PASTOR COLUMN - Centering Prayer leads to internal silence to commune with God

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few months ago, I attended a wonderful Centering Prayer workshop at St. Gertrude's Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho.

Centering Prayer is a Christian contemplative meditation practice leading to internal silence as a means of communing with God. It has been popularized recently by Catholic and Episcopal clerics, primarily the Rev. Thomas Keating and Cynthia Bourgeault.

Centering Prayer requires our intention to be in a loving relationship with Spirit and our commitment to effortlessly surrender our thoughts and emotions in order to simply rest in God. It allows us to release our ordinary awareness of living in this world. In fact, it goes beyond even spiritual awareness, deeper, to the level of the Higher or True Self as a child of God, and finally, even deeper into Oneness with Divine Presence. Centering Prayer is an attitude of the heart - of love, trust and faith. It is a form of prayer that has been practiced by Christian monastics for more than 16 centuries.

The biblical foundation of Centering Prayer is found in two scriptural passages: Psalm 46:6 "Be still and know that I am God." And from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:6 "... But 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." It is a very intimate form of prayer in which we simply rest in God, beyond words, in pure communion. It is a pure gift, opening us to God's presence beyond thoughts, words and emotions. It's a relationship between a human person whose potential is limitless and the infinite God.

As with all forms of prayer and meditation, the major hindrance to an experience of silence is thoughts - "mind chatter," "monkey mind," etc. A major premise for Centering Prayer is that thoughts are inevitable. They're what the brain does. We cannot silence the functioning of the brain, but we can and must find a way to detach from these thoughts. The problem is not thinking, but becoming caught up in it. If we can learn to simply watch thoughts float by as boats down a river, without becoming involved in them, eventually our attention will slip away from them and we can simply exist in silent communion with God. However, often, once we realize and think we're not engaging thoughts, we often pop right back up to surface awareness and follow the boats of thoughts again. What we need is something that can bring us back to centering deep within the silence, barely aware of the thoughts floating along on the surface of our consciousness. That something is called a Sacred Word. As soon as we realize that we have engaged in a thought, we begin to repeat the sacred word which allows our thoughts to fade away, to be released as our attention is refocused on the Divine. This is something we allow, not something we do. Examples of sacred words can be: Father, Spirit, Love, Peace, Listen, Faith, or Trust. The word can also be completely neutral like Yes or No or a sound like shhhh, or we can simply follow our breath. The word is sacred not because of its intrinsic meaning, but because of the meaning we give it as the expression of our intent and consent.

In this form of prayer we should avoid analyzing our experiences and hold no expectations for their outcomes. No control - God is in control here, we just show up. The effects of Centering Prayer may not be understood at the time, but it may be later when we interact with others that the benefits may become apparent. The ego world develops "cracks" and the spiritual world, the realm of the True Self, the world of the Divine, slowly but surely begins to shine through our lives and our minds.

The Rev. Dr. Joy Kachel is the Spiritual Leader at Unity Church of Peace. She offers Centering Prayer meditation sessions weekly on Fridays at noon. The meditation is from 12:15 to 12:35 p.m. to allow people to come on their lunch hour. There is also Meditation for Inner Harmony on Tuesday evenings from 7 to 8 p.m. This offers a variety of meditation forms: guided, silent, walking and sound. Call 509-520-1915 for more information.

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