As we hear the latest news reports, we might wonder, Where is God in all of this? As we struggle with personal calamities or are heartbroken by hardships our loved ones are facing, we might ask, “Where are you, God?” The answer to these questions is God is omnipresent–living and active everywhere. As Paul said, “In him we live and move and have our being.” Becoming more conscious of this truth is a good goal for Lent as we strive to renew our spiritual life. One place where God dwells is in the deep center of our very selves. Jesus promised, “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20). St. John of the Cross lamented that we seldom give thought to this mind-blowing mystery. Coming in touch with God in our hearts makes us more aware of his hand at work in the world. It also brings forth in us the fruits of peace and joy no matter how stressful our life. A prayer practice that cultivates being sensitive to God at the core of our being is centering prayer.
One day a woman called who was incensed that I taught centering prayer in one of our textbooks. She argued that it was dangerous, something newfangled fad imported from Eastern religions. I explained that it was a solidly Catholic prayer method rooted in the tradition of church fathers and desert father and recommended by saints of old. It is a beautiful, profound way of praying. After a teacher taught it to her thirty-five seventh graders, on written evaluations only two students said they didn’t like the experience. Others said they would like to do centering prayer again. A Sister in our health care center confided that she prays this way for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon and loves this way of praying. So what is centering prayer?
Centering prayer is a channel opening to contemplation, the highest form of prayer in which God overwhelms us with his presence. It flows from the idea that God dwells within us. St. John of the Cross said, “O thou soul, most beautiful of creatures who longs to know where the beloved is, thou art thyself that very tabernacle where he dwells.” We believe that through baptism, God has taken up residence within us. I like to compare centering prayer to an elderly couple sitting together for hours not speaking but basking in the steady flow of their love for each other. During centering prayer you might not feel like you are doing anything and consider this a lazy way of praying. But something is happening, just as when you sit peacefully in the sun and get tanned…or burnt. God is at work in you. Here are the steps.
- Find a quiet space where you can be alone.
- Think of a word or phrase that you can say when your mind wanders. It might be “I love you,” “Jesus,” or “My Lord and my God.” This you will use to bring your mind back to God like a tug on a kite string.
- Sit upright and close your eyes to focus inwardly. Relax by breathing slowly three times.
- Empty your mind of all other thoughts and any worries. Focus on God living deep within you and ponder his love for you. Be present to God and rest in his presence.
- When you are aware of thoughts other than God, repeat your prayer word to bring you back to the center. Don’t stop to think how you are doing. Give God all your loving attention.
- When you are finished, pray a prayer like the Our Father or Glory Be in order to transition out of this deep prayer.
Praying centering prayer will help you cope with the turmoil of your life and the world. More importantly, it will also deepen your relationship with God.
Have you ever prayed centering prayer? What was the experience like for you?
If you haven’t prayed this way, why not try it and then share what you thought of it?