Yes, a person can do all those things and still be in error.

          • Well, I have been studying and practicing Carmelite spirituality for over 20 years (17 of them as a Secular Carmelite) and can assure you that John of the Cross does not teach the same thing as Fr. Keating. Fr. Keating teaches non-dualism, which is foreign to Christianity. Our separation from God is what necessitated Christ’s coming. We needed redemption, because sin really and truly puts a barrier between God and man, even though God holds us in existence. That’s why the Church and the saints all insist that union with God is progressive, keeping pace with the extent to which we turn away from sin and inordinate love of creatures. Repentance is not a word I hear much from Centering Prayer advocates. Fr. Keating in fact defines Original Sin as lack of awareness that we are in union with God. Awareness of God’s presence comes along with a closer union with God, but it is not itself that union. We need a real inner transformation, not just a new way of looking at things. True contemplation transforms us from sinners to saints. It repairs a real separation that has taken place through sin. This is foundational to Christian spirituality and theology.

            The reason I can think that monks can be in error is that monks are human beings. Many priests and religious throughout the centuries have gone astray. I prayed for Fr. Keating this morning, as I do regularly, that he may return to the fullness of truth.

          • Antun

            I am sorry it took me this long to reply.
            It is true that most of the st. John of the Corss works point the soul towards transforming union, but the “Living flame of love” goes even beyond that and pretty much describes non duality without using the term itself.
            As for your theology about us being irreparably separated from God, it’s not accordant to catholic theology.
            As for what you say is Keatings definition of original sin, its inacurate. In Open Mind Open Heart he defines original sin as “a way of describing the human condition…”, and no the lack of awareness that we are in union with god, but it is the consequence of not being united with God.

          • Here is the exact quote from the glossary at the end of Open Mind, Open Heart, the entry for Original Sin: “A way of explaining the universal experience of coming to full reflective self-consciousness without the inner conviction or experience of union with God.” See that? “Self-consciousness,” “inner conviction.” “experience.” Original Sin is not a matter of lack of consciousness. It is a real break in our relationship with God. Jesus did not come to make us aware. That would simply make Him a teacher. Instead, He is our Savior. He repaired a real break in our relationship with God.

            I never said that we are “irreparably” separated from God. If that were true, we would all be going to Hell. In fact, the Catechism defines Hell as eternal separation from God. What I did say is that our separation from God through sin is real, not something we can overcome simply be being made aware of God’s presence within us. There is a presence of God that every human being experiences simply because we are made by God in His image. But there is another union with God that comes only through spiritual growth, a rejection of sin, total self-gift to God. It is the latter that defines the contemplative.

            As for “The Living Flame of Love” that was written for Carmelite nuns who were already advanced in the spiritual life. It is not about non-duality at all. It is like the Song of Songs–a love poem of God and the soul. The union of God and the soul in Christianity is like the marital union. The bride remains the bride. She does not become the Groom, but she is intimately united with Him in a way that she can call Him her “Other Self.” If we look at the lives of the saints, we see that their personalities, their differences, their specific gifts, shine brightly and beautifully, even more so as they grow closer to Christ. They do not lose their individuality. They do not lose their sense of self.

            Please, read the Catechism, read the documents of the Church. These questions have already been settled. There is no room for argument here. You are arguing against the magisterium of the Catholic Church when you interpret the Catholic saints in a Buddhist/Hindu manner. Read the CDF’s “On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation” to see the clear difference between New Age forms of meditation and true Christian prayer. I will be praying for you.

          • Dan Burke

            Connie is dead on target. There is no orthodox theologian that would disagree with her on these matters.

  • Iris, have you watched the video on YouTube where Fr. Keating says that as you advance prayer, you come to realize that God is not “Other” than oneself? Or the recent one in which he says that although he is personally opposed to assisted suicide, it may be part of God’s will for some people, as a way of growing in detachment? Google it (we don’t allow links to websites that teach error here, so I can’t post them). I would not trust the teaching of anyone who said things so opposed to the Gospel–even if he sometimes says some things that are true.

    • LizEst

      Assisted suicide? Yikes!

      • Yes, another reader alerted me to that one. Almost unbelievable.

        • LizEst

          We have good readers!

    • Joe Hough

      My first reply to any blog . Ever.
      I’m not a scientist. Im not that wise or or spiritually evolved.. Im not an expert. I do not carry any credentials or anything the certifies my value or worth. My opinions or ideas have never been praised or acknowledged. I make choices that sometime harm people. I wish I was a better friend. I wish I had more courage. I wish I was more honest and I wish I was more kind. So I dont know much and I don’t carry much certainty of anything. But I know when my heart hurts and sometimes why. Reading this blog has done so. My heart hurts for seeing such Love missed. Maybe it’s the whole intention of the blog and I find myself again being an idiot. Then I’ll join you in laughing at myself too. Even knowing it’s harmful. I still judge people and also have some heros that I have singled out. An admiration and love for their shared human experience. Last few weeks I’m drawn to the stories of the early proclaimers of the earth being round and not flat. Learning about certain people who were exploding with awe and wonder. Following a deep calling being uncertain and having courage to weather the unknowns and the effects of beliefs being challenged. Events that seem not too long ago Think it’s fair saying this could of been my great, great, great, great, great , great grandparents time when Columbus’s belief that the earth was round was not accepted.

      I wonder if love could be just too simple.
      I wonder if I’m simply just too arrogant and that’s it.
      I wonder if there’s room for love in certainty.
      Im finding certainty is such an extremely smaller space than I thought it was.
      I wonder about the certainty at church.
      I wonder if certainty could be my greatest weakness.
      I wonder if love is so grand, that the only place it can fit and be explained is in the not knowing.
      I’m believing Not knowing could be big enough.
      I wonder if a bigger space exists .
      I wonder where the most room is for love.
      Maybe there is not enough space anywhere. Maybe there is. Maybe this will be read feeling a sense of love. Maybe it won’t. Maybe one will find the such love missed from challenging other people’s beliefs instead of challenging their own beliefs. My deepest desire of this carrying love has no power.
      The space where it is read holds all the power.
      I surrender to this.

      • Hi, Joe. Sorry that the article pains you. The Lord told us that the road to Heaven is narrow and few find it. On this site, we do our best to show people how to progress along the way. That sometimes means pointing out that alternate paths won’t help them reach intimacy with Jesus. I am actually very much motivated by love in writing articles like this. I want to help as many people as possible reach the heights of holiness. People of good will are sometimes led astray. Love seeks to show them where they have been deceived so that they can receive all God has for them.

        • Joe Hough

          Thanks. Been a rough couple of days.
          Well taken.

  • LizEst
  • Hi, Ruth. I just saw your comment for the first time. I have also read many of Fr. Keating’s writings. As well-intended as many practitioners of Centering Prayer may be, the practice does not constitute prayer as defined by the Catholic Church. It’s not about my being afraid. It’s about helping people find the path that will actually lead to intimacy with Christ. God bless.

  • Thanks, Al. Prayers for your wife, that she may find joy in traditional Catholic prayer practices.

  • Grace Clark

    I couldn’t agree more!!!!

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