Centering prayer is a practice that opens us to the gift of contemplative prayer. During Contemplative prayer we sit with God. We open our mind, heart and body to God who is beyond thoughts, words and emotions. Contemplative Prayer is considered the pure presence of God.
Contemplative prayer is like when we sit with a lover or a friend. No words need to be said. Centering prayer does not replace other forms of prayer. It complements them. It is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster our relationship with God.
“In 1974, Father William Meninger, a Trappist monk and retreat master at St. Josephs Abbey in Spencer, Mass. found a dusty little book in the abbey library, The Cloud of Unknowing. As he read it he was delighted to discover that this anonymous 14th century book presented contemplative meditation as a teachable, spiritual process enabling the ordinary person to enter and receive a direct experience of union with God.
This form of meditation, recently known as ‘Centering Prayer’ (from a text of Thomas Merton) can be traced from and through the earliest centuries of Christianity. The Centering Prayer centers one on God.
The Cloud was written, not in Latin but in Middle English – which means that it was intended for laymen as well as priests and monks. Father Meninger saw that it was a simple book on the ultimate subject, with only 75 brief chapters.
He quickly began teaching contemplative prayer according to The Cloud of Unknowing at the Abbey Retreat House. One year later his workshop was taken up by his Abbot, Thomas Keating, and Basil Pennington, both of whom had been looking for a teachable form of Christian contemplative meditation to offset the movement of young Catholics toward Eastern meditation techniques.
Ten years later, Abbot Keating, now retired and a member of Father Meninger’s community of St. Benedict’s in Colorado, initiated his highly organized and effective Contemplative Outreach, Ltd. in order to facilitate a spirituality focused on Centering Prayer.”
Summarized in my words, Centering Prayer is four simple steps.
- Select a sacred word as the symbol of your intent to open yourself to God’s presence and action within.
- Sit comfortably, close your eyes and interiorly repeat the sacred word slowly and silently.
- When you become aware of thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, return ever so gently to your sacred word.
- At the end of the centering prayer session, remain in silence for a minute or two before you resume your daily activities.
For many, extended silence is very difficult. Don’t become discouraged. You can never fail at Centering Prayer. God loves you and is delighted you have taken the time to sit!
Start small. Take baby steps. Perhaps initially you will only be able to handle five minutes. Gradually increase the time frame of your session to fifteen or twenty minutes. Slowly incorporate a second centering prayer time into your day.
I also encourage you to find a local centering prayer group. They usually meet weekly. Centering Prayer in community is powerful!
Intimacy with God: An Introduction to Centering Prayer by Thomas Keating
Open Mind, Open Heart 20th Anniversary Edition by Thomas Keating
Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault
The Path of Centering Prayer by David Frenette
 Contemplative Prayer: The Teachings of Father William Meninger O.C.S.O.
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Since the time of the Desert Fathers in the third century, Finley begins, Christian mystics have practiced meditation as a way of opening to the direct presence of God in daily life. Legendary seekers such as Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Meister Eckhart explored how meditation can lead us beyond the closed horizon of the ego, to an interior and holy refuge that is always available to us. On Christian Meditation, James Finley offers a gentle introduction to this all-transforming way of life, and the ever-deepening realization of oneness with Christ it leads us to. (Based upon his book, Christian Meditation.)
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