This past March I went on a 10 day intensive retreat with Father Thomas Keating and David Frenette at the Garrison Institute in New York. David has been with Father Thomas since the beginning of Contemplative Outreach, and co-founded the earliest retreat community where people could learn Centering Prayer. He was at the monastery here a few years ago, giving a 5-day retreat on the growth of contemplative attitudes in the Spiritual Journey. He is currently developing curriculum to assist long time practicioners to deepen and move beyond common obstacles in prayer, so that it moves more easily into contemplation. There was also an emphasis on methods that help integrate the fruits of Centering Prayer into everyday living. Our day started at 6:30 A.M. and often went until almost 9pm with prayer, teaching and guided meditation. Father Thomas came for the final weekend as did Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler.
The Institute is located on the Hudson River about one hour north of New York City. The building and grounds are a monastery that had been vacated since Vatican II. The Institute's mission is to bring together the wisdom of various contemplative traditions, and apply the knowledge to pressing social issues. Father Thomas is one of the Institute's founding spiritual advisors. To be with him is always wonderful. He talked about unity and oneness as being the purpose of life. He said it's stupid and a mistake to believe that God doesn't love us! He spoke of the cross as witness to the infinite goodness of God who goes to any length to make us divine. There are layers of reality and to our own identity, and that Ultimate Reality is in fact God's own Self. As we move toward unity consciousness, our understanding is that God is the Ground of every experience and not separate from the content of our life. Our task is to be willing to become God, to receive the totality of the Divine nature through our consent. God's love has no limits and has the goal of making us equal to God. By identifying with the cross and moving through the process of transformation, the myth of the separate self is relinquished. The greatness of human-kind is revealed in the Paschal Mystery, as everyone is invited to the fullness of divine/human life.
David Frenette has a web-site called Incarnational Contemplation. He does contemplative spiritual direction and will be giving several retreats each year that focus on deepening our consent in Centering Prayer. Much of what he focused on involved images of receptivity. Even with many years of practice, we can get stuck in an effort of trying to make prayer happen rather than surrendering. Deepening receptivity means being still or "just to be," rather than forcing the issue. Prayer is like helping a flower grow by cultivating the best conditions for growth to happen. But the growing process itself is out of our hands and our consent is simply saying yes to an invitation that allows prayer to unfold. How must we act to acquire what is freely given and always present? David stressed renewal in the basics of the Centering Prayer method. The guidelines provide a solid foundation for when were struggling. His presentation was very helpful and I hope he can visit us. He has many good stories about the early days of Contemplative Outreach. At present he is only funded for several retreats a year, but my guess is that he will be very much in demand before long. I'd say we should be open to any possibility that might arise for his availability. We would all benefit through his extensive experience. Meanwhile, we can all visit his web-site and read his new book!
After this retreat, I'm left with a profound sense of gratitude for Centering Prayer and people like Sisters Virginia and Mary, as well others who started the ministry in Minnesota. Let's continue to consent to God's invitation and share in the work of transforming the world.