In my last post I suggested “doing nothing” as a catalyst to growing deeper in relationship with Jesus. The practice that has most practically helped me go down this road is called Centering Prayer. The objective in centering prayer is not to push thoughts away, but instead to express your intention to love God in order to be in His presence, submitting to the healing activity of the Holy Spirit.
A typical centering prayer session is twenty minutes in length. It starts with choosing a “prayer word” and then calmly, peacefully, and lovingly repeating it silently—i.e., “saying” it in your mind, and not speaking it out with your lips.
Find a quiet, comfortable place to do this, one you can return to regularly. My ideal spot to spend time with the Father is next to a stream, or in my living room if I can’t be outdoors. With my eyes closed, I can imagine my special spot by the stream. If a distraction arises (the jumping monkeys), simply acknowledge your mind’s wandering, send your distracting thought downstream, and return to focusing on your prayer word. You can do this as many times as necessary throughout the course of your prayer time.
I encourage you to give it a try. Here’s how:
- Sit comfortably in a quiet place where you are not liable to be interrupted. Place your feet flat on the floor and keep your hands loosely folded in your lap or flat on your knees. It is better to use a chair with a moderately soft covering and without close fitting arms. Your eyes should be closed and your head held at a comfortable angle. (If you have an illness or physical disability, sit or lie in whatever way that suits your condition.)
- If I were to ask you, “Where is the place that you feel most peaceful and close to God?” what would your answer be? For me, my spot is in my camping chair next to a stream in the San Juan Islands. Perhaps for you it is a place in the mountains among the trees, overlooking a beautiful vista, or by the ocean listening to the lapping of the waves on the beach at sunrise. Can you envision the place that is unique to you in your mind? It can be helpful to close your eyes and imagine your special spot with a seat saved for you as you join the Holy Trinity, who are together inviting you into conversation with Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit.
- Take a moment to relax. It is helpful to take three deep breaths. Fill your lungs by expanding your stomach. Hold the breath for about five seconds and then slowly exhale. Do this three times. I usually do this with a very brief prayer to each person of the Trinity. First breath: “In the name of the Father;” second: “In the name of the Son;” third: “In the name of the Holy Spirit.”
- Say a brief prayer in your own words expressing your love for God and your desire to spend these few moments embracing Him in your love. It can be something like this:
Dear Father in Heaven, I love You. I want to love You more. I know that You love me and You have given me the grace to want to spend these twenty minutes in Your presence. I have chosen the prayer word, “Abba,” Father (or whatever word you have chosen), to express this love I have for You. In the power of Your Holy Spirit and united to Your son, Jesus Christ, I now offer You my love through this prayer.
- Next, calmly, peacefully, and lovingly listen with the ears of your heart to your prayer word as you allow it silently to repeat itself. Do not whisper it out loud or even use your tongue or lips. Recognize that by this word you are expressing your love for God. Continue to do this fifteen or twenty minutes or longer if you feel called to do so.
- Whenever distracting thoughts come (those dang monkeys again) and you find you have given in to them and allowed your prayer word to stop, simply send that distracting thought “downstream” and say: “I will go back to my prayer word,” and do so. Do this as often as is necessary—even many, many times during a twenty-minute meditation.
- If, during your prayer time, you should fall asleep, just thank God for the blessing of sleep and go back to your prayer word. Do not be concerned about this—God is not!
- Sometimes you will “transcend” your prayer word. That is, as you are silently loving God in the chamber of your heart, your prayer word may stop and you will be in silent repose, loving God without words and without symbols. This is fine. When you realize that you have done this, just say: “I will go back to my prayer,” and do so. Time will pass very quickly when this happens.
When you think your time is up, look at your watch. If you still have a few minutes, go back to your prayer until twenty minutes is up. Then very slowly begin to pray aloud as you would like for a couple of minutes—perhaps something like the Lord’s Prayer, a Psalm, or another prayer of your choosing—so that it takes you a full two minutes to say it. If you find that you would like to go back to your loving prayer, and you have the time, do so. Otherwise your centering prayer time is finished.