I don’t like centering prayer, which is to say that I struggle with it daily.
I’m not a fan of struggle, of tension, of staying put amidst discomfort when the rambling voices within are doing their best to keep my mind occupied. I don’t like feeling out of control, and the practice of centering prayer shows me just how out of control I really am.
Truly, it can be maddening. You would never imagine the amount of thoughts buried deep within, chugging along like a steam engine—my ego shoveling coal to keep the train running in an effort to avoid any moment of inner stillness. He knows that when I reach that place, he’s out of a job, if only for a second, and so he keeps piling on fuel for the fire—to-do lists, insecurities, future plans and current musings. Thoughts like What should we make for dinner tonight?, followed quickly by Note to self: take the broth out of the freezer, are accompanied by an a thumbs up from my ego engineer—Way to think ahead, Lacy. You’re so on top of things. Gold star!
But as that gold star fades away, making way for another productive thought (we’re on a roll, here!), I catch myself, remembering my centering prayer practice and returning to that place of inner silence and stillness where the Divine dwells. Planning, thinking, rehashing, imagining—I label each thought that held me captive, disarming their power and releasing them from my ego’s desperate grasp. This manner of labeling thoughts is a mindfulness practice, and I began incorporating it into my centering prayer practice long ago as a tool to help me return and remember in the moments when I need help most.
This is why I practice centering prayer. Not because it’s easy (it’s not), not because I look forward to it (I’ don’t), not because when that sweet bell chimes after twenty minutes I feel as if I’ve touched the heavens (though I do breathe a sigh of relief for making it another day). I practice centering prayer (with practice being the key word here) because of its continual invitation to silence and still the mind in order to simply rest in the presence of God.
What distinguishes centering prayer from eastern meditation is the aim of the practice. In centering prayer, we don’t necessarily seek to clear the mind in order to experience enlightenment or transcendence but rather to commune with God just as we are. When distractions do arrive (and they will), a Sacred word is used to guide the seeker back into silence, stillness, and that place of communion. It is an exercise of continually returning to the presence of the Divine, and learning to rest in that Sacred presence.
I began practicing centering prayer a few years ago as I was learning more about the contemplative path and beginning to pursue the interior journey with more intention. I was drawn to the nature of the practice and the invitation to set thoughts aside simply be. Plus, as someone recovering from an overly-extroverted spiritual upbringing, I was desperate for a form of prayer that went beyond words, because I was fresh out.
In those early stages of discovery, my husband and I began attending centering prayer classes at a local church. Each Wednesday night, we’d gather together with other fellow seekers in the small chapel above the sanctuary for period of centering prayer followed by conversation about the practice. Though we only attended the class for a few months, something the instructor said has stayed with me ever since, encouraging me when I become overwhelmed by my busy and easily distracted mind. “In the practice of centering prayer, faith isn’t necessarily expressed by twenty minutes of perfect inner silence,” he said, “but instead by each time you release a distracting thought and return to your intention, for every return is an expression of faith.”
If I’m counting correctly, this means my typical centering prayer practice offers about a thousand opportunities (give or take a few) to express faith, as I am continually called back into the presence of the Divine, reminded of my intention in order to return to that place of inner silence and stillness.
For me, centering prayer isn’t simply a single spiritual practice, but a thousand invitations to practice rolled into one.
And so, I return. I return to centering prayer because it challenges me by pushing me beyond my edges and yet also blesses me with its countless offerings of grace; I return to centering prayer because its focus on inner silence and stillness deepens my interior journey each day; and I return to centering prayer because it continues to guide me along the contemplative path, revealing more of my true self and the Divine each day.
What prayer practice pushes you beyond your edges, calling you to return again and again even when there’s struggle?
PS: Listen to our conversation on prayer in the latest episode of the Sacred Ordinary Days Podcast and consider joining us for our upcoming retreat this May where we’ll immerse ourselves in contemplative practices and journey together through the struggles and moments of Sacred Encounter. Learn more and register »
PPS: Thinking of enhancing your practice with prayer beads? My set of hamsa prayer beads has a new look! Check them out in the Journey Shop »