This is part of a weekly series based on Fr. Thomas Keating's talk "The Evolution of the Contemplative Christian Spiritual Journey" from the 2012 Contemplative Outreach Annual Conference in Snowmass, CO, "God is All in All."
Betty Sue Flowers: Are there stages in this Centering Prayer journey, and are they the same for everyone? Is there something specific we can expect, or not expect?
Fr. Thomas: Well, there are certain stages that’s for sure. The spiritual journey [as explained] by many of the authors in the Christian tradition have compared it to stages of development of a physical nature. Even Paul speaks of infancy. Infants are supposed to be fed milk and not solid food. Then he says – I guess it’s to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 3:2) – he wanted to give them solid food but they weren’t ready. And after that, presumably there are other distinctions.
The question is: Is this an example that we are to follow, or is it something that only special people can do? And, as I said, the idea that contemplation is a gift could leave people with that impression and therefore excuses them from making any effort to prepare themselves. So I think it’s better either to explain that carefully, or to say that contemplation is a gift that has been given with human nature, hence everybody has this capacity and all you have to do is stop thinking that you don’t have it.
So that in Centering prayer, if you have these commentaries arise, you completely ignore them, and that is what enables one to maintain the movement towards interior silence and the experience of God and the possibility of contemplative prayer developing, which Jesus calls, “prayer in secret” – that is to say, prayer in secret from yourself. So, you’re not only not thinking about your problems and desires as you do on the second level of interior silence, but you’re moving into stillness, or non-self reflection, or the forgetfulness of self. And this is characteristic of the contemplative state of prayer as it solidifies and establishes and settles into one’s psyche.