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Centering / Contemplative Prayer

Sister Doreen’s Reflections

Photo by Dorothy Dahli used with permission

I believe we are all called to a contemplative life and prayer and  would like to share some of my own ponderings and wisdom gleaned along the way. I shared these thoughts last year, so this is a refresher!

Do you ever find yourself watching the clouds in the sky?  The clouds that speak like a parable for me are those big puffy white clouds that seem to have rather darker bottoms to them.  They remind me of lemon meringue pies! 
How often, as a person of prayer who desires to grow more deeply as a person of prayer, I find myself looking for God – for lemon meringue pies in the sky – looking for signs in the heavens, something big and compelling – and easily or purposefully overlooking God’s presence in my day-to-day life.  We all know that it is in our experience of everyday living that we discover God’s search for us.  We all know that everything was made or is to be lived out in the light of God.  We all know that there is a genuine connection between the very specific things that are happening or have happened in our lives, and the strands of longing and searching for meaning, for truth, for God.  We all know that God longs for us, that we are the apple of God’s eye, the beloved of the Beloved.  But do you find yourself, sometimes, looking for lemon meringue pies in the sky, for a big experience, for something out of the ordinary that surely will bring us closer to God than this mundane, hurry-scurry, overstressed life of ours?!  And yet, real prayer, real contemplation happens when our hearts are open to God in all the colours of the world.  It is a way of walking through the universe whole and holy.  it is living Lectio Divina.  It is becoming people of prayer, not people who say prayers.

As people of prayer we have the opportunity of letting nothing go by without being open to being nourished by the inner meaning of that event in life.  It is not in the lemon meringue pies, but in the nitty gritty bits and pieces of my own life, circumstances and experiences that God is at home.

It is in the midst of the scrap yards of our everyday life that we discover ourselves at home in the heart of God.  As people of prayer, the place to which God calls us is the place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.  This is a call to a vibrant faith, and to an authentic life of prayer.  This is contemplative living, at the heart of which is centering prayer, contemplative prayer, silent prayer.

It is out of the scraps of the various colours and hues of my everyday life that I weave a thing of beauty and love with God.

To dwell in the presence of God – to wait in silence listening with the ear of our heart: being clear about your intention is really the touchstone of centering, contemplative prayer – for the method of prayer will consist primarily of a repeated returning to and refocusing of your intention.  Just as one repeatedly refocuses a camera lens that has drifted slightly off. I often put a visual reminder of being in the presence of God: I have a cup of tea and put a second cup beside an empty chair for God! Or I begin with my own personal mantra (a word, phrase or sound to aid in meditation). And then prepare myself to quiet down and center on spending time with God.

  • Put your teeth into attention:  being willing to see the wandering minds are perfectly normal – centering prayer is about reassurance that all this is perfectly normal.  Make a deal with ourself – if you catch yourself thinking, let the thought go, release it and bring yourself back into alignment with your original intention, which was to maintain that bare, formless openness to God.  If the mind wanders and you let things go a thousand times in half an hour that is wonderful!  A thousand opportunities to return to God!  This is at the heart of centering prayer: letting go.
  • The sacred word is the helpmate for letting go.  The shorter the better for a sacred word and it is used to oil the release or letting go.

The whole dynamic of the practice of Lectio leading into contemplative or centering prayer is a way of weaving listening, hearing, responding and resting until it becomes part of the very fabric of our life lived in relation with God in prayer.

In your prayer time, a suggestion of several ways:

  1. -Sit relaxed and quiet.
    -Be in faith and love to God who dwells in the centre of your being.
    -Take up a love word and let it be gently present, supporting your being to God in faith-filled love.
    -Whenever you become aware of anything, simply and gently return to God with the use of your love word.

More briefly, it could be put this way;

-Be with God within, Use a word to stay, Use a word to return.

2. Or another way:
-Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action in your life
-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 in your life
-When you become aware of anything, return ever-so-gently to God, using the sacred word
-At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

3. Or yet another way:

Sit quietly, comfortably and relaxed – express your desire to be with God – move into the centre of yourself by imagining yourself descending a mountain or stairs – say a chosen word over and over till you are focused – in the stillness be aware of God’s presence and absorb God’s love – stillness and silence.  At the end of the time, give thanks and close with a prayer.

In our cluttered, distracted, and noisy life the task of being really present is not easy.  But I believe that it is our high calling.  It is a spiritual practice. A mantra.  The gift of silence is worn away gradually in the face of the demands of daily life, so that when we meet or encounter contemplative prayer it may seem strange and inaccessible.  But with effort, spiritual practice, we can stop the outer noise.  Stopping the inner noise is another matter … I still go right on talking, worrying, arguing with myself, daydreaming …  I have needed to discover an on/off switch!  The faithful practice of centering prayer can do this.  Taking the rhythm described above, and doing this practice for 20 minutes or ½ hour – putting my teeth into attention, being willing to admit that wandering minds are normal, I have made a deal with myself.  If I catch myself thinking, I let the thought go and get back to my intention – loving God and letting God love me.  If the mind wanders and I let things go a thousand times in half an hour that is wonderful!  A thousand opportunities to return to God!  This is at the heart of centering prayer:  letting go.  A sacred word is the helpmate for letting go. Choose one that works for you.   Centering prayer may gift me with Contemplative prayer, simply resting in God – God looking at me and I looking at God – and that is enough.

And Jesus said: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place, and rest awhile (Mark 6:31)

“You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.”
Your face, Lord, will I seek (Psalm 27:11)