In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
- Isaiah 30:15
"The purpose of silence is to give an opportunity for the longing for God to break through the crust of the false self and our defense mechanisms, so that we can be motivated by hunger and love to pursue the transformative process untiringly."
- Thomas Keating, excerpts from last Thursday's video, "The Pursuit of Happiness," Heartfulness: Transformation in Christ
This week, we will be reviewing the practice of Centering Prayer. Some of us may be relatively new to the prayer and some have been dedicated practitioners for decades. Whatever the level of practice, we are invited to come with beginner's mind, perhaps connecting or reconnecting with our original longing for God which led us to this practice and this moment in time.
The Method of Centering Prayer
Centering Prayer is meant to facilitate the movement into contemplation, or what Gregory the Great referred to as resting in God. In Open Mind, Open Heart, Fr. Thomas says, "The fundamental purpose of Centering Prayer … is to contribute to bringing the knowledge and experience of God's love into the general consciousness of the human family." We sometimes think of prayer as words we express to a God who is "out there," and often don't recognize that God is present to us in our inmost being, with every breath we take, every beat of our heart, every thought, feeling, in all the activities of our daily life. The knowledge and experience of God's love in this prayer move us closer to becoming who God created us to be in our lives and in the lives of those with whom we live and love and interact daily.
The method of Centering Prayer is derived from ancient sources in the Judeo-Christian tradition. We find reference to this type of prayer in the Hebrew Scripture, Psalm 46:11, "Be still and know that I am God." But listen to the beginning of Chapter 46: "God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress," which speaks of the security of God's presence in our lives. We cannot be reminded of this too often. Teresa of Avila said that the trouble most people have with prayer is that we pray as if God is absent. Centuries later, we find that we do too.
The method of Centering Prayer shows us the way towards becoming still, allowing the movement into prayer, which the fourth-century monk, Evagrius, says is "the laying aside of thoughts." When we become still, we begin to experience the presence of God.
Guideline #3: Thoughts
"When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word."
"The laying aside of thoughts" may not be so easy, even for experienced practitioners. But remember: thoughts are inevitable, integral and a normal part of this prayer. Just as we are unable to stop our hearts from beating or our lungs from breathing, we will be unable to stop our brains from thinking. Remember that when we use the word "thoughts" we are using it as an umbrella term to mean any thought, feeling, emotion, body sensation or commentary. Since Centering Prayer is a prayer of consent rather than of effort, we don't try to stop our thoughts. It's helpful for us to develop a friendly attitude towards thoughts and not resist them.
By returning to the sacred word, we are letting go of the thought and returning to our intention to consent to God's presence and action within. While we don't repeat the sacred word over and over again like one would use a mantra, we don't worry if we find ourselves returning to the sacred word many times. Fr. Thomas says in Open Mind, Open Heart, "This constant starting over with patience, calm, and acceptance trains us for the acceptance of the whole of life."
Note that the guideline suggests that we return to the sacred word when engaged with our thoughts. It's when we start thinking about our thoughts that we lose our intention.
- View the video excerpt "The Method of Centering Prayer, Guideline #3: Handling Thoughts" from The Spiritual Journey Prologue. It is about 14 minutes long. A transcript is provided for you on this page.
- Journey Group registration is now open until February 1. Groups meet weekly all year beginning the week of February 11. You may sign-up here for either an in-person or Zoom video group. You will be asked to provide your first and second choice.
Resources for Further Study:
For a full description of Centering Prayer, including all four guidelines and more tips for practice, see this brochure.
You may wish to read the Introduction and Chapters 1 and 2 in Open Mind, Open Heart (20th anniversary edition); the Introduction and Chapters 2 and 4 in older editions.
You may also wish to read Chapter 9 in Open Mind, Open Heart (20th Anniversary Edition); Chapter 10 in older editions.
- An archive of previous emails may be found here.