I was introduced to Thomas Keating’s writing almost 20 years ago. His Open Mind, Open Heart is an excellent introduction to a form of Christian meditation called centering prayer. Last summer I attended a conference led by Father Keating. Here’s a picture of him leading a workshop.
And here’s an excerpt from one of his books—an excellent devotional about the human condition—thanks to Inward/Outward.
By Thomas Keating
Where are you? This is one of the great questions of all time. It is the focus of the first half of the spiritual journey.
It is the question God asked when Adam and Eve had taken off for the underbrush after their disobedience…. The same question is addressed to every generation, time and person. At every moment of our lives, God is asking us, “Where are you? Why are you hiding?”
Where am I? Where am I in relation to God, to myself and to others? These are the basic questions of human life. As soon as we answer honestly, we have begun the spiritual search for God, which is also the search for ourselves. God is asking us to face the reality of the human condition, to come out of the woods into the full light of intimacy. That is the state of mind that Adam and Eve had, according to the story, before their disobedience. As soon as they became aware of their separation from God, they headed for the woods. They had to hide from God because the loss of the intimacy and union that they had enjoyed in paradise was so painful.
Sometimes it helps to turn to a story from another spiritual tradition; in juxtaposing the two stories, we may get a new insight. Here is a Sufi tale that is also about the human condition:
A Sufi master had lost the key to his house and was looking for it in the grass outside. He got down on his hands and knees and started running his fingers through every blade of grass. Along came eight or ten of his disciples. They said, “Master, what is wrong?”
He said, “I have lost the key to my house.”
They said, “Can we help you find it?”
He said, “I’d be delighted.”
So they all got down on their hands and knees and started running their fingers through the grass.
As the sun grew hotter, one of them said, “Master, have you any idea where you might have lost the key?”
The Master replied, “Of course. I lost it in the house.”
To which they all exclaimed, “Then why are we looking for it out here?”
He said, “Isn’t it obvious? There is more light here.”
We have all lost the key to our house. We don’t live there any more. We don’t experience the divine indwelling. We don’t live with the kind of intimacy with God that Adam and Eve reportedly enjoyed in the Garden of Eden. The house in the parable represents happiness, and happiness is intimacy with God, the experience of God’s loving presence. Without that experience, nothing else quite works; with it, almost anything works.
This is the human condition—to be without the true source of happiness, which is the experience of the presence of God, and to have lost the key to happiness, which is the contemplative dimension of life, the path to the increasing assimilation and enjoyment of God’s presence. What we experience is our desperate search for happiness where it cannot possibly be found. The key is not in the grass; it was not lost outside ourselves. It was lost inside ourselves. That is where we need to look for it.
Father Thomas Keating is a Trappist monk and considered to be the founder of the Centering Prayer movement. This passage is an excerpt from his book called The Human Condition.