Be still, and know that I am God! (Psalm 46:10)
The Church of St. Ignatius Loyola hosts a Centering Prayer group that offers an opportunity to learn and practice this form of prayer. This group meets weekly on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. in the Parish House. Beginners as well as advanced practitioners are welcome.
We welcome participants who have little or no experience with centering prayer. The group studies books about centering prayer as well as centering prayer tapes. We have had very lively conversations focused on these resources as well as our own practice of the method.
“Contemplative prayer has to be always very simple, confined to the simplest of acts.” — Thomas Merton
An outline of Centering Prayer:
• Choose a sacred word, one or two syllables, with spiritual meaning but not distractingly important to you, and easy to say — some examples of sacred words are, Amen, Abba, Let Go, Oneness, Peace, Silence, Stillness.
• Choose a place to sit.
• Sit comfortably. Just sit — it can be cross-legged; full or half lotus; kneeling with a cushion or bench under your rear; or sitting in a chair, as long as the chair fits you so you can plant your feet with your back supported. All of these are fine. The point is simply to balance our bodies in an upright posture, so there is no need for adjustments while sitting, and to encourage alertness.
• Time 20 minutes. Or 30. If you can’t do 20 minutes at first, do less rather than not doing it, but something happens to the stillness around 10 to 15 minutes in that you will miss. That’s why 20+ is nearly universal.
• Eyes open or closed. Whatever works best for you is fine.
• Settle briefly, and silently introduce the sacred word. By saying the sacred word silently to yourself to start the sitting period, you are reminding yourself of your intention to let go of thoughts and to welcome God’s presence and action within. This is not a mantra, which is repeated throughout as a way of occupying the mind; you do it once, or a few times, or for the first few minutes. It is similar to focusing on the breath, a very popular technique, and if you find it easier to do that, it is acceptable.
• Resist no thought; retain no thought; react to no thought. When you realize you are engaged with your thoughts, including sensations and feelings, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word. This is what it’s all about. You will drift into not needing the word, just “resting in God.” Then you’ll realize you’re thinking about something, say the sacred word to yourself and let the thought go. The silence may last a while, or you may stay in the attachment-surrender loop the whole time. The goal is not constant emptiness. As Reverend Cynthia Bourgeault says, “striving for emptiness is a surefire way to guarantee that your meditation will be a constant stream of thoughts.”
• At the end of the period, either use the timer’s tone as the endpoint, or say a prayer, gently and slowly. Remain in silence for a minute or two.
For information about local events, locations of Centering Prayer groups, and other resources, go to the Contemplative Outreach NYC Chapter website at centeringprayerny.com.