Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love: The Way of Christian Contemplation. New York: Continuum, 1995. 151 pages
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Chapter 2. The False Self in Action
Fr. Keating uses his own monastic experience as an illustration of the way the false self promotes its emotional programs for happiness. In his desire to spend his life seeking union with Christ, he chose the most austere religious order he could find, the Cistercian Trappists. He plunged in unreservedly and earnestly sought holiness through prayer. At that time the rule was to pray standing or kneeling; Fr. Keating prayed so much he actually developed calluses on his knees.
Enter another monk who prayed as much or more than our hero, but who sat instead of standing or kneeling: evidently he had received dispensation from the abbot. "Whenever I took a furtive glance in his direction, he always seemed to have a beatific smile hovering about his lips." Why was this guy getting special favors from the Lord? Fr. Keating, it seems, had been tempted and had fallen into the sin of spiritual envy.
It was so bad he wondered if he should stop praying; but his spiritual director, aware of the purification that was occurring, encouraged him to persevere no matter what happened. In this purification, "one's mixed motivation emerges into clear awareness. Grace is there, but so is the false self." God's way is to show us the false self and also give us the power to reject it. This is the path of growth but can also be a great struggle.
Eventually Fr. Keating found out the other monk also experienced "very heavy seas" along with his periods of consolation. This knowledge led to his overcoming the envy and they became friends. Sometimes a particular person seems to bring out the worst in us. If it helps us discover and rid ourselves of emotional debris, such persons may be a great gift from God.
We all have secret corners and shadows where we hide the qualities that are unacceptable to ourselves. As these traits become conscious through CP we may feel we are finished with God. Instead, "it is an invitation to a new depth of relationship with God. A lot of emptying and healing has to take place if we are to be responsive to the sublime communications of God."
God is on our side and with us on the journey. Purification of the unconscious must take place. "The experience of God's love and the experience of our weaknesses are correlative." This is how God frees and heals us, how we experience his infinite mercy and develop compassion for others. God is like a very wise psychotherapist, knowing exactly what we need and when, always pushing us into something we think we cannot do until we can do it. If we stay with it, we will come to trust him in these frightful episodes. "We cannot escape from the worldliness that is inside us, but we can acknowledge it and confront it. The invitation to allow God to change our motivation from selfishness to divine love is the call to transforming union."