The Welcoming Prayer (by Father Thomas Keating)
Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today
because I know it’s for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons,
situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem,
approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation,
condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and
God’s action within. Amen.
Welcoming is an act of hospitality. We, (maybe it is just me) easily say hello to joy, love, and all the “positive” emotions, but it seems difficult to know what to do with our other emotions. We have a proclivity to “stuff” or try to ignore those emotions like bad neighbors. When we welcome our negative experiences and emotions, we are more present to our whole selves, and better able to bring that whole self to God in humility and honesty.
The Welcome Prayer is one of welcoming the emotions we are experiencing, and then letting go of the things we cannot control. It is a prayer that invites us to look at our emotions and the events of our lives, acknowledging them and being present to them, so we can then release them. It is as though we say to ourselves, “Ok, I am feeling this way. Lord, you see it, I see it. This is where I feel it in my body. I welcome (naming this feeling). Can we sit with it for a few minutes?” And then we release those emotions and feelings.
David G. Benner, in his book Opening to God, which I think is an excellent book on prayer, has written a very concise and understandable section on the Welcoming Prayer.
He says, “Before we can welcome an emotion, we must bring it into consciousness. We must face it directly and feel it as a sensation in our bodies…Do not judge, analyze or try to control whatever you are experiencing.” (p. 154) We really cannot welcome or release what we do not acknowledge. How can we bring something to the Lord that we are not noticing completely or pretending does not exist? We have to admit that at this moment we are feeling something we do not enjoy.
Then, he goes on the say, “When resistance is replaced by welcome, we remove the power of these unchosen events to disturb our peace. Once we respond to them with hospitality, their disruptiveness begins to diminish-sometimes with astounding speed.” (p. 155) There were seasons when my children were quite young, where they were disruptive to our family. Times when they would quarrel more and made it hard for the rest of us. I found that paying more attention to that one child, welcoming them into my presence, diminished the disruptive behavior. They were suddenly seen and observed, and maybe that was all that was needed. There have also been times, when I have been with people who were very upset and I’ve given them a place to talk about what is going on, acknowledging their feelings. When I’ve done this, it has been interesting to watch them relax. So, maybe this phase of the welcome practice is a time when we extend that hospitality to ourselves and our feelings, as we share them with God.
Benner makes a crucial distinction when he says, “It is important to recognize, however, that what we are welcoming is our inner response to the present moment, not the whole set of circumstances that might surround it.” (p. 155) In other words, we are not welcoming an illness, or people who are abusive. We are bringing our emotions and feelings that we are presently experiencing to the forefront of our consciousness.
One last note from the section in David Benner’s book: “What we must release is not simply the negative feelings but also the assumption that to be happy we need to be in control.” (p. 155) Maybe this is the most difficult part of the Welcoming Prayer. We can only keep so many ping-pong balls under water at one time. We cannot control everything and realistically, very little. This makes me think of another prayer, but that is for another time.
There are many others who have written on this subject, but two resources that I highly recommend: Opening to God, by David G. Benner on different prayer practices, and an online resource from Contemplative Outreach. https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/category/category/welcoming-prayer