Summary: An introduction to the theology, but not much on the practice of Centering Prayer
If you have been reading Bookwi.se for a while you have probably noticed a couple things. One, I intentionally try to read at least one book a month from an author that is Catholic, Orthodox or other Christian tradition that I am not a part of. (I do this intentionally both to learn and get a different perspective on christianity than my own low church historically Baptist/non-denominational one.)
And second, I have mentioned several times that I am going to a Spiritual Director. Catholics and to a lesser extent, Anglicans, have kept alive this tradition of meeting with another person for intentional focus on spiritual growth. My Spiritual Director, knowing that I like to read and discuss books, suggested we talk about this book, less for its focus on Centering Prayer as a practice than for its theology of connecting with God.
Keating is a Trappist priest that is known for bringing Centering Prayer to greater use in the 1980s and 1990s. This is a practice of meditation that is related to earlier Christian meditation, but also draws on some of the eastern meditation practices.
There is so little in the book about the actual practice of Centering Prayer, that I am not really sure if the actual practice has been too influenced by non-Christian practice. But the theology, especially the first couple chapters on the Trinity is both biblical and helpful in thinking about God as a social being and thinking about God’s desire for us to relate to him.
On of the things I appreciate in practice, but am less comfortable with in its theory is the Catholic understanding of Natural Law. In practice, that has meant that Catholics are far more comfortable learning from secular practices such as psychology and sociology as well as non-Christian religious traditions such as eastern meditation. This comfort level is based on an understanding that all truth is God’s truth and so we can learn and sift through secular and non-Christian thought for truth.
Where I become less comfortable is with an understanding of Natural Law that embraces cultural understanding of tradition as revealed wisdom or an understanding of natural law that can lead to salvation apart from special revelation. But this is an area that I have not done enough reading on so I am speaking more out of ignorance than knowledge.
Intimacy with God is really about a type of spiritual therapy through prayer, where we allow the Holy Spirit to work on us and heal past hurts. This is supernatural healing more than hearing from God. Again, in theory I think the explanations of the theology and psychology of it all is reasonable and orthodox, but the practice is vague and less than helpful.
One area that keeps coming up as I read about spiritual growth, in Richard Rohr, Dallas Willard, and a variety of others is language of ‘levels of spirituality’. In virtually all cases, the author or presenter says this is not about being ‘more Christian’ and doing more to save ourselves, but submitting to God to allow him to continue to work on you.
The problem is with the language that seems to make it seem like a type of secret knowledge or experience. I don’t have a better type of language to suggest, and virtually all the books I have read that use this type of language have disclaimers about the language not meaning that a person is a better Christian that is on a ‘deeper level’ because it is only through God’s grace that we are Christian at all. But in our Western competitive world, language like this, whether there is a disclaimer or not, means a competitive reality where the practitioner is at a higher level than the non-practitioner.
On the whole I am a bit mixed on the book. In spite of the fact that we were reading it more for the theology than the practice, the lack of practical conversation felt like I was being cheated as a reader.
Intimacy With God: An Introduction to Centering Prayer by Thomas Keating Purchase Links: Paperback