30 Mar 2008

Centering Prayer Basics

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In a prior post I spoke about the value of learning to become still before God. The simplest prayer form that I have encountered for learning to do this is an old monastic prayer form called Centering Prayer. I first encountered centering prayer as a college student on a retreat at a trappist monastery during holy week. A Trappist monk Basil Pennington was there and each day he took time to center with us and talk to us about prayer. It was a rather formative experience. In short centering pray is as follows:

1) Select a word that has significant meaning for your relationship with God. It can be a favored name or expression for God such as, Jesus, Spirit, God, Yahweh, Lord, etc. or a word that helps you think of God such as, love or peace.
2) Get physically comfortable and still in a place where you will be neither interrupted or distracted.
3) Whenever your mind begins to wander gently return your attention to God by saying your centering word in your mind. Use the word only when you need to. Do not repeat it endlessly like and eastern mantra. Let go of any thoughts or feelings that try to push into your mind and simply set quietly before God.
4) After 20 minutes or so, conclude your time of centering with a short prayer of thanks or perhaps the Lord’s prayer to transition your mind back out of your prayer time.

You can anticipate several normal responses initially. Most people struggle at first with maintain physical stillness. They fidget and re-position. They are annoyingly distracted by physical sensations like their nose itching or their hair touching their ear. This is not at all unusual and the solution is the same regardless of the distraction, simply and gently return you attention to your word.

As you become more comfortable with centering prayer, you will rapidly find that the physical discomforts and distractions become less of an issue. Internal thoughts will become more the problem. Day residue thoughts such as, thinking about a conversation or unfinished task will presence themselve with annoying persistence. Ideas will begin to flow or you may find yourself working through a problem. You will very likely find yourself thinking about how much time has past or wondering if you are doing what you are suppose to be doing. Just as you dismissed physical distractions with turning your attention to your word, so too can you dismiss the internal thought patterns.

You may find emotions welling up inside you after observing a centering practice regularly. I have had an overwhelming sense of fear before and others find themselves laughing or crying. It is as if the silence unmasks deeply held feelings. The Holy Spirit begins to touch deeper and deeper aspects of who you are in the silence. Once again, turn your attention to your centering word and return to an inner silence before God.

I recommend for anyone starting out that they spend approximately 20 minutes in prayer. Definitely not less. Most people need at first a good 15 minutes just to quiet their minds. I also recommend that most people practice centering prayer at least once a day for several weeks before giving up on it as a practice. You should give it at least 30 days practice before evaluating its value. I find that most people need a week or more of practice just to relax into the practice and get over thinking about what they are doing as they are doing it. Recently, I returned to practicing 20 minutes of centering prayer as part of praying one hour a day for 40 days. I prayed for ten days before I got to a place of being able to sit for twenty minutes without consulting my watch. So, give yourself time to adjust to this practice.

I would love to hear about your experiences and your questions. Blessings to you from The Practical Disciple.

4 Responses

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