Recently, I was engaged by a Catholic man who calls himself Brother John-Paul Ignatius. He was apparently drawn in by the title on one of my posts of this essay on Google+. The exchange exemplified my reasons for writing this series of posts. I think he was concerned that I not point out the some of the problems with particular proposals of Centering Prayer.
If anyone is to take the time to read these essays they will see that my purpose is not a polemic, nor is it an endorsement, rather it is truth, clarity, and understanding aimed at a fuller participation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I seek to create an environment of respect and reverence for the human desire to transcend the secular vision of reality while at the same time proclaim with the Holy Church the answer to that desire: Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
After some back and forth with Brother John-Paul Ignatius the exchange ended with him giving me some advice on my writing, pedagogy, etc., so that I could reach a particular audience better. While I am my worse critic, and already see how I could go back to organize things better and bring greater clarity to certain distinctions, that will have to wait.
Yet, a brief apologia might be helpful. For the record, I am not writing to be popular, or even to be well received, but instead what animates my writing is a desire to cooperate with truth. In that sense this writing may be more similar to the writing of a fledgling philosopher than an English teacher, novelist, or journalist. Philosophers often aren’t the best with structure and grammar, often don’t have as their aim short works, and such as is the case with myself, may not be the best proofreaders (I will do my best with this). Nor am I interested in merely repeating what others have said. I am not an academic philosopher and wouldn’t claim to be, but nevertheless it is the philosophical life in the classical and Christian sense that I am committed to. The philosophical life is a life concerned with wisdom, a life that takes wisdom as its source, companion, and end. This is completely consistent with the commitment of Christian discipleship, which takes Eternal Wisdom as its origin, ongoing salvation, and ultimate end.
As I mentioned in my about page even though I have training in Indian Buddhist Philosophy and the History of Western Philosophy I am committed to the Aristotelian-Thomist school of philosophy. That means I believe that seeking truth alone is reason enough for writing, and that it is possible to know, to understand. Knowing for the sake of knowing actualizes a distinctly human capacity. As a rational animal I don’t seek to know merely for the sake of a practical end, but most of all for the sake of knowing. Aristotle called this the highest actualization of being human, its end fully realized in contemplation of Divine Being, the most fundamental reality. And I seek to contemplate that reality and write about it not first for an audience, not first for a particular end, but because my Creator made me such that in reflecting upon my highest end I would myself become actualized unto the purpose of that Divine Will which I contemplate. Thus my own salvation is wrapped up in my writing. And if my salvation depends upon contemplation of the will and wisdom of God, then so does the salvation of other men.
And so this is my reason for the extended discourse, my seeming lack of concern for the attention span of the audience. It is for the sake of φιλοσοφία or philo-sophia, for the love of wisdom, for knowing for the sake of knowing.
Secondarily, it does have what I perceive to be an important and timely particular aim (catechetical), but this particular aim cannot be understood apart from the good of knowing as such. Truth and catechesis work toward unity. And this series of catechetical essays is first and foremost a project of knowing, i.e. a scientific endeavor in the classical sense of science, of knowing what is true (for those who aren’t aware scientes means knowing in Latin). I am asking the question of what is true in respect to the claims for and against Centering Prayer. We have lacked a Catholic treatment of this question that has given attention to detail and clarity.
Who has the attention span for this, especially in the age of snapchat? Maybe nobody.
But there may be a few people out there who see learning as a discipline, as something that requires patience, that is difficult, yes sometimes tiresome, that demands perseverance, and yet is absolutely fundamental to the actualization of human life. They may also find themselves interested enough in the question as to the controversy of Centering Prayer to devote themselves to this study for the good of their own soul and for the good of others. If I write for anybody but the source of truth Himself and my desire to know Him, it is for these. Who is my audience, then? Those who are interested in knowing for the sake of knowing, in cooperating with truth, in respect to the contemporary questions about what constitutes orthodox Christian meditation and prayer.
I will now return to the question of what constitutes Christian prayer.