Centering Prayer

By Lorie Martin
Guest writer - used with permission 

 

The Best Gift to Give God
“But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door,
and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”
(Matthew 6:6 NAB)

Practicing Centering Prayer has become one of my favourite times with God. It is an ancient Christian prayer exercise that, when I first heard of it, I thought would be really easy. At first it seemed so uneventful that I thought there must be something wrong. Was I doing it right? Was anything happening with me and God?

As I have continued practicing this method of contemplative prayer I have come to see some of the value of it and the good fruit in my life, and I now love meeting God in this way. It is the exercise I miss the most if I miss doing it. I often feel the Lord leading me to do it and it is one of the Spiritual Disciplines that I endeavour to practice daily.  

Contemplative Prayer is opening our whole being, heart and mind, to God. There are times to use words in prayer and to interact with God; however, this contemplative prayer exercise takes us beyond thoughts, words, feelings, and actions. It is an invitation to open our awareness to God, who we know by faith, is within us (1 John 3:24). Centering Prayer helps us develop our faculties to receive communion with God rather than conversation with God.

I’ve heard it said that Centering Prayer familiarizes us with God’s first language, which is silence. I’ve also heard it said that God loves meeting us in this manner the most since we are so clearly invited, “Be still and know that I am God” and the Psalmist speaks of quieting himself at times instead of crying to God (Psalm 46:10; 131:2 KJV). I do like the fact that during this time in prayer I am not asking anything of God, nor am I am engaging to listen for anything for myself; this allows us simply to be together and that is beautiful and it is enough.

The principle fruits of the prayer are experienced in daily life and not during the prayer period. Centering Prayer is not limited to the “felt” presence of God but is rather a deepening of faith in God’s abiding presence. It is not reflective or spontaneous prayer, but simply resting in God.


Prayer Exercise 
             Centering Prayer         Suggested time: 20 minutes

To Begin – We choose a sacred word as a symbol that expresses our intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.

(a) The sacred word is chosen during a brief period of prayer asking the Holy Spirit to inspire us with one that is suitable for this time with Him.
Examples: God, Jesus, Peace, Trust, Abba, Yes, etc.

(b) The sacred word is said when we wander off in our thoughts, and helps us come back to an awareness of God’s presence with us. It is not to be used repetitively. It is to be spoken quietly within to gently turn us towards God.

(c) Instead of a sacred word, a simple glance toward the Divine Presence or focusing on one’s breathing may be more suitable for some people.

 

1) Sit comfortably with backs straight so as not to encourage sleep during this time. We close our eyes as a symbol of letting go of what is going on around and within us. Legs and arms need to be set comfortably as straight as possible to rest for the full 20 minutes.

2) We introduce the sacred word inwardly as gently as laying a feather on a piece of absorbent cotton.

  • Should we fall asleep, we continue with the prayer when we awake. When engaged with our thoughts, we return ever so gently to the sacred word. Thoughts are inevitable, an integral and a normal part of Centering Prayer. Thoughts include body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections. They may be ordinary wanderings of the imagination or memories. Thoughts and feelings that come may bring feelings of attraction or aversion. Insights and psychological breakthroughs may come, as well as self reflections such as, “How am I doing?” or, “This peace is just great!” They all arise from the unloading of the unconscious mind. When you realize you may have become engaged with any of these thoughts return gently to your sacred word, leading you back to an awareness of God’s presence.
  • We avoid analyzing our experience, holding expectations, or aiming at any goal such as: having no thoughts, making the mind a blank, feeling peaceful, repeating the sacred word continuously, or achieving a spiritual experience.
  • We may notice slight pains, itches, or twitches in parts of our body, or a generalized restlessness. These are usually due to the untying of emotional knots in the body. We may notice heaviness or lightness in our extremities. This is usually due to a deep level of spiritual attentiveness. In all cases we pay no attention and gently return to the sacred word and to focus on God.

3) This prayer normally lasts for 20 minutes.

  • It is recommended that we practice this exercise twice daily, first thing in the morning and in the afternoon or early evening. With practice the time may be extended to 30 minutes or longer. (Once a day works well, too.)
  • Using a quiet timer will help to tell us when the time is done. In a group setting it is nice to be brought back from the prayer time with someone leading in the Lord’s Prayer or another gentle form of re-entry.

4) Remain silent at the end of the prayer period for a couple of minutes. The additional 2 minutes enables us to bring the atmosphere of silence into everyday life.

I heard one of my favourite comments after leading a Centering Prayer time which my friend, Eric, was attending. I thought that fifteen minutes would be long enough for our first time doing this together. I wondered if some of the people attending the retreat might not be able to focus like this for very long or find it very uncomfortable.  Being silent, especially in a room full of people, can feel like a long time, even though doing this together in a group is a very wonderful experience. I was concerned that this lively group would be grumbling when we finally moved from the prayer time. However, instead of any negative complaining, I heard Eric sigh and say, “No, I don’t want to stop this.” Thankfully it isn’t expensive, doesn’t need a lot of equipment, and can be taken with you into every day.

One day I saw some lovely fruit coming from my Centering Prayer times. A lot of busy activity was happening around me on this particular day, yet I was able to lightly let each thing go and stay in a deep peacefulness. It wasn’t until later that I realized that my heart had taken Centering Prayer with me into the day. 

Andrea Kastner, a well-learned teacher and encouraging facilitator of Soulstream, had some brilliant insights into Centering Prayer that she graciously shared with me. She writes:

 “Centering Prayer is very hard at first. Everyone who has practiced contemplative prayer/centering prayer over the ages says this same thing. It takes a LOT of practice. It gets easier, then it gets harder, then it gets easier…. In a large sense it is the practicing itself that holds the transformative power of the prayer. For one thing, staying with it, no matter what the immediate experience/‘effect’ shows us just how deeply addicted we are to our belief that we can improve ourselves spiritually by trying hard. Most of us expect there will be some reward, including the reward of feeling like we are ‘getting it’ or feeling peaceful. It is helpful to remember that all we are doing is making ourselves available, to the best of our human ability that day, to receive the love of God pouring around and through us. God is doing the transforming in us whether we feel it or not.  Everything that happens is a gift from God: our ability to ‘show up’ in the first place when there are so many other demands from the world – even our desire to show up on the days when we avoid it or forget to show up, our noticing our frustration at not being able to pay attention for very long, and the more rare moments when we glimpse the face of God gazing at us with love. It’s all a gift. And God is so touched, so delighted when we make even the smallest of steps. 

“The alertness or paying attention, the ‘being present with God,’ is important and not quite the same thing as the kind of cosy nestling up one might do in another kind of prayer such as the kind of rest we might experience in imaginative prayer where we might picture ourselves as a small child snuggled in God’s arms. 

“I find it helps to think of this kind of rest as the kind that comes from stopping. Where I stop trying. Stop planning. Stop trying to figure things out. It is a giving up of all effort for 20 minutes.  In time, stopping brings rest; rest is the result of stopping.

“It is a big challenge for us to enter into this prayer as a response to God, out of the place of our desire to be with God and enjoy God, rather than out of our more usual place: the habit of doing, or trying to achieve yet one more thing. Again and again we meet this mistaken impulse, this weakness in ourselves. Perhaps with a little light humour and the reminder that Jesus understands our human weakness, and without beating ourselves up when we notice we are back in our habit again, we can just gently return to our word, the sign of our desire, our intention.”

I’d like to invite you to ponder two great phrases that Andrea gave:
“Being present to God.” And “Rest is the result of stopping.”

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Copyright Lynda Chalmers
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