Centering Prayer

Centering Prayer

One of my wife’s favorite spiritual disciplines is the practice of Centering Logo for Contemplative Outreach and Centering PrayerPrayer.  Here is how Barbara describes it:

We think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words to God: requests, intercession, thanksgiving, etc.  Centering Prayer is different. It is almost wordless.  As we enter the quiet, we believe that we are in His loving presence and we respond by opening to God: opening our hearts, minds, and our awareness to His presence

Historical Roots of Centering Prayer

Centering Prayer has its roots in the lives and prayers of the Desert Fathers.

St Antony of Egypt was an early practitioner of Centering Prayer
St Antony of Egypt 251-356 AD

These men were orthodox Christians who lived mostly in the deserts of Egypt starting in the third century. In one form or another, the spiritual discipline of Centering Prayer has been practiced ever since.

Modern Adaptations of Centering Prayer

The practice was formalized and popularized by three Trappist monks in the 1970’s.  William Meninger, Basil Pennington, and Thomas Keating published a number of books that brought structure and definition to the practice.  Father Keating describes Centering Prayer as follows:

Centering Prayer 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.

My Experience with Centering Prayer

I [Bob] have been practicing Centering Prayer since 2016. For 20 minutes a day I attempt to spend time just in adoration of my Lord in silence. But most of the time, my mind is far from silent. My mind goes 100 MPH to a hundred different places. And yet, although the progress has been slight, I have been able to be more aware of the Holy Spirit throughout my busy day in some very significant ways since I began this discipline.  And I attribute it to this spiritual discipline. I took a brief break in 2022 and found that it quickly diminished my ability to be quiet. Since then, I restarted and seemed to be able to concentrate with my mind alone in ways that I have never experienced. I use any of the following sacred words to bring me into His presence or back into His presence: Jesus; Abba, Papa, Spirit.

The Method of Centering Prayer

A summary of the method of Centering Prayer is in a brochures published by Thomas Keating.  It is available as a PDF from Contemplative Outreach (Contemplative Outreach’s Brochure)

Here is my summary:

    1. You may want to practice the Welcoming Prayer as preparation for this time. Chose a word or very short phrase that will help you focus on God and God alone. For example: Jesus, Papa, Abba, Father, Prince of Peace.
    2. Position yourself comfortably with your eyes closed and say the word or phrase you have chosen to enter into God’s presence. Introduce the word or phrase as gently as laying a baby in its crib. If I am rested and wide awake, sometimes I will lay down on a soft pillow. I then imagine laying on Jesus bosom as the apostle John did.
    3. Use as much of your focal energy as you can to keep your inner eye on the Lord – waiting on Him. Try to imagine your are in the very throne-room of God. Or that you are sitting at His feet somewhere beautiful.
    4. If your mind wanders, return again to the word or phrase you have chosen. Before you do, you may want to picture the objects of your wandering mind floating down the river of a barge. No need even to say good bye. Just let them go. Don’t worry about how many times this happens. Just gently say the word or phrase again.
    5. Do not attempt to analyze the time spent.
    6. Remember, you are in the presence of Almighty God. Stay there at least 20 minutes. Many do this twice a day. I normally practice it just once a day. I always have the goal of doing it twice a day but that rarely happens!
    7. At the end of the prayer time, when you get up from your sacred space, attempt to stay silent for at least two minutes to bring the atmosphere of silence into your everyday life.

The Fruit of Centering Prayer

In the words of Thomas Keating: “The principle fruits of centering prayer are experienced in daily life and not during the prayer period. Centering prayer familiarizes us with God’s first language which is silence.” This has been true with me. During the time, centering prayer feels very unfruitful. But over time, I have seen in very gradually grow fruit that I have longed for in my life for a long time. I am now able to pray silently for longer periods of time. I am able to connect more quickly with the movement of God in my life throughout the day. It may bear fruit more quickly in your life if you are not as much of a scatter-brain as I am!