Centering Prayer is a form of Christian meditation

Nov. 18, 2022
by Gina Gafford

Centering Prayer is a simple form of Christian meditation. Thomas Keating, an American Catholic monk and priest, developed the meditation.

I meditate every morning for at least 15 to 30 minutes. Centering Prayer reminds me of a quote from the Bible, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10). I know that life can get busy, but if I want to connect with God, I must be still.

When I was in India in 2015, my colleagues and I spent a day with a Catholic nun. She said, “Make space for the Divine to enter.” She continued to say meditation and praying is the way.

There are a lot of benefits of meditation, including becoming more focused, and less anxious and depressed. Also, meditation improves cognition and enhances empathy.

Centering Prayer helps us let go of thoughts as they arise. It can also help us break out of our compulsive attachment to thinking.

Centering Prayer is easy to do. Here are several guidelines by Thomas Keating:

1. Choose a sacred word or symbol for your intention. Keating says to feel God's presence and action. Centering Prayer is a method of silent prayer.

2. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Become aware of your breath, and settle into your chair or cushion. Then, slowly introduce the sacred word that you have chosen. Keating says this will symbolize that you permit God's presence and action to go within you.

3. Keating says gently return to your sacred word when you engage in your thoughts. “A sacred word is used to help facilitate this prompt release of thoughts, but unlike a mantra, it is used only sporadically, not as a continuous touchstone for the attention,” Cynthia Bourgeault, an author and student of Keating, said.

Keating says you will have various thoughts, feelings, perceptions, visualizations, and noise. He says this "psychological material" is inevitable and expected. Keating says thoughts are integral, because they may come from the unconscious and be part of the healing process. He says the Spirit works as a kind of divine therapist.

“It's a help if you do it correctly, but it doesn't matter because it's your intention that counts, and the relationship is with God,” Keating said.

The purpose of Centering Prayer is to move from a surface level to a deeper level of the true self, which is our participation in the divine life. Keating says awareness of God's presence is the ultimate goal of Centering Prayer.

“Some writers speak of spiritual awareness in terms of the heart being ‘magnetized’ to God, responding to a magnetic pull from the center just as the compass needle points to magnetic north,” Bourgeault said.

Meditation helps me feel calm and centered. When I connect with God, my heart feels nurtured and spacious. I am so thankful when I take the time to practice meditation. And remember, with meditation, we never do it wrong. It's more about connecting your heart with God's heart.

“Whatever form of meditation you practice, it is in essence simply a method for detaching yourself from thinking (which tends to reinforce the egoic process) long enough for you to begin to trust this other, deeper intelligence moving inside you,” Bourgeault said.

You can buy Thomas Keating's book “Intimacy with God: An Introduction to Centering Prayer” and Cynthia Bourgeault's “Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God” on Amazon.

If you have any questions or comments, please email ggafford@heraldjournal.com.

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