“The Greatest Experience of God is No Experience”


Q: I heard you share this quote: “The greatest experience of God is no experience of God” (Thomas Keating). This saying has me very confused.  My life has been filled with both giving and receiving love, including mercy and forgiveness, which to me is the experience of God in the my life. I’ve also been witness to the healing love of God in my life and many others. All of creation is the manifestation of God’s love, constantly pouring out, renewing, expanding and birthing more love. Please explain how this contradicts perhaps my false sense of God experience.

A: You asked about the context of a phrase I shared, quoting Thomas Keating: “The greatest experience of God is no experience of God.”

This phrase is taken from a presentation he gave in 2009, “Unity in Contemplation, Talk 3, the School of Love.” You can view this video teaching in its entirety here on YouTube. This phrase appears in the third video starting at 34:00. Fr. Thomas uses it in the context of introducing the audience to Centering Prayer. Here is the excerpt: “Just to be with God in awe and wonder and rapt attention. I invite you to slowly close your eyes, letting go, as a symbol of all your interior dialogue and reflections, introduce now the sacred symbol you’ve chosen as a gesture of intention of your spiritual will just to be with God, to be still before God, to be without movement, within or without, for these 20 minutes and to open completely to the Divine Indwelling, Divine Presence, within you, without reflection, expectation, desire for any feeling, since the greatest experience of God is no experience; God as he is in himself, is always the beyond. Let us take these 20 minutes to wait upon God, longing for his presence, patient with our weakness, and dependent on what God thinks is best for us in this period of our prayer experience.”

So the phrase you are asking about was shared in the introduction to a time of Centering Prayer.

You are wondering if this statement contradicts your own experience of God. It doesn’t — it only invites us to realize that there comes a time in our relationship with God, even in prayer, where we let go and simply rest in the awesome presence of God, beyond thoughts and feelings, in simple is-ness.

I hope this is a help.  Let me know if you want to continue the conversation.

Blessings, Fr Carl

Note: This same phrase also appears in the book, Reflections on the Unknowable, p. 98: “Contemplation is a gift we have already received. Waking up to it is a good metaphor because one wakes up from sleep to whatever one’s level of consciousness normally is.

“The highest experience of God is no experience. It just is. We no longer see the face of Christ because we have in some way become that face. Or, more exactly, Christ has become our particular form: ‘You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3:3).”