What contemplative prayer tells you, is not so much your idea of God, but it gives God the chance to introduce himself to you as he really is. And the secret of doing that is to stop thinking.
Thinking is the way that we hinder the unconscious from coming to awareness and dealing with negative feelings and thoughts and attitudes from a truly wise perspective that is based on reason and not emotion; and on faith, and not a false belief system, that’s what happened to be popular in our particular moment of history.
“Don’t you know,” says Paul, “that you are the temple of God and that the spirit of God dwells in you?” Or again, “God has sent the spirit of his son into our hearts crying ‘Abba!’” That is to say, it is through contemplative prayer and the efforts to prepare ourselves for this encounter with God, that we’re able to experience something of the same experience that Jesus had, and this is what basically constitutes the Christian tradition. Our tradition is not a series of books, even Scripture itself, as important as these are, but not as important as assimilating Christ’s very experience of God as Abba, which is what all scripture, all the sacraments, all good works, all ministries are designed to bring us to. If they take us somewhere else, we should shift things around, so that they do.
You can’t enter into a close friendship with someone you’re scared to death of. You avoid these people, and so we have many young people over the generations (maybe you experienced this in you); the only way they can find God as God is, is to leave religion for a while, because the very word “religion” or “faith”, they imbibed with such negative feelings, that every time they think of them, they wanna run the other way. So the great gift of contemplative prayer is, if you stop thinking even about God, during the time of contemplative prayer, these emotions don’t arise, and God then in that healing situation can communicate the mystery of His presence, that transcends our idea of happiness and finally straightens out what really is our calling and our potential and our capacity to enter into a deep union with God that surpasses all understanding.
Why do you think Christ is on this cross? The Father is trying to tell us, “I’ll do any thing, even throw my own son away,” so to speak, “in order to convince you that I desperately want to communicate the whole of God to you personally,” as well as the community.
So, really, even at best, until one has had a deeper established relationship with God, we’ve got it backwards; we think we have to earn God’s love, or win God’s favor, or placate God for our offenses. This is not the God of the Christian, though it may have a certain amount of truth. But it emphasizes the wrong aspects of God.
And so, the passion of Jesus is the deepest revelation of the Heart of the Father that there is. He has sacrificed there, according to our faith, the son of His bosom, the son who knows Him as no one else could possibly know Him, because he’s been there, and he wants us, at any cost to himself, to share that experience, and that’s what is meant by ‘eternal life’. Eternal life is to share, profoundly and fully, in Christ consciousness of God at Abba; Creator, Redeemer, the Beloved; every… every good human relationship of love, all wrapped into one, and magnified trillions of times.
If you think God is absent, then He is… For all practical purposes, He is! Saint Theresa warns us that the chief difficulty in prayer, is praying as if God were absent. It’s an engaging kind of observation -and she was talking to contemplative nuns, by the way- because, how stupid can one get? Why pray at all if you think that God is absent? It doesn’t make sense. And so, the gift of contemplative prayer is God’s way of presenting us with a way of relating to Him that takes us step-by-step into the fullness of the divine presence. To heal our attitudes towards God, we have to have or cultivate the right relationship to God; and aim at the deepest knowledge of God. Saint Paul and his epistles speaks frequently about the deep knowledge of God, by which he means not ordinary knowledge, not abstract knowledge, not a knowledge written in a book, but the kind of knowledge that is intimate, the kind of knowledge that is involved in conjugal love.
In Colossians, Paul prays we ask that you may be filled, not just “Have a little taste please”, but may be filled with the deep knowledge of God’s will, through perfect spiritual wisdom and insight. So, this is God’s ambition for each of us. Again, he says “I strive to bring you to the deep knowledge of the divine mystery of Christ in Him, or to be found hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”; knowledge in the sense of absolute, limitless penetration of who the Father is, and participation in the Godhead itself. This is not my idea, this is what Jesus is calling us to, over and over again, the New Testament, especially this week you’ll hear on Holy Thursday the priestly prayer of Jesus where he talks about our having the same experience of unity with the Father that he enjoys, that you may “Be one in us, as the Father and I are one.” This is an absolute wellness, and this unity, this depth of knowledge, this fullness of Christ consciousness, is precisely what is meant by the term “the Kingdom of God.” The Kingdom is not a geopolitical project, it’s not a place, it’s not an institution… It’s a state of consciousness, and it’s not any state of consciousness, not just a holy person’s consciousness, but the very consciousness of the son of God that he has, of the depths of the mystery of God who is unconditional love. It’s his experience of the Father as Abba that is the heart and soul of the Christian religion, and I think we could say that the history of the Church is about how well, and how not well at times, the Church and its various communities around the world has transmitted that experience to the people of God. This… it’s so central to the spiritual journey. We’re not trying to find our own experience of God; we’re trying to experience Christ’s experience, Jesus’ experience of the Father.
Remember that God was looked upon by the Israelites of the time as transcendent, as the God of armies. It was not the practice, out of respect for that transcendent person, to say the name of Yahweh out loud, and even to this day in orthodox circles, it’s discouraged. Jesus in his teaching, not only speaks of God as Father, but he uses this special word, Abba, which means loving Father. So what he has really done is to revolutionize the sense of God’s presence for the people of his time, not only as God the Creator-Father, but… He who is transcendent, yes…; but he is also the God who is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
And so what Jesus wanted to impress us with, that when we pray, we’re speaking to God not far away, or in a distant heaven, but in our inmost Being, as the source of our Being, the loving Presence that is bending over us at all times and nurturing us at every level of our being; body, soul and spirit. “Abba” has the connotation of intimacy. It really means “Daddy.” It’s a respectful term, but one of enormous intimacy, and love. And so, the idea of God just being far away, or only present in a sacred place, or at sacred times of the year when the Israelites celebrated their various feasts, is to limit the idea of God; this God who plays with the stars and who seems to enjoy the infinitesimal subatomic world which is full of extraordinary events, we’re told. He is the God who dwells within us, the God of immense intelligence and love, that is working in us and around us and among us and through all Creation.
Thomas Keating, transcribed by Leon Hieros