If you are competitive like me, you may hear an inner dialogue when someone says they’ve done something admirable: I wonder if I could do that? or, I could do that better (a thought that started my 26-year-career in direct sales). Even though competition often brings out the best in me, centering prayer is one thing I do that is non-competitive. It’s also the best thing I do and it could be the best thing YOU do.
Unlike most things I’ve done to improve myself, I didn’t seek this type of prayer out. But God knew I needed it.
Weekly church attendance and Bible study didn’t calm down my inner rough spots. I’d go to Church or read my Bible and then continue to act in unChristian-like behaviors. Until I discovered this new method of praying. Without centering prayer, I’d be a hard-driven, competitive, crazy woman. I’m pretty sure about that.
What You Get From Centering Prayer
- A deepened relationship with your best friend, Jesus.
- Spiritual gifts you hoped for but never thought you’d get.
- Answers to questions.
I confess to being a type A. I can’t help myself. It’s how I’m wired. I’ve always got to be doing something well, usually multiple-somethings. And I like to do them as well as I can.
Excellence is a high value of mine, but not to the point of perfection. I lean towards the Quakers who intentionally create one square in their quilts that’s “off” a little…the God square. This less-than-perfect square reminds them only God is perfect. I like that. I like most things that work to keep me humble. It’s so easy to get full of yourself, isn’t it? This one thing—the best thing you and I can do—started out hard for me. Why? Because I could not judge it. One of the rules of the centering prayer method: God is in control of the agenda. Not you or me. He controls the outcome. Still with me?
There was no DOing anything. Instead, in centering prayer you give permission for Someone else to run things for a while. Sure, you may think. How hard can that be?
This one thing involves sitting, which I do plenty of as a writer. But a centering prayer sit involves a different type of sitting. Back straight, legs preferably folded, body relaxed. Alertness.
Centering prayer brings DOing things into proper balance and order.
How I Learned the Method of Centering Prayer
Centering prayer happened to me by happy accident. Many people attend centering prayer workshops or groups to learn the method. God was my instructor. I describe how he introduced me to this new way of praying to me in Chapter 13 of my book, God’s Patient Pursuit of My Soul. The short version? God got a bit irritated with how long I spent justifying a request for his help for another person. Somehow He imprinted the following question within me, a sort of cough that got my attention. It sounded like this: “What part of ‘I know everything’ do you not understand?” That got me to shut up and sit still pretty quick.
Apparently I had been doing a wee bit too much talking during my prayers. Know anybody who talks too much? What do YOU do with them? A-huh.
After a while, I began hearing about Thomas Keating and centering prayer. I didn’t know what it was.
Contemplative Outreach co-founder Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk, and two fellow monks (Fathers Pennington and Meninger) created and named this method of praying after a phrase Thomas Merton used. Merton is one of four great Americans the pope cited in his 2015 U.S. congressional speech. Thomas Merton, also a Trappist monk, described contemplative prayer as “centered entirely on the presence of God.”
The two parts of the prayer that I like the most are
- It is a receptive, not concentrative, form of prayer. Receptive means receiving something, being open to someone giving me a gift or meeting a new person. I like that approach to prayer.
- You don’t have to do anything but consent to be in God’s presence. You don’t have the agenda; He does. You don’t have to come up with any words; silence is the order and language of this prayer.
I think of my 20-minutes of centering prayer as little valentines to God. When I notice my thoughts veer away from Him, I intentionally release those thoughts, then gently pay attention to God’s presence. once again. That release of our thoughts are valentines, I say. Some prayer times, God gets lots of valentines from me.
I’d Still be Arguing with God
If I hadn’t discovered centering prayer, I would still struggle and argue with God about how life’s going and how frustrated I am with it. The magnificent graces and healing that take place unbeknownst to me during centering prayer have transformed me, not by my doing, but by God’s grace and mercy. He answered questions I didn’t even know I had. And smoothed significant rough spots without my even knowing it.
Centering prayer offers you the deepest union with God you can achieve while still here on earth. But don’t take my word for it.
Click to see my memoir for more on centering prayer and my other books here.
Click here for an explanation of the method of centering prayer at Contemplative Outreach.
I recommend Keating’s spiritual classic Open Mind, Open Heart (half a million copies sold) and Cynthia Bourgeault’s guidebook Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening.
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