Thomas Keating's Legacy

 “It is important … to have a dimension of silence in one’s life… that keeps us in contact with this mystery within us that is our source, keeps us in being – to see creation as an ongoing thing. We’re always being created.”

This form of prayer was originally referred to as the “Prayer of the Cloud” until Pennington conducted the first retreat to a lay audience in Connecticut, where participants suggested the name “centering prayer” based on a term Thomas Merton had used in Seven Storey Mountain.  Merton wrote: You rest in [God] and He hears you with His secret wisdom. Keating, Meninger and Pennington began teaching others the practice to the point where they could lead centering prayer groups.

When Father Keating came out to Snowmass, in 1981, he began conducting talks on prayer at a local parish in Aspen. He also offered retreats. The prayer was well-received, and its practice began to grow, and people began to realize the fruits of practicing centering prayer twice a day. In 1984, in New York City, Gus Reninger, Ed Bednar, and Father Keating created  a network of these centering prayer communities called “Contemplative Outreach, Ltd. Today there are at least 66 contemplative outreach organizations within the United States alone, and 19 internationally.


In his last interview with Ken Wilber, Father Keating estimated that over seven million people, most of whom don’t speak English, practice centering prayer.

Father Keating’s Spiritual Legacy

From 1979 until 2014, Father Keating authored no fewer than 36 books on spirituality. He gave many talks, interviews, met with spiritual leaders from all the world’s major religions, including the Dalai Lama. He collaborated extensively with integral theorist Ken Wilber to develop his discourses on the false self. He produced a variety of video tapes, instructing inquirers on all aspects of centering prayer and its fruits, including 

  • Basic Centering Prayer

  • The Human Condition

  • Spirituality in Everyday Life

  • Divine Therapy

  • Divine Love

  • Heartfulness

  • Transformation in Christ

  • The Gift of Life: Death and Dying, Live and Living

  • God is Love

He is prominently featured on YouTube in courses offered by Contemplative Outreach of Colorado, and other contemplative outreach local chapters.


But Father Keating’s principal focus was to teach and encourage people in:

  • Centering prayer

  • The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel

  • “Receiving the compassion of divine mercy and letting it flow onto others. You could call it just, say, surrendering to love if you prefer. “

  • Relinquishment of the false self and its programs

More important than his published body of works, are the effects that they’ve had on people. The stories of people who were able, through the Prayer of Forgiveness, to heal after being wounded, of people who were able to overcome addiction, or even the story of PTSD chronicled in the movie Almost Sunrise are Father Keating’s greatest works. Even for one person to achieve an inner sense of peace and union with God, through the simple practice of centering prayer for 20 minutes twice a day speaks more about the work of Father Keating than all his published works.

Let go, Let God

“The best means of doing God’s will is an interior ‘happen’ of emptying, detachment, or, if you prefer, becoming nothing.”

In the Gospel of John 21:18, Jesus tells Peter:


“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."


Throughout our lives, we are required to let go, to relinquish certain aspects of our lives. Until, finally, we have to let go of life itself. It was no less so for Father Thomas Keating. Due to “atrial fibrillation and other mild vicissitudes of old age” Father Keating had to turn over his work “of sharing [contemplative prayer] with others” to more local communities. 


I didn’t feel my vocation anymore was to teach it… I didn’t have the energy to travel. 


The Leadership Team of Contemplative Outreach, Ltd. had some 25 to 30 years’ experience with Centering Prayer and could speak to the issues and difficulties that arise from teaching the practice. 


“The conviction grew on me that the less I did, the more God would do.”


At some point in the spiritual journey, effortlessness becomes the main practice.


“I don’t see it as my work anymore. We’re not drawing a lot of young people in this culture. In other cultures, such as South America, there is greater interest. “


Whether or not centering prayer, and its many fruits, continue to flourish depends largely on its practitioners, and their ability to manifest those fruits, and to encourage others to try centering prayer. Though Father Keating is seemingly absent from this world, he continues to work through his legacy of centering prayer in the hearts of its practitioners.