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On Centering Prayer: The Art of Returning

Feb 09, 2024

I’ve been dabbling with Centering Prayer for several years now, coming full circle after a disastrous first try when I headed up the mountain to a nearby spiritual center for an introductory three-day retreat, only to find most of the participants were seasoned sitters. They also got a memo I didn’t receive, the one that said there would be no talking, meaning not even at meals, and watch that you don’t make eye contact.

“You should have known there would be silence,” whispered a practicing friend when I used my hands to indicate my frustration. I knew we’d be silent when sitting together, I tried to mime. But I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be allowed to say “pass the salt please” at the dinner table.

Now, as I find myself deeper into the practice, I am one of those people who can’t tell you exactly how her day is different if she practices Centering Prayer. It just is.

In Cynthia Bourgeault’s Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening (Cowley, 2004), she says Centering Prayer “. . . is a bedrock of spiritual intelligence, a sense of connectedness known from so deeply within you that nothing can shake it” (17). I believe this, and I’m even learning to trust it.

When I attended a Contemplative Outreach of Middle Tennessee conference awhile back, I heard Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler, then president of Contemplative Outreach Ltd., speak. She talked about how Centering Prayer is an act of consent. With every return to your sacred word, or your breath, she offered, you are saying “yes” to God. She also talked about the importance of return.

Returning is one of my favorite movements. As a writer, I must return to the page. As a wife, I must return to my husband after I’ve been in such a mood that I’ve not been truly present. As a friend, I must return to the relationship after a slight has occurred or too much distance has developed. As a child of God, I must return to prayer.

“Something inside us is objectively strengthened by this patient willingness to let go of our own stuff, to do the practice in the face of almost unbearable psychological frustration” (Bourgeault, 24).

This hits home with me because Centering Prayer asks that I not rely on my “faculties,” which is what I’ve spent most of my life doing. Trying to be smarter, more accomplished, better recognized. I see, now, that the key is more soul and less mind.  Dying to the self, in the spiritual sense, means, Bourgeault tells us, dying to self will. If Centering Prayer can help me do that—and I trust it can—I’ll be forever transformed. Reborn, perhaps.

Going deep with Centering Prayer is not always comfortable for me. Sometimes I feel distracted, awkward, or challenged. In other words, I don’t necessarily feel better or more grounded after any particular sit. And yet I return.

Be with me, Creator and Redeemer, as I learn to trust your reality instead of my illusion. Teach me the language of silence.

--Amy Lyles Wilson, Wisdom Tree Instructor and Mentor,


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