During this time of social distancing and sheltering at home, it’s a perfect opportunity to learn — or refresh your knowledge of — one of the simplest and yet most spiritually rich contemplative practices available to us: Centering Prayer.
Centering Prayer was developed by Trappist monks including William Meninger, M. Basil Pennington, and Thomas Keating (see below for a list of some of their books). It was based on the medieval manual for learning contemplative prayer, The Cloud of Unknowing. Its name comes from Thomas Merton, the twentieth century monk who spoke of contemplative prayer as “centered” entirely on the presence of God.
It’s a very simple practice. It’s essentially an embodied response to the invitation of Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God” and I Thessalonians 4:11: “Aspire to live in peaceful silence.” It’s a prayer that seeks to gently be attentive to the silence between our thoughts and feelings. Following the instructions from The Cloud of Unknowing, the method of Centering Prayer involves silently reciting a short “sacred word” whenever we find ourselves caught up in distracting thoughts or feelings. So the sacred word is both a prayer in itself, but also a “reminder” that the primary attention of this way of praying is on the silence and stillness within.
Over the years, the monks and other practitioners of Centering Prayer developed a simple four-step set of instructions for practicing this method of prayer:
- Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
- 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.
- When engaged with your thoughts,1thoughts include body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections return ever-so gently to the sacred word.
- At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.2Source: https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/sites/default/files/private/method_cp_eng-2016-06_0.pdf
That’s all there is to it. The recommendation is to pray this way twice a day for 20-30 minutes each time. This is a prayer of consent: it’s not engaging in a dialogue or conversation with God so much as it is making your heart and soul gently available to the Holy Spirit so that God may act within us, at a level deeper than our thoughts, without our mental chatter getting in the way.
This video was produced by my wonderful friends Jeff Genung and Kate Sheehan Roach of Transformation365. I hope you will watch it and pray with me. They also produced the video I did previously on praying the Daily Examen.
A Few Centering Prayer Books to Get You Going
- Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart
- M. Basil Pennington, Centering Prayer
- William Meninger, 1012 Monastery Road: A Spiritual Journey
- Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing
- Cynthia Bourgeault, The Heart of Centering Prayer