"Be still, and know that I am God" -Psalm 46:10
What is Centering Prayer?
Centering Prayer is a method designed to facilitate the development of Contemplative Prayer by preparing our faculties to receive this gift. It is an attempt to present the teaching of earlier times in an updated form. Centering Prayer is not meant to replace other kinds of prayer: rather it casts a new light and depth of meaning on them. It is at the same time a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. This method of prayer is a movement beyond conversation with Christ to communion with him.
Centering Prayer Guidelines
1. Choose a sacred word as a symbol of your intention to enter into God’s presence.
a. Sometimes a word just comes to you as you ease into your prayer. Other times it’s helpful to choose one beforehand. Pray that the Holy Spirit inspires you with one that you especially need.
b. Examples: God, Jesus, Abba, Father, Mother, Amen.
c. Other possibilities: Love, Peace, Mercy, Listen, Let Go, Silence, Stillness, Faith, Trust, Shalom, Yes.
d. Instead of a sacred word simply paying attention to your breathing may be more fruitful for you.
e. Having chosen a sacred word, do not change it during the prayer period.
f. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and silently introduce the sacred word.
2. “Sitting comfortably” means relatively comfortably so as not to encourage sleep during the time of prayer.
a. Closing your eyes allows you to let go of what is going on around and within you.
b. Introduce the sacred word softly and gently.
c. If you fall asleep continue the prayer upon awaking.
d. When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
3. “Thoughts” is an umbrella term for every perception, including sense perceptions, feelings, images, memories, plans, reflections, concepts, commentaries, and spiritual experiences.
a. Thoughts are an inevitable, integral and normal part of Centering Prayer.
b. During the course of Centering Prayer, the sacred word may become vague or disappear. Simply return to it gently.
c. At the end of your prayer time, stay in silence with eyes closed for a few minutes.
4. This additional time enables us to bring the atmosphere of silence into everyday life.
a. The recommended time for this prayer is 20 minutes. Many find two periods each day to be the most rewarding; one first thing in the morning and the other in the afternoon or early evening. With practice the time may be extended to 30 minutes or longer.
b. The end of the prayer period can be indicated by a timer which does not have an audible tick or loud sound when it goes off.
c. Possible physical symptoms during the prayer: You may notice slight pains, itches, or twitches in various parts of the body or a generalized sense of restlessness. These are usually due to the untying of emotional knots in the body. You may also notice heaviness or lightness in your extremities. This is usually due to a deep level of spiritual attentiveness. In all cases, pay no attention and ever-so-gently return to the sacred word.
d. The principal fruits of the prayer are experienced in daily life and not during the prayer period.
e. Centering Prayer familiarizes us with God’s first language which is silence.
5. During the prayer period, various kinds of thoughts may arise.
a. Ordinary wanderings of the imagination or memory.
b. Thoughts and feelings that give rise to attractions or aversions.
c. Insights and psychological breakthroughs.
d. Self-reflections such as, “How am I doing?” or, “This peace is just great!”
e.Thoughts and feelings that arise from the unloading of the unconscious.
f. When engaged with any of these thoughts return ever-so-gently to your sacred word.
6. During this prayer avoid analyzing your experience, harboring expectations, or aiming at some specific goal such as:
a. Repeating the sacred word continuously.
b. Having no thoughts.
c. Making the mind a blank.
d. Feeling peaceful or consoled.
e. Achieving a spiritual experience.
f. It is not a technique but a way of cultivating a relationship with God.
g. It is not a relaxation exercise but it may be refreshing.
h. It is not self-hypnosis but a way to quiet the mind while maintaining its alertness.
iIt is not a para-psychological experience but an exercise of faith, hope and love.
j. It is not spontaneous prayer, but simply resting in God’s abiding presence.
What Centering Prayer Is and Is Not
a. It is not a technique but a way of cultivating a relationship with God.
b. It is not a relaxation exercise but it may be refreshing.
c. It is not self-hypnosis but a way to quiet the mind while maintaining its alertness.
d. It is not a para-psychological experience but an exercise of faith, hope and love.
e. It is not spontaneous prayer, but simply resting in God’s abiding presence.
Definition by Thomas Keating (a founder of Centering Prayer, was abbot all through the 60s and 70s at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts):
Centering Prayer is a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God's presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship.
Centering Prayer is not meant to replace other kinds of prayer. Rather, it adds depth of meaning to all prayer and facilitates the movement from more active modes of prayer — verbal, mental or affective prayer — into a receptive prayer of resting in God. Centering Prayer emphasizes prayer as a personal relationship with God and as a movement beyond conversation with Christ to communion with Him.
The source of Centering Prayer, as in all methods leading to contemplative prayer, is the Indwelling Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The focus of Centering Prayer is the deepening of our relationship with the living Christ. The effects of Centering Prayer are ecclesial, as the prayer tends to build communities of faith and bond the members together in mutual friendship and love.