Centering Prayer Liturgy and Resources

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This is Part II in a series on Centering Prayer.  For Part I, please see Pastor Cheryl Lawrence’s guest blog post reflecting on her experience with this spiritual practice.

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Centering Prayer is a response to to the call of the Holy Spirit to consent to God’s presence and action within.  It is based on the format of prayer that Jesus suggests in Matthew 6:6: If you want to pray, enter your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Spirited Life has offered Centering Prayer as a workshop activity for Group 2 pastors, as shared by pastor Cheryl Lawrence on her blog, and we have mentioned it a few times on this blog (here and here).  It is a form of silent prayer using a sacred word to draw focus and attention to interior silence and an intention to consent to God’ presence and action within.  For more information about the method, click here.

Several pastors have shared with us that they are offering Centering Prayer to their congregations, but developing the structure around this time can be challenging.  Below is a liturgy for worship with Centering Prayer.  This particular liturgy is written for ‘the height of this day,’ but could easily be tweaked for whenever your group gathers.  We’ve also indicated a twenty minute sit, which is recommended by Contemplative Outreach, leaders in the Centering Prayer movement.

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Each time you gather, you may use the same liturgy and alter the reading and the psalm.  As for material for the reading, consider using a favorite devotional or the week’s Gospel lectionary.  If you are interested in more contemplative materials,  the works of Fr. Thomas Keating, father of Centering Prayer, like Journey To The Center, may be appropriate.  Suggested psalms to use include 23, 46, and 62.

Worried about keeping time during the twenty minutes? Insight Timer has a free meditation timer app for both Android and iPhones.  The app has a variety of chimes to both open and close the twenty minute time of prayer.  To draw the group out of the time of interior silence, the leader may consider praying the Lord’s prayer very softly.

We hope this liturgy will be useful to you for your own centering prayer practice, for leading a group in your congregation, or to use with a group of clergy.

Centering Prayer Liturgy

Call to Worship:

One: The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

All: And also with you.

One: Blessed be the one, holy, and living God.

All: Glory to God for ever and ever.

Prayer:

Loving God, in the height of this day we pause to rest in you.  Quiet our minds that they may be still, fill our hearts that we may abide in love and trust.  Christ, as a light illumine and guide me.  Christ, as a shield overshadow me.  Christ under me; Christ over me; Christ beside me on my left and my right.

Reading

Prayer:

Holy God, open our hearts to the silent presence of the Spirit of your Son.  Lead us into that mysterious silence, where your love is revealed to all who call, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’

20 minute sit

Psalm

Go in peace

Click here for a copy of this liturgy, ready to be printed, copied, and used with a group.

–Catherine Wilson

Image by flickr user ninjapotato via Creative Commons.

Monday Giveaway #1: Richard Foster’s Sanctuary of the Soul!

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sanctuary-of-the-soul-2We are so pleased to bring you the first in our Mondays in May giveaway series, celebrating our one-year “blog-iversary“! We can’t think of a better resource to offer for this first giveaway than the newest book by beloved Christian writer and teacher, Richard Foster, author of the contemporary classic, Celebration of Discipline.

Foster’s newest title, Sanctuary of the Soul, focuses on meditative prayer as a practice that is both ancient and contemporary–rooted in scripture and the writings of some of the oldest voices in the Christian tradition, yet also offering spiritual depth and wisdom to the individual Christian in today’s church.

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Spiritual health lies at the very core of the Duke Clergy Health Initiative’s vision of holistic wellness. Many of the clergy participating in Spirited Life have expressed an interest in learning more about Christian spiritual practices, particularly ones that enable them to refill their own “wells,” as they spend so much time feeding others. One way that our staff has tried to respond to this need is by devoting time  in our fall workshops to the practice of centering prayer. We’ve written about centering prayer on the blog here and here.  So it is with this enthusiasm for contemplative prayer that we chose this book to be our first giveaway item.

For a glimpse into the book, there is a great review of it by Rev. Jason Byassee, pastor of Boone UMC in Boone, NC, first printed in Books & Culture when the book was published in late 2011. Read the full review here, or enjoy this excerpt:

This was a hard book review to write. You can only read so much elegant prose inviting you to pray before you feel guilty for not actually praying. Richard Foster notes this difficulty, quoting Thomas Merton: “You cannot learn meditation from a book. You just have to meditate.”

True enough, but good books help, and Sanctuary of the Soul is a good one. Not a sentence is misplaced, each drives you to the next with the expectation that good things will be waiting. Like all of Foster’s work since his landmark book The Celebration of Discipline, this one presents the spiritual disciplines to an evangelical audience as disciplines that are (not paradoxically) grace-filled.  If Ron Sider and Tony Campolo made it possible for evangelicals to speak of social justice, Richard Foster has done the same for spiritual disciplines.

There are 3 ways to be entered in our giveaway:

  1. Take a moment to look back through the blog and find a post that catches your attention, then leave a comment with what you like about it!  ( = 1 entry)
  2. “Like” the Clergy Health Initiative’s facebook page! ( = 1 entry)
  3. Share our blog with 5 friends, and tell them about the giveaway! ( = 1 entry)

You can enter as many times as you’d like, just make sure to leave us a comment ON THIS POST with how many entries are “due” to you! That’s right, if you told 25 friends about the giveaway, and liked our facebook page, and left a comment on a previous post, you would be entered 7 times! We’re excited to spread the word about this gem of a book, and about the resources that this blog represents. Thanks for celebrating with us by participating in the giveaway!

A winner will be drawn on Friday morning, May 10, so be sure to get all your entries logged by 10 a.m. EDT Friday.

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Thanks to ALL who supported the blog this week by leaving comments, “liking” the Duke Clergy Health Initiative Facebook page, and telling your friends! This week’s giveaway is now closed! And now, (drumroll, please!) the winner of Richard Foster’s Sanctuary of the Soul is Aundrea!  Congratulations!  Please contact us Aundrea, and let us know where to mail your book.

Check back next Monday for details on our next giveaway!

–Caren Swanson

Grandma’s daily meditations

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My grandmother was a wise, exceptionally well-read, open-minded, grandmapragmatic, spiritual, anti-dogmatic woman whose car proudly bore a “Catholic Woman for Obama” bumper sticker in a heavily red-leaning part of Eastern North Carolina.

Madelon Leaman Hyman passed away in January 2011. A few of her mementos that I have held onto include that bumper sticker and a photocopy of three daily meditations that she kept taped up in her bathroom. These meditations are beautiful in their simplicity, and I read them daily.

I am sharing this one with you in the hope that it brings you the same peace and perspective that it brings to me:

Ever in my inmost being, eternal, absolutely one, whole, perfect, complete, indivisible, timeless, ageless, shapeless, without face, form or figure, is the silent presence fixed in the hearts of all wo/men.

Anonymous meditation

–Melanie Kolkin

Hope Amid Disaster: Sermons After the Boston Bombings

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As I type, it is Monday afternoon, and I am keenly aware that almost exactly one week ago, moments of celebration for Boston Marathon runners and spectators quickly shifted from a time of unity and celebration to terror, death, and horror. During times of national tragedy such as occurred over the past week, pastors and religious leaders are tasked with the monumental role of comforting their communities.

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TIME magazine asked seven pastors from across the country, from Copley Square to rural Ohio to Los Angeles, to share the reflections and sermons they would offer their communities after the tragedy in Boston.

Katie Crowe is the pastor of Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church in Durham and works with Spirited Life in providing training for pastors on the practice of Centering Prayer. She is one of the pastors who offered words of hope as an antidote to violence, reflecting on the passage from the Gospel of John where Jesus shows the disciples the scars from the wounds of the crucifixion.

Katie shares that Christians have a Savior who shows his scars as a sign of solidarity; he knows the trials we endure and the pain that comes along with them. The scars are also the place where God’s work of healing can flourish.

“When Jesus bore the world’s brokenness on the cross, God’s grace filled in the gap between human sin and God’s righteousness, building a stronger body by uniting us with God through Christ as one. Today, the scars on Christ’s body represent the brokenness and sin of the world that can break us down, create gaps in our faith, and tear us apart as a human family. In this painful and anxious place, God’s grace fills in the gaps by the work and power of the Holy Spirit, building us all into a stronger body of believers, and making the moment of crisis a means of transformation within disciples, communities, and the world.”

As we pray for our healing in our country and peace within our world, we also pray for pastors and religious leaders who are sharing messages of hope, peace, and comfort, messages that allow us all be reminded of where we gather endurance for the races set before us. Thanks be to God for your work and ministry.

Catherine Wilson

Image from flickr user txfc of a vigil for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing Monday, April 22, in Davis Square, Sommerville, Mass., used with permission via Creative Commons.

How to Visit a Grave, and Good Friday

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The Patheos blog, Good Letters, shared this guest post by writer Shannon Huffman Polson. Written as a list of 15 steps instructing the reader “how to visit a grave,” it speaks to real emotion and experiences that are pertinent to remember on this day, when we mark the descent of Jesus to the grave.

I also really loved this Good Friday prayer, below, from writer and Mennonite pastor Carol Penner.  May your day be blessed.

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We come gingerly to prayer on this Good Friday
holding the pieces of our broken world.
So much is ruined and spoiled,
so much hatred and anger,
so many acts of violence.
Our eyes turn to the cross
as evidence of our sinfulness,
crucifying even the one who loved us most and best.

There is no talk today of who is greatest
no talk of triumph and victory.
Instead we stand quietly here at the foot of the cross,
joining the few friends who stand in silent witness.
In this solemn hour,
as we remember the death of our Saviour,
crack open all that is hard within us,
every place that is self-satisfied and self-serving,
every attitude that is superior and smug.

We come before you as your broken people,
penitent, sorrowful, anguished.
Our comfort lies in words spoken at death’s door;
Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.

–by Carol Penner

–by Caren Swanson

Image by flickr user 50%chanceofrain via Creative Commons.

Holy Week Prayers

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Here we are at Holy Week, leading to the holiest of days…days that for pastors especially are filled with much responsibility and many long hours of preparation. In this spirit, we offer two meditations and a reminder that we at the Clergy Health Initiative are remembering you in our prayers as you lead your congregation toward the Feast of the Resurrection.

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Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,
may your reign become real through the works of our hands
and your love become alive in our hearts.  Amen.
— Common Prayer

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To wash the feet of a brother or sister in Christ, to allow someone to wash our feet, is a sign that together we want to follow Jesus, to take the downward path, to find Jesus’ presence in the poor and the weak.  Is it not a sign that we too want to live a heart-to-heart relationship with others, to meet them as a person and a friend, and to live in communion with them?  Is it not a sign that we yearn to be men and women of forgiveness, to be healed and cleansed and to heal and cleanse others and thus to live more fully in communion with Jesus?

–Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities

— Caren Swanson

top image by Sarah Bessey, used with permission; lower image by Caren Swanson

For the Attainment of Heaven

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Dr. Warren Kinghorn, a Duke University psychiatrist and theologian, spoke recently with the Duke Clergy Health Initiative about a Christian view of flourishing, advocating for the care of both body AND soul.  As part of that talk, he shared the following prayer from St. Thomas Aquinas:

For the Attainment of Heaven

God of all consolation,
You Who see nothing in us
but what You have given us,
I invoke Your help:
after this life has run its course,
grant me
Knowledge of You, the first Truth,
and enjoyment of Your divine majesty.

O most bountiful Rewarder, endow my body
with beauty of splendor,
with swift responsiveness to all commands,
with complete subservience to the spirit,
and with freedom from all vulnerability.

Add to these
an abundance of Your riches,
a river of delights,
a flood of other goods

So that I may enjoy
Your solace above me,
a delightful garden beneath my feet,
the glorification of body and soul within me,
and the sweet companionship
of men and angels around me.

With You, most merciful Father,
may my mind attain
the enlightenment of wisdom,
my desire what is truly desirable,
and my courage the praise of triumph.

There, with You, is
refuge from all dangers,
multiple of dwelling places,
and harmony of wills.

There, with You, resides
the cheerfulness of spring,
the brilliance of summer,
the fruitfulness of autumn,
and the gentle repose of winter.

Give me O Lord my God,
that life without death
and that joy without sorrow
where there is
the greatest freedom,
unconfined security,
secure tranquility,
delightful happiness,
happy eternity,
eternal blessedness,
and the vision of truth,
and praise O God.

Amen.

– Katie Huffman

(Photo by Flickr user sgs_1019, via Creative Commons)

Time for another walk

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Over the past few months, we’ve been reacquainting the pastors in our Spirited Life program with the spiritual practices of contemplative prayer and lectio divina. We have demonstrated both practices at our workshops, hoping that they prove useful to clergy who are choosing to incorporate spiritual disciplines into their individual wellness programs.

I’d like to augment this spiritual tool kit with yet another practice: walking a labyrinth.

Labyrinth.com explains that “the labyrinth reshapes a 12th-century ritual for the 21st century. Its maze-like path takes you on a symbolic journey, creates space to unwind and think – in particular about our relationships with ourselves, one another, our planet and God.”

I was introduced to the practice of walking the labyrinth while in divinity school.  A labyrinth had been placed in Duke Chapel, and at first glance, it looked like a maze or crop circle. Fortunately, a benevolent classmate entered the labyrinth first, allowing me to follow.

As I walked, I began to relax and pray. It was so quiet: the swishing of our stockinged feet was the only sound. I remember bowing my head, but praying with my eyes open so that I wouldn’t accidentally run someone over or step into someone walking in the opposite direction. There was something special about the solitude and the openness of the labyrinth. I felt that, despite the fact that we were each whispering our own prayers, we were all part of a prayer community, petitioning God en masse. I believe that we all felt the same peace, the same satisfaction of our prayers being heard, the same faithful anticipation of our prayers being answered.

This wonderful introduction to labyrinths opened up a whole new world to me! I fell in love with being able to weave my prayers into the pattern of a labyrinth. So you can imagine my excitement to find a stunning labyrinth at the New Hope Camp and Conference Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. The path of this labyrinth is lined with broken glass of many colors. When the sun beams brightly, the labyrinth sparkles so beautifully, like a collection of mini-prisms creating a breathtaking kaleidoscope. Staring at it in awe, my first thought was, “Wow God, you do some great work!”

I am sure there are far simpler and far grander labyrinths to be explored (click here for a World Wide Labyrinth Locator). Have you come across one?  Is it time for another walk?

– Angela M. MacDonald

(Image credits: Duke Divinity School, New Hope Camp and Conference Center)

‘Tis the season…

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For some, faithfulness to God’s call to ministry includes the very humbling journey toward ordination.  Many of you following that path have written and submitted the requisite papers, along with the Bible study lesson plans and the video-recorded sermons. Now it is time to go before the Board of Ordained Ministry for provisional or continuation interviews.

Let us take a few moments to pray Psalm 111. May God bless the candidates, the board, and everyone who has provided support along this journey.

Psalm 111

Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant. He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.  The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.

– Angela MacDonald
(images courtesy of www.nervousspeaker.com and www.klove.com)

 

Lectio Divina

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Kept alive by the Benedictine monastics, lectio divina is a slow, contemplative prayer over Scripture that allows the Bible, the Word of God, to become an avenue for uniting the praying individual with God.  Setting aside time for the practice of lectio divina can help us create a foundational spiritual rhythm in our daily lives.

The first step in lectio divina — listening to or reading the Word — is done in a manner very different than how modern Christians often consume texts, be they newspapers, books or even the Bible. Rather than speed-reading, lectio encourages us to slow down and listen to the words in a spirit of silence and awe. We are listening for the still, small voice of God that will speak to us personally – not loudly, but intimately. In lectio we read slowly, attentively…gently listening to hear a word or phrase that is God’s message for us this day.

Lectio divina can be done alone or in groups.  Below is a set of steps for practicing individually:

  1. Read: Slowly read a short piece of Scripture and listen for the Word of God.  Look for a word or phrase that catches your attention.
  2. Meditate: Meditate on that word or phrase.  As you reread those words or phrases, listen for how they might be connected to experiences or truths present in your life.
  3. Pray: Let your heart speak to God.  Ask that He might bring the Word into the deepest and most intimate spaces of your life.
  4. Contemplate/Rest: Remain still and silent.  Is there anything else from the passage or your meditation that God is bringing to your awareness?

Here is a sample procedure for groups:

  1. The group leader slowly reads through the Scripture passage aloud.  A period of silence and contemplation follows.  The leader asks, “What word caught your attention?”  Participants should feel free to answer silently or aloud.
  2. The leader slowly reads the Scripture passage aloud a second time.  A period of silence and contemplation follows.  The leader asks, “What phrase stood out to you?”  Participants can answer silently or aloud.
  3. The leader slowly reads the Scripture passage aloud a third time.  A period of silence and contemplation follows.  The leader asks, “What invitation do you hear in this passage?” Participants can answer silently or aloud.
  4. The leader ends the session with a prayer.  Sample: “Lord, may these words take on flesh in our lives. Infuse your scriptures in our daily walk with you.  Bless those in this room, protect them, care for them, give them strength and discernment.  Amen.”

Do you have experience with lectio divina?  We’d love to hear from you.

Resources that were used to create this post and that you may find helpful in adopting the practice of lectio divina:

Beliefnet: How to Practice Lectio Divina

Bible Gateway Blog

The Carmelites

-Katie Huffman

Photo by Flickr user Leonard John Matthews via Creative Commons