When Jesus said, “Repent,” to his first disciples, he was calling them to change the direction in which they were looking for happiness. “Repent” is an invitation to grow up and become a fully mature human being who integrates the biological needs with the rational level of consciousness. The rational level of consciousness is the door that swings into higher states — the intuitive and unitive levels of consciousness. They open us to the experience of God’s presence, which restores the sense of happiness. We can then take possession of everything that was good in our early life while leaving the distortions behind.
The false self is deeply entrenched. You can change your name and address, religion, country, and clothes. But as long as you don’t ask it to change, the false self simply adjusts to the new environment. For example, instead of drinking your friends under the table as a significant sign of self-worth and esteem, if you enter a monastery, as I did, fasting the other monks under the table could become your new path to glory. In that case, what would have changed? Nothing.
We can be converted to the values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and do the best we can to moderate the excesses of our desperate search for security, affection and esteem, power and control, while our basic attitudes remain the same. This is how conversion is distinguished from external changes of lifestyle. Conversion addresses the heart of the problem. Jesus has some harsh sayings that are incomprehensible unless we see them in light of the harm that our emotional programs are doing. For example, Jesus said, “If your foot scandalizes you, cut it off.” He wasn’t recommending self-mutilation but was saying that if your emotional programs are so close to you that you love them as much as your own hand or foot or eye, get rid of them. They are programs for human misery that will never work. They will interfere with all your relationships — with God, yourself, other people, the earth, and the cosmos.
— Thomas Keating in The Human Condition
“Humans look at the outward appearance and God looks at the heart.” In the program of recovery one is called a “dry drunk” if there has not been a brokenness; if one continues to rely upon outward actions and appearance to cease drinking. And when we are broken, when we have hit “our bottom,” an internal shift occurs. We may, for the first time in our lives, “get honest with ourselves.” We may see ourselves for who we are; in need of a power greater than ourselves. And when we stand before God and cry out for help, our hearts are changed. We not only want sobriety, but sobriety is possible if we will turn to God for assistance. I think life is that way as well. As Christians, we can and often do, become like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time; “white-washed tombs;” clean on the outside, but inside we are “dead men’s bones (unclean)”. We don’t understand that only God can give us everlasting change and that all we need to do is be willing to cooperate in the process.
Love in Christ,
The writings of Fr. Thomas Keating are taken from Spirituality and Practice. The reflections are my own.
M.Rev. Ed Jansen is the Bishop of the Diocese of St. Benedict and Rev. Dr. Trish Gaffney is its Vicar General
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