Integrated Life: Centering Prayer

This week we continued our look at the integrated life and the tool of meditation to help us in the journey of integration.  Too often in the Western Church "meditation" has been considered bad or evil.  The act of meditation can be defined as: to "think deeply or focus one's mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes."  The biblical story is full of invitations for us to renew, and focus our mind and soul on God (Rom 12.2, Phil 4:8, Eph 4:23, Col 3:2, etc.).  Following is an explanation and invitation to the meditative practice of Centering Prayer, which when practiced over time, bears much spiritual fruit- it is adapted from Thomas Keating's work on Centering Prayer.

Guidelines for Centering Prayer:
I. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to god’s presence and action within.
II. 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.
III. When you become aware of thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
IV. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.
Some Explanation of the Guidelines
I. “Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.”
A. The sacred word expresses our intention to be in God’s presence and to yield to the divine action and love.
B. 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 to us. 1. Examples: Lord, Jesus, Father, Mother, Mary; or in other languages: Kyrie, Jesu, Jeshua, Abba, Mater, Maria. 2. Other possibilities: Love, Peace, Mercy, Silence, Stillness, Calm, Faith, Trust, Yes; or in other languages: Amor, Shalom, Amen.
C. Having chosen a sacred word, we do not change it during the prayer period, for that would be to start thinking again.
D. 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 to God as if gazing upon God.

II. “Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s loving presence and action within." 
A. Whatever sitting position we choose, we keep the back straight.
B. If we fall asleep, we continue the prayer for a few minutes upon awakening if we can spare the time.
C. We close our eyes to let go of what is going on around and within us.
F. We introduce the sacred word inwardly and as gently as laying a feather on a piece of absorbent cotton.

III. “When you become aware of thoughts, return ever-so–gently to the sacred word.”
A. “Thoughts” is an umbrella term for every perception including sense perceptions, feelings, images, memories, reflections, and commentaries.
B. Thoughts are a normal part of Centering Prayer.
C. By “returning ever-so-gently to the sacred word,” a minimum effort is indicated. This is the only activity we initiate during the time of Centering Prayer.
D. During the course of our prayer, the sacred word may become vague or even disappear.

Some Practical Points
1. The only thing you can do "wrong" in Centering Prayer is to not show up.
2. Begin with the amount of time that feels comfortable for you- if you can work up to 20 minutes twice per day. The end of the prayer period can be indicated by a timer.
3. The principal effects of Centering Prayer are experienced in daily life, not in the period of Centering Prayer itself.
4. Physical Symptoms:
a. We may notice slight pains, itches, or twitches in various parts of the body or a generalized restlessness. These are usually due to the untying of emotional knots in the body.  We may also notice heaviness or lightness in the extremities. This is usually due to a deep level of spiritual attentiveness. 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.
d. During this prayer we avoid analyzing our 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.

Consider this week:
Am I willing to practice centering prayer at least one or more times this week? If so, do it!  If not, why?- be gentle with yourself as you explore your why.

By Babs May-Clark