Book Review – Reflections on the Unknowable by Thomas Keating

by Mark Votava


After practicing a monastic life for over seventy years, Thomas Keating has written a wonderful book about his wisdom on what it means to seek God.  A strong theme that really stood out to me was that God lives within us through the process of our lives.  The incarnation has always been a mysterious sign of God’s understanding and care within the world.  How can Jesus actually become human at one point in history and now manifest love in humanity through our ordinary lives?

Thomas Keating places this mystery before us as we wrestle with what this paradox means today.  I loved the theme that God is looking for experiencers not theorists.  So much of theology is based on the intellect (ideas about God) and not on experiential knowing.  We are called to be contemplatives who seek God through the evolution of our consciousness, enlightenment and interior growth.

This constitutes a way of life where we value silence, solitude, listening and rest.  Christ lives through us in every moment of our existence through our ordinary daily lives.  As we imitate Christ, we become the other.  We start to incarnate compassion and love.  We open up to a process of deep listening.

Reflections on the Unknowable brings to light that we need to embrace the humility of God where God gives up being God.  We embrace powerlessness in order to find enlightenment toward humility, love and compassion.  As we explore what is means to have divine life within us, we discover our true self over our false self.  This is a revolutionary idea that is not taught very much.

I highly recommend this book if one is wanting to experience and seek God in deeper ways.  From one of the wisest people alive today, Thomas Keating is a prophetic voice in the role of the contemplative life of silence and solitude in the twenty-first century.  This is essential to cultivate as we need to find a balance between contemplation and action in our world today.  It is too easy to just focus on doing and forget our being.

  • One with us in the events and experiences of ordinary daily life

“Jesus Christ in his teaching seems less interested in raising us to enlightened states of consciousness than in becoming one with us in the events and experiences of ordinary daily life.  To relive the sacred mysteries of his earthly life in each of us is his plan and desire; to share every moment of our lives with him is the practical living out of divine union.  His presence in us is our deepest self manifesting in every action, however trivial from our point of view.  We are invited to have no movement of body, mind, and heart except from the Spirit, who wishes to inspire all our thoughts, words, and actions.”

  • To become the other

“To become the other is to imitate Christ…”

  • The attitude of listening

“There remains the attitude of listening: alertness without effort.  This kind of contemplation is completely receptive.  But it is not just passive.  It is an affective kind of receptivity, a peaceful and sometimes delightful being with the silence, presence, or stillness… There are no words, no thoughts, just pure awareness with perhaps the sense of loving or being loved, and longing for oneness.”

  • Our true nature is God manifesting God-self in us

“The false self creates our own personalized hell…  The true self, who we really are, is created in the image and likeness of God.  Our true nature is God manifesting God-self in us.”

  • Resting and listening

“Resting and listening feed into each other.  Resting, means above all, rest from compulsive activity, mixed motives, and emotional excesses.”

  • Silence is the greatest teacher

“Silence is the greatest teacher there is…”

  • The authenticity of our spiritual journey

“Daily life tests the sincerity and authenticity of our spiritual journey…”

  • God’s willingness not to be God

“Each human person manifests God’s infinite humility, God’s willingness not to be God…”

  • Moments of awareness can become every moment

“Moments of awareness of the divine goodness can become every moment.  God is always present: always at rest and always active at the same time.”

  • Evolving into a state of permanent freedom

“We are to become truly free, or rather Freedom itself.  To evolve into that state as permanent is our destiny…”

  • Letting God act through us at every moment

“Unity consciousness is to let God act through us at every moment without resistance.”

  • The human consciousness in each of us

“God is manifesting in each moment as the human consciousness in each of us…”

  • God looks for experiencers more than theorists

“God looks for experiencers more than theorists.  In our culture we tend to want to be the latter and to avoid the former, especially when life is painful.  Thinking is normally a lot easier than being.  It is our predominant cultural conditioning in a time of rapidly developing technological skills and massive scientific information.  The cybernetic age is primarily about information, not experience, understanding, and love.  These spiritual values need to be infused into it.”

  • God incarnating in our humanity with all its circumstances

“For Christ to be ‘us’ – to take over every aspect of our life in space and time and to experience our human existence in this present moment – that’s what the latter days of life are aimed at.  The goal is not just union, or even unity with God, but God incarnating in our humanity with all its circumstances.  Christ renewing the sacred mysteries of his human life in our humanity is one way of describing his incarnation in each of us.”

  • The mother of everyone in the human family

“Compassion is to be, and even feel ourselves to be, the mother of everyone in the human family.”

  • May feel like losing one’s mind

“On the human level, this process of death and resurrection may feel like losing one’s mind…  The dying may be sheer terror, powerlessness, and apparent annihilation of the individual self, without any possible escape or place to hide.  One feels at times ripped apart, squashed, paralyzed, indifferent to living or dying.”

  • The common bond of love

“The Spirit is the common bond of love…”

  • Powerlessness is our greatest treasure

“Powerlessness is our greatest treasure.  Don’t try to get rid of it.  Everything in us wants to get rid of it…”

  • Who we really are

“Enlightenment is the inward realization and consciousness of being identified with who we really are.  We are not our false selves or egos…”

In what ways have you learned to seek God in your life?