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Centering Prayer

Source
Progression
& Orientation
Centering Prayer is a contemporary name for the practice that Jesus describes as
prayer in secret in the Sermon on the Mount. When you pray, he teaches, Enter
your inner room, close the door, pray to your ather in secret and your ather !ho
sees in secret !ill re!ard you "Matthe! #$#%. &n the course of time this prayer has
been gi'en other names such as pure prayer, prayer of faith, prayer of
simplicity, prayer of the heart, etc.
Jesus( teaching has roots in the )ld *estament. or e+ample, Eli,ah(s e+perience of
-od on Mount .oreb as sheer silence/ the pillar of cloud by !hich 0ah!eh led his
people for forty years through the desert/ the cloud in the *emple built by Solomon
at the time of its consecration/ and the e+hortation of Psalm 1#$23, !hich reads, 4e
still and 5no! that & am -od.
&n the 6e! *estament !e hear of the o'ershado!ing of Mary at the moment of the
&ncarnation/ the cloud that o'ershado!ed the disciples on the Mount of
*ransfiguration/ the silent attenti'eness of Mary of 4ethany at the feet of Jesus in
the home of Mary, Martha and 7a8arus/ and the dar5ness that co'ered the earth at
the crucifi+ion of Jesus.
Christian tradition, especially the 9esert athers and Mothers of the fourth century
interpreted this !isdom saying of Jesus as referring to the mo'ement a!ay from
ordinary psychological a!areness to the interior silence of the spiritual le'el of our
being and beyond that, to the secrecy of union !ith the 9i'ine &nd!elling !ithin us.
*his tradition !as continued by .esychasts of the Eastern )rthodo+ tradition, and in
particular by the si+th century Syrian mon5 5no!n as Pseudo:9ionysius/ Meister
Ec5hardt, ;uuysbroe5 and the ;hineland mystics/ the anonymous author of The
Cloud of Unknowing in the fourteenth century/ the Carmelite tradition e+emplified by
*eresa of <'ila, John of the Cross, *herese of 7isieu+/ and more recently by *homas
Merton.
*his tradition became 5no!n as <pophatic contemplation. &t is not in opposition to
so:called =ataphatic contemplation, !hich dra!s on the e+ercise of our rational
faculties to reach di'ine union. &n actual fact, =ataphatic contemplation is normally
necessary as a preparation for the <pophatic e+perience !hich passes beyond the
e+ercise of the human faculties to rest in -od. *he Sabbath of the )ld *estament is a
figure of this rest. Jesus in'ited his disciples to the same rest !hen he said, 7earn of
me for & am mee5 and humble of heart and you !ill find rest for your souls. ;esting
in -od is the term used by -regory the -reat in the si+th century to describe
contemplati'e prayer as understood in his time.
Christian tradition has e+cellent instructions and guidance for the beginnings of the
spiritual ,ourney, enshrined especially in the ancient practice of 7ectio 9i'ina, !hich
became the central practice of 4enedictine mon5s and nuns do!n through the ages.
*he prayerful reading of the te+ts of the )ld and 6e! *estaments led to reflection on
the mysteries of Christ/ responding !ith acts of faith, hope, and lo'e/ and finally, to
resting in -od as the fruit of discursi'e mediation and its gradual simplification. *he
three *heological >irtues ,ust mentioned came to be regarded as the principal
transforming inspirations of the .oly Spirit leading to di'ine union.
Centering Prayer puts into effect the first t!o recommendations of Jesus( formula in
Matthe! #$# by lea'ing behind all e+ternal concerns and by discontinuing, at least in
intention, the interior dialogue that usually accompanies ordinary psychological
a!areness. *he latter consists of commentaries and emotional reactions to e'ents,
people, and sense perceptions entering or lea'ing our day to day li'es.
Jesus( third recommendation : to pray in secret : seems to be the practice that later
became 5no!n in the Christian tradition as contemplati'e prayer. *hough there
remain se'eral legitimate interpretations of the !ord, contemplation, the state of
prayer that John of the Cross describes by the term infused contemplation has
come to be generally accepted in subse?uent spiritual theology as the definite
meaning.
*here is in fact, in the !ritings of the Christian mystics, e+cellent descriptions of the
full de'elopment of the spiritual ,ourney. 4ut the process of mo'ing from the
beginning to its full de'elopment in the transforming union is not so clear. *here are
many forms of Christian spirituality, some of !hich are organi8ed into stages. 4ut
the 'ery 'ariety of these recommendations ma5es it difficult for the ordinary see5er
to find a clear map or guide to negotiate them. *hese stages come to be called
respecti'ely the purgati'e, the illuminati'e, and the uniti'e !ays. *he purgati'e and
uniti'e !ays are !ell differentiated, but the path from one to the other does not
seem to ade?uately address the physical, psychological, and spiritual obstacles that
hinder the process, especially unconscious moti'ation and habits of negati'e
beha'ior.
Centering Prayer !as concei'ed as one !ay to mo'e from the beginning to the
ultimate goal of inner transformation. &t suggests a practical method of entering
!hat Jesus called the inner room by deliberately letting go of e+ternal concerns
symboli8ed by sitting comfortably, closing our eyes and consenting to the presence
and action of -od !ithin. <s this disposition of alert recepti'ity stabili8es through
regular practice t!ice daily, !e are gradually prepared by the grace of the .oly
Spirit, to pray, or more e+actly, to relate to the ather in secret. *his !as interpreted
by the 9esert athers and Mothers "as !ell as the later <pophatic tradition% to mean
letting go of all personal agendas, e+pectations for di'ine consolation, psychological
brea5throughs, and self:reflections of any 5ind. &n Centering Prayer a sacred symbol
such as a !ord from scripture, an in!ard glance to!ard -od, or noticing our breath,
helps to maintain the intent and consent of our !ill to!ard -od(s presence and action
!ithin us.
Centering Prayer consists of the first t!o stages leading to prayer in secret. *he
latter presupposes relating to -od beyond thoughts, feelings, and particular acts.
*he only initiati'e !e ta5e during the period of Centering Prayer is to maintain our
original intention of consenting to the presence and action of -od !ithin. Centering
Prayer thus leads directly into the apophatic e+perience or infused contemplation
!hich is purely -od(s gift.
*here are other !ays of mo'ing or disposing oneself for <pophatic prayer or prayer
in secret. Centering Prayer ser'es the increasing need for a place and time of silence
in daily life due to incessant noise, intrusions of the mass media, lac5 of time, and
the accelerating pace of e'eryday life.
*he theological basis of Centering Prayer is touched upon in chapter three of
Invitation to Love. *he process of 7ectio 9i'ina is described in chapter fi'e and the
theological basis of Centering Prayer is discussed more fully in the final chapter
entitled, *o!ard &ntimacy !ith -od.