Centering Prayer

People working for justice are regularly witnesses of others’ pain. Often those painful circumstances rearrange the other person’s life, or even ends it. Justice workers, and in fact all of us, need to practice self care in order to not close down, give into anger, harden, retreat, project, or attack. In speaking of justice workers, I’m thinking broadly -of police officers as well as activists; lawyers, lawmakers, prison guards, and sometimes offenders; judges, ministers, volunteers, and aid workers; artists, writers and performers who tune their work to the timbre and call justice and injustice.

Centering Prayer is a daily practice in which you rest in the Presence of Love, of the Ground of Being, of God. It is a form of meditation, and a time of healing. Centering yourself daily in Love can offer a reserve of strength and a practice of letting go, a steadiness which contributes to the practice of justice in all of the communities in which you participate.

Centering prayer is Christian-based, however, if you are not Christian, you may still find it helpful. I’ve sometimes found the spiritual practices of other faiths and cultures to deepen my understanding and practice of my own. We all have access to Love, no matter the faith in which we’ve grown up, and Love has guided all peoples.

In describing Centering Prayer to you, I am drawing from the teaching of Fr. Thomas Keating, the Cistercian priest who developed this practice. There are books, web sites, and retreats dedicated to developing this form of prayer. I encourage you to take them in to learn more. Contemplative Outreach is a good place to go after reading this:

  • Set aside 20 minutes, twice per day, for centering prayer
  • It isn’t meant to replace other prayer but to add depth and meaning to all prayer.
  • Choose a sacred word. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. Let the word be short. It can be significant to your faith, such as Jesus, Mary, Abba, Father, Mother. It can be a word that is significant to your deepest work or need, such as Love, Justice, Trust, Mercy. This word represents your intention to be in the presence of Love. It also expresses your consent for the action of Love to happen within you. Once you’ve received your word, you don’t change it.
  • When you’re ready to begin, sit comfortably with your back straight. Set a timer that doesn’t tick and will make a gentle sound when your meditation time is done. Put it close to you so you can silence it without getting up. Close your eyes and begin to let go – of whatever is going on around you, of whatever is going on in your mind. Then, gently introduce your word inwardly.
  • Whenever you notice that you’re thinking about something (which might be very, very often!) gently return to your sacred word. However many times this happens, don’t worry. Every time is an opportunity to return to Love.
  • There is not an objective, such as to have no thought, or to repeat the word continually, or to have a peaceful feeling, or to have any particularly spiritual experience. Various things may happen. For example a spiritual experience may in fact come up, or an awareness into a subconscious or psychological insight, or imaginations and memories, dilemmas and anxieties, problems and possible solutions… no matter what comes up, once you’re aware that the thoughts have grabbed hold of you, gently think your sacred word to release yourself from them.
  • At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with your eyes closed for a couple of minutes, allowing yourself to return slowly and peacefully to every day life.

I’m sharing this with you because I know the practice can be very effective. But to be honest, I’ve sometimes found it difficult to keep a commitment of 20 minutes per day twice a day when it feels like on any given day there’s about 40 hours of work I should have gotten done but couldn’t. I know I’m not alone, and that many professionals, especially those who are also caregivers, can have a similar problem. I welcome others to weigh in. Here is what I can offer at the moment:

When we find it difficult to make this time, I think part of the problem is that our relationship with time and our commitment to caring for ourselves is unhealthy to begin with. To right this relationship will likely take patience, and you might need to take small steps to prepare yourself to practice more fully.

You can start with a smaller amount of time in order to establish the practice, and allow it to grow. You can think of the little slips of time that you do have and which are part of your daily routine  – your commute to work, or when you’re folding laundry, cleaning up from dinner, standing at the copy machine, or in a waiting room. These may not be situations for real centering prayer, but sometimes the spaces between things are all we feel we have, and they can be a place to start.

In that space which you do have, you can practice letting go and using your sacred word. You may need to respond to interruptions. Accept that they will happen so you can tend to them calmly, and return again when you have the chance. If you make this tiny action over again enough times, it becomes a bit of a groove. Things begin to open within you. You may not be practicing in the prescribed manner, but you are at least moving there. For me, I’ve found silent prayer in the spaces between things to be life-giving and life-changing. Slowly, the ways of responding to daily situations changed. Patterns changed. Routines evolved. Gradually more space opened in my day and I was able to follow the practice of centering prayer as a twice-daily sitting meditation.

In the same way that teachers of the practice ask you to, without judgment, gently return to your sacred word when you find yourself grabbing hold of a train of thought, likewise, if you fall away from your practice because of your demanding schedule, find a way to gently return to it, even if with a small step, reaffirming your desire to bring your life to a point where you can follow the practice more fully.

Recommended for further exploration:

Contemplative Outreach
Entering the Mind of Christ – James Finley


Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.