Guest Editorial: Nonviolence and the New Self

by John David Muyskens

A commercial on TV shows a fierce looking man who says, “Why we fight is like asking why leaves fall. It is just our nature.” And that seems to be the nature of many people. But we can gain another nature.

We seem to be wired to try violence as a way to deal with violence. But violence only leads to more violence. If we can learn the art of love we will be able to get along so much better. We have a tendency to rush to judgment about people. We so quickly think ourselves better than others. But in reality we are all in the boat of life together.

One way to gain a loving nature is a form of contemplative prayer, called “Centering Prayer,” engaging us in silent, communion with God. In contemplation, we enter a presence rather than asking for anything. We accept the way things are. Centering Prayer changes us because for the moment we lose control. We are quiet. We let God give us whatever God wants to give. Not what we expect but what God gives. We give our consent to God’s presence and action in us. It is not a matter of doing but of being.

As I have learned Centering Prayer from Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington and William Meninger, I choose a sacred word as a symbol of my consent to God’s presence and action within. If a sacred word doesn’t fit, I may choose a symbol such as a gentle turning to God or the breath. This word or symbol is used when I become attached to thoughts, to let them go. I return to the sacred word or symbol as a way of renewing my intention to be open to God. I allow God to control me. This practice transforms me. Not following my expectations but giving consent for God to act in me. With the practice of Centering Prayer we become less judgmental and less prone to solve problems with violence. In Centering Prayer we let God transform us from the nature of division to the nature of love.

All of this draws me into a closer relationship with God who is the Creator and Provider of all I am and have. It draws me to One God, the One who governs all that happens to me: The One who has made me, loves me and is present to me at all times. The One who becomes the guiding principle of my life. So I become a monist. I see reality as One, not dualistic. All of life is united in One. I no longer see divisions tearing down the other but all unified. People are often divided and in conflict. But Centering Prayer gives me a perspective where I can see that people are actually united. I can see that love and forgiveness is the way to solve our problems.

As in breathing, I receive all the joys that God has to give me, and I let go of all that is self-serving. I give myself to God, allowing God to give me the blessings of life. I release what is selfish in me. The breath, exhaling and inhaling, is the rhythm of such receiving and letting go. Like the oxygen I need for life I accept the presence of God and expel the orientation to Self. So I let the transforming work of Christ take place in me.

Centering Prayer helps me. I am often rewarded for seeking violence. Being a perfectionist I am often angry about some imperfection. I am expected to rid myself of anger by being aggressive and forceful. I want more and, it is thought, that I will gain more by violent means. But that is not the only option. I can be loving, forgiving myself and challengers. With quiet times of communion with God, who loves us greatly, I am shaped by that love. I learn love of God and of my neighbor and myself. I learn to be loving and forgiving, to practice nonviolence, in heart, mind and action.

Does this mean I am a mystic? Yes! Karl Rahner predicted that “in the future we shall be mystics…or we shall be nothing.” (“The Spirituality of the Future” in Theological Investigations (vol. 20), p. 149). We shall be both people of contemplation and action, desiring and working for love, justice and peace.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rev. John David Muyskens is a retired minister of the Reformed Church in America, and the author of Forty Days to a Closer Walk with God, the Practice of Centering Prayer, and Sacred Breath: 40 Days of Centering Prayer, among other works. He currently serves as the international coordinator for Contemplative Outreach, an organization founded by Father Thomas Keating to promote the Christian tradition of contemplative prayer, with practitioners forming an international community.

Contemplative Outreach has its roots in the wish of three monks living at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts in the early 1970s. Inspired by the decree of Vatican II, the monks wished to develop a method of Christian contemplative prayer that was appealing and accessible to laypeople. With no idea that their wish would eventually result in an international organization, Fathers Thomas Keating, William Meninger, and Basil Pennington embarked on an experiment. Contemplative Outreach, a community of individuals and Centering Prayer groups committed to living the contemplative dimension of the Gospel in everyday life, has now spread worldwide.


“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi