The Purgative Way
The work of Cistercian monk and Christian mystic Fr. Thomas Keating on the contemplative life has changed the lives of millions of people.
Keating originated what is known as centering prayer---a form of contemplative practice that has spread worldwide.
Fr. Keating also wrote extensively on the "Purgative Way," which he defined as letting go of the ego to draw closer to God and others. He believed that letting ourselves be "purged" of our false selves was integral to leading a more contemplative and congruent life.
One of the most profound things I've read from Keating about this includes the following quote:
The Purgative Way consists in becoming aware of how our unconscious needs affect ordinary daily life, including our service of God. It is unsettling for us to realize that, mixed in with our good intentions are...infantile attitudes.
Keating says that even when we do good if it's done with the wrong motives, we're serving ourselves more than God. And it's only when we deny ourselves, as Jesus taught, we truly discover who we are meant to be.
I've been thinking about the Purgative Way for a while and decided to reflect on my learning as I practice it more fully. In no particular order, I'm finding the following things to be true for me:
I must let go of bitterness, anger, and hurt to surrender my ego in the Purgative Way.
Most of us know full well when we are hanging on to unforgiveness when we've been wounded by others. Bitterness and anger over past hurts can devastate us if we allow them to fester and grow. They can be a dull ache in our soul, never letting us find peace, always keeping us in a negative space.
But when we find the strength to let go of our bitterness, anger, and hurt, we also find the strength to forgive others and ourselves.
The Purgative Way can be painful, but if we push through the pain, there is more on the other side.
Letting go of the ego and surrendering your outcomes is not easy. It might cost you friendships. It could mean the shattering of foundations you have come to rely on. Your faith may be tested, and your beliefs turned upside down.
You will experience doubts about whether surrendering your outcomes to God is something you are willing or able to do. And you will have moments when you feel absolutely alone amid your efforts to become less, to experience more.
But there is more on the other side of the pain you will experience in your surrender. There is more joy, hope, peace, and life. Jesus taught this to his disciples, and his example is worth following.
The Purgative Way will result in transformation---the kind that changes everything.
All of us seek transformation in our own way. We want to be better versions of ourselves. We long for the world around us to be a better place. And we desire abundant lives full of promise and hope for tomorrow.
And when we begin to believe that this is possible, there will always be those who cannot accept us as we are becoming. We may leave friends behind. We might find that our faith communities struggle to accept us. And we will also find something else...
We will find the happiness that comes with transformation when we live more fully as our best and truest selves. We will discover new ways to experience the world as God sees it and everyone else. We will find fulfillment and purpose we did not expect but always dreamed of.
This is at the heart of what Jesus wanted for his followers. And he, too, taught that the Purgative Way was the path to the kind of life God longs for us to live.
May you discover your path to the Purgative Way as you stumble after Jesus. May you find your true self at the end of your surrender. And may you spend every day finding ways to let go of your ego, surrender your outcomes and truly live.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.