The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic Podcast episode. To listen to the episode, click here.
Today is episode 83: Contemplative Summer Week Five – Centering Prayer
Hi friends, as I explained in detail before a break way back in episode 78, I’m taking this summer to focus on contemplation with a variety of methods and focuses, and each week this summer I’ll model a different kind of contemplative prayer for you. This week, we’re contemplating God using a method called centering prayer.
Centering prayer is a practice that is designed to open the mind and heart and invite God in. On the outside, it looks fairly simple – you choose a sacred word or phrase that becomes the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within you. Then, you sit comfortably, close your eyes, and silently introduce that word as an invitation to God, and each time your own thoughts come in, you gently return to that sacred word and just sit there with God for a recommended minimum of twenty minutes, twice in a day. This is a practice which is based on the teaching of Jesus found in Matthew Chapter 6: “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.” Versions of centering prayer have been used by mystics like Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux, Francis de Sales and more to draw close to God and the fruit of their prayer lives continues to inspire the faithful including me, even centuries later, so you’d think centering prayer would be something that I would really be looking forward to trying, but if you thought that, friend, you’d be wrong. The truth is, I was terrified.
I have a really active mind, like seriously active. I constantly have at least a dozen topics going on in there at a particular time and some of this is anxiety, some what the Buddhists call ‘monkey mind’ but also, I’m just always noticing stuff and processing stuff and planning for stuff and the idea of sitting in one place for twenty minutes in complete silence, well, to be honest, that really was scary to me.
And maybe that’s why I find activity more conducive to connecting with God in prayer. I’ll often feel the presence of God on a walk or a run or a yoga class and these are all so helpful for me in my own contemplation journey that I really didn’t know what to expect from just sitting and silence. And I’ll detail my experience for you here like I’ve done each week this summer, but just a reminder that because we are all different, unique, and beloved children of God, my experience will not and should not look anything like yours. Please make your time in centering prayer just that – yours – as you open yourself to communion with God who loves you.
Okay, so I sat outside in the shade and asked God for leading in choosing the sacred word or phrase that would guide me in this centering practice. I chose to begin by breathing in on the word ‘Jesus’ and breathing out on the phrase, ‘I trust in you.’ In this way I was incorporating some of the breathing disciplines I’ve learned from yoga but also a practice called Breath Prayer, which many Christians use in meditating on a particular Bible verse, and I’ll link to more about that in the show notes. But anyway, at that time, I started the stopwatch on my phone, set it face down in the grass, closed my eyes and began.
As I sat, I did experience some negative emotions and even physical symptoms like fidgeting, itching and even an accelerated heartbeat, and each time I brought myself back with my breath and the sacred phrase I chose. At some point I rested one hand on my heart and the other on my stomach, as I’d been taught to do during the meditative portions of some yoga classes and that did seem to help with my restlessness. I imagined sitting on a couch with Jesus – and this is actually something that I really do from time to time when I can’t sleep, and that image opened me up to a couple of things I felt him trying to show me.
One was to be easier on myself, that we’re always growing and never arriving and as you can imagine, that was quite a helpful message for me at that time. Also, I felt myself inviting the Holy Spirit to affect me from the top down, that is to affect my thoughts, what I see, hear, and speak, my emotions, my action, and my direction. This is a prayer I say over my kids quite a lot and it was helpful to visualize it for myself as I sat, just kind of feeling the Holy Spirit like a balm, from top to bottom. After twenty minutes of centering prayer, it was done, and I opened my eyes and said a bit of a closing prayer and that was it.
And friend, this feels like a great time to remind you and me of something I would frequently tell my CCD students back in the day, and that is that God comes to us in so many ways: in each person of the Trinity, in the Sacraments, in encounters with people and nature and so much more and he does that precisely because we are all so different and he wants to meet us where we are. God himself became a human to make himself more accessible to us, and he did that out of an overflow of love. Our job is only to be open to him in the ways that make sense and feel safe to us, and it is not ours to judge the time that we spend in prayer.
I’ll be honest, at this time in my life, I don’t think centering prayer is for me. And that’s not to say that it’s not good or fruitful – it clearly is for many people, and it may be something I’ll explore at another time to understand just why exactly it was so challenging for me, but on this day at this time with the many things that want to bounce around my monkey mind, centering prayer is just not for me. And that’s okay.
God is so good, so big, and he meets us where we are as we are. As we try these various contemplative prayer disciplines, I feel him rooting us on like a proud parent would, but like a good parent he’s not going to lead us into something that feels wrong. In his kindness, he and his mother and our family the saints will gently guide us to another path, because after all, God wants to be found by us.
So, friend, after my experience, I would recommend trying centering prayer, believe it or not. You should try it to see if this is one of those ways that resonates with you in your unique walk with God. And if you do try it, I’d love to know what you think! If you’d like to share your experience with me or if you need me for anything, you can always find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with links related the centering prayer practice I tried this week, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God, in this time that is so challenging for so many of us, help us to remember that we have personal access to you, because of your unwavering and selfless love for us. Help each one listening in their experience of contemplation this week – may each one, with courage and with your grace walk through a good door toward a deeper understanding of you in this time. I pray that as we try centering prayer this week, that we’ll make a bit more space within us for you to abide with us as we walk this life out together in love.
In the name of Jesus we pray, amen.
Well thanks so much for listening today, friend, and I’ll see you next time.
As we explore a variety of methods of contemplative prayer this summer, week five is all about centering prayer. As you choose a sacred word or phrase and sit with God in contemplation, I pray that you will have a fruitful encounter with God who is crazy about you.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or on my blog. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. Centering prayer basics from Contemplative Outreach
2. Breath Prayer ideas from Soul Shepherding
3. Lyric video: Abide with Me, by Audrey Assad