by Thomas Keating
New York: Lantern Books, 2006
Reviewed by Rev. Monica McDowell Elvig, MDiv
In Manifesting God, Thomas Keating returns to familiar themes with a fresh take. Emphasizing that to “become fully human is to become fully divine,” Keating expounds on the topic that “God manifests Godself through us and through all of created reality” (p. x). The implication for us is the need to grow in our awareness of the divine presence in all so that we can more fully participate in the unfolding of God’s purposes. For Keating, the most direct route for increasing our awareness is through contemplation and more specifically, through centering prayer.
Thus, in this writing, Keating lays out the Christian contemplative “program” for expanding our understanding of ultimate reality. This program is seen most clearly in the spiritual principles in Jesus’ parables and in Jesus use of the word Abba for God, as well as in the story of Job, the teachings of Paul, the doctrines of the Paschal Mystery, and in the stages of higher consciousness experienced by Christian mystics throughout the ages. Following this well-laid path, we are initiated into a process of purification that enables us to receive divine therapy. In this process everything we think we are that is false is removed from us as we are drawn ever more fully into union with God.
The final chapters and appendix provide an overview of how to do centering prayer and are an excellent resource for spiritual directors wanting to introduce this contemplative practice to directees. For those already familiar with Keating, this book would make a fascinating in-depth study for individual or group work.
Keating is known for his instructive, readable style and here he does not disappoint. His words are as gentle as the centering prayer he teaches. However, this reading is not without challenge and provocative thought for he states that the most unlikely place, even unmitigated evil, might be the best thing to happen to us. This mystery, that God is in all, takes us to the deepest question of human suffering, for how do we find God in evil?
One of Keating’s intentions in founding Contemplative Outreach, the network that fosters the practice of centering prayer, was to increase consciousness within the Christian tradition. He stays within this intention here, bringing Christian teaching to the contemplative path. Although his inclusivity towards the contemplative in other religions and towards the sacred feminine within Christianity is clear, his emphasis on explaining God through traditional Christian doctrines and language will be a bonus for some, while a potential detraction to others.
There is no doubt Keating has established a path within Western Christianity that reaches beyond itself to the very heart of God. Through his efforts countless numbers have transcended the confines of their non-beneficial views of God and themselves, to embrace the all-encompassing, unconditional love that was exemplified in Jesus. Manifesting Godinvites us into the awareness of the divine indwelling, guides us expertly in the steps of the eternal dance, and encourages us along in our journey home.
Rev. Monica McDowell Elvig, MDiv, is an ordained minister practicing in Seattle, Washington, USA. She is the founder of Women’s Sanctuary, a contemplative worship service and dinner for women, as well as a spiritual director and energy healer. She was the first ordained minister in the USA to be granted civil rights in a federal ruling.