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Prayer, Centering


The prayer of centering is a process of turning inward to gather the faculties to a center in the depths of the self. The integration of body, mind, and spirit in a point of stillness releases deeper levels of consciousness and opens the self to more contemplative union with God, not as an object of meditation but as a presence within and the source of all being. In contemporary writing on Christian prayer the term "centering" reflects the influence of Eastern spirituality and depth psychology and suggests the action of a potter bringing clay into a spinning, unwobbling pivot on the wheel. Commonly used techniques to facilitate centering are rhythmical breathing, process meditation, the use of a mantra, mandala, or sacred symbol, and the repetition of the jesus prayer.

Centering Prayer is a modern name drawn from the writings of Thomas merton (Fr. Louis, OCSO of Gethsemani Abbey) for the ancient method of meditation or prayer found in the writings of Saint John Cassian (d.435) and once attributed to Abba Isaac (Second Conference). It comes from the same source as the Jesus Prayer, namely, the Fathers of the Desert, but represents the greater suppleness with which it was passed on in the West. The most notable representative of this prayer form in English spiritual writings is the anonymous author of The cloud of unknowing. The method as refined and popularly presented by the Cistercian monks of Saint Joseph Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts may be summarized in this way:

  1. Sit relaxed and quiet.
  2. Be in faith and love to God who dwells in the center of your being.
  3. Take up a love word and let it be gently present, supporting your being to God in faith-filled love.
  4. Whenever you become aware of anything else, simply, gently return to the Lord with the use of your prayer word.
  5. After 20 minutes of meditation let the Our Father (or some other prayer) pray itself quietly within you.

See Also: contemplation; prayer.

Bibliography: b. griffiths, Return to the Center (Springfield, Ill. 1976) 1639. w. johnston, The Still Point (New York 1970) 6785; Silent Music (New York 1974) 5567. i. progoff, The Well and the Cathedral (New York 1971). m. c. richards, Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person (Middletown, Conn.1964) 956. t. merton, "The Inner Experience," Cistercian Studies 18 (1983) 315; 121134; 201216; 289300; 19 (1984) 6278; 139150; 267282; 336345. m. b. pennington, Centered Living (New York 1986); Centering Prayer (New York 1980); Challenges in Prayer (Wilmington, Del. 1982).

[d. kennedy/

m. b. pennington]

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