Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love: The Way of Christian Contemplation. New York: Continuum, 1995. 151 pages
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Chapter 19. The Essence of Contemplative Prayer
Keating first discusses what contemplative prayer is not. It is not a technique to achieve bliss, nor is it one of the charismatic gifts enumerated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12. In particular, it is not the same thing as the gift of "resting in the Spirit." These gifts are given for the benefit of the local Christian community and are an invitation to the spiritual journey rather than evidence that the individual has spiritually "arrived".
Contemplative prayer also is not a psychic or parapsychological phenomenon. Though these phenomena may indeed signal a transition from mental egoic to intuitive consciousness, this only means access to new energy, not freedom from the false self.
The essence of contemplative prayer is not the experience of mystical phenomena, which, like the charismatic gifts, are probably also meant to encourage the Christian people in times of difficulty such as war, disaster, and persecution.
"The essence of contemplative prayer is not the way of external or internal phenomena, but the way of pure faith. This is the narrow door that leads to life." Our experience, what we feel, is not the most important part. Like the two nuns whose stories Keating briefly retells, we may arrive at transforming union either with or without exuberant mystical experiences.
St. John of the Cross said that contemplative prayer is a ray of darkness. The darkness of faith is the evidence of things not seen; and "the way of pure faith is to persevere in contemplative practice without worrying about where we are on the journey, and without comparing ourselves with others or judging other' gifts as better than ours."
It is commitment to the journey and faithful practice rather than spiritual experiences that lead to the transforming union. Though we cannot perceive it through our natural senses, "the divine light of faith is totally available in the degree that we consent and surrender ourselves to its presence and action within us."