Saturday, June 25, 2011

Centering Prayer

For the past couple of days I have been using Centering Prayer as a method of meditation in place of my usual mantra based practice. I am using two books to guide me: Cynthia Bourgeault's Centering Prayer and inner Awakening and David Muyskin's Forty Days to a Closer Walk With God: The Practice of Centering Prayer. I made this change, of course, only after talking it through with my spiritual director.

Cynthia Borgeault categorises Centering Prayer as belonging to a third group of meditation practices: it is a Surrender method, as opposed to the other broad groups of meditation practices, Concentration and Awareness methods. I have found it quite easy to shift from my usual practice, although there are some small hurdles to jump. A mantra based meditation is a concentrative method.  The monkey mind is given a simple task to do, namely the saying of the mantra in order to allow the consciousness to settle, and to be in the present The task required of me during meditation is, when I realise my consciousness has been kidnapped by one of my never ceasing supply of reveries, imaginations, memories or insights, to gently bring it back to the mantra. And bring it back again. And again. Paradoxically, there is thus an inner discipline and attention required in order for me to be still. Centering prayer requires no such discipline. I am required to relinquish control and to be still, attentive and receptive in the presence of the Other who is there in the deep silence, in the cloud of unknowing, hidden by my constant smokescreen of mental activity. It is different, but I find it easier. When my mind strays from the present I bring it gently back by the use of a prayer word, which is used not so much as a mantra but rather as a sort of anchor point.

 I personally had no issues with the authenticity of Concentrative meditation as a particularly Christian discipline, but I am of course aware that some are suspicious. Centering prayer is far more directly theistic than other forms of meditation that I have tried, and I think this will make it more accessible to many Christians. It is also rooted very firmly in the Benedictine practice of Lectio Divina and thus in the close reading of scripture. Cynthia Bourgeault outlines the historical and theological credentials of centering Prayer very thoroughly in several of her works.

I will use centering Prayer for a while. 40 days seems like a good biblical number, and will enable me to assess it for my own use and as a practice to recommend to others. And ultimately, it is the encouraging of others into the path of closer union with God in stillness that it my main goal here, and in pretty much everything else that I do. 

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