Centering Prayer is saving my mind while healing my soul.
I just returned from a five-day silent retreat at the St. Paul Monastery. I practiced Lectio Devina (a form of prayerful reading and conversation). I was familiar with the practice – we use a form of it during our staff meetings at Resurrection – yet the monastic practice strengthened my love of God and God’s Word.
However the most profound part of the week was the practice of Centering Prayer. Each morning at 7 am we sat together for an hour simply breathing and praying our holy word. We repeated it again at 10 and at 3. Too many it sounds incredibly boring. For me, it was drinking from the river of the water of life (Revelation 22:1). It was simply resting or floating in God’s gracious love. Emptying the mind so God’s love could fill it. Not just thinking about God’s love, but actually resting in it.
Oh, my mind fought the emptiness. My thoughts and feelings would race from one idea to the next. The river seemed to be covered with all kinds of flotsam and debris. “What is happening at church?” “Why did I say that to her?” “What will we have for lunch.” This would happen hundreds of time during the quiet. Each time I caught the thought skipping across the surface, I let it go and return to my breath and my word. To simply BE in God.
Henri Nouwen wrote in Here and Now, 1994
The real enemies of our life are the “oughts” and the “ifs.” They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future. But real life takes place in the here and the now. God is a God of the present. God is always in the moment, be that moment hard or easy, joyful or painful. When Jesus spoke about God, he always spoke about God as being where and when we are. “When you see me, you see God. When you hear me you hear God.” God is not someone who was or will be, but the One who is, and who is for me in the present moment. That’s why Jesus came to wipe away the burden of the past and the worries for the future. He wants us to discover God right where we are, here and now.
Centering prayer is a form of mindfulness practice, living in the current moment.
I discovered my real need for this last summer when I was backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail. I had looked forward to the trip for months and was in absolutely beautiful alpine country, yet my mind kept racing back to worries in Minnesota or to past actions that I regretted or wished I could change. Here I was in the place I wanted to be, and my mind could not stay there! I knew I needed help.
This past spring I took Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class which is a secular form of Buddhist meditation practices. It was incredibly helpful. The Centering Prayer has similarities to meditation, yet centers the practice in the love of God in Christ Jesus. That has been healing.
Now next week, I head back out to Washington state to do another section of the PCT. I will continue my practice of Centering Prayer and Lectio Devina. I trust that my mind will be able to stay on the trail with my body this year.
How does prayer touch your life?
Lord Jesus, teach us to pray.