"I came that they may have life,
and have it abundantly."
- John 10:10
There can be no doubt that consent plays a central role in the spiritual journey. In Centering Prayer, we cultivate a deep relationship with God by returning again and again to our sacred word or symbol. In the Work of Inner Christianity, we "put ourselves under the authority" of tried and tested principles and practices that liberate us from the enslavement of mechanical reactions — our "sleep" — principles such as "struggle against expressing negative emotions," and "struggle against self-justifying." With these practices of silent prayer and Work, we become more and more able to consent — to say, "Yes" to God’s presence and action in our lives.
Today's video on the Four Consents offers us a way of answering the question, "What is God asking of me now in this life I've been given?" Drawing from the work of the theologian, John S. Dunne, Fr. Thomas begins to illuminate the pathway of consents drawing us through each stage of a conscious life, from infancy to old age and ultimately, death.
First, we're invited to consent to the basic goodness of our being — to the profound truth that we are loved and lovable before we do anything. Second, we consent to the full development of our being, with all of our talents and creative energy. Third, we consent to the diminution of self that occurs through illness, old age and death, and the letting go of everything we love in this world, whether persons, places or things. Fourth, we consent to let go of all that is left, in other words, to the death of the self itself.
We can think of our embodied lives in service to God as a breath. In the first half we inhale — we consent to be filled up with God's affirmation of our goodness and the activation of our individual gifts. We must become, in the terminology of the Work of Inner Christianity, good householders. As good householders, we live ethically and responsibly, paying our way in life, even as we don't believe in life as our source of meaning. We are "in the world, but not of it." In the second half of life, we exhale — we consent to surrender everything. The Work of Inner Christianity teaches us to non-identify (to detach our feeling of "I" from all that has been acquired and all there is to do) and Self-Remember (remember our true identity in Christ.)
As we have learned from the teachings on the human condition, our lives don't usually unfold in accordance with any ideal. Because of real or perceived hurts in childhood, we may become ambivalent towards life and hesitate to give full consent to the goodness of our human potentialities. Grasping to fulfill our programs for happiness gets in the way of letting go when the time is right. Consequently, it's important to note that the four consents usually happen later and in a different order than is described in the video and we may revisit them over and over at ever-deeper levels.
"To consent to God's world, to one's own goodness, to the goodness of others, and also to consent to the inevitable diminishing of one's physical powers and the letting go of what we love in this world is the way God brings us gently to the final surrender in which we are willing to let the … self die and the true Self [Christ] emerge."
- Thomas Keating, from today's video
- Thomas Keating, "Guidelines for Christian Life, Growth and Transformation,1-3" Open Mind, Open Heart
- The fundamental goodness of human nature, like the mystery of the Trinity, Grace, and the Incarnation, is an essential element of Christian faith. This basic core of goodness is capable of unlimited development; indeed, of becoming transformed into Christ and deified.
- Our basic core of goodness is our true Self. Its center of gravity is God. The acceptance of our basic goodness is a quantum leap in the spiritual journey.
- God and our true self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing.
Video Reflections: View the video excerpt "The Four Consents, Part 1." This excerpt is about 24 minutes in length. You will find it and a transcript here.
Examen: The first three "Guidelines for Christian Life, Growth and Transformation" invite us to look at and consent to our fundamental goodness, the goodness of our human nature, of our life – that part of us that is loved before we do anything. Many of us struggle with accepting and awakening to our basic core of goodness. We may remember hearing from Genesis 9:6, "…in God's own image, God made humankind," but have been unable to connect with its meaning for ourselves, as ourselves. The grace of the spiritual journey heals the emotional damage of a lifetime and empowers us to be transformed into Christ, our true Self. Are you ready to take this "quantum leap?" In faith, we invite you to reflect on how you are being healed, transformed, awakened to your basic core of goodness.
Resources for Further Study
You may wish to read:
- Chapter 8, "The Four Consents" from Invitation to Love and Chapter 12 from Open Mind, Open Heart (20th anniversary editions), Chapters 7 and 13 in older editions.
- More about good householder in the Commentaries, "Good Householder," March 17, 1951, Vol. 4.
- The program archive may be found here.