“When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door,…
(Matthew 6: 6).
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 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. discovered 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 that enabled the lay person to enter and receive a direct experience of union with God.
He quickly began to teach 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 internally repeat the sacred word slowly and silently.
- When you engage your 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. 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.
I teach centering prayer in both church and college/university settings. Please contact me for more information. I welcome the opportunity to visit with your community.
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