With regard to our psychological experience of Centering Prayer, we have to be careful not to project our own judgment on God. God responds to each of us where we are, and takes into account what we are capable of. Everyone of good will who offers prayer of any kind is certainly going to be heard. We do not have to wait until we have reached deep interior silence in order to pray. We must pray as we can and hope for the mercy of God. It is by doing Centering Prayer on a regular basis that God is moved to raise us to higher states of prayer. After all, the fundamental purpose of prayer, including the prayer of petition, is not to get something from God or to change God, but to change ourselves. When we have changed, God can give us everything we want, because our wills will be one with God, and we will want only what God wants.
The ultimate purpose of every kind of prayer is to give ourselves to God, and to make it possible for God to do what he always wanted to do in the first place, which is to give us the divine life. Deep prayer is the condition that God is waiting for in order to communicate his divine life and holiness to us. Such is the purpose of our creation in the first place.
There is an important connection between vocal prayer and the experience of interior silence. The Word of God emerges from the infinite silence of the Father, Who is the source of the divine life. That is the model for every Christian life. When our own words and actions (which are also words) emerge from regular periods of deep interior silence, we will begin to see spontaneously what is more important and what is less important in our daily occupations and duties. That will save us a lot of time in the long run.
In the liturgy, for instance, if the service itself began with a few moments of silence and ended with silence, or if the readings were preceded and followed by silent pauses, the experience of the sacred words emerging out of the silence would be much more powerful and effective. It would make the hymns of praise and the prayers of petition much more meaningful to the congregation. There is an essential relationship between silence and speech, because everything comes out of silence. When our life emerges from periods of silence, it is a more genuine life; and when we return to silence, our life receives its truest meaning. In the beginning, both cannot be done at the same time, but in time they will tend to merge. Then, interior silence does not have to be prolonged in order to produce its transforming effects in daily life.
One of the things that Centering Prayer, as it deepens, will affect is our intuition of the oneness of the human family, and indeed, the oneness of all creation. As one moves into one's own inmost being, one comes in contact with what is the inmost being of everyone else. Although each of us retains his or her own unique personhood, we are necessarily associated with the Divine-human person who has taken the whole human family to himself in such a way as to be the inmost reality of each individual member of it. And so, when one is praying in one's inmost being, in one's spirit, one is praying so to speak, in everyone else's spirit.
In the Eucharist, we are not only joined to Jesus Christ present with his whole being under the symbols of bread and wine, but we believe we are joined with all other Christians, with every member of the human race, and indeed with the whole of creation. Jesus Christ in his divinity is in the hearts of all men and women and in the heart of all creation, sustaining everything in being. This mystery of oneness enables us to emerge from the Eucharist with a refined inward eye, and invites us to perceive the mystery of Christ everywhere and in every thing. He who is hidden from our senses and intellect in his divine nature becomes more and more transparent to the eyes of faith - to the consciousness that is being transformed. Christ's Spirit in us perceives the same Spirit in others. The Eucharist is the celebration of life, the dance of the divine in human form. We are part of that dance. Each of us is a continuation of Christ's incarnation insofar as we are living Christ's life in our own lives - or rather, instead of our own lives. The Eucharist is the summary of all creation coming together in a single hymn of praise and thanksgiving. In the Eucharist all creation is transformed into the body of Christ, united with his divine Person, and thrust into the depths of the Father for ever and ever. Even material creation has become divine in him. "For the creation," says Paul, "waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons and daughters of God." (Rom. 8:19)
Centering prayer and interior silence deepen our appreciation of and receptivity to the Eucharist. The Eucharist also helps to develop and nourish Centering Prayer and interior silence. They are mutually reinforcing. Through deep prayer, one appreciates the meaning of the sacraments and increases their effectiveness.
It is not so much the length of time that one spends in prayer but the quality of it that is transforming and that nourishes and refreshes at the deepest level. The most effective prayer takes place when one is not even aware of praying - when one has merged and lost one's own identity in the mystery of Christ. This union is the ultimate goal of the Eucharist. Interior union with Christ comes by assimilating the Eucharistic food into our own body and spirit. The physical act of eating is the symbol of what is happening spiritually and points to the interpenetration that is taking place between Christ and us. This interpenetration is designed to further our evolution into vertical time and our assimilation of the eternal values that Christ has brought into the world through his incarnation and communicated to us in all its fullness by his passion, death, resurrection and ascension. The purpose of our historical lifetime is to provide us with space to complete this transformation of body, soul and spirit.
Thomas Keating, o.c.s.o.
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