“Let no one who has cultivated the practice of contemplative prayer grow discouraged and say, ‘If I end up reverting to my old ways, it would be better for me to give up prayer altogether.’ I believe things will get worse if the person abandons prayer and refuses to quit his bad habits. But if he stays the course, prayer will carry him into the harbor of light.”Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
For over four hundred years, the encouraging message above from St. Teresa’s autobiography has inspired people who are interested in contemplative prayer. The first time I tried contemplative prayer was in October of 1997 at an all-day centering prayer workshop sponsored by St. Scholastica Monastery. Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler of Contemplative Outreach came from New Jersey to be our presenter. Gail gave at least three lectures on centering prayer, we all did three or four twenty-minute sits in a very dark room, and I remember enjoying the experience very much.
That night I slept better than I had in years. When I woke up, I told my husband, Brad—“I feel like I was getting all healed up and I didn’t even know I was sick!” Ever since then—over all these many years—I have found centering prayer to be a healing gift in my life and I continue to be grateful to the Sisters of St. Scholastica for bringing Contemplative Outreach to the monastery on that fine autumn day.
You may be thinking, “I have heard of contemplation, but what is centering prayer?”
Father Thomas Keating, one of the co-founders Contemplative Outreach and its centering prayer method, liked to explain, “Centering Prayer is about resting in the presence of God and consenting to God’s presence and action within.” As we sit in silence with God, we slowly find our relationship with this Mysterious Being deepens. We begin to feel more connected to God every minute of the day. Eventually, we also may find ourselves becoming more comfortable with and more aware of the beauty and wonder in our everyday lives.
During the 20 minutes of centering prayer, I open myself to God’s love (presence and action) in my life. Instead of making plans and considering the day to come, I focus on a sacred word and soak myself in divine grace. Many days I spend much of the prayer gently moving myself out of my thoughts and back to the sacred word without ever leaving the world as I know it; however, I have experienced times when the world has melted away and I find myself flowing into the peace of the Unseen One. Even then, I am still sitting in the prayer chair (because, unlike St. Teresa, I have no levitating to report).
St. Teresa writes if we stay the course, prayer will carry us into the harbor of light. This is most certainly true. Whenever we move off course we will feel discouraged, but we do not need to give up. We can steer ourselves right back to the harbor of light by practicing centering prayer. That precious harbor is close to us, as close as our heartbeat, as close as our breath, and we are always invited to soak in God’s love, grace, and peace.
If you are interested in beginning a centering prayer practice, Contemplative Outreach offers a variety of online prayer classes. Please see the Contemplative Outreach website at contemplativeoutreach.org for more information on their many available resources.
If you are interested in reviving an old centering prayer practice, the Center for Spirituality and Enrichment offers two online centering prayer groups. For more information on these prayer groups and when they meet, please email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lezlie Oachs, a retired College of St. Scholastica faculty member, currently co-leads an online centering prayer group through St. Scholastica Monastery’s Center for Spirituality and Enrichment.