Centering prayer is one spiritual practice that helps me slow down to be with God.
In April on this blog, we are looking at the keys of slowing down to spend time with God in stillness, slowness, and quiet time with God. On my Thursday posts, I pick one theme (or person of faith) to explore deeper. I call this series Tending the Holy Thursdays.
Don’t forget to get the updated handout called “Slowing Down to be with God.” It contains ideas, resources, and questions to consider when getting off the busyness treadmill to abide, to be with God in prayer. You can download this free guide by clicking the button at the end of the post.
I am excited to welcome guest blogger, Kevin Morley. Keven is a spiritual seeker who runs a blog called Satori Mind (www.satorimind.co.uk). Kevin uses silent prayer and contemplation every day in his journey of spiritual growth.
Welcome to the Healthy Spirituality blog, Kevin!
“Silence is the language God speaks; everything else is a mistranslation”
Father Thomas Keating
Who is Thomas Keating?
Thomas Keating is a Catholic Trappist monk who is now in his 90’s, but in the 1970’s pioneered, or rather revived, the ancient form of Christian silent prayer – contemplation. Together with two fellow monks of St Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer Massachusetts, they developed a modern form of contemplative prayer called Centering Prayer. The goal of this practice is to quiet the mind and enter into an inner silence and stillness, thus communing with the living God.
This path is well trodden, and has many tracks to follow for those that wish to pursue it.
What are the Christian Roots of Centering Prayer?
Contrary to the views of some, contemplative prayer has a long Christian history, starting with Christ’s vigil into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. Some call Jesus “the first contemplative.”
St Augustine taught that contemplation was essential for the soul to find God.
In the 3rd and 4th Centuries AD many hermits and monastics went out into the deserts of Egypt in order to focus their minds of God. The old word for connecting with God, “prayer” was replaced with a new word, “cotemplatio”. The Desert Fathers (as they became known) felt that the word “prayer” has become tainted with the excesses of the now Christianised Roman Empire.
In the Middle Ages, the monasteries were havens for preserving classical and Biblical learning. In many ways they even preserved civilization itself. These monastics also preserved the contemplative tradition that had been handed down to them. The Benedictines developed a meditative practice called “Lectio Divina”, or divine reading. In this way the monks were taught to read scripture slowly, carefully, prayerfully, savoring every word.
Try it – it’s harder than you think!
The Cloud of Unknowing is a key 14th Century English text that has been very influential down the centuries. In the book the anonymous writer urges the reader to forget all worldly concerns and flee the mind into the “Cloud of Unknowing” that connects us to God.
Many of the medieval Christian contemplative and meditative traditions were lost during the Reformation. To this day, there is no real silent prayer tradition in the Protestant church, which I think is a shame.
Many Catholics too, struggle with silent prayer. They feel it is “for the mystics” only, and not for Joe average like them. Keating would encourage these people, urging that this practice is for everyone. God desires to know us all in this way; it’s not just for elite spiritual athletes.
How Do I Practice Centering Prayer?
The actual process of Centering Prayer is really quite simple. It’s a 4-stage process:
- Settle down in a chair with your back straight; feet flat on the floor, arms resting in your lap.
- Pick a centering word, usually something simple, like “God” or “love”
- Repeat the word with every inhalation and/or exhalation.
- When your attention wanders (as it will!) bring your mind back to the prayer word.
That’s it! Do this for 20 minutes once/twice a day, and you will grow spiritually, in a big way.
Remember – contemplation is simple, but it’s not always easy!
As Keating himself says:
“Centering Prayer is a receptive method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself.”
Centering Prayer leads the way to union with God himself. It just takes faith, and a little persistence. Persistence often pays off in contemplation.
How Can I Learn More about Thomas Keating and Centering Prayer?
Thomas has written a range of books for you to read up on his ideas, plus he has a number of interesting videos on YouTube to check out.
In 1984 Keating founded “Contemplative Outreach Ltd”, an organization that promotes and supports contemplation and its practitioners through a wide variety of resources, workshops and retreats.
Keating’s final legacy will perhaps be a contribution to the continuation of a timeless, perennial tradition that stretches back to Jesus and beyond. Keating noticed the similarities that exist between the contemplative and meditation traditions of the world’s religions; it’s for this reason that he was keen to promote inter-religious dialogue, throughout his life.
In other words, Keating was always one to build bridges, not walls; he was always bringing people together, in one – prayerful – spirit.
Thank you, Kevin for such a wonderful overview of centering prayer and Thomas Keating. Personally I know centering prayer deepens my time with God and often helps me hear his voice.
Don’t forget to download your free updated guide “Slowing Down to be with God” by clicking the button below.
How have you used centering prayer and how has this practice help you slow down to be with God?