A Letter to Fr. Thomas

1 Glenfinnan Place,
Anderson's Bay,
Dunedin 9013
New Zealand.

Fr. Thomas Keating,
St. Benedict's Monastary,
1012 Monastery Rd,
CO 81654,
United States.

24 January 2014

Dear Father Thomas,

I have been reading your books for a long time now, and also listening to conferences given by you as I drive about my diocese. I have heard all 24 CDs of your The Contemplative Journey series at least twice, so I think I have a reasonable grasp of your teaching. I have found your words enormously encouraging and informative; you are without a doubt the wisest man I've never met. But you know how these things go: you hear something and it makes perfect sense and you understand it completely, but somehow it doesn't quite make that 18 inch journey from the head to the heart. There is a depth of knowing, a deep interior understanding that comes sporadically if it comes at all.

This week has been for me a time of such deep knowing. I have been reading your little book Invitation to Love. Of course there is nothing in the book that is new to me. You outline again the workings of the false self and in particular the emotional programs for happiness with which we are all wired. You talk of these hopeless schemes we all have, to find happiness through the relentless pursuit of security and survival, esteem and affection, power and control. I know this. But somehow I didn't know this until last night, and I'm not sure what made the difference.

Perhaps it was one sentence in your book: The emotions faithfully respond to what our value system is - not what we would like it to be or what we think it is. This has been a week where for one reason or another my emotions have been fairly fully engaged, and the thought that they might give a sort of a topographic map of the false self system lying beneath them was revelatory. Perhaps it was my temporary suspension of Centering Prayer (sorry) in favour of walking the streets of my lovely little city while saying the Jesus Prayer: allowing the ancient prayer of the staretz to enter on my inbreath and allowing my acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord and redeemer to be proclaimed on my outbreath. Perhaps it is just that this time has arrived.

I went to sleep last night thinking of my emotional responses to the events of the week and woke at 2 am. No, I was awakened at 2 am. I lay, totally alert, in the dark with the sound of the wind outside and my wife softly sleeping beside me. And I saw myself. With astonishing clarity and detail I saw myself in all my ridiculousness and absurdity. I was like Dorothy looking behind the screen and seeing what really lay behind Oz the Magnificent. It was as though I saw the coin in the palm of the magician and in an instant realised not only how the trick was done, but also what a wonderful and clever trick it was. I lay there astonished at my own ingenuity and absurdity and foolishness, but this wasn't in any sense self pitying or self deprecatory. It was uproariously funny. It was as though I was being let in on a fine joke, and I wanted to laugh as the angels were laughing. I saw my emotional programs for happiness - well, one of them anyway - laid out in all their glory. There was a magnificent, ornate, gilded superstructure which I had spent a lifetime building and polishing and protecting and I peeped underneath it to see the cheap clockwork mechanism with which it worked, all held together with string and bits of chewing gum. I am absurd! And I felt overwhelming gratitude for my absurdity. I  drifted back to sleep, one arm around my oldest and dearest friend, cocooned in goosedown and joy and liberation .

So Father Thomas, I wanted to write. Often in your conferences I have heard you chortling away at the great cosmic joke of your own absurdity. I wanted, in a virtual way, to wink at you and nudge you in the ribs and acknowledge conspirationally to you, Oh! So THIS is what you meant!

I woke in joy. I walked 7 km in about an hour and breathed Jesus in and out. I went for a blood test, then headed for a cafe for breakfast (bacon and eggs but for goodness sake keep that to yourself. My wife and daughters would skin me alive if they knew). I have been a pilgrim for long enough to know the dynamic: I haven't actually arrived anywhere. There will be a day or two's euphoria while this new learning is consolidated before the Holy Spirit urges me to shoulder my pack and follow along the road to tackle the next obstacle I have erected between myself and God's love.

I will be in Snowmass, God willing, in about a year to undertake a Centering Prayer Intensive, but of course I wouldn't presume to be able to see you. But I just needed to write today and thank you for the gift of Christ, and the gift of myself.

With love and gratitude,
your son in Christ,


Chris Darnell said…
Wow. Thank you for sharing this. Sounds like quite an Epiphany journey!
Elaine Dent said…
Humbled,reminded,uneasy,stirred---now longing again for God's love. How absurd that I haven't been taking time to listen. Thank you, brother Kelvin.
John Franklin said…
Moved by your honesty and the freedom and grace of your awareness. Thinking of our value systems, is it the work of grace to transform them? I hear you suggesting that the awesome and the absurd belong together, part of the same in the humour of the divine wisdom.
Yesterday, with tears,I held a 2 hour old granddaughter. As her journey unfolds may there be wise ones like you and Fr Thomas to awaken her to the humour and the grace.
Kelvin Wright said…
Thank you.

John, the absurdity isn't the universe or the people God has called out of nothing into it. The absurdity is the false self with its pathetic schemes to preserve itself and make itself happy. The absurdity is my unthinking, unquestioned identification with the false self and its ludicrous little schemes.

Perhaps one of the great beauties of grandchildren is the privilege of observing at close quarters people who have not yet constructed their false selves and are, more or less, whole, present and innocent.

The false self system is absurd. But it is also necessary for us to live in the world, and it has its benefits: such as from time to time propelling us into contact with some extraordinary, beautiful, grace -full people.
John Franklin said…
Yes Kelvin. Absurd as its antics and strategies may be, the false self is open to grace, as you suggest. It can make good choices. think the path of freedom from the tyrannies of the false self is in what I call Spirituality 101, letting go. And the new-born, who have not yet acquired anything, call us to simplicity and freedom, and a new innocence. Fresh from God, they ca,, us back to God.
Barbara Harris said…
Dear Kelvin,
I am so very, very happy for you in this new understanding.
Thank you so much for sharing this with us, sharing yourself, taking the risk.
I wish you every possible joy of this true happiness.
Alex said…
Dear Kelvin,
My friend Jonathan Jong sent this my way since I've also been doing a fair amount of thinking and writing about Centering Prayer and contemplative spirituality. It's a strange comfort to read the experiences of others who are undergoing the paradoxical undoing that leads to new life!

I've been reading Keating and Merton through the lens of Ernest Becker and his stress on the fact that of all creatures, humanity not only dies, but knows that it will die. The coming into awareness of that fact seems to leave open to us two basic options. 1) Deny/repress that realization. 2) In the power of the eternal, through faith, embrace our creaturly place as limited, dying beings and get on with the adventure of living. The second way naturally leads to a good sense of humor towards the absurdities of the former.

I've found the tradition that Keating and Merton are working in to be so marvelous at charting second path. Your writing is yet another testament to the simple brilliance of it!

Thank you.