A Reflection on Centering Prayer


Cheryl LThe Clergy Health Initiative recognizes that strong spiritual wellness lays the foundation for all other spheres of health. During our Spirited Life workshops, we introduce or reacquaint pastors to a variety of spiritual practices that they can continue on their own. Following a workshop that featured centering prayer, one pastor, Cheryl Lawrence, shared the experience on her blog; it is reprinted here with her permission. Thank you, Cheryl!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It seems surprising that in all the years I have been a pastor or preparing to become a pastor, I never really had an experience with “centering prayer.” No one ever explained it well, and I had never been invited to pray a centering prayer. At least I don’t remember ever doing it — until this week, when I was at a “Spirited Life” retreat in Wilmington.

“Spirited Life” is part of the Duke Clergy Health Initiative, which focuses on the holistic wellness of United Methodist clergy in our conference and the Western NC Conference. The retreat planners had invited a Presbyterian pastor from Durham to come explain centering prayer and then to lead the fifty or so participants in a centering prayer.

The Presbyterian pastor said that centering prayer had saved her ministry. We were all listening closely after that.

Centering prayer is contemplative prayer — now, THAT I had read about as a practice of highly spiritual Christians through the centuries. But I had never heard it explained so simply and so well. Centering prayer is “the teaching of earlier times in an updated form,” according to the leader’s information.

The centering prayer often comes after our prayers of petition.  It is, simply, coming before God in silence. It is a method of prayer that moves beyond conversation with Christ to communion with him. You don’t converse with God, you don’t ask God for anything, you just sit quietly in the presence of the Almighty, for twenty minutes.

Easier said than done, believe me.

From the information: Centering prayer is a way of cultivating a deeper relationship with Christ. It is not a relaxation exercise nor a form of self-hypnosis. It is “resting in God beyond thoughts, words, and emotions.”

First, you prayerfully choose a “sacred word” as a symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within (this comes from the book Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating). Our leader said her sacred word was “peace,” but it could be one of many spiritual words like Jesus, Abba, Father, Faith, Trust, Love, Mercy.

You sit straight but comfortably (don’t want to fall asleep), close your eyes, sit quietly in the presence of Christ, and introduce the sacred word very gently whenever a thought of any kind intrudes. The sacred word is supposed to gently push away any thought that comes. Any thought…for twenty minutes. When your mind is as hyperactive as mine is, this is difficult to do.

I managed to pray the centering prayer during the workshop because the leader was there, and I was with fifty other pastors who also were praying (although some of them fell asleep). Once I got over the difficult initial period of focusing and pushing away intrusive thoughts (I’m not sure how long), the centering prayer was … awesome.  It made me hungry for more.

Since returning home, I have prayed the centering prayer several times, although I have not managed to sit silently in the presence of Christ for the full twenty minutes. This afternoon as I prayed, I fell asleep quite unintentionally, and I had a vivid dream that I was having a conversation with a colleague. When I woke, the memory of the dream was very clear, and I felt strongly led to pray for this colleague. So I did.

I am going to keep praying the centering prayer, and all I can say is — Christ is very close.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Please check back NEXT MONDAY for a follow-up post offering some resources on practicing centering prayer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *