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THE CENTRING (CENTERING) PRAYER
Dr Alex Tang
14:14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still."
PS 46:10 "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."
PS 62:5 Find rest, O my soul, in
God alone; my hope comes from him.
1. Contemplative Prayer
We may think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words. But this is only one expression. Contemplative prayer is the opening of mind and heart – our whole being – to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words and emotions. We open our awareness to God whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing – closer than consciousness itself. Contemplative prayer is a process of interior purification leading, if we consent, to divine union.
2. The Method of Centering Prayer
Centering prayer is a method designed to deepen the relationship with Christ and to facilitate the development of contemplative prayer by preparing our facilities to cooperate with this gift. It is an attempt to present the teaching of earlier times (e.g., The Cloud of Unknowing) in an updated form and put a certain order and regularity into it. It is not meant to replace other kinds of prayer; it simply puts other kinds of prayer into a new and fuller perspective. During the time of prayer, we consent to God’s presence and action within. At other times our attention moves outward to discover God’s presence everywhere else. Unlike New Age or Buddhism meditation, Centring prayer is not emptying our minds but stilling or quietening our minds so that we can listen to Christ. It is Christ centered.
3. The Guidelines
3.1 Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
3.2 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.
3.3 When you are aware of thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
3.4 At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.
4. Explanation of the Guidelines
4.1 “Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.”
4.1.1 The sacred word expresses our intention to be in God’s presence and to yield to divine action.
4.1.2 The sacred word should be chosen during a brief period of prayer asking the Holy Spirit to inspire us with one that is especially suitable for us.
a. Examples: Lord, Jesus, Abba, Father, Mother
b. Other possibilities: Love, Peace, Shalom, Silence.
4.1.3 Having chosen a sacred word, we do not change it during the prayer period, for that will be to start thinking again.
4.1.4 A simple inward gaze upon God may be more suitable for some persons than the sacred word. In this case, one consents to God’s presence and action by turning inwardly towards God as if gazing upon him. The same guidelines apply to the sacred gaze as to the sacred word.
4.2 “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.”
4.2.1 By “sitting comfortably’ is meant relatively comfortably; not so comfortably that we encourage sleep, but sitting comfortably enough to avoid thinking about the discomfort of our bodies during this time of prayer.
4.2.2 Whatever sitting position we choose, we keep the back straight.
4.2.3 If we fall asleep, we continue the prayer for a few minutes upon wakening if we can spare the time.
4.2.4 Praying in this way after a main meal encourage drowsiness. Better to wait an hour at least before centering prayer. Praying this way just before retiring may disturb one’s sleep pattern.
4.2.5 We close our eyes to let go of what is going on around and within us.
4.2.6 We introduce the sacred word inwardly and as gently as laying a feather on a piece of absorbent cotton.
4.3 “When you are aware of thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.”
4.3.1 “Thoughts” is an umbrella term for every perception including perceptions, feelings, images, memories, reflections, and commentaries.
4.3.2 Thoughts are a normal part of centering prayer.
4.3.3 By “ returning ever-so-gently to the sacred word,” a minimum of effort is indicated. This is the only activity we initiate during the time of centering prayer.
4.3.4 During the course of our prayer, the sacred word may become vague and even disappear.
4.4 “At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.”
4.4.1 If this prayer is done in a group, the leader may slowly recite the Our Father during the additional two or three minutes while the other listen.
4.4.2 The additional two or three minutes give the psyche time to readjust to the external senses and enable us to bring the atmosphere of silence into daily life.
5. Some Practical Points
5.1 The minimum time for this prayer is twenty minutes. Two periods are recommended each day, one first thing in the morning, and one in the afternoon or early evening.
5.2 The end of the prayer period can be indicated by a timer, provided it does not have an audible tick or loud sound when it goes off.
5.3 The principal effects of centering prayer are experienced in the daily life, not in the period of centering prayer itself.
5.4 Physical symptom:
a. We may notice slight pains, itches, or twitches in various parts of the body, or a generalized restlessness. These are usually due to emotional knots in the body.
b. We may also notice heaviness or lightness in the extremities. This is usually due to a deep level of spiritual attentiveness.
c. In either case, we pay no attention, or we allow the mind to rest briefly in the sensation and then return to the sacred word.
5.6 A support group praying and sharing together once a week helps maintain one’s commitment to the prayer.
6. Points for Further Development
6.1 During this prayer, we avoid analyzing our experience, harboring expectations, or aiming to some specific goals such as the following:
a. Repeating the sacred word continuously.
b. Having no thoughts.
c. Making the mind blank.
d. Feeling peaceful or consoled.
e. Achieving a spiritual experience.
6.2 What centering prayer is not:
a. It is not a technique.
b. It is not a relaxation exercise.
c. It is not a form of self-hypnosis.
d. It is not a charismatic gift.
e. It is not a parapsychological phenomenon.
f. It is not limited to the “felt” presence of God.
g. It is not discursive meditation of affective prayer.
6.3 What centering prayer is:
a. It is at the same time a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship.
b. It is an exercise of faith, hope and love.
c. It is a movement beyond conversation with Christ to communion.
d. It habituates us to the language of God which is silence.
We begin our prayer by disposing our body. Let it be relaxed and calm, but ever inwardly alert.
The root of prayer is interior silence. We may think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words. But this is only one expression. Deep prayer is the laying aside of thoughts. It is the opening of mind and heart, body and feelings – our whole being – to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond words, thoughts, and emotions. We do not resist them or suppress them. We accept them as they are and go beyond them, not by effort, but by letting them all go by. We open our awareness to the Ultimate Mystery whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing – closer than consciousness itself. The Ultimate Mystery is the ground in which our being is rooted, the Source from whom our life emerges at every moment.
We are totally present now, with the whole of our being, in complete openness, in deep prayer. The past and future – time itself – are forgotten. We are here in the presence of the Ultimate Mystery. Like the air we breathe, this divine Presence is all around us and within us, distinct from us, but never separate from us. We may sense this Presence drawing us from within, as if touching our spirit and embracing it, or carrying us beyond ourselves into pure awareness.
We surrender to the attraction of interior silence, tranquility, and peace. We do not try to feel anything, reflect about anything. Without effort, without trying, we sink into this Presence, letting everything else go. Let love alone speak: the simple desire to be one with the Presence, to forget self, and to rest in the Ultimate Mystery.
This Presence is immense, yet so humbling; awe-inspiring, yet so gentle; limitless, yet so intimate, tender and personal. I know that I am known. Everything in my life is transparent in this Presence. It knows everything about me – all my weaknesses, brokenness, sinfulness – and still loves me infinitely. This Presence is healing, strengthening, refreshing – just by its Presence. It is nonjudgmental, self-giving, seeking no reward, boundless in compassion. It is like coming home to a place I should never have left, to an awareness that was somehow always there, but which I did not recognize. I cannot force this awareness, or bring it about. A door opens within me, but from the other side. I seem to have tasted before the mysterious sweetness of this enveloping, permeating Presence. It is both emptiness and fullness at once.
We wait patiently; in silence, openness, and quiet attentiveness; motionless within and without. We surrender to the attraction to be still, to be loved, just to be.
How shallow are all the things that upset and discourage me! I resolve to give up the desires that trigger my tormenting emotions. Having tasted true peace, I can let them all go by. Of course, I shall stumble and fall, for I know my weakness. But I will rise at once, for I know my goal. I know where my home is.
(adapted Thomas Keating)
 Lectio divina – reading or more exactly, listening to the Bible; the most ancient way of developing the friendship of Christ by using scripture texts as topics of conversation with Christ.
updated 24 December 2007
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