Centering Prayer is a form of Christian meditative prayer that allows us to practice letting go…becoming available to the presence of God…following the kenotic (letting go) spiritual path that Jesus reveals in the Gospels…
Centering Prayer is not a Christianized mindfulness practice. Nor is it a way to focus on the breath, become more relaxed, reduce stress, attain higher forms of consciousness, or escape from anxiety. Centering Prayer is a way to practice availability. Centering Prayer actually asks us to focus our attention on nothing, on emptiness, on groundlessness, on the ever-changing and ever-becoming self-emptying (kenosis) and self-giving imitation of Christ. Just as a room that is full of clutter cannot hold anything else, our intent is to empty out the clutter of our mind so that Christ’s indwelling Spirit may reside within the pregnant emptiness of our heart.
Through letting go, we exercise the muscle within our mind and heart that allows us to become more available and open to the presence of God. The more we are able to let go of our small (ego) self, the more we are able to participate in an entirely new way of understanding the world. In short, Centering Prayer changes the way we see. It helps us to see from wholeness rather than from our normal way of operating by perceiving through differentiation.
Centering Prayer is about intention and not attention. You are letting go of all the things trying to get your attention…and you must be intentional about that process of letting go. Our intent, as Thomas Keating says, is only the presence of God. During Centering Prayer we seek only to become available to the presence of God’s interconnecting Spirit and nothing else. Nothing else is sought during the actual time of Centering Prayer. We are not seeking a state of bliss or peace. We are not seeking to reduce stress or to improve wellness. We are not seeking messages from God or an experience of or from God. We are simply practicing availability. We are strengthening our mind’s ability to let go, to move into your heart, and to be available to the presence of God’s Spirit. That is all.
Each time you sit in silence, your Sacred Word will help you to be intentional. Any time a thought, an idea, an image, an emotion, a sound tries to focus and grab your attention, simply let it go. Your Sacred Word is a tether, a reminder (not a focus), that you intention is availability to the movement and presence of God’s Spirit. Choose a Sacred Word that will help you practice letting go, e.g. God, grace, Christ, trust, release, or even simply “let go.”
As you begin to practice, remember that each thought that arises is an opportunity to let it go. This means that your thoughts should not be understood as road blocks on your journey. They are opportunities to exercise being available. Simply remember:
- Resist no thought
- Retain no thought
- React to no thought
- Return gently to the sacred word
Steps of Centering Prayer
- Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your willingness to consent to God’s presence and action within.
- Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
- When engaged with your thoughts, return ever so gently to the sacred word.
- At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.
Adapted from Contemplative Outreach