FATHER THOMAS KEATING, OCSO, co-founded the centering prayer movement in the 1970s when he was abbot of a Cistercian monastery, St. Joseph’s Abbey, in Spencer, Mass. He and two other Trappist monks, William Meninger and Basil Pennington, began holding retreats to teach this method of prayer, which draws on contemplative church teachings such as those of the Fathers and Mothers of the Desert, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Avila. Keating co-founded Contemplative Outreach, a worldwide nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging the practice of centering prayer and Lectio Divina (praying the scriptures). Now in his 80s, Keating is still teaching and speaking on the riches of contemplation for those seeking a deeper experience of Christian faith. The author of several books on contemplative spirituality, Keating’s latest book is Manifesting God (Lantern Books). He was interviewed last year at Sojourners by associate editor Rose Marie Berger.
SOJOURNERS: Why is contemplative prayer an essential part of Christian life?
KEATING: Contemplative prayer is the movement of becoming acquainted experientially with God, beyond the confines of rational dialogue. It is deeply embedded in the gospel and in the Christian tradition. Jesus’ suggestion about how to pray is a formula for contemplative prayer. In Matthew 6:6 he says if you want to pray—if you want to relate more profoundly with God—enter your inner room. Next, close the door, which is an invitation to turn off the internal dialogue. Then he says, “Pray to your Father in secret.” That could mean a solitary place, but such were rare in Jesus’ time for everybody except the very rich. Nobody else had private rooms; you were lucky to have a roof over your head. It’s metaphorical language inviting us to become at ease and present to the divine indwelling, which is the life of the trinity within each of us. The kingdom of God is within you, as well as all around you.