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Thomas Keating: A Rising Tide of Silence: Film Review

Thomas Keating Stills - H 2014
A Rising Tide of Silence LLC

The Bottom Line

This no-frills documentary provides a moving portrait of the founder of the Centering Prayer movement

Directors

Peter C. Jones, Elena Mannes

Peter C. Jones and Elena Mannes' documentary chronicles the life and teachings of the influential spiritual leader

It’s understandable that Thomas Keating: A Rising Tide of Silence presents a loving portrait the famed theologian who reintroduced the practice of meditation into Catholic doctrine through his influential Centering Prayer movement. Co-director Peter C. Jones is Keating’s nephew, and his eagerness to broaden the reach of his uncle’s message is palpable throughout this biographical profile.

Keating, now 91, is interviewed frequently during the proceedings, and he indeed has an interesting story to relate. Born to an affluent, non-religious family, he discovered his leanings early on, sneaking off to secretly attend Mass and promising God that he would become a priest if he recovered from his near-fatal childhood illness.  

During his studies at Yale, he was inspired by Leo Tolstoy, who became a convert to Christianity, and decided to join a monastery despite the opposition of his parents. He received a spiritual deferment to avoided fighting in World War II, although not without suffering guilt that was only assuaged by a spiritual epiphany he experienced while visiting a cemetery filled with the graves of American servicemen who had lost their lives at Anzio.

Leading an austere Trappist monastic life, he eventually became the Abbot of St. Joseph’s Abby in Massachusetts in 1961, a position he held until he resigned twenty years later when his shift from asceticism to contemplation caused a division among the monks. Moving to a monastery in Colorado, he founded the organization Contemplative Outreach to spread the concept of what he dubbed Centering Prayer.

One of the film’s more moving elements is Keating’s account of his troubled relationship with his father, a highly successful lawyer who wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. Despite the discord caused by Keating’s decision to instead pursue a spiritual path, his father later gave a large financial donation to save his son’s monastery from financial ruin.

Incorporating snippets of Keating’s philosophy via intertitles featuring quotations from his writings, the film mixes archival footage of his interactions with figures ranging from the Dalai Lama to a convicted murderer with present day interviews conducted by John Osborne, who also narrates. Although formally uninventive, it nonetheless serves as an effective introduction to its subject’s unique approach to spirituality.

 

Opens March 7 (A Rising Tide of Silence LLC)

Directors/producers: Peter C. Jones, Elena Mannes

Director of photography: Dyanna Taylor

Editor: Drew Martinez

Composers: Kalix Sky, Drew Martinez

Not rated, 75 min.