Simple Guide to Centering Prayer
Centering Prayer is a method of contemplative prayer in which we rest silently in union with God.
In the 1970s, a group of Trappist monks realized that young people were increasingly turning to Eastern forms of meditation. The monks - Thomas Keating, William Meninger, and Basil Pennington - set out to recover and make more widely available contemplative prayer practices from the Christian tradition, which were almost completely unknown at that time. Inspired in particular by the Christian classic The Cloud of Unknowing, as well as the works of Evagrius and other Desert Fathers and the natural resting in God that is part of classical Lectio Divina, they developed the simple method of centering prayer.
• Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Sit with your back straight. You can sit on a cushion or on a chair. Set an alarm clock or timer for a short period of time, traditionally twenty minutes. It generally takes this long for the mind to begin to still. Allow your body to relax and feel yourself in your body. Begin to notice your breath flowing in and out at its natural speed.
• Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to be open to God’s presence. It can be any word with which you are comfortable and that reminds you to be present to God. Examples of a sacred word: God, Jesus, Abba, Father, Mother, Mary, Amen, Love, Listen, Peace, Mercy, Let Go, Silence, Stillness, Faith, Trust, Holy, Glory. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, silently begin to repeat the sacred word, which points you gently towards God. When you are ready, you can let go of the sacred word and simply rest in God.
It is also possible to practice centering prayer with a sacred breath as the sacred symbol instead of a sacred word. When using the sacred breath, you do not follow the breath, but simply notice it.
Sometimes people have different ways of relating to the world. If you know a sound, like a struck singing bowl or an image like a rock or the seaside would serve you better, please feel free to use sense impressions as your “word”. Originally, when Centering Prayer was first taught, it was thought of as a natural expression of Lectio Divina (Divine Reading). Now, as the practice has matured, we better understand that their are many ways to express an “intention” to be in union with the divine.
• When thoughts arise, gently let go of them and turn towards God, returning to the sacred symbol again if necessary.
• At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes. This is an important transition for bringing the prayer into daily life. If you would like, you can dedicate the period of prayer to someone at this time.
You can visit Contemplative Outreach for programs, resources and more at: http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/