In today's video Fr. Thomas tells one of his most memorable and cherished stories — the story of the life and character of a beloved fellow monk Brother Bernie O'Shea. What many people don't remember however is that this story is Fr. Thomas' beautiful illustration of the teaching on The Four Consents. As a reminder, God asks us to:
As we take in this beautiful story of Bernie, we will notice that it is also the story of the transformation of Thomas Keating. If it is true that "by their fruits, shall you know them," it seems obvious that both men embodied, in their own way, all four consents.
- Consent to our basic goodness and the goodness of others and life
- Consent to our gifts and creative energies
- Consent to diminishment, to letting go of all of our attachments in life through illness, aging and dying
- Consent to surrender our very selves into divine union
Brother Bernie knew God's love through the beauty and richness of life — flowers, mountains, music, ice cream and community. Though he may have chafed at the rigors of monastery life — especially in the early years — he let go of any over-identification with his preferences and agenda. Though it must have been difficult with his slight disability, he let go of any resistance he had and said, "yes" to learning to cook for the community.
We remember in last week's video Fr. Thomas said that when we consent to God's presence and action within, God’s action moves us to consent where we were previously unable to in childhood and growing up. We see this evolution in Bernie's life at Snowmass; his natural warmth, exuberance and attention blossomed into exceptional, dedicated and joyful caring for the brethren, their visiting family and even strangers.
Fr. Thomas' remembrances testify to his own evolution in response to his friend in Christ. We hear in his words the profound softening toward the world and others that Spirit effects in us when we consent to be transformed:
I remember thinking, "Well, this must be the way God treats people."
… [W]hen someone treats you in such a way that it makes you think of God, then they're a sacrament of God. And the sacraments are really meant to make us into sacraments; that is to say, to enable us to transmit the experience of divine love in some way.
If there's any way of possessing anything in this world, it is in loving it.
The story of these two men reminds us that our spiritual journey is not an individual process. We need each other. Our transformation and the transformation of the world take place in the midst of community and relationships, where we have the opportunity to practice what the Work of Inner Christianity calls "external considering."
"[E]xternal considering means … putting yourself in the position of another person. In the Gospels it is called 'love of neighbor' … It is a deep, internal act and is based on an increase of consciousness — that is, on love — for all real love is consciousness of another person's difficulties through finding the same difficulties in yourself. Conscious love is not blind."
- Commentaries, "Further Note on Psychological Thinking," April 29, 1947 and "A Note on External Considering," May 3, 1947, Vol. 3
Through external considering, we learn much of the "how" of both the second and third consents. We consciously consent to the goodness and rightness of the people and events God has brought into our lives and we let go of long-standing and, in a way, cherished attachments to being right, being a victim of our lives or being in control. Opposition shades into forgiveness and gratitude. We are participating in a co-creative process that is drawing us toward the fourth consent — consent to becoming Love Itself.
"Bonding with others takes place as the love of the Spirit is poured forth in our hearts. We feel that we belong to our community, to the human family, to the cosmos. We feel that our prayer is not just a privatized journey but is having a significant effect in the world. We can pour into the world the love that the Spirit gives us in prayer."
- Thomas Keating, Intimacy with God
"If one is transformed, one can walk down the street, drink a cup of tea or shake hands with somebody and be pouring divine life into the world. Transmission is the capacity to awaken in other people their own potentiality to become Divine."
- Thomas Keating, The Mystery of Christ
Video Reflections: View the video excerpt "The Four Consents, Part 2 - Bernie." This excerpt is about 29 minutes in length. You will find it and a transcript here.
Examen: Reflect on the story of Bernie and Fr. Thomas. Choose someone in your life with which to practice external considering. Become conscious of their difficulties through finding the same difficulties in yourself.
Resources for Further Study
- Chapter 9 in Invitation to Love and review Chapter 8 on "The Four Consents" (20th anniversary edition), Chapters 8 and 7 in older editions.
- More about external considering in the Commentaries, "A Note on External Considering," May 3, 1947, Vol. 4, p. 1025
- Listen to the song Bernie was singing on the cassette tape Fr. Thomas talked about, As Time Goes By (from Casablanca), by Dooley Wilson. You can hear Dooley Wilson's version of the song here on YouTube.
- The program archive may be found here.