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A Centering Prayer period typically should last for twenty minutes. As one develops the practice this period can be extended. Two periods of the prayer are recommended daily, one first thing in the morning and a second in the afternoon or evening. The method of Centering Prayer is based on four simple guidelines:
(As taught by Contemplative Outreach®, 2019)
... that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer (see below)
Contemplative prayer is prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself.
"Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10
This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship.
"But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door
and pray to your Father who is in secret;
and your Father who sees in secret
will reward you." Matthew 6:6
Centering Prayer is not meant to replace other kinds of prayer.
Rather, it adds depth of meaning to all prayer and facilitates the movement from more active modes of prayer — verbal, mental or affective prayer — into a receptive prayer of resting in God.
Centering Prayer emphasizes prayer is a personal relationship with God and as a movement beyond conversation with Christ to communion with Him.
The source of Centering Prayer, as in all methods leading to contemplative prayer, is the Indwelling Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The focus of Centering Prayer is the deepening of our relationship with the living Christ.
The effects of Centering Prayer are ecclesial (church community building), as the prayer tends to build communities of faith and bond the members together in mutual friendship and love.
Helpful Prayer before Centering Prayer
"O God I adore you at the centre of my being.
Draw me inwardly by the greatness of your love
So that I may taste that peace that surpasses all understanding
And that, little by little, I may understand what it means
To be lived in by God.
Heal the wounds of a lifetime, body, soul and spirit
As I lovingly wait upon Your Presence and Action within me.
“At the present time there has been in the West a trend of feeling towards the contemplative aspect of prayer. Many have looked to Eastern religions for contemplative practices, partly as a result of the Church’s sad neglect of its own contemplative tradition… It matters greatly for the renewal of the Christian Church that the contemplative practice be more known and recovered.” Michael Ramsey Archbishop of Canterbury 1961-1974
"Contemplation has sometimes been referred to as taking a long loving look at what is real.
In a literal sense then, to contemplate is to look thoughtfully for a long time.
In a spiritual sense, contemplation is to enter into silence in order to come into knowledge of the Divine.
Nothing in creation is probably more like God than stillness and silence.
Contemplation then is nothing more than to pay prolonged attention, attention to such as the present moment, to use the senses, smelling, tasting and noticing. All of these open our interior senses and allow us to see the reality of God.
By entering into silence we are creating inner space so that silence therefore becomes the great revelation for us.
To pay prolonged attention to reality then is prayer.
We can only find God in the present moment because there is always only the now. In fact the now is the only place that we can find and encounter God.
But our minds find it difficult to pay full attention to the now. We tend instead to live in the past by remembering, or in the future by making plans.
This means that the reality of God is missed if we stay in what effectively is a dream. Contemplation is simply waking up!
There are many forms of contemplative prayer but most involve bringing the mind into the now, the present moment in stillness and silence.
In the practice of contemplative prayer we simply wait lovingly and attentively for the Now to express itself.
The boundary between contemplative prayer and contemplation is not quite clear. It is often only in reflection that we realise it has been crossed.
Whilst we practice contemplative prayer, contemplation itself is Grace, a pure gift from God that cannot be controlled by us.
There are many methods that help us to focus thought and bring us into the now, into stillness and silence, such as the use of a mantra, visualization techniques, becoming aware of the breath or Centering Prayer. For the contemplative person, whichever method they choose, it becomes a way of life.
The fruits of contemplative prayer are seen in daily life so that the contemplative person sees with much more loving eyes by a gift of pure Grace.
Contemplative people become more attentive to the mystery within which all life is lived. They are attentive to and wait for signs of the sacred within the hustle and bustle of everyday life. They see divine grace even in the midst of suffering and brokenness so that peace does not mean being in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work, but being in the midst of these and still be in their heart.
This experience then reinforces the times of prayer practice, which in turn deepens their experience of being alive. They are now open to God’s presence and action within them in the ordinariness of their daily lives.
(from Contemplative Outreach® http://www.contemplativeoutreachireland.com/contemplative-practices/)
Centering Prayer is a method of prayer that comes out of the Christian tradition, principally The Cloud of Unknowing, by an anonymous 14th Century author and St. John of the Cross.
The historical roots of Centering Prayer go back to St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusettes, where Fr. Thomas Keating was abbot from 1961 to 1981. During this time the Holy See was encouraging inter-religious dialogue.
Fr. Keating, Fathers William Menninger and Basil Pennington became acquainted with groups from other spiritual traditions who lived in their locality. They invited spiritual teachers from the Eastern religions as well as some ecumenically skilled Catholic theologians to visit and speak with their community.
About the same time a Zen master applied to visit the monastery. The monks bravely invited him to speak to the community and later to give a session, which is a week-long intensive retreat. For many years following Fr. Keating attended sessions with this Zen master.
Exposure to this and other traditions such as the Hindu tradition and Transcendental Meditation raised many questions in Fr. Thomas’ mind.
He asked: "Why are so many people were looking to the East when in our own tradition we had a rich heritage of Christian contemplative tradition?"
By the 1970’s Fathers Keating, Menninger and Pennington were looking to revive the ancient sources of this Christian contemplative prayer cultivated by the Desert Fathers of Egypt, Teresa of Avila, Meister Echart and John of the Cross into a modern-day method of contemplative prayer for contemporary people.
This method came to be known as Centering Prayer – a reference to Thomas Merton’s description of prayer that is “centered entirely on the presence of God.”
Over time, the monks offered Centering Prayer workshops and retreats to both clergy and lay people. Interest in the method quickly spread so much so that in 1983, the Contemplative Outreach organization was formed to support the growing network of Centering Prayer practitioners.
Today Centering Prayer is practised by people from all over the world with many networks of small faith communities such as Contemplative Outreach Ireland who in communion with many other networks from around the world are contributing to the renewal of the Christian contemplative dimension of the Gospel in everyday life.
Joanne Van Hook is a Commissioned Presenter of Centering Prayer for Contemplative Outreach, trained by them and is the Antelope Valley Contact person.