Focus for the Week: Centering Prayer and Meditation
Centering prayer, along with Christian meditation, Lectio Divina, and solitude are spiritual practices that help develop our awareness beyond what our senses and mind allow us to experience. In our western 21st century culture of busyness, speed, and noise, these ancient practices are more needed than ever. Centering prayer is one way to practice being totally open to God. As one of my teachers has said, “Totally available, all the way down to that innermost point of your being; deeper than your thinking, deeper than your feelings, deeper than your memories and desires, deeper than your usual psychological sense of yourself – even deeper than your presence! …where, in the words of the well-loved monastic formula, your life is ‘hidden with Christ in God.’” Simply put, it is a way of quieting the heart in order to rest in God alone.
In the 1960s and 1970s three Trappist monks (Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington and William Meninger) sought to revive this ancient meditative, silent prayer practice. Unlike eastern meditation that attempts to clear the mind of all thoughts, centering prayer assumes that the person praying will have thoughts. Through the use of a “sacred word” thoughts are gently released into the hands of God allowing one to return to the prayer. Centering prayer is sitting in the presence of God, giving God our love and attention; surrendering our thoughts as they arise. The discipline is in the “showing up,” ideally twice daily for sits of 20 minutes each. It is similar to observing Sabbath rest: surrendering our calendars, agendas, plans and thoughts to express our intention to be totally available to the One who created us and loves us.
The method is remarkably simple and yet requires discipline to practice.
- Sit in a comfortable position on a chair, mat or cushion.
- Choose your sacred word that symbolizes your intention to receive God’s presence and action with an open heart. (For example, love, peace, shepherd, grace, breath. There is no wrong choice.)
- Set a timer for 20 minutes. Using a timer allows total surrender without having to keep checking a clock. There are smart phone apps available with meditation timers. I use Insight Timer, but a kitchen timer works fine also.
- Closing your eyes is helpful. Picture yourself as a young child crawling up onto your parent’s lap and laying your head on your parent’s chest. You don’t ask for anything. All you want is to rest in the closeness and love of your parent.
- Take time to quiet yourself. Practice surrendering by letting your thoughts go by quietly as you think your sacred word.
- Don’t become agitated if you have to say your sacred word several times, or even more than several times. If all you did in 20 minutes was continually express your desire to be closer to God, that would not be a bad thing!
- When the timer chimes after 20 minutes you can gently come out of your silence by saying the Lord’s Prayer.
The fruits of centering prayer (love and peace) are not immediately evident. The inner transformation accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit takes place gradually over time. Usually it is other people who notice the change. So why would anyone want to take on such a rigorous practice that doesn’t have an immediate result? The contemplative tradition has much to offer to our fractious world. And if you have ever observed someone for whom the practice is a part of their everyday life, you would say to yourself as I did years ago, “I want to be like that! I want to live and love like that!”
The CP Charlotte website states it like this: “While we are formed by our respective denominations, we are united in our common search for God and the experience of the living Christ through centering prayer. We affirm our solidarity with the contemplative dimension of other religions and sacred traditions, with the needs and rights of the whole human family, and with all creation.” While centering prayer seems like a very private practice, it is truly global in its vision and timeless in its call to faithfulness.