Centering Prayer

I am beginning a regular meditation practice. I have circled around meditation for a long time, like a cat looking for just the right napping position. Now I have settled on something. I should have asked for help before on doing this but perhaps not. The right teacher comes along at the right time.

My way of asking for help on this, not just meditation but spiritual practice in general, was to sign on with a spiritual director. Spiritual direction, too, is something I’ve considered before, but I wasn’t ready for it. I don’t know why. I wasn’t ready and now suddenly I am ready, with urgency and hunger. In our first session, my spiritual director, proving herself to be the right teacher at the right time, directed me to a meditation practice and a book that describes it. I sped through the book in a few sittings. Sometimes the right book comes along, like the right teacher. This week the book has also been my teacher.

The book is Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault (Cowley 2004). There is a whole Centering Prayer movement but I had only a vague notion of what Centering Prayer might be (wrong, it turned out).

I find that I already know much of this. I’ve learned it on my own, from other sources and my own experience. At the same time I have so much to learn and unlearn that it’s funny. I’ve tried to write about a lot of stuff that I have only vaguely understood and here I find Bourgeault calmly explaining everything and putting it together. The right book at the right time makes sense of something you recognize but haven’t fully understood.

Here is what I have experienced before.

  1. There are different kinds of meditation but the only kind I have been drawn to has been a quest for the state of emptiness, a kind of dreamy state of not holding on to thoughts and feelings.
  2. In dealing with psychological pain, anger, and fears—as well as the vicissitudes of life—I have experienced the profound power of letting go.
  3. I have noticed a feeling in my body, right around the solar plexus, that signals that somehow I am on the right track, whether it is in meditation or my daily life.
  4. I’m regrounding in Christianity and increasingly relating my spirituality to Jesus as well as the Christian community.

With these four kinds of experiences as background, I am taking to Centering Prayer like a duck to water because it puts them all together. The method is simple: 20 minutes of clearing your mind and opening to the Divine. You use a word to gently bring yourself back to center every time your attention gets hooked on a thought or emotion. It’s an exercise in repeatedly letting go.

Simple but not easy, but I won’t explain how or why just yet. I have, after all, done it (under that name) only half a dozen times! And really, Bourgeault is the very readable, scholarly authority.

If you are not familiar with Centering Prayer you may suspect, as I did, that it is called prayer instead of meditation so Christians will think it is ok, not borrowed from some other tradition. I don’t mind such borrowing at all but Bourgeault makes a good case that this particular form of meditation embodies the spirit of Jesus’s instructions on the self-emptying life, of being in God as God is in us. The theology is intriguing, a theology of the heart, not the head. That is, you don’t have to “believe” in Jesus or a “Christian God” in order to set out on this path. Just like you don’t have to be a Buddhist to practice Zen meditation. You just set out and see where Spirit takes you.

I may report now and then on what happens in my life as a result of this practice although—of course!—the practice is not oriented to results. Results are just another thing that you get to release.

Still. May I hope for transformation?

Archives for this blog  February 2011–September 2012 are located here.

7 thoughts on “Centering Prayer

  1. Nancy, This is a timely reflection. I’m currently preparing to lead a 6-week Centering Prayer Sunday morning elective, with the help of a centering prayer-experienced Catholic friend. I would value more of your reflections on this in future posts, if you’re so inclined.

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