THE METHOD OF CENTERING PRAYER by Thomas Keating
The Method of Centering Prayer: Centering Prayer is a method designed to facilitate the development of contemplative prayer by preparing our faculties to cooperate with this gift. It is an attempt to present the teaching of earlier time (e.g., The Cloud of Unknowing) in an updated form and to put a certain order and regularity into it. It is not meant to replace other kinds of prayer; it simply puts other kinds of prayer into a new and fuller perspective. During the time of prayer we consent to God’s presence and action within. At other times our attention moves outward to discover God’s presence everywhere.
Explanation of the Guidelines – “Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.”
A. The sacred word expresses our intention to be in God’s presence and to yield to the divine action.
B. The sacred word should be chosen during a brief period of prayer asking the Holy Spirit to inspire us with one that is especially suitable to us. 1. Examples: Lord, Jesus, Father, Mother, Mary; or in other languages: Kyrie, Jesu, Jeshua, Abba, Mater, Maria. 2. Other possibilities: Love, Peace, Mercy, Silence, Stillness, Calm, Faith, Trust, Yes; or in other languages: Amor, Shalom, Amen.
C. Having chosen a sacred word, we do not change it during the prayer period, for that would be to start thinking again.
D. A simple inward gaze upon God may be more suitable for some persons than the sacred word. In this case, one consents to God’s presence and action by turning inwardly to God as if gazing upon God. The same guidelines apply to the sacred gaze as to the sacred word. “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.”. By “sitting comfortably” is meant relatively comfortably; not so comfortably that we encourage sleep, but sitting comfortably enough to avoid thinking about the discomfort of our bodies during the time of prayer.
Whatever sitting position we choose, we keep the back straight. If we fall asleep, we continue the prayer for a few minutes upon awakening if we can spare the time. Praying in this way after a main meal encourages drowsiness. Better to wait an hour at least before Centering Prayer. Praying in this way just before retiring may disturb one’s sleep pattern. We close our eyes to let go of what is going on around and within us. We introduce the sacred word inwardly and as gently as laying a feather on a piece of absorbent cotton.
“When you become aware of thoughts, return ever-so–gently to the sacred word.” “Thoughts” is an umbrella term for every perception including sense perceptions, feelings, images, memories, reflections, and commentaries. Thoughts are a normal part of Centering Prayer. By “returning ever-so-gently to the sacred word,” a minimum effort is indicated. This is the only activity we initiate during the time of Centering Prayer.
During the course of our prayer, the sacred word may become vague or even disappear. “At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.” If this prayer is done in a group, the leader may slowly recite the Our Father during the additional 2 or 3 minutes, while the others listen. The additional 2 or 3 minutes give the psyche time to readjust to the external senses and enable us to bring the atmosphere of silence into daily life.
Some Practical Points –
1. The minimum time for this prayer is 20 minutes. Two periods are recommended each day, one first thing in the morning, and one in the afternoon or early evening.
2. The end of the prayer period can be indicated by a timer, provided it does not have an audible tick or loud sound when it goes off.
3. The principal effects of Centering Prayer are experienced in daily life, not in the period of Centering Prayer itself.
4. Physical Symptoms: We may notice slight pains, itches, or twitches in various parts of the body or a generalized restlessness. These are usually due to the untying of emotional knots in the body. We may also notice heaviness or lightness in the extremities. This is usually due to a deep level of spiritual attentiveness. In either case, we pay no attention, or we allow the mind to rest briefly in the sensation, and then return to the sacred word.
5. Lectio Divina provides the conceptual background for the development of Centering Prayer.
Extending the Effects of Centering Prayer into Daily Life
1. Practice 2 periods of Centering Prayer daily…
2. Read Scriptures regularly and study Open Mind, Open Heart.
3. Practice one or two of the specific methods for everyday, suggested in Open Mind, Open Heart, chap. 12.
*Thomas Keating: Contemplative Outreach, Ltd.; 9 William St.; P.O. Box 737; Butler, NJ 07405; 201-838-3384.
CPT – 1/03