I just read the gospel story of the blind man, Bartimaeus. (MK 10: 46-52). My favorite line has Bartimaeus answering the question Jesus had put to him when he called out for attention. Actually both lines of the exchange are crucial. Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” to which Bartimaeus answers, “Master, I want to see.” Upon reflection one might ask why Jesus needed to pose that question as it must have been obvious that the man was blind. It certainly wasn’t a trivial request. The fact that Jesus asked it, however, might move us to consider some deeper content in our own prayer.
Does our prayer sound like a Christmas list sometimes, asking God to fix things in our lives so that we will be more comfortable than we are? Surely we are called to ask for help to live good lives and have compassion for others but in these troubled times when events and world conditions are now “soul size” (see A Sleep of Prisoners by Christopher Fry) we must be called to new ways of participating in life.
Father Thomas Keating died on Thursday (10/25) at the age of 95 years. Fr. Thomas is known to many as the father of the Centering Prayer movement and a spiritual giant who personified the best of a life of contemplative prayer. I was privileged to encounter Father Thomas twice in person and found him to be delightfully down-to-earth while also shining like the sun from the inside. His deep practice of prayer was evident in the joy with which he lived and in the deeply wise, carefully chosen words he used to speak of spiritual things. It was clear that his way of prayer was deeper than words, however, and leaned in, always listening, to the heartbeat of God.
Centering prayer is like that, Fr. Thomas would say. It consists of sitting down and “consenting to the presence of God,” returning, when we recognize that we are thinking, to just being in the Presence, letting go of everything else. Just like breathing, this kind of prayer gets patterned into us and becomes an anchor for life. Hundreds of thousands of people the world over practice this form of prayer each day and are united now in feelings of happiness and sadness at the same time: sadness to have lost the physical presence of Father Thomas in this realm but, oh so happy to think of his joyful passage into the next! May he truly rest in peace!