Centering prayer is a method of resting in God. This contemplative practice provides a way to help us open ourselves to God and consent to God's action in our hearts. Although it has a long history in the Christian spiritual tradition, it has been articulated most clearly as a prayer method in the fourteenth century English classic The Cloud of Unknowing and by the contemporary Cistercian monk Thomas Keating.
Essentially, there are four guidelines to this method and practice:
- Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God's presence. Examples include Jesus, Abba, Spirit, Love, and Shalom.
- Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your sonsent to God's presence and action within. Ideally sit in a chair with a straight back and feet on the floor. Gently say your word silently, as a way to focus your attention on God. Eventually, the word may fade away leaving you with no words in your prayer, only intention to God.
- When you become aware of thoughts, return ever so gently to the sacred word. Distractions are inevitable. You are not trying to force out all your thoughts. But when you do catch yourself thinking something - "good" or "bad" - gently say your sacred word. Don't use it as a hammer and try to beat your thought from your mind! Don't react negatively to your thoughts. Just return to your sacred word as your symbol of surrendering to God.
- At the end of the prayers, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes. This is to help you make the transition from kairos to chronos, from God's time to our times. It is also helpful to say a short prayer after this brief period, e.g. the Lord's Prayer.
It is important to realize that the fruits of this prayer comes during the day. Don't expect ecstatic moments. Those would be a type of "thought." Centering prayer naturally goes with lectio divina as a kind of prelude into the fourth movement of lectio divina, which is resting in God. Thomas Keating suggests practicing centering prayer twice a day for twenty minutes - once in the morning and once in the afternoon or evening.
- Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating
- The Loving Search for God by William Meninger
- Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault