Thomas Keating has a lot of nerve!

I’m tired of not knowing who to trust in God’s holy church.

I practiced Zen before my conversion a few years ago. I gave up zazen practice now that I’m Catholic, and my heart is on fire for our Lord, but the absence of that daily silent, freedom-from-thought that zazen used to provide me has left a void. I no longer subscribe to any buddhist ideologies, I just can’t function as well mentally anymore or focus and I can’t seem to find a holy way to practice still, silent meditation for extended periods of time that isn’t derived from the new age, or isn’t utilizing our Lord as a relaxation technique.

“The Cloud of Unknowing” was pivotal in my conversion, and I still love it and believe it’s very orthodox. I’d love to meet other Catholics who practice it’s teachings, but the only people I’ve come across who even talk about “Cloud” are centering prayer people.

That being said, I’ve had serious reservations about centering prayer since my conversion, as what I’ve read about its methods seem to be ripped straight out of Zen, just with “Christianized” wording. 20 minute sitting sessions minding or counting the breath, walking meditation, etc. Sorry guys, thats just Zen. As a former Zen buddhist I can tell you the teachings in “Cloud” in no way resemble Zen, nor the method of centering prayer.

But alas my mind is restless, so I decided to purchase Thomas Keating’s “Open Mind, Open Heart”, giving it the benefit of the doubt.

Not 20 minutes into reading it, on page 13 Keating misquotes our Lord in Mark 8:34 as “Unless you deny your inmost self and take up the cross, you cannot be my disciple”. I searched through several Bible translations, looking for this version, as I’d never heard it quoted with the word “inmost” before, and lo and behold, there is no such translation! Then in the next sentence he focuses in on this word he added, saying " denial of our inmost self includes detachment from the habitual functioning of our intellect and will, which are our inmost faculties." Did he add this word just to go on a tangent about what he wished Jesus has said here? Who is this guy?

Needless to say, 13 pages in and I already can’t trust the author to provide truthful information. Done with this book!

There are lots of centering prayer practitioners out there who swear up and down that it’s orthodox. I’d love to hear someone offer an explanation, and how you defend this blunder, or why you trust Thomas Keating. Chapter 1 and the guy who gave the world centering prayer (don’t tell me it’s from the 4th century without specific evidence; this stuff is just straight up Zen with Jesus thrown in the mix) is screwing around with scripture. I honestly want to hear a good explanation, please.

Also, if anyone can recommend good, Catholic silent meditation that isn’t just using our Lord as a tool to relax I really could use your input. I don’t need to relax, I just want to give our Lord my undivided attention.

And why do centering prayer groups seem to have a monopoly on “Cloud”? Anyone know of an organization that studies “Cloud”, and actually practices it’s teachings?

Thanks, sorry for the rant.

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I think there are better Catholic books out there than anything by Thomas Keating. I found this article on the National Catholic Register, which is owned by EWTN. EWTN (to my knowledge) has been pretty good at obeying the Magesterium. If you want solid Catholic reading, look at the saints and the Church Fathers (who are probably all saints). Definitely some pretty deep stuff. And as far as meditating goes, try meditating on the Mysteries of the Rosary. Get your focus away from yourself and toward God. Anyway, here’s the article: https://www.ncregister.com/blog/why-the-centering-prayer-movement-is-so-off-center

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Before ranting any more, did you check any other New Testament translations to see if the quote was accurately cited from a translation you’re not familiar with? That is, before attacking a priest in your very post title?

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I checked every single one I have. About 4 or 5 translations. Even found another website where someone else was calling him out on this same Bible verse and several other instances where he’d “added to” Bible quotes.

I’m not one to call out priests, and God bless his soul, I hope he’s in heaven. But this is sinful.

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I have read Fr. Keating and Fr. Richard Rohr with the same reservations. If you are missing the interior life presented by Zen Buddhism, I would suggest reading the Desert Fathers. I admit, I have never studied Zen, although I have read about it, and from my understanding a lot of The Desert Fathers’ writings seem to speak to the Christian tradition of meditation. Their are a lot of writings about how “quiet” Is essential to the interior life of a Christian. Also, some of these Desert Fathers (and mothers) are now Saints.

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In the Greek of Mark 8:34 for “deny himself”, the word “himself” is the ordinary reflexive pronoun referring to “he” (to “anyone”); as in “he is himself” or “anyone is himself”.
It has, in Greek, nothing to do with the soul nor the soul’s powers of intellect and will.
“Deny ‘himself’ simply means don’t be afraid as you walk with me as my disciple and die with me.”

Detachment for a Catholic does not mean things like total silence and noting your breath, but noting all you do as you do it, and that it is good (or not) what your body and thoughts are doing. Right now my fingers are keying symbols (letters) to provide someone’s eyes with symbolic objects (words) from my own internal symbolic images (thoughts) that are intelligible to me. I observe myself wanting the OP to know something making sense to me and observe my thoughts coming up with words and my fingers typing as if autonomous to put symbols on the screen that match my thoughts; my intellect knows and my will gives my consciousness thoughts and moves my body to post these words.
I am detached, knowing these events, watching myself do them as my body/brain were moved by my will which I will cannot observe (it is like the wind, you can see the leaves fluttering but not the wind).
We are not consciously doing anything we do but only watching ourselves after the fact of the doing and imagining what would be good to again see done after the fact.

I don’t know much about Keating, but I’ve seen a LOT of criticism of Rohr including from clergy whom I respect.

Have you tried looking into the Desert Fathers or St. Teresa of Avila/ St. John of the Cross?

@Shakuhachi do you have any suggestions to help this guy?

Edited to add, apparently you’re not the first person to notice and complain about this “inmost self” business of Fr. Keating. I found this piece on Catholic Culture, it’s from 2004 and the author also takes issue with Fr. Keating’s injection of the word “inmost”.

I looked on BibleHub and did some Internet searches. It appears that Fr. Keating uniquely uses the word “Inmost” as the only place it comes up in this verse is in his book which someone has put on the Web. Also, as I posted above, there is a piece from 2004 that was published in a liturgy review and is now reprinted on Catholic Culture website where the author of the piece also takes issue with Fr. Keating’s use of the word “Inmost” to change the meaning of the Scripture to support centering prayer.

I would add that I personally don’t have animosity towards centering prayer and Jesus probably doesn’t mind people using him as a “tool to relax” as long as they have other dimensions to their spiritual life as well, such as going to Mass, loving thy neighbor etc. If you need something to help you relax, Jesus is a better choice than alcohol, drugs, compulsive shopping, overeating, illicit sex etc. But I can see where somebody who is a convert and trying to do their best faith walk might be put off by this sort of thing.

Centering prayer isn’t compatible with Christian meditation so you noticed that right.
I was stuck on simmilar place like you when I reverted. I used mind emptying techniques, TM, visualisation to get anything I want, tantra, entered in “New Thought” and many other things… I didn’t know how to do anything else, my mind was literally programmed to do that after years. Then I discovered one rosary meditation, then meditation on Stations of the Cross, saints… My beggining was with Rosary meditation, it was first time to not to use non-Christian methods. Later I was also afraid to use anything else because I found some “Christian meditations” which were old New age garbage in shiny wrapping.

To deny ourselves means go out of selfishelness, egoism and meet with God. It means to give yourself to God and others, not to stay in yourself in emptyness.
Meeting with God means fullness and richness. It doesn’t mean “leave yourself and connect with non - personal space energy which is” everything".

I suppose that you thirst for contemplative prayer and I suggest you to read Interior Castle by st. Theresa of Avila. Spiritual guide about union with God - explains prayer in 7 mansions.
You can read it online https://books.google.hr/books?id=M58qLeIFAMsC&pg=PR1&source=kp_read_button&redir_esc=y

BUT contemplative prayer isn’t something we can do by ourselves through some techniques, it is pure God’s gift. Every other prayer we can go step by step and learn some things but authentic contemplation is only God’s gift. We come to contemplation step by step but contemplation itself cannot be “learned”, it is gift at some stage of spiritual life.
That’s one of reasons why centering prayer isn’t authentic Christian contemplation.
Centering prayer also leads to altered states of consciousness which can be spiritualy and psychologically dangerous.

Tis gave you great source, I also suggest these


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As @John_Martin and others have already pointed out, Jesus’ words in this verse are simply “deny himself.” The verb translated as “deny” is the same one that will reappear later in the Gospel when St. Peter denies Jesus three times. And the reflexive pronoun heauton simply means “himself.” As you suspected, the word “inmost” is something Keating supplied.

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I have practiced the type of contemplation of the “Cloud of Unknowing” for a long while. Why not just ditch Keating and Rohr, who are on the margins of heresy, and try it? Thomas Merton’s “What is Contemplation?” is a very helpful guide as well.

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Have a look at two books by Fr. Marc Foley, OCD:
‘The ascent of Mount Carmel’ and ‘The dark night: Psychological experience and spiritual reality’.
Both are published by ICS (Institute of Carmelite Studies).

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I am a practitioner of this method. As far as I know, neither Fr Keating, nor any other writer on cent. prayer advocate anything relating to breathing. And walking meditation would be something additional (not this method). So I don’t know where you’ve gotten your information from. As you might have learned if you had continued reading the book beyond the first pages, there is no item to draw one’s awareness during a sit—not breathing, not a mantra, not anything. The entire process is one of “letting go” of any and all “thoughts” for a minimum of 20 minutes.

The method has been referred to by others within this young tradition as “objectless awareness.” God is not an object in the universe. He is, rather, ipsum esse—the act of ‘to be’ itself—sheer existence, pure actuality, as Thomists put it. All other beings “participate,” as it were, in the Divine Existence. So a contemplative practice that is “objectless” attempts to make one’s mind-heart completely open to the pervasive Divine for the 20 minute sit.

I got my information on page 173 of the most recent edition “Open Mind, Open Heart” in the appendix, where it lists the specific practices of group centering prayer. Check it. I’m telling you, this is almost identical to the instructions we’d give out at my old zen center. The attention to the breath, walking meditation, it’s all there in Fr. Keating’s book.

In zen we had a concept our teachers would constantly refer to as “goalless practice”. Forgive my cynicism, I’m sure you’re very sincere, I just feel like I’ve heard all this before and my “buddha radar” is buzzing.

Magnanimity, I would love to hear your opinion on the scripture quote issue. You’ve made some good points above, and I find the zen-ish language applied to prayer an attractive idea, even if I have issues with it. But as I pointed out, as well as the people above, Fr. Keating has clearly and purposefully misquoted scripture as a means to drive home some point that isn’t present in Jesus’ words. As a centering prayer practitioner, how do you justify this? If we can’t trust our priest to faithfully quote the Bible, how do we trust him to teach us to pray properly?

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That sounds like a lovely idea, thank you!

I’d love to, and I did for quite some time. I stopped because I felt I needed some spiritual direction to keep me on track before going too much further. Do you know of any groups who do this, or priests who promote this, outside of Keating’s circles?

I love this advice, and I try to pray the rosary daily. I suppose I’m seeking more focused and attentive ways to pray the rosary to remedy my chaotic mind. The rosary preceded by silence and stillness sounds like a winning combination, but in silence and stillness I start thinking like a Buddhist again, and can’t be trusted. That’s why I was seeking a method like centering prayer, but I keep getting let down by pseudo-new age tripe.

Finally, Fr. Keating gets the focus of our prayer time entirely wrong. This may not seem like such a big deal, until one reads exactly what his error is. This is where the bad theology ends in a bad prayer method. The focus is completely off.
Keating writes, “The method consists of letting go of every kind of thought during the time of prayer, even the most devout thoughts” (21).* He clearly states more than once that this includes every type of communication and inspiration coming from God Himself. He urges his followers to use a “sacred word” during prayer, but not only can that word be something completely secular if one chooses, Keating says that “the less the word means to you, the better” (40).*
Where is Christ in this prayer? He is not at the center of it. Keating, without any evidence to back up his assertion, states that God’s first language is silence, so that, if we attain silence, God will come and fill it (48).* In contrast, we read in Scripture, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. And the Word was God” (John 1:1). From all eternity, God has been speaking. The Word He speaks is God the Son. Jesus is God’s first and eternal language. If we are truly open to God in prayer, we will seek Him through His Son, not through a forced silence of the mind


In CP, people are taught to use a prayer word or sacred word to empty the mind. (Fr. Keating says it is not a mantra; but if it is used to rid the mind of all thoughts and feelings, then it does the same thing as a mantra). The goal is to reach a mental void or pure consciousness in order to find God at the center. Pure consciousness is an altered level of consciousness. This is exactly what the Hindus and Buddhists do to reach god-consciousness or pure consciousness. This is also similar to what actress Shirley MacLaine does to go into an altered level of consciousness and discover her Divine Center or Higher Self, which is her divinity.


Fr. Keating wants his followers to let go of even devout thoughts. He says, "The method consists of letting go of every thought during the time of prayer, even the most devout thoughts."7 (In Christian prayer, devout thoughts are important and desirable.) He also tells his followers to let all feelings go. To do this, one would have to let go of any sentiments of love toward Jesus, the Heavenly Father, or the Holy Spirit

I don’t know how is this supposed to be Christian prayer. :thinking:

Yes, and I think I’ll go back to it, as I never had to deal with these issues with St Teresa or St John. My priest has also suggested The Philokalia, which seems lovely, but it’s… overwhelming

As I understand it, Fr. Thomas Keating (RIP) based his teaching on prayer in part on ideas which grew from the teachings of his fellow Cistercian monk, Fr. William Meninger. It was Fr. Meninger who took the 14th century classic, The Cloud of Unknowing, and sought to make it more relatable to our time. You might try reading Fr. Meninger’s book, The Loving Search for God; Contemplative Prayer and The Cloud of Unknowing, which is actually a companion piece meant to be read alongside The Cloud. I find it interesting that the term Centering Prayer is not found in this book, even though Fr. Meninger is considered to be one of the founders of that movement. But his ideas on prayer and The Cloud are in many ways different from either Fr. Keating or the other founder, Fr. Basil Pennington, each of them being different men with their own unique way of seeing things. Perhaps Fr. Meninger’s understanding will be more to your liking.

Catholics who are altogether turned off by Centering Prayer often turn to Fr. Jacques Philippe, a contemporary French priest who has written extensively on contemplative prayer without relating it to eastern non-Christian ways of prayer.

Another priest who has written extensively on The Cloud of Unknowing is the late Jesuit Fr. William Johnston. He will perhaps not appeal to you either, however, since he was also a student of Zen, having lived and taught in Japan for most of his life. It seems that you now want to make a clean break from your former practice, but Fr. Johnston determined that Zen could actually be compatible with his Catholic faith and priestly ministry. Despite his affinity for eastern practice, Fr. Johnston was considered an authority on The Cloud of Unknowing, and his edition is the copy which I have on my bookshelf. He has written a commentary on The Cloud you might consider reading.

May God bless you in your search!

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