I was reading before bed last night, and whenever I do that, I don’t get very far. I read a sentence and then read it again because my brain is quickly switching into sleep mode. But last night, as I lay there reading Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel by Thomas Keating, which I’ve been reading for quite some time now, I read a sentence that stuck with me despite my sleepy stupor:
“Transformation is completely God’s work. We can’t do anything to make it happen. We can only prevent it from happening.”
When I read that, my addled mind said, Wait a minute. What was that? I went back, read it again, and continued. But before I closed the book for the night, I returned to those lines and read them one more time, hoping that I might drift off to sleep with that powerful thought in my head instead of all the anxious worrying that’s usually running around my brain.
This quote, this entire book, is about centering prayer, and Father Keating, a Cistercian, is the founder of the Centering Prayer Movement. I love the idea of centering prayer, much like I like the idea of contemplation (centering prayer should lead to contemplative prayer), but I tend to read about it more than I actually do it. When I came upon the quote about transformation, it really made me want to try my hand again at this method of prayer, this waiting in silence for God to make a move instead of rushing toward Him jabbering about things I need and things I don’t want and prayers that should be answered.
Father Keating uses the Gospel story of the Canaanite woman (Mt 15:26) as an example of how God transforms in mysterious ways. The woman comes to Jesus for healing and, as Father Keating says, gets the “cold shoulder” from the Master. He tells her, in not so many words, why should I waste my healing on you when my children need healing. But she does not get angry or indignant at this turn of events. She grovels in the dust and says, “You are absolutely right, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs as they fall from their master’s table.”
Good answer. Apparently, Father Keating explains, Jesus was raising her to the “highest level of faith.” In other words, sometimes to get to the glory, we have to fight our way — or more accurately, surrender our way — through what feels like rejection or even abandonment.
“Some people complain God never answers their prayers,” Father Keating writes. “Why should He? By not answering our prayers, He is answering our greatest prayer, which is to be transformed.”
OK, I have to admit that that last quote may have been a little bit too much for me at the sleepy hour of almost midnight, but I came back to it again in the morning with a cup of coffee and a slightly clearer head. On one level, I find it confusing and daunting. On another level, I find it logical and comforting. Weird. For me right now, this idea of transformation through what seems like rejection really is the answer to my prayer because lately my prayer has been “Where are You?” And this reminds me that He is there and that the obstacles in my life are meant to teach me something. If I continue down the path anyway, allowing the adversity in without fear or anger, I will come out the other side and realize I am a lot closer to where I eventually want to be. But, if I fight it and yell at God or even walk away from God, the opportunity for transformation will be lost and I will have to wait for His next challenge.