Contemplative or Centering Prayer


We tend to think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words, or images in the imagination. But these are not the only ways to pray. Traditionally, a person would read some scripture, think about its meaning, and pray using the scripture that was read. At the end, the person would "rest in God", i.e. contemplate. (See Lectio Devina.) In contemplative prayer, or centering prayer, we open the mind and heart, that is our entire self, to God beyond thoughts, words, and emotions. We open our awareness to God knowing through faith that He is closer to us than our thoughts, and even our breathing. It is a process that can lead to a union with God.


The guidelines for this type of prayer are fairly simple.


1. Choose a sacred word that will serve as a symbol of your consent to God's presence within you and his action within you. (This word could be Father, Jesus, Lord, mother, faith, peace, amen, etc. It could even be an "inward gaze" or awareness. Perhaps, one could use awareness of one's breathing as in buddhist mindfulness as a "sacred word".)

2. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Silently, use the sacred word to indicate you consent to God's presence within you and consent to whatever action he may wish to take.

3. When you become aware of thoughts, feelings, or images return gently to the sacred word.

4. At the end of your period of prayer, remain in silence, eyes closed for a couple of minutes. (The supporters of this form of prayer suggest one should continue for up to 20 minutes twice a day.)

It is suggested that the benefits of this form of prayer come not so much during the prayer but in our daily lives. It is not a form of relaxation, or new age meditation, but a way to commune with God in his own language, silence. It is an act of faith, love and hope, seeking a closer relationship with Him. For more read anything by Fr. Thomas Keating. Also read the classic text, Cloud of Unknowing, as well as the writings of Saints John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila.

Return to Awakening to Prayer.