By: Karen Spear, Director of the Center for Organizational Ethics
When I was in graduate school, my priest asked me how my coursework in theological ethics was affecting my faith. My response? "I feel as dry and desiccated as a bone." He invited me to join a small group of parishioners to whom he was teaching a prayer form called Centering Prayer. His invitation changed my life. I consider centering prayer one of the great gifts of my life.
Centering Prayer a method of doing contemplative prayer. Many of us have probably experienced contemplative prayer in the context of deep personal prayer, saying the rosary, or kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration. It is that deep peace and rest that comes upon us when we are focused on and content to abide in the presence of God.
The method of centering prayer was formulated by Frs. Thomas Keating, William Meninger, and Basil Pennington in the 1970s. In response to an invitation from Vatican II leaders, they developed centering prayer to revive the contemplative teachings of the early church and to make them accessible to modern believers. As such, centering prayer is thoroughly Christian and Catholic and is in no way derived from Eastern religion or Eastern mysticism.
The practice of centering prayer is simple. We sit in silence for 20 minutes, focusing our minds on a "sacred word" that represents our intention to be present to God. The sacred word can be any word or very short phrase that signals our intent. It can be as simply as “Jesus” or “God” or “rest.” As we sit in silence with the sacred word, we will notice that our minds have wandered and we are thinking. When we become aware that we are thinking, we gently turn back to our sacred word. We continue to sit in this manner – focusing on the sacred word, finding we are thinking of something else, and gently returning to our word – for 20 minutes. As our bodies and our minds begin to slow down and become still, we experience a deep and restful peace and sense of well being. Our thoughts – while not ceasing – have slipped into the background of our mind as we rest in the presence of God.
So why would anyone want to waste 20 minutes of their day sitting around doing nothing? The priest who taught me to center called his centering prayer practice "wasting time with God!" The immediate answer is that 20 minutes spent in the presence of God is good in and of itself. God has created us so that we get pleasure from being in God's presence - and it is deeply pleasant to rest in the presence of God during centering prayer.
For me personally, centering prayer was like coming home. In centering I begin to let go of the judgments and expectations I put upon myself and others. I find that a daily practice of centering prayer helps to keep me a little closer to my "true self" and smooths out the rough edges of my personality (AKA, my "false self"). In short, through centering prayer I became aware that God loves me just as I am.
It's important to note, however, that practicing centering prayer can be a difficult struggle, too. In deep prayer we become aware of our shortcomings. Furthermore, such deep prayer can also bring to light psychological issues. Indeed, Fr. Keating calls centering prayer to be "divine therapy." That is, it can be God's way of gently letting us know that we have work to do on ourselves. If you find the prayer bringing up troubling issues, it is best to seek professional psychological counseling or spiritual direction to help you deal with those issues.
If you are interested in exploring centering prayer, a good place to learn and start to practice is in a centering prayer group. There are a number of centering prayer groups in Indianapolis and they are always happy to welcome new members.
In an age in which the speed, stress, and human disconnection of daily living can leave us feeling "dry and desiccated," centering prayer can offer 20 minutes of silence and rest that reminds us that God is present to us always and we are accepted exactly as we are.