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
Church Times Bookshop £9.90
A-Z of Discipleship: Building strong foundations for a life of following Jesus
Authentic £9.99 (978-1-78078-456-4)
Church Times Bookshop £9
Follow Me: Living the sayings of Jesus
Sacristy Press £7.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.20