Centering Prayer: Speaking Eloquently … in Silence

May Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.  Rule of Benedict

There’s always music in the garden

amongst the trees
But your heart must be quiet
to hear it. – Robert Wicks: Living a Gentle, Passionate Life

The fresh, dazzling beauty of a brilliant autumn morning can pierce us with joy. Birds, crickets, even tall grasses seem to sing in praise, while the sun crowns the scene below. We bow our heads in gratitude, and promise God to never miss such splendor again.

Of course, we will. Again and again. It’s in our nature to allow distraction, worry and irritation to hijack our minds and hearts. It’s in our nature to forget our good intentions. It’s in our nature to miss the now as we focus on yesterday and tomorrow.

If we’re not careful, we can miss the joy of life in the process.

So, how do we cultivate our presence to the moment even as we acknowledge our problems and navigate solutions? How do we remember God, deeply, in everything we do? The contemplative tradition suggests that silence holds the key, and that Centering Prayer shows the way.

Moreover, as Sister Catherine Cleary, OSB notes, “Centering Prayer prepares us for mindfulness, for attentiveness to God’s presence all day.”

“Centering Prayer is a receptive form of meditation,” writes Cherry Haiston in her essay, The Practice of Welcoming Prayer. “Our intention in Centering Prayer is to consent to God’s presence and action within.”

Indeed, through the silence needed for and fostered by Centering Prayer, sacred silence grows in our hearts.

Welcoming Unwanted Thoughts as We Enter Silence

This being human is a guest house.?Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,?some momentary awareness comes?as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all. – Rumi

Any who have tried to meditate or practice Centering Prayer have had to wrestle with what is sometimes called the monkey mind. Old grievances, sorrows, regrets and petty issues often appear as soon as we close our eyes. Invite them in.

“The Welcome Prayer is one way to approach these afflictive emotions,” Sr. Catherine says. “Rather than dismiss them, we should say to them, ‘Well, come in,’ or ‘Welcome in. I thought I’d taken care of you but here you are again. I can’t pay attention to you right now, though, so I’m letting go of you.’ When we do that, we are free to continue into Centering Prayer, to go on into the presence of God.”

Using the Welcome Prayer helps rid us of unnecessary baggage, Sr. Catherine says, making room for sacred silence all day.

“If we pay attention to these excessive needs for esteem and affection, power and control, security and survival, we can let them go. If we don’t pay attention, if we tuck them away and ignore them, they will gnaw at our hearts and stomachs. They will continue to drag us down, and invade our thoughts always.”

So the first step to creating sacred silence within is to sit down, focus on our intent to consent to God’s presence, close our eyes, and if unwelcome thoughts come, welcome them, but don’t dwell on them. Say, as Sr. Catherine advises, I can’t pay attention to you right now, let them go and move into Centering Prayer.

Beginning Centering Prayer

To experience Centering Prayer, choose a quiet place and time of day. Sit comfortably, back straight, feet flat on the floor. Begin by saying a short prayer first, to prepare yourself for this sacred time. Father Thomas Keating’s Welcoming Prayer, below, will help prepare you to receive – and let go of – the monkey thoughts that will come.

Welcome, welcome, welcome.?I welcome everything that comes to me today?because I know it's for my healing.?I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons,?situations, and conditions.?I let go of my desire for power and control.?I let go of my desire for affection, esteem,?approval and pleasure.?I let go of my desire for survival and security.?I let go of my desire to change any situation,?condition, person or myself.?I open to the love and presence of God and?God's action within. Amen. – Father Thomas Keating

Now, close your eyes and take up a simple sacred word to signal your intention to withdraw from the everyday world and go into the deepest part of yourself. When thoughts surface, let them go. Gently take up your word again and return to interior silence. Begin with 20 minutes at a time.

Allow God to take charge of this time. You are letting go, no longer in charge.

“Centering Prayer is an act of will; it is not effort but consent,” Sr. Catherine says. “The will consents to God's presence, to grace. It consents to let God do the work.”

Growing “Little Places of Silence”

“… little places of silence allow us to take a step back, to begin a ‘minisabbatical,’ so that we can sit, rest, think, reassess and … listen.” - Robert Wicks: Living a Gentle, Passionate Life

The silence that grows within us as we practice Centering Prayer - or any mindfulness meditation that consents to God’s presence - invites us into what Wicks calls “minisabbaticals.” These minisabbaticals are always available to us, nourishing what might be called the condition of now. That is, a knowing and awareness of God, here, now.

“I can be in a room full of people and be entirely zoned out,” Sister Jackie Walsh, OSB says. “That happens sometimes in Chapel, before prayers. People will be coming in and out, but I have gone into that deeper place, into total union with God. I am reminded of Psalm 62, Only in God is my soul at rest. No matter what’s going on around me, I am deep within.”

Sr. Jackie says intentionally seeking quiet time has long been her habit.

“Before I entered the community, I would have constant meetings and always be on the run,” she says. “Sometimes I would just sit in my car at lunch and zone out for a while. You have to be able to have that connection. It doesn’t have to be in a chapel or church, but you need somewhere to be quiet and connect.”

The Role of Solitude

Although solitude encourages silence, it is neither required for nor a guarantee of silence. Indeed, being in solitude can be no more helpful than being in a crowd to cultivate inner knowing and awareness.

“You can be alone outside but noisy inside,” Sister Sheila McGrath, OSB says. “If your mind is noisy and in turmoil, you won’t be at peace even if you’re outwardly alone and quiet.”

Noting that not everyone is called to Centering Prayer, Sr. Sheila suggests other ways to access that inner silence.

“Yoga, walking in nature, looking out a window without thinking are all good ways to help turn off inner turmoil of mind and heart,” she says. “Whatever we do, it’s important to get off the merry go round and have some reflection time. It helps us to grow. It’s so easy to say we don’t have time, but it’s really important to make time to feed our souls and inner life.”

In other words …

“Soaking in silence fills you with peace and wisdom,” Sister Cabrini Rael, OSB says, thoughtfully.

After a moment of quiet reflection, she looks up and grins.

“In other words, hush up and listen.”