There are many ways to pray. We pray with word from books, with hymns and poems and scriptures. Sometimes we pray with words we make up on the spot. Prayer can be formal or conversational. Prayer can be cheerful or sad, loud and boisterous, or quiet and meditative. Prayer at its most sublime is often called “contemplation.” This type of prayer is usually silent.
Saint John of the Cross wrote, “God’s first language is silence.” Father Thomas Keating expanded this idea by suggesting, “Everything else is a poor translation. In order to understand this language, we must learn to be silent and to rest in God.”
Sometimes prayer is to be quiet and to listen to God. Listening not for words or ideas. But listening to the silence of God. Silence confesses that we are not able to capture God with words. Silence confesses that our speech is not the most important power in the world. Silence is a way of waiting humbly on God, inviting God to do God’s work in our lives.
Silence is an ancient Christian practice. Silence can be jarring and difficult in a world filled with words, sounds, mechanical noise, and media. Silence and recollection are an intentional, radical Christian response to a world of noise and confusion.
Centering Prayer is a specific approach to contemplative prayer popularized by Father Thomas Keating and practiced by Christians (and others) of various traditions. It is a practical approach to prayer that helps lead us, modern practitioners, into the silence with practical instructions.
The Method of Centering Prayer is four-fold:
- Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
- 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.
- When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
- At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.
This practice certainly can be engaged alone, but as human beings there is also much profit and encouragement in praying together.
At St. Thomas’, we meet every Monday at 4pm to practice Centering Prayer together for 20 minutes. During the Pandemic lockdown, we are meeting online. You are welcome to join us.
A classic resource useful for learning about what Christians seek in contemplative prayer is Teresa of Avila’s book The Way of Perfection.
A modern manual specifically for Centering Prayer is Thomas Keating’s Open Heart, Open Mind.
You might find helpful the audio file below. It is a meditation timer: 20 minutes of silence with a bell to begin and a bell to finish.