Faith Formation / Adult Faith Formation / Small Christian Communities / Contemplative Prayer Groups / Centering Prayer
Centering Prayer is based on the method of prayer set forth in the fourteenth century English spiritual classic The Cloud of Unknowing. It’s contemporary form was developed by three Trappist monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, in the 1970s. At that time, Fr. William Meninger, Fr. Basil Pennington, and Abbot Thomas Keating began a ministry of offering workshops and retreats on this method of prayer, first to members of religious orders and then to all who came seeking a deeper prayer life and relationship with God. Eventually the movement grew and Contemplative Outreach was founded by Thomas Keating and others.
Fr. Thomas Keating
Fr. Thomas Keating
Centering Prayer is grounded in the principle of the Divine Indwelling, which holds that the Trinity is present in each of us and is the source and sustenance of our being on every level. The Divine Indwelling brings us into union with God, with all human beings, and with all of creation. Our truest self is the self created in the image of God and participating in the divine life without inhibition. Despite the presence of God with and within each of us, we often think or feel like God is absent. Thus we begin to understand that our own senses, feelings, and ideas are not always the most dependable way to discern God’s presence, will, or activity, and we also begin to understand the value of simply resting in the presence of God beyond thoughts, words, and feelings.
Centering Prayer is both a method of prayer and a relationship. In Centering Prayer as a method, we are essentially “consenting to God’s presence and action within;” we are allowing obstacles to divine union to be removed by the activity of the Holy Spirit and cultivating interior silence. As we do this, we increase our ability to let go of our own needs, desires, emotions, agendas, and reflections, which in turn increases our openness to and awareness of an ever-deepening relationship with God. In Centering Prayer as a relationship, we recognize that even in the context of all this activity to prepare ourselves for the gift of contemplation, God is already present with and within us at every moment.
What Is The Method Of Centering Prayer?
- Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
The sacred word is not sacred because of its meaning; it is sacred because of our intention. When we use the word, it is our intention to consent to God’s presence and action within. The word should be short, one or two syllables, and it should not be changed during a prayer period. (That would actively create thoughts.) You may find a word that you use for long periods of time, even for a lifetime. Examples of some sacred words are Jesus, Abba, Father, Spirit, Mother, Love, Peace, Shalom, Silence, Consent, Well, Still, Open, Amen.
- Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly, and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
Sit comfortably enough to avoid being bothered by bodily discomfort, but don’t sit so comfortably that you fall asleep. Whatever sitting position is chosen, keep your back straight. The eyes are closed to let go of what is going on around us, and the introduction of the sacred word begins the prayer.
- When you become aware of thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
“Thoughts” is an umbrella term for any idea, emotion, memory, insight, reflection, physical sensation, or anything that is perceived by the senses or created with the mind during the prayer period. Thoughts are a normal part of our lives, and they are inevitable in prayer. The notion of creating a blank mind can be frustrating and is unnecessary for this method of prayer. Whenever you become aware of a thought, simply return gently to the sacred word. According to Thomas Keating, Centering Prayer is a non-violent method of prayer, so rather than being harsh with ourselves, we return to the sacred word as “gently as laying a feather on a piece of cotton.” Remember, the sacred word is our symbol for consenting to God’s presence and action within, so whenever we use it, we reaffirm our original intention. During some prayer periods, the sacred word may become vague or even disappear.
- At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for two or three minutes.
Give yourself a couple of minutes to readjust to your immediate environment before getting up and leaving your time of prayer. In groups, this if often done with the leader softly saying the Lord’s Prayer, or some other suitable prayer.