Centering Prayer

Centering-Prayer-Arch'n'Nave-w472Xh330

Thomas Keating

Fr. Keating’s interest in contemplative prayer began during his freshman year at Yale University in 1940 when he became aware of the Church’s history and of the writings of Christian mystics. Prompted by these studies and time spent in prayer and meditation, he experienced a profound realization that, on a spiritual level, the Scriptures call people to a personal relationship with God. Fr. Keating took this call to heart. He transferred to Fordham University in New York and, while waiting to be drafted for service in World War II, he received a deferment to enter seminary. Shortly after graduating from an accelerated program at Fordham, Fr. Keating entered an austere monastic community of the Trappist Order in Valley Falls, Rhode Island in January of 1944, at the age of 20. He was ordained a priest in June of 1949.

In March of 1950 the monastery in Valley Falls burned down and, as a result, the community moved to Spencer, Massachusetts. Shortly after the move, Fr. Keating became ill with a lung condition and was put into isolation in the city hospital of Worcester, Massachusetts for nine weeks. After returning to the monastery, he stayed in the infirmary for two years. Fr. Keating was sent to Snowmass, Colorado in April of 1958 to help start a new monastic community called St. Benedict’s. He remained in Snowmass until 1961, when he was elected abbot of St. Joseph’s in Spencer, prompting his move back to Massachusetts. He served as abbot of St. Joseph’s for twenty years until he retired in 1981 and returned to Snowmass, where he still resides today.

During Fr. Keating’s term as abbot at St. Joseph’s and in response to the reforms of Vatican II, he invited teachers from the East to the monastery. As a result of this exposure to Eastern spiritual traditions, Fr. Keating and several of the monks at St. Joseph’s were led to develop the modern form of Christian contemplative prayer called Centering Prayer. Fr. Keating was a central figure in the initiation of the Centering Prayer movement. He offered Centering Prayer workshops and retreats to clergy and laypeople and authored articles and books on the method and fruits of Centering Prayer. In 1983, he presented a two-week intensive Centering Prayer retreat at the Lama Foundation in San Cristabol, New Mexico, which proved to be a watershed event. Many of the people prominent in the Centering Prayer movement today attended this retreat. Contemplative Outreach was created in 1984 to support the growing spiritual network of Centering Prayer practitioners. Fr. Keating became the community’s president in 1985, a position he held until 1999.

Fr. Keating is an internationally renowned theologian and an accomplished author. He has traveled the world to speak with laypeople and communities about contemplative Christian practices and the psychology of the spiritual journey, which is the subject of his Spiritual Journey video and DVD series. Since the reforms of Vatican II, Fr. Keating has been a core participant in and supporter of interreligious dialogue. He helped found the Snowmass Interreligious Conference, which had its first meeting in the fall of 1983 and continues to meet each spring. Fr. Keating also is a past president of the Temple of Understanding and of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue.
Perhaps the biggest testament to Fr. Keating’s dedication to reviving Christian contemplative practices is his choice to live a busy, public life instead of the quiet, monastic life for which he entered the monastery. Fr. Keating’s life is lived in the service of sharing the gifts God gave him with others.

Centering Prayer

Centering Prayer is a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship.

Centering Prayer is not meant to replace other kinds of prayer. Rather, it adds depth of meaning to all prayer and facilitates the movement from more active modes of prayer — verbal, mental or affective prayer — into a receptive prayer of resting in God. Centering Prayer emphasizes prayer as a personal relationship with God and as a movement beyond conversation with Christ to communion with Him.

The source of Centering Prayer, as in all methods leading to contemplative prayer, is the Indwelling Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The focus of Centering Prayer is the deepening of our relationship with the living Christ. The effects of Centering Prayer are ecclesial, as the prayer tends to build communities of faith and bond the members together in mutual friendship and love.

The Guidelines

1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.

2. 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.

3. When engaged with your thoughts*, return ever-so- gently to the sacred word. (*thoughts include body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections)

4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

The Method

1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within. (Open Mind, Open Heart, Thomas Keating)

  • The sacred word expresses our intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
  • The sacred word is chosen during a brief period of prayer to the Holy Spirit. Use a word of one or two syllables, such as: God, Jesus, Abba, Amma, Father, Mother, Amen. Other possibilities include: Love, Listen, Peace, Mercy, Let Go, Silence, Stillness, Faith, Trust.
  • Instead of a sacred word, a simple inward glance toward the Divine Presence, or noticing one’s breath may be more suitable for some persons. The same guidelines apply to these symbols as to the sacred word.
  • The sacred word is sacred not because of its inherent meaning, but because of the meaning we give it as the expression of our intention to consent.
  • Having chosen a sacred word, we do not change it during the prayer period because that would be engaging thoughts.

2. 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.

  • “Sitting comfortably” means relatively comfortably so as not to encourage sleep during the time of prayer.
  • Whatever sitting position we choose, we keep the back straight.
  • We close our eyes as a symbol of letting go of what is going on around and within us.
  • We introduce the sacred word inwardly as gently as laying a feather on a piece of absorbent cotton.
  • Should we fall asleep upon awakening we continue the prayer.

3. When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.

  • “Thoughts” is an umbrella term for every perception, including body senstations, sense perceptions, feelings, images, memories, plans, reflections, concepts, commentaries, and spiritual experiences.
  • Thoughts are an inevitable, integral and normal part of Centering Prayer.
  • By “returning ever-so-gently to the sacred word” a minimum of effort is indicated. This is the only activity we initiate during the time of Centering Prayer.
  • During the course of Centering Prayer, the sacred word may become vague or disappear.

4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

  • The additional 2 minutes enables us to bring the atmosphere of silence into everyday life.
  • If this prayer is done in a group,the leader may slowly recite a prayer such as the Lord’s Prayer, while the others listen.

Resources:

Video: