By Marlene Kropf
Monday, December 19, 2016

Rooted in the prayer tradition of the Psalms where we are reminded, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10), centering prayer is a simple, wordless way of praying that makes space for simply being with God and becoming more deeply aware of God’s presence.  Just as two people who are truly close friends do not need to spend all their time talking when they are together, so the soul and God can enjoy a quiet, deep communion that goes beyond words. 

Not meant to replace other forms of prayer, centering prayer is practiced not only for the intimacy with God it nourishes but also for the fruits of love, joy, peace, and healing it produces.  As those who practice centering prayer reach a place of interior silence and peace, they are more and more able to turn away from practicing violence and aggression in the world.  They become “blessed peacemakers” who radiate God’s love and peace.   


To get started:

  1. Find a place to pray that is quiet and relaxed. Sit in silence, breathing deeply and setting aside the concerns of the day. If your body is tense, spend some moments consciously relaxing each part of the body. 
  2. Focus your attention on God. Become aware of God’s presence surrounding you and allow yourself to be present to God.
  3. Choose a word for God as a focus for your prayer.  A one-syllable word works best—Love, Peace, Joy, Christ, Friend, etc. Slowly and effortlessly, repeat the word until you become more and more deeply aware of God’s presence at the center of your being. 
  4. Continue to wait in God’s presence. If you find yourself straying from your awareness of God or if other thoughts intrude, gently return to the word you have chosen. Let God draw you into wordless communion of adoration, love and praise. 
  5. When your prayer feels complete, slowly leave the silence at the center and return to words—perhaps offering the Lord’s Prayer as a conclusion, savoring the words and meaning of the prayer.


Additional guidance:

Because many people have little practice with sustained silence, centering prayer can begin with as short a time as 5-10 minutes.  Later, it can expand to 20-30 minutes a day (some prefer to spend time both morning and evening in centering prayer).

For many, a difficulty in the beginning is dealing with stray thoughts or an undisciplined mind.  In his guide to centering prayer, Finding Grace at the Center (St. Bede’s Publications, 1978), Thomas Keating offers helpful guidance:

In centering prayer…by turning off the ordinary flow of thoughts, which reinforce one’s habitual way of looking at the world, one’s world begins to change.  It is like turning a radio from long wave to short wave.  You may be used to a long wave set and the stations it picks up, but if you want to hear stations from far away, you have to turn to the other wave length.  In similar fashion, if you turn off your ordinary thought patterns, you enter into a new world of reality…

Our ordinary thoughts are like boats sitting on a river, so closely packed together that we cannot see the river that is holding them up.  We are normally aware of one object after another passing across the inner screen of consciousness:  thoughts, memories, feelings, external objects.  By slowing down that flow for a little while, space begins to appear between the boats.  Up comes the reality on which they are floating.

The prayer of centering is a method of directing our attention from the boats to the river on which they are resting… At first you are preoccupied with the boats that are going by. You become interested to see what is on them. You must train yourself to let them all go by.  If you catch yourself becoming interested in them, return to the sacred word you have chosen, which expresses the movement of your whole being toward God who is present with you…

A very delicate but intimate kind of self-denial is necessary in this prayer.  It is not just an experience of rest and refreshment – a sort of spiritual cocktail hour.  It involves the denial of what we are most attached to, namely, our own thoughts and feelings – our very selves…This kind of asceticism goes to the very roots of our attachment to our superficial egocentric selves and teaches us to let go…

This is not the time to be thinking about praying for yourself or somebody else. You can do that at another time… As you quiet down and go deeper, you may come to a place that is outside time… When in the seed-bed of deep interior silence, the mustard seed of divine charity has been sown by the Holy Spirit and begins to grow, it creates within what the author of The Cloud of Unknowing calls “a blind stirring of love”… The ripe fruit of this prayer is to bring back into the humdrum routine of ordinary life, not just the thought of God, but the constant awareness of God’s presence beyond any concept (pp. 24-34).

Practiced regularly, centering prayer becomes a place of integration and peace. It is the source from which a faithful life of worship and obedience can grow as it prepares us to “dwell in the house of the Lord” (Ps. 23:6) forever.



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