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Contemplative Service
by Ann Andreas
"Silence is that from which everything emerges, the background for all, the ground of being the context for all prayer and action." by Thomas Keating

Father Keating describes contemplative prayer and contemplative service as the two banks of the river that is our spiritual life; prayer and service channel our spiritual energy.  Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina, the Welcoming Prayer, and our other prayer practices lead us into contemplative prayer.  How do we learn, and how do we practice contemplative service?  What is the difference, for example, between “service” and “helping”?  As with all else on the spiritual journey, intention and motivation are key.  

What matters in Centering Prayer is our intention to open to the presence and action of God in our lives.  As we move into the unloading of the unconscious and the healing of the energy centers—security, affection, and control—there comes a point at which God reveals our motives to us.  We may learn that even what we consider our most altruistic projects emerge, at best, from mixed motives.  True service—contemplative service—is fueled by love; the love of God dwelling within us, and our desire to express our love for God in all that we do.  

In Contemplative Service:  Prayer in Action, Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler writes:  “Actions arising from the true self—motivated by consent, surrender and relationship—are manifestations of love in action and inherently make all things possible.”  In Mystery of Christ, Fr. Keating tells us, “When the love of Christ is the principal motivation, ordinary actions transmit Divine Love.”  How do we move from “helping” to “serving”?  With his characteristic loving honesty, Fr. Thomas counsels “…it’s the very failure of your efforts to serve that teaches you little by little how to serve, which is with complete dependency on the Divine inspiration and mercy.”  Spiritual Journey transcripts, part 4.   

Contemplative service, rooted in our Centering Prayer practice, is how we respond to Jesus' invitation, “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  Matt. 5:16.