Ken and Father Thomas Keating dialogued for almost 4 hours in front of a packed house at the Westin Tabor Center in Denver on April 24th, 2006. About 240 people attended the event. The discussion took place around the topic of the relevance of religion in the modern/postmodern era. Among the most memorable moments was, in response to a question on the effect of media on the spiritual life, Ken asked Fr. Thomas, "how was the telegraph?" and Fr. Thomas responded, "Oh, I sent a few telegrams...."
Above all else, the dialogue had the character of two old friends sharing some sacred time and space together. The crowd was alternately in stiches at numerous, hilarious exchanges, and silent in the face of the depth and profundity of the sharing. Reflecting on his own journey, Keating, 83, said that he honestly felt very much like a beginner to the spiritual life, before the majestic love that God Is, and commented "I can’t understand why anyone would want to get married before 50 or 60, at the earliest!"
How often have you heard people explain that they are spiritual, but not religious? Here Father Thomas discusses his perspective of spirituality within his own tradition, and emphasizes the need for the religions of the world to continuously renew themselves in order for genuine spirituality to come to fruition.
Here Ken and Father Thomas further explore the distinction between spirituality and religion. They discuss the general resistance to religion many people experience, noting both the positives (disinterest in prerational interpretations; desire for direct immediate experience of spirituality, unmediated by any institution) and the negatives (any spirituality that is to extend beyond one’s own lifetime must be institutionalized—thus, the need for religion) of this resistance. Ken makes the point that the two roles of religion in our world are to "lay down the law" while simultaneously transcending it, while Father Thomas speaks to the need for the religions of today’s world to respond by emphasizing transrational contemplative practices which help bring people into direct contact with God.
Here Father Thomas further explores the important distinction between faith and the numerous belief systems that spill out of it. As he explains, "faith—when it becomes contemplative—begins to perceive the oneness behind all the religions, before the experience of god was broken down into various belief systems." And yet, he goes on to say, religion itself remains essential in the world, ideally acting as a "conveyor belt" for the developing self, moving one towards an increasingly deeper relationship with God.