In the Albuquerque and Edgewood centering prayer groups, participants continue to contemplate the discussions “the two Thomases,” i.e., Thomas Keating and Thomas Merton, have been having regarding union with the divine. 1
Thomas Keating notes that Cistercians, as well as other religious groups, refer to this divine union as the “transforming union.” It is divine love that “unites the soul into ineffable experiences of union and forgetfulness of self.” And yet, he says God and the soul remain distinct “since the soul is aware of itself in union with God.” 2
However, Keating then refers to the Beguines, lay persons in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, who wrote that the transforming union initiates “a further spiritual journey into the experience of unity consciousness.” This experience is similar to full enlightenment as described in Buddhism and Sufism. And there is no self left. 3
In Thomas Merton’s precise discussion of union, he seeks “common ground” between the Christian and Buddhist experiences of divine union. He believes that a study of Meister Eckhart (representing mystical Christianity) and Zen masters (representing mystical Buddhism) may offer some hope in discovering this common ground, by comparing the mystical experiences of both. 4
Even as Merton affirms that both Christians and Buddhists can practice Zen, as “the quest for direct and pure experience on a metaphysical level,” he reasserts a “central question” that exists between Christianity and Zen. 5
What is the relation between doctrine and experience in Christianity and in Zen?
In Christianity objective doctrine “retains priority,” primarily because “of the necessity for the Christ of faith to be present as ikon at the center of Christian contemplation.” In Zen “the experience is always prior” as it strives “to make man completely free and independent even in his striving for salvation and enlightenment.” 6
Merton goes back and forth in a dialectical fashion, moving from common ground to vast differences between Christianity and Zen. As he explores this tension, he attempts to draw us in to this complex question of divine union.
Please stay tuned to the conversation between the Albuquerque/Edgewood centering prayer groups and the two Thomases.
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If you are interested in attending a centering prayer group in Albuquerque or Edgewood, please call (505) 281-7542.
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1 Please see the previous article at http://www.examiner.com/article/the-two-thomases-centering-prayer-albuquerque-and-edgewood .
2 Intimacy with God, Thomas Keating, A Crossroad Book, Snowmass, Colorado, 2009, page viii
3 Intimacy with God, Thomas Keating, A Crossroad Book, Snowmass, Colorado, 2009, page viii
4 Zen and the Birds of Appetite, Thomas Merton, A New Directions Book, The Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc., 1968, page 42
5,6 Zen and the Birds of Appetite, Thomas Merton, A New Directions Book, The Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc., 1968, page 45