Parting the clouds like water, the sun shone brightly this morning for the first time in 2 days. As we gather now for our conference, it slips behind the clouds, dimming the diamonds in the grass. From the top of a nearby sapling, a cherry red cardinal calls out. No answer. He tries again. Below, our chipmunk continues her looting operation beneath the bird feeders, darting to her nest again and again, cheeks full.
Today is our final conference. We have moved from the parables – but not from the Gospel – to prayer. Specifically, Abbot John talks about Centering Prayer.
Centering Prayer, he points out, is not new or “new age” (although it was recovered and popularized for our times by Fr. Tom Keating in the 1980’s). Indeed, it can be dated back to the Desert Monastics 2,000 years ago, and it has been practiced by many Christians since that time. Monastics, in particular, often are called to it.
Although similar to meditation – you sit in silence for 20-30 minutes – Centering Prayer differs from that secular if spiritual practice in a profound way. That is, it differs in its intention.
Centering Prayer begins with giving consent to the presence and work of God within. It is walking the pathway of Jesus, as you surrender to be in union with God’s will. It is saying, with Jesus, Not what I will, Father, but what you will.
How do you do it? Simple!
1. Choose a sacred word (something simple, like God or Peace or Mercy) and indicate your desire to give consent to the Holy Spirit to work in you. It can be helpful to begin with a word prayer like the Lord’s Prayer.
2. Get settled in a comfortable position with good posture. Breathe deeply. Sit in silence for about 20 minutes (even 10 minutes can be helpful). Abbot John made a tape for himself that begins with 2-3 minutes of peaceful music, follows with 20 minutes of silence, and concludes with quiet music. He likes that better than keeping one eye – so to speak – on the clock.
3. When thoughts arise – and they will! – remember to: Resist no thought, retain no thought, react to no thought and return to the sacred word. Some find it helpful to follow their breaths in and out.
4. Take a moment at the conclusion to re-enter your life gently, perhaps by praying a word prayer, perhaps by listening to the sounds around you.
Remember, Centering Prayer is not about self-improvement. It’s about consenting to God’s will. Surrendering. There will be times when a Centering Prayer session feels grace-filled and satisfying, and other times when you feel like you couldn’t settle down at all. But this isn’t about what we feel or think. It’s about letting God in without an agenda.
In our busy, multi-tasking and speeded-up world, Centering Prayer offers a powerful and life-giving way to connect with the One who is always within.