Sunday, May 3, 2009


The workshop I led in Ireland and lead in the US as well--a couple or three a year--has, as one of its primary components, the practice of 'centering prayer'.

When I explain how to do centering prayer I usually say something like this: "Centering prayer is like nothing so much as it is like 'doing nothing'. Sit in a comfortable position--intend to 'be with God'--and be quiet for 20 minutes."

There are more instuctions I could give--like choosing or being found by a 'prayer word' to use to return to the 'nothingness' whenever the thoughts and feelings you will have intrude on your silence; like always returning to the the place where God dwells within you and seeking to 'be' there--stuff like that. But, quite honestly, centering prayer is putting your butt in the seat and intending to spend time with God for 20 minutes. It's really that simple. That's all there is to it--which is what drives most people a tad crazy when they start the practice.

"Practice" is the key word here. Doctors and lawyers 'practice' medicine and law because they never quite get it right. Centering prayer is like that--you can never 'get it right' because there is no 'right' to 'get it'. Whatever shows up in that 20 minutes you 'intend' to spend with the God that dwells within you is WHAT YOU GET. Worries about the day will show up--acknowledge them and let them go. Fantasies of all sorts will show up--let them go, as delightful as they may be! Emotions long buried will well up to the surface when you are in prayer--that is good, to acknowledge your emotions, but, let them go. You may even experience Jesus coming to you in the silence--acknowledge him and LET HIM GO. (The Buddhists have an apt saying: "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him....The point is "meeting the Buddha" is a distraction to the inner life and must be avoided.) We are thrown, you and I, to want to 'do things right' and 'succeed' in what we do. Centering prayer confounds that need. And the other maddening thing about it is this: YOU CAN'T DO IT WRONG....

People get nuts about something you can't do wrong. Sit in the chair, acknowledge and let go all thoughts that come to you, intend to be present to the divine within you and whatever happens is what happens. Twenty minutes of constant noise in your mind, letting it all go, is no better or worse than twenty minutes of bliss. You get what you get and whatever you get each time is your prayer. People are thrown to excell and 'get it right'. This time, that's not a possibility. Get used to it--you can't get it 'right' and you can't get it 'wrong'. You might think people would love that freedom--but, somehow, we don't....

If there was a 'right way' to do centering prayer and you did it that way (neither of which is possible) you'd turn to white light and disappear from this time/space continuum. But you can't, so you won't. What will happen is you'll spend 20 minutes 'intending' to be with God and what you get is what you get.

I actually don't know if I believe in other kinds of prayer rather than the prayer of intention. I love liturgical prayer and revel in it. There are lots of reasons to pray liturgically, it seems to me. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure 'asking for things' doesn't do any harm--and I'm not so sure it does any 'good' either. That kind of prayer is something we should use whether or not it 'works'. But putting your butt in the chair for 20 minutes, acknowledging and letting go whatever shows up, intending to be with God--well, for me, that is prayer....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.