Companionship and guidance on the journey
Two breathing exercises
Giving attention to one’s breathing can yield enormous health benefits and prepare one for contemplation. According to a recent study at Stanford, just five minutes a day can yield astounding results. Click here to learn about Cyclic Sighing. And the Cleveland Clinic encourages another breathing exercise known as Box Breathing: click here to learn more.
Centering Prayer: It’s very, very simple…
“It’s very, very simple. You sit, either in a chair or on a prayer stool or mat and allow your heart to open toward that invisible but always present Origin of all that exists. Whenever a thought comes into your mind, you simply let the thought go and return to that open, silent attending upon the depths. Not because thinking is bad, but because it pulls you back to the surface of yourself. You use a short word or phrase, known as a ‘sacred word,’ such as ‘abba’ or ‘peace’ or ‘be still’ to help you let go of the thought promptly and cleanly. You do this practice for twenty minutes, a bit longer if you’d like, then you simply get up and move on with your life.
“What goes on in those silent depths during the time of Centering Prayer is no one’s business, not even your own; it is between your innermost being and God…. Your own subjective experience of the prayer may be that nothing happened – except for the more-or-less continuous motion of letting go of thoughts. But in the depths of your being, in fact, plenty has been going on, and things are quietly but firmly being rearranged.”
Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, pp. 5-6
The chief obstacle
“The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separate from Him. If we get rid of that thought, our troubles will be greatly reduced. We fail to believe that we are always with God and that He is part of every reality. The present moment, every object we see, our inmost nature are all rooted in Him. But we hesitate to believe this until personal experience gives us the confidence to believe in it. This involves the gradual development with intimacy with God. God constantly speaks to us through other people and external events, as well as from within. The experience of God’s presence activates our capacity to perceive Him in everything else…. Centering prayer is a way of awakening to the reality in which we are immersed.”
Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, pp. 33-34
Trying too hard
“You cannot do this prayer by will power. The more effort you put into it, the less well it goes. When you catch yourself trying hard, relax and let go. Introduce the sacred word gently, incredibly gently, as if you were laying a feather on a piece of absorbent cotton.”
Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, p. 49
Nothing could be more natural
“We are built for contemplation…. Communion with God in the silence of the heart is a God-given capacity, like the rhododendron’s capacity to flower, the fledgling’s for flight, and the child’s for self-forgetful abandon and joy. If the grace of God that suffuses and simplifies the vital generosity of our lives does not consummate this capacity while we live, then the very arms of God that embrace us as we enter the transforming mystery of death will surely do so….we are built to commune with God.”
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land, p. 1
Union with God is something we already have but need to discover
“Union with God is not something we acquire by a technique but the grounding truth of our lives that engenders the very search for God. Because God is the ground of our being, the relationship between creature and Creator is such that, by sheer grace, separation is not possible. God does not know how to be absent. The fact that most of us experience throughout most of our lives a sense of absence or distance from God is the great illusion that we are caught up in; it is the human condition. The sense of separation from God is real, but the meeting of stillness reveals that this perceived separation does not have the last word. This illusion of separation is generated by the mind and is sustained by the riveting of our attention to the interior soap opera, the constant chatter of the cocktail party going on in our heads. For most of us this is what normal is, and we are good at coming up with ways of coping with this perceived separation (our consumer-driven entertainment culture takes care of much of it). But some of us are not so good at coping, and so we drink ourselves into oblivion or cut or burn ourselves ‘so that the pain will be in a different place on the outside.’
“The grace of salvation, the grace of Christian wholeness that flowers in silence, dispels the illusion of separation. For when the mind is brought to stillness, and all our strategies of acquisition have dropped, a deeper truth presents itself: we are and have always been one with God and we are all one in God (John 17:21).”
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land, pp. 15-16
The Nature of God’s Closeness
Centering Prayer is patterned on the formula given by Jesus 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.
Entering 'your inner room' and 'praying to your Father in secret' are obviously aimed at deepening our relationship with God. What happens in the inner room is a process of growing in 'the deep knowledge of God' (Colossians 1:11). God of course does not actually come closer; rather God's actual closeness at all times and in every place begins to penetrate our ordinary consciousness. To live in the presence of God on a continuous basis can become a kind of fourth dimension to our three-dimensional world, forming an invisible but real background to everything that we do or that happens in our lives."
Thomas Keating, Manifesting God, pp. 9-10
A word for clergy (that applies to all of us)
“A significant moment in my own journey occurred when I was doing lectio divina in the Gospel of John and came to this sentence: ‘How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God?’ (Jn 5:44). I realized I would never intentionally miss an appointment that I made with a parishioner, but that I would allow any distraction to draw me away from my prayer time. It was as if I didn’t really want to pray. At another level, I saw that I was worshiping the opinion that my parishioners had of me. I was allowing my fear of failure in their eyes to become my God. My desire to experience God was in conflict with my desire to please my parishioners. I did not like what I saw about the choice I was making. …
“While we don’t speak of it often, many of us clergy do not give a significant amount of our best time to intimacy with God. As a consequence, many of us are in real spiritual trouble.”
Thomas R. Ward Jr., “What is Contemplation? Thomas Merton and the Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel,” Sewanee Theological Review, Pentecost 2010, Volume 53:3, pp. 291-293