Invitation to Love

Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love: The Way of Christian Contemplation. New York: Continuum, 1995. 151 pages
A Synopis

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Chapter 17. The First Four Beatitudes

Jesus' approach to happiness contrasts with (and heals us from the wounds of) the emotional programs we developed in infancy and childhood. It does so not by destroying our natural instincts but by preserving and integrating what is good in them. "The grace of the Spirit heals every level of consciousness in order to enable the values proper to each level to contribute to the wholeness of the human organism with all its potentialities." It allows us to do far more than we could do alone.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The first beatitude addresses the reptilian consciousness exemplified by the infant: the desire and need for survival and physical, mental, and emotional security. It reminds us of the necessity to trust God, that is, to exercise true reverence. Christian tradition suggests fasting, vigils, simplification of lifestyle, and work in the service of others as ways to heal this level of consciousness.

The second and third beatitudes address typhonic consciousness (the young child). "The beatitude Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted "speaks to the exaggerated demand for affection/esteem and pleasure." We mourn when we cannot let go of something we value. But if we can accept the loss of what we love, we achieve a new level of freedom and happiness.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth addresses our immature need for power and control. How happy we would be if we did not want to control situations and were free even to accept insults and injustice. Fraternal charity (accepting others as they are) and meeting the physical, mental, and spiritual needs of others can help us deal with an overweening need for control.

The spiritual gift of fortitude implied in the third beatitude can help with the fourth beatitude, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. This applies to the mythic membership level of consciousness, to the social values we absorbed as school age children. "In order to respond to the invitation of the gospel, we need to go beyond the behavior that may be held in honor or demanded by the particular social group to which we belong." This does not mean we should be disloyal; "we have the freedom to remain within our tradition or institution, while at the same time working for its renewal. We do what we can to improve family, church, or social situations without demanding results or expecting to see the fruits of our labors."

The first four beatitudes remind us of the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, "to graduate from our childish programs once and for all," and to accept the freedom Jesus offers to love and serve God and other people.