Father Keating is 91-years-old and resting. After so many years of giving so much, it is time that we celebrate him and his gift to the modern monk in each of us. Beginning in 1975, Fr. Keating gave new birth to the method of prayer found in the spiritual classic The Cloud of Unknowing. He and a couple other brothers could have kept the secret of Centering Prayer for themselves. They could have simply lived with their vows as Cistercian brothers. But no, they reached out to the world. In a time when many people were leaving Christianity for the depths of meditation found in the Buddhism and Hinduism. Fr. Keating spoke up. He awakened many sleeping Christians and others who had wandered off. "Don't go," he said. "The secrets of the silence are to be found in the lives of Christian mystics, Christian contemplatives everywhere." He gave the world Centering Prayer which is simply taking one word, Christ, light, peace, any word that reminds us of God and carry it into the depths of the silence in our heart.
The reason why Centering Prayer works for so many is its simplicity. In our complicated world, the joy of being with one word, one thought is enough to explore the mystery in the depths of silence within us. Fr. Keating reminded his many students, do not be distracted. All kinds of thoughts and feelings come and go. Stay with your word, your intention. God is present. No matter what you experience, God is greater. Your intention is enough, enough to uncover the obstacles to silence.
Theologians of all kinds argued with him. People of many religions debated him. But Fr. Keating stayed with his truth, God is present if we are present to the silence. "Silence" he says, "is God's first language."
Recently, as a retreat leader of silent retreats and frequent contributor to the Huffington Post, I tried contacting Fr. Keating to hear his experience after so many years of silence and meditation. I reached one of his assistants Bonnie J. Shimizu. Her heart was so full of gratitude for her many years under Fr. Keating's guidance, I quickly understood why and how so many hundreds and thousands have found their lives changed by Centering Prayer and specially by Father Keating. Father Keating held up the flag of silence and many came, sat with him, and listened. Bonnie shared that people of all traditions, all walks of life have found inner treasure. Centering Prayer by Fr. Keating is straight forward and clear. "Don't try to get rid of experience but be present. The Divine is in the silence. This is enough,." His words have been held close for many to spend sometime away from the busy waters of daily life and go into the safe harbor of silence. Go into the harbor of inner quiet and God's presence. In the great silence, Fr. Keating has called his students to drop anchor and be present.
Bonnie shared that after 91 years, Fr. Keating recently out of the hospital is resting in much needed peace and quiet. We all wish him well in his healing and private retreat. Bonnie shared that Fr. Keating has said that moving into silence is about "a being to being communion with the Divine beyond all words, thoughts, and feelings." As we celebrate his life, his great spirit, may he have this communion now.
Just the titles of Fr. Keating's books share so much of his life journey, his purpose. Finding Grace at the Center, Heart of the World, Open Mind, Open, Heart, Awakenings, Invitation To Love, these titles and many more can be found on amazon. In addition to his books, many of his talks are available to everyone on you tube.
Out of the silence Father Keating found so many words, so much voice calling us to come back, come home, listen, and be in the perfect stillness. His prayer groups have spread across the country and are now in many countries. It is incredible how one soul speaking for silence can reach out and touch so many. In our noisy world, the life of Father Keating could not have come at a better time.
Now that is he less on the world's stage, lets hope the silence he has stood for and shared with so many continues to be honored, listened to. May retreats into silence become more and more normal in our plugged in world of so much distraction. May his words be close to us including this repeated theme: "Silence leads to transformation into a state of being that underlies everything else and is called Divine Union."
For many Father Keating represents the best of what religion has to give. Silence with one word to guide and carry us into great quietude is what spirituality is all about. Those who have known Father Keating may your hearts dwell in ever deeper stillness. May the fresh communion with life, compassion, humility, humor and love you find in the silence spread into the world. May you be a light to the many who seek more of a contemplative life. Lets celebrate Father Keating! In our commitment to ever greater time in the depth of silence may we calm an anxious world with the presence, beauty and grace we find within.