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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Winfrey

Wake Up! Snap Out of It!

When we join heart-to-heart to our divine spark on this unconscious level, we experience deep in our marrow a flow of unconditional love.

(Note: Multiple names for the Divine are used: Source, Light, Life Force, Truth, Beloved.)

While recently watching “A Rising Tide of Silence,” a film about Thomas Keating’s life,[1] friends asked why Fr. Thomas suddenly no longer wanted to live like the Christians he saw in his local church. He wanted to leave his privileged home in Manhattan and live with the poor in Harlem. He had everything he could want. Why give that up? Something earth-shattering had happened to him. He had awakened to see how church members were living as if they were asleep, oblivious to the teachings of the Gospel. Now he only wanted to live the way Jesus taught. What brought him to this?

The story begins long before when he had been touched, as Thomas Merton would call it, by the spark of Light that vibrates in the center of every one of us. It is

“a…spark which belongs entirely to God…[God’s] name written in us…” [2]

We may not be aware of it. Knowing or not, we yearn for it. It drives us to look for our primordial Life Force upon which everything depends. We long to revive our connection with our beloved Source. Thomas Merton continues

“We then find the Light, and this Light in us shines through us to all the world.” [3]

Thomas Keating found it around the age of five, when he almost died. He heard the doctor and nurse whispering as they wondered if he would survive his serious illness. That was Thomas’ wakeup call to the divine spark. His close connection began then as he made a pact with God. If he lived to age 21, he would become a priest. From early childhood he would sneak out before school to go to Mass, knowing the family would not approve or understand.

We know this because he told us. What he didn’t tell us was how he drew closer and closer to divine awareness as he grew up. He was connecting heart-to-heart in a very natural way on a profound, simple level, a child’s innocent yearning. Not just rote, verbal prayers, but his entire being was nearing our divine Source through pure connection, the humblest and best form of contemplation. This relationship meant everything to him.

When we join heart-to-heart to our divine spark on this unconscious level, we experience deep in our marrow a flow of unconditional love. Our lifetime wounds are healed and released. Our vision wakes to what is true, important, and life-giving. We see through distractions that block the flow. We see that all of us humans are loved equally and unconditionally, that we are members together of one Whole.

Thomas’ divine connection from childhood kindled an instant flash of recognition when he read Leo Tolstoy as a teenager. Tolstoy explained the numb spirituality Thomas saw in church. He woke from hypnotic acceptance of the status quo. His contemplative connection enabled him to hear what Tolstoy was saying. It reinforced the truths he already knew in his heart. He suddenly wanted to live truly as the Gospel guides us.

Leo Tolstoy’s recent conversion to Christianity awakened him to condemn churches for hypnotizing their members and deluding children because they did not teach the true meaning of the Gospel. He claimed they “instill a false interpretation of Christ’s teaching.” [4]

According to Tolstoy, churches should guide members to follow the simple instructions of the Gospel: to forgive [5], not to judge [6], and to live simply [7] and nonviolently [8]. Instead of revering rituals, sacraments, and icons, he suggested churches should teach everyone to act like the tax collector who said, “Have mercy on me, a sinner” [9] and ”worship in spirit and truth” like Jesus told the Samaritan. [10] He recommended that the recitation of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount [11] in church services would steer members better than the Nicene Creed [12].

Thomas’ family wouldn’t allow his move to Harlem. But a few years later in the Yale library he was able to connect the dots from Tolstoy’s insights to Truth revealed by contemplation. He discovered the writings of ancient Church masters whose line-by-line interpretations of the Gospel uncovered the true meaning of the Gospel that can only be accomplished through contemplation. These new insights crystallized for him what his true vocation would be. He rerouted his college studies away from corporate law and worked fiercely to be a full-time contemplative.

Now everything clicked. Thomas knew contemplation was the only way we can understand our Beloved’s call. Contemplation boosted his breathtaking experience of love with God. He was in love. He wanted to spend all his time with divine presence in deep prayer. This is the lynchpin that makes all the difference where we come alive and find that spark within us flowing from our Source. Our life purpose becomes simple. We wake and see what is important because we are guided from within. Thomas shows us how Centering Prayer stirs us from sleep so our Light can shine through us to all the world.


Picture by Brennan Martinez, Unsplash

[1] Elena Mannes, Peter C. Jones, “A Rising Tide of Silence,” Amazon Prime, 2015, Documentary. Most anecdotal notes from Thomas Keating are from this film.

[2] Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, (New York: Crown Publishing, Random House, 1965), 55]

[3] Thomas Merton, “Beauty Comes from God,” Finding True Meaning and Beauty, 4 lectures on 2 CDs, 1964, Now You Know Media, Louisville, KY: The Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University, 2012.

[4] Leo Tolstoy, translator Constance Garrett, The Kingdom of God is within You: Christianity Not as a Mystic Religion but as a New Theory of Life, (first edition 1894, reprinted Kshetra Books, 2016), 51

[5] Luke 17:4 “Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

[6 ] Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

[7] Matthew 19:21 “If you want to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me”

[8] Matthew 5:39-40 “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek.”

[9] Luke 18:13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”

[10] John 4:24 “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

[11] Matthew 5:3-11 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

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