Guide to Centering Prayer
Centering Prayer is a method of contemplative prayer in which we rest silently in the presence of God. It is a very simple method that is easy to learn.
In the 1970s a group of Trappist monks realized that young people were increasingly turning to eastern forms of meditation. The monks - Thomas Keating, William Meninger, and Basil Pennington - set out to recover and make more widely available contemplative prayer practices from the Christian tradition, which were almost completely unknown at that time. Inspired in particular by the Christian classic The Cloud of Unknowing, they developed the simple method of centering prayer. As Thomas Keating describes it, centering prayer is “a way of saying ‘Here I am.’ The next step is up to God. It is a way of putting yourself at God’s disposal; it is God who determines the consequences.”
• Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Sit with your back straight. You can sit on a cushion or on a chair with your back straight. Set an alarm clock or timer, if you have one, for a short period of time, say between five and twenty minutes. Allow your body to relax and feel yourself in your body. Begin to notice your breath flowing in and out at its natural speed.
• Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to be open to God’s presence. Choose any word with which you are comfortable and that reminds you to be present to God. Examples of a sacred word: God, Jesus, Abba, Father, Mother, Mary, Amen, Love, Listen, Peace, Mercy, Let Go, Silence, Stillness, Faith, Trust, Holy, Glory. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, silently begin to repeat the sacred word, which points you gently towards God. When you are ready, you can let go of the sacred word and simply rest in God.
It is also possible to practice centering prayer with a sacred breath as the sacred symbol instead of a sacred word. When using the sacred breath, you do not follow the breath, as in Zen meditation, but simply notice it, touching it gently with your attention.
• When thoughts arise, gently let go of them and turn towards God, returning to the sacred symbol again if necessary.
• At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes. This is an important transition for bringing the prayer into daily life. If you would like, you can dedicate the period of prayer to a person or concern at this time.
Centering prayer bears some similarities to Zen meditation in that it is a silent form of meditation that involves letting go, but rather than concentrating on the breath we surrender to God. Centering prayer is different from mantra meditation in that the sacred word is usually repeated only briefly as a way of helping us to let go and point towards God.