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Centering Prayer.How do you talk about silence?

How do you talk about silence?
Letting God enter the center of your being
By David Howell

“How do you talk about silence?” This question by Father Tom Ward shows the problem of describing centering prayer. Prayer, of course, is something personal that differs for each of us. The method of centering prayer is less concerned about asking God for something than it is about letting Him enter the center of our being.

Centering prayer has been used since ancient times, and is a form of meditation.  This definition comes from the www.centeringprayer.com web site: “Centering Prayer is a method of prayer, which prepares us to receive the gift of God’s presence. It emphasizes prayer as a personal relationship with God. At the same time, it is a discipline to foster and serve this relationship by a regular, daily practice of prayer. Centering Prayer is drawn from ancient prayer practices of the Christian contemplative heritage, notably the Fathers and Mothers of the Desert, Lectio Divina, (praying the scriptures), The Cloud of Unknowing, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. It was distilled into a simple method of prayer in the 1970s by three Trappist monks, Father William Meninger, Father Basil Pennington and Abbot Thomas Keating at the Trappist St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts.”

The method has much in common with Buddhist practice. In fact the Trappists consulted with Buddhists while developing it for Christian use. Both emphasize the importance of quietness and tuning out the minor concerns of the outer world. A major difference comes from the Buddhist and Christian concepts of God. This is a complex subject, but it might be said that Christianity and centering prayer work toward a relationship with an ever present God, while Buddhism tends to have a more abstract idea of a supreme deity.

Father Tom Ward was an Episcopal priest for over 30 years and now teaches centering prayer across the U.S., including a retreat last spring sponsored by Trinity Bethlehem. He said that the technique’s similarity to Eastern religions has been attractive for some, “A high percentage of people in California left the church in the sixties.  Centering prayer is a way back to their Christian roots.”

“The pressures of work and other things leave us with not enough time for anything. There is an ordinary structure that takes over our lives. People are disoriented and alienated. I hear that a lot. The bar gets raised with expectations of what we can do. How do you turn it off?”

Ward calls himself “a Southern boy from Mississippi,” and his down-to-earth manner would be at odds with anyone who thinks that centering prayer might be too esoteric or “new age.” Ward said that its techniques can be readily applied to modern life, fitting in with our interests in how to do practical things like fixing a car. “Centering prayer is a prayer that works,” he said.

Ward said that very few people do centering prayer on their own. Nearly all who use it in their lives are involved in a support group. Anyone interested in organizing or joining a group in our diocese can contact Mother Laura Howell at laura@trinitybeth.org or at 610-867-4741 ext. 304.  There will also be a second Centering Prayer Retreat in May 2010, with Father Tom Ward.

[David Howell, a parishioner at Trinity Bethlehem and a free lance writer, is a volunteer contributor to Diocesan Life.]

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