World Without End by Thomas Keating, A-Z of Discipleship by Matthew Porter & Follow Me by Ian Black

by
27 October 2017

Richard Greatrex considers paths into a deeper quest

IN THE midst of conversations with the film-maker Lucette Verboven which make up World Without End, the Cistercian monk who founded the Centering Prayer movement, Thomas Keating, declares that “God is be­­com­ing everything at every nano­second of time and wants us to join him in that adventure.” Now in his nineties, Keating’s health is unsteady; so Joseph Boyle, Abbot at their Colorado mon­astery, adds an extra voice to this short and spaciously laid-out series of inter­views.

The book will have slight value for anyone familiar with Keating’s core works, such as Open Mind, Open Heart, but it provides a useful and lively introduction to his think­ing, and especially to the concept, though not the detailed practice, of centring prayer.

Where­ver Ver­boven’s questions probe, Keating steers back towards the mystical revelation, drawn from Teilhard de Chardin, that Christ is present at every moment in every particle of creation; his is “a cosmic body that extends throughout the universe”.

Such an approach produces a deep impact on our perception of discipleship: a practice of silent, open attentiveness to the intimate presence of God will shape a path of simplification in our personal lives, alongside action towards others which is receptive, peaceful, and self-forgetful.

Some readers unconvinced by Keating’s cosmic intensity might respond more favourably to Matthew Porter’s directness and accessibility. A-Z of Discipleship contains 26 pithy chapters alpha­betically arranged to introduce subjects such as “B is for Bible”, “K is for Kingdom”, “W is for Worship”, and so forth. It is light on jargon but rich in anecdote, and the intention is to provide a snap­shot of foundational topics, with guidance in good practice for those wishing to increase their commit­ment to Christ. Every section closes with an action and pointers to prayer which firmly introduce the disciplines of daily Bible-reading, prayer, and spiritual reflection, along with practical engagement in the work of the Church.

Sometimes this approach, by its very brevity, can slide towards a paternal didacticism, which not everyone will appreciate, while sim­ult­aneously raising as many ques­tions as answers. Drawing on writers ranging from St Polycarp to Bill Johnson, however, Porter clearly moulds his material to serve as a taster for a deeper quest to be more fully explored with the guidance of a supportive Christian community.

This is where Ian Black’s Follow Me: Living the sayings of Jesus could become an excellent complementary resource for developing a life of discipleship. Many will be familiar with Black’s lyrical, perceptive col­lections of intercessions. This much shorter book presents eight chapters covering communion, service, love, forgiveness, posses­sions, prayer, sacrifice, and mission.

While there is nothing excep­tional in what is said about each subject, Black nevertheless writes with a quietly elegant clarity that allows him to raise multiple points swiftly and precisely; and, through contemporary illustrations that acknowledge the intricacy and untidi­ness of our daily lives, he shows how Jesus’s words and ac­­tions still have much to teach us.

Chapters conclude with a tightly focused, expressive prayer, and a series of discussion prompts com­prising particularly incisive ques­tions, very challenging for an indi­vidual to explore alone, but perfect for group study. This material might even form the basis of a valuable sermon series, using the questions to stimulate whole-church discus­sion and incorporating the prayers into the liturgy.

All three books offer useful direction into the eternal adventure of an active relationship with the living God. Their approaches are significantly different; Black and Keating place far more emphasis on divine mystery than Porter. Draw­ing on his 90 years of engagement in contemplative prayer, Keating most explicitly expresses the totality of dedication to God. Yet there is mutual agreement that our true identi­ty can be found only in God, alongside shared excitement for future possibilities.

”N is for New”, not just because our Christian relationship renews our true identity but also because God is constantly moving forward, continuously building the Kingdom, and ceaselessly desiring our com­­plete commitment.

 

The Revd Richard Greatrex is Associate Priest of Barrow Gurney, in North Somerset.

 

World Without End

Thomas Keating and Joseph Boyle with Lucette Verboven

Bloomsbury £10.99

(978-1-4729-4248-7)

Church Times Bookshop £9.90

 

A-Z of Discipleship: Building strong foundations for a life of following Jesus

Matthew Porter

Authentic £9.99 (978-1-78078-456-4)

Church Times Bookshop £9

 

Follow Me: Living the sayings of Jesus

Ian Black

Sacristy Press £7.99

(978-1-910519-44-8)

Church Times Bookshop £7.20

 

 

 

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