Centering Prayer

Since my earlier post on meditation, I have been looking for a way of organizing my prayer/meditation life so it’s not just sitting there with no clear objective.

In searching for Christian meditation techniques from the esoteric to the more-conventional, I came across a an interesting one: Centering Prayer. This method is both easy and difficult. Easy, because you can start in minutes without extensive training. Difficult, because of the busy mind.

A simple introduction to Centering Prayer is found in this brochure (PDF) and on Contemplative Outreach.

In centering prayer, you follow four guidelines:

1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
2. 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 within.
3. When engaged with your thoughts,* return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

*thoughts include body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections

Pretty simple, eh? The only problem is that it’s hard to sit still for twenty minutes, and letting go of thoughts (a process called kenosis) can be sometimes difficult. But I’ve found that it’s worth it.

Through this practice I’ve found some more inner peace and the ability to let go of disturbing or sinful thoughts. Instead of battling against the unsettling thought by declaring “That’s not who I am in Christ!” or somesuch, I find myself able to gently let the thought go and proceed in life as if nothing happened at all. I’ve heard it said that thoughts are like birds – one may land on your head, but you don’t have to let it build a nest. The practice of letting go of thoughts and embracing quiet is valuable because quiet is where the deepest presence of God dwells.

One of the great things about centering prayer is that you can’t really fail at it. The only failure is in not doing the practice. It’s relatively easy to chop out twenty, or even ten, minutes of my day, to do this simple practice. It’s not always easy to let go of overwhelming thoughts, but God always helps me through it. Highly recommended.

For more on the practical aspects of centering prayer, see this post.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

‘Lord, Help!’

It has long been my belief that the most holy, most sanctified, and possibly the most important prayer one can pray is also one of the simplest:

“Lord, help!”

Often I find my emotions going one way and life circumstances going a different way and I am stuck in the middle, feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. It is at those times, which are frequent, that I pray this one prayer.

“Help me, Lord.”

There is also a personal adaptation of ‘Jesus Loves Me’ that I sometimes sing to myself on these occasions:

Jesus help me, this I ask
I’m insufficient for this task
I need you to light my way
Every night and every day

Oh, Jesus, help me
Yes, Jesus, help me
Yes, Jesus, help me
I need you every day

Sometimes I feel ashamed that I am in constant need of divine help just to make it through some days. But who else would I ask for help from? I already take my medication. I ask for prayer from my wife. But the quickest way to fix the situation is to go straight to the Source. And when I pray, I find my emotions calming down, my perspective shifting a little, and a bit of peace coming in where there was unrest.

“Jesus, help me.”

Perhaps much of my prayer seems self-centered. But how else should I pray? I cannot help others if the spark of joy, creativity, contentment, and peace are not active within me. Without that stability that comes from God, I can do nothing. I can’t write, I can’t sing, I can’t do much of anything. But what I can do is hunker down and ask God to help me.

“Lord, help.”

‘He is the vine, I am a branch; without him, I can do nothing.’ Thankfully, with him we can do everything that’s necessary. All we have to do is ask for help.