"As I was growing in my spiritual walk, I wondered how I could grow in my prayer life. Was it a matter of praying longer or harder or was there a deeper path I was missing? After all, prayer is just prayer, right? And as long as you're doing it, you're good, right?"Prayer altars at a cathedral in Paris.
I was probably six years old when my older brother taught me The Lord's Prayer. We would sit on top of the back of the black leather couch in the family room -- our backs against the wall, my feet barely touching the cushions -- and I would repeat after him a few words at a time.
That was the beginning of my prayer life as I remember it. For me, prayer was about words and time with family. At dinners, it was a time where we would hold hands (and hoped you had a seat if Granddad was praying) around the table. Growing up, I didn't think much about praying, I just knew it was something we should do, and we did it together, and it seemed to work.
Throughout life, prayer has been my staple. Though all of my prayers haven't been answered in the way I desired, it's a part of my foundation and daily life. As I began growing in my spiritual walk, I wondered how I could grow in my prayer life. Was it a matter of praying longer or harder or was there a deeper path I was missing? After all, prayer is just prayer, right? And as long as you're doing it, you're good, right?
Desire to go deeper
Fast forward to last year. I'm sitting in a class at the Servant Leadership School of Greensboro when rector and instructor Rev. Tim Patterson introduces us to the concept of Centering Prayer.
By definition, Centering Prayer, a Christian spiritual practice, is "a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God's presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship," (Contemplative Outreach, 2006).
I will admit, I figured Centering Prayer would be a breeze. "No prob," I thought. I pray. I've been known to meditate. What could be the challenge with Centering Prayer? All I have to do is choose a "sacred word" and carve out time, preferably in the morning, and divine intervention would fall into my lap. Magic.
But as Tim talked and as we read more about Centering Prayer, and in my eagerness to grow and to learn new ways of encountering the divine, I cannot help but to think, But what about the words? What about giving your voice as an offering? How can I really be that still and silent?
As with any spiritual practice you are developing, it's best not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with praying with words. Remember, Jesus' teaching of prayer involves words. Just because you use the spiritual practice of Centering Prayer doesn't mean you stop praying in familiar ways.
But was I ready
Centering Prayer has opened up to me, not only the knowledge, but the evidence of there being a deeper way of communing with God. And though it may sound glamorous and mysterious, Centering Prayer certainly isn't easy to do. At least not if you are like me and love the musical sounds of words and despise being silent for at least 20 minutes without permission to be carried away by thought or imagination.
I have stumbled these past several months with finding my way into a deeper relationship with God. With Centering Prayer, I couldn't find a sacred word. No one word seemed to fit as a symbol and reminder of my commitment to be silent before God. And, though I generally get up early, no time seemed to be the right time to spend a half an hour in this type of silence. And, did I really want God to see me? I mean, I know He does, but did I want to be intentional and lay all my deep secrets and flaws before Him? Be that naked and vulnerable?
I bought a beautiful prayer bench, changed a corner of my room into "sacred space," bought new candles to light. This seemed like a lot of extra steps to get before God but I kept telling myself to at least try to do it "right," and maybe I would get points for that, if nothing else.
Then I remembered what Tim shared during class and began to picture the cross -- the space where the horizontal and vertical axises meet. That intersection is the space where we want to reside. That's where we meet Christ. Nothing else really matters when we follow that path.
There's a self emptying we must submit and surrender. Our thoughts and emotions are what keep us distant from our divine integrity and God himself. They keep us grounded here in our ego. God wants us to know a greater peace and existence, and doesn't really care about our ugliness like we trick ourselves into thinking. He sees our divine nature and brings that out when we don't block the process.
The third space of the cross
Now, I go into Centering Prayer thinking of it as a meeting place, the third space of the cross, an invitation to meet God where it's just the two of us. I think of what it means to dive there, and then I let go of that and every other thought, as best as possible. I allow myself to just be there, without an agenda and sometimes without a sacred word.
Do I feel God in the space that opens up during Centering Prayer? Sometimes yes. Other times it feels like static. But what I do experience is a difference in my day. A calmness. A clarity. A blessed assurance. I don't hear God's voice like I would someone else's or my own but answers and guidance do come, and effortlessly.
I'm still learning how to journey to the center of the cross. Centering Prayer takes me there and closing each session with The Lord's Prayer brings me back up to meet the day with a fresh sense of who I am in Christ. It's not magic. It's not easy. But it is as necessary for growth as water.
Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14, ESV)