“I came that they may have life,
and have it abundantly.”
– John 10:10
Drawing from the work of the theologian, John S. Dunne, Fr. Thomas provides us with another view of the spiritual journey called “The Four Consents.” We know from our Centering Prayer guidelines that consent plays a central role in our practice and in our life. We return again and again to the sacred word, which is simply the return to consent. As we become habituated to the return in our practice, it becomes more automatic to return to our consent in daily life. Today’s teaching on The Four Consents begins to unpack what God is asking us to consent to in each stage of life, from infancy to old age and ultimately, death.
The first is to consent to the basic goodness of our being, the unique gift of our life, which is loveable before we do anything. The second is to consent to the full development of our being with all of our talents and creative energy. The third is to consent to the diminution of self that occurs through illness, old age and death, and the letting go of everything we love in this world, whether persons, places or things. The fourth is the consent to be transformed which requires us to consent to the death of the false self.
Because of our life circumstances, which we now understand so well from the teachings on the human condition, we hesitate to consent emotionally as we go through life. Our biological instincts get us through the hesitation so that we can go on living, but we may become ambivalent towards life and hesitate to give full consent to the goodness of all of our human potentialities. When we consent to God’s presence and action within our Centering Prayer practice, God’s action invites consent where we were unable to in childhood and growing up.
“To consent to God’s world, to one’s own goodness, to the goodness of others, and also to consent to the inevitable diminishing of one’s physical powers and the letting go of what we love in this world is the way God brings us gently to the final surrender in which we are willing to let the false-self die and the true self emerge.”
– Thomas Keating, from the Session 43 video
“The true self might be described as our participation in the divine life manifesting in our uniqueness.”
– Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love
- The fundamental goodness of human nature, like the mystery of the Trinity, Grace, and the Incarnation, is an essential element of Christian faith. This basic core of goodness is capable of unlimited development; indeed, of becoming transformed into Christ and deified.
- Our basic core of goodness is our true self. Its center of gravity is God. The acceptance of our basic goodness is a quantum leap in the spiritual journey.
- God and our true self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true self are the same thing.
– Thomas Keating, “Guidelines for Christian Life, Growth and Transformation,” Open Mind, Open Heart
- View the video excerpt “The Four Consents, Part 1.” which is about 24 minutes in length.
- The first three Guidelines for Christian Life, Growth and Transformation invite us to look at and consent to our fundamental goodness, the goodness of our human nature, of our life – that part of us that is loved before we do anything. Many of us struggle with accepting and awakening to our basic core of goodness. We may remember hearing from Genesis 9:6, “…in his own image, God made humankind,” but were unable to connect with its meaning. The grace of the spiritual journey heals the emotional damage of a lifetime and empowers us to become transformed into Christ, our true self. Are you ready to take this “quantum leap?” Reflect on how you are being healed, transformed, awakened to your basic core of goodness.