Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Better Part: Stages of Contemplative Living

     How beautifully fitting that the day after I looked for a book about having a heart more like the one Mary exhibits than Martha does, I sit down with The Better Part. The title of the book and the quote from it on the back didn’t clue me in that Keating would expand upon the stages of contemplative living by taking the reader back to Bethany to learn a few lessons from Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
     Make no mistake, this quick read not only includes an in-depth look at the personalities and deeper meaning behind the accounts of the three siblings, but also delves into a much greater study of contemplative life as it has been experienced and recorded by some famous saints as well as spiritual greats from other faith traditions.
     I planned on reading a chapter or two of the book as part of my morning prayer time, but once I got into it, I didn’t want to stop. I already had some level of knowledge about centering prayer and lectio divina before picking up this book, but I enjoyed reading what Keating had to say about these two traditions as well as other forms of contemplative prayer. He tied in some of the most prominent observations, thoughts, and/or experiences of well-known saints such as John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Francis of Assisi which I found intriguing after having read some of the books to which he made reference.
     The second to last chapter is made up of thirteen questions which Keating answers individually. Though this section was not written in the same format as the rest of the book, it provides a perfect framework for answering some fundamental questions about a variety of subjects such as: defining sin, the role of personal suffering in redemption, how to overcome obstacles to practicing contemplative prayer, and navigate through the world of meditation.
     The pleasant tone, feel, and flow of the prose fit perfectly with the freeing reminder that spiritual growth is unlimited. We always have the opportunity and potential to become increasingly more aware of the Lord’s presence in and around us.
     Lord, help us to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, so that we may become better vessels for Your multitude of blessings and are ready always to go forth and spread Your unconditional love for all of Your creation. Amen.
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