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Thomas Keating: The Secret Embrace, Part One

The Secret Embrace

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020

Thomas Keating: The Secret Embrace, Part One

The Secret Embrace
Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Before being born into the world of time,
The silence of pre-existence was all absorbing.

The transition from eternity to time
Is full of sufferings, fears, and little deaths.

But, in the transition from death
To eternal life,

The silence of pre-existence
Bursts into boundless joy.

All that can be manifested emerges
From the endless creativity of
That Which Is.

The Secret Embrace
The Source of all creation
Infinite Transcendence
Never be revealed.

—Thomas Keating, “The Secret Embrace”

Today we include the title poem, “The Secret Embrace,” in its entirety. Cynthia Bourgeault comments on one aspect of it in particular:

It is remarkable to trace how Thomas’ understanding of God evolved over the last three decades of his life. In the 1980s, when his first books and videos were beginning to appear, God was still very much framed within the classic Western model with God as “he”—a father figure. Thomas’ initial focus during the early years of his teaching was to shift that image away from a fearsome father, the wrathful God who has caused so much misery and woundedness for Western seekers, to a “divine therapist”: supportive, trustworthy, and a hundred percent behind us in our journey of transformation.

But by the end of his life, Thomas is in a very different place. God co-inheres and interpenetrates everything, the ocean-in-drop and drop-in-ocean, constantly exchanging in a dance of endless fecundity. God is not the “author” of creation, removed and overarching; the whole thing is God. There is not a single place in all creation where God is not, because God is creation itself, endlessly outpouring, endlessly receiving itself back. From top to bottom, we live and move and have our being in a participative reality, every fractal joined to every other fractal in a symphony of divine becoming pouring forth from that infinite wellspring.

In fact, with one singular exception, Thomas does not actually use the word “God” in this entire collection of poems. It is always “the Divine,” “I AM,” or “the Source.” He clearly did not want what he was trying to say here co-opted back into conceptions of a distant, male-gendered Being sitting up there in the heavens. He wanted us to keep our eyes on the big picture.

But more important, he wanted us to swim in the ocean.

Some may say that Thomas took a turn late in life toward a more “Buddhist” approach to divinity, but I believe this is not really accurate. We are not talking about a theology here, but a level of consciousness, universal across all the religions and accessed primarily through the consistent practice of meditation. To see oneness, it is necessary to see from oneness, with the eye of the heart, not the binary skew of the mind. From his decades and decades of faithful Centering Prayer, along with some very courageous and painful inner work, the rewiring of brain and heart that supports this seeing was gradually accomplished within him. These poems are its joyful fruit. They are tiny cameos of what non-duality looks like when approached from a uniquely Western and Christian perspective.

Excerpted with permission from Cynthia Bourgeault, Thomas Keating’s The Secret Embrace (2020), online on-demand course. Full details available from Spirituality & Practice at https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/ecourses/course/view/10274/thomas-keatings-the-secret-embrace

Epigraph: Keating, “The Secret Embrace,” The Secret Embrace (Temple Rock Company: 2018), poem II.

Image credit: “Outside in” (detail), James Turrell at House of Lights, Tohka-machi, Niigata, Japan.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: His silence is a kiss, / His presence an embrace. —Thomas Keating, “Loneliness in the Night.”
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