Centering Prayer

Today my friend Darrell and I are going to hear Thomas Keating speak in Atlanta. Keating is one of the major spokespersons for Centering Prayer, a method of Christian meditation (contemplation) developed by Trappist monks like Keating in the 1970s, based on the work of Thomas Merton and in response to the popularity of eastern meditation among young people at the time. Unlike many other forms of meditation, Centering Prayer maintains a strong relational and devotional element (it’s not just a relaxation exercise, but it’s prayer, aimed at fostering intimacy with God) and emphasizes a spirit of loving surrender rather than a mental discipline of focussing on awareness or concentration.

Next Saturday I’ll be attending a introductory workshop on Centering Prayer at Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, GA.

To prepare for these events, I’ve just read two introductory books on Centering Prayer, both of which I can wholeheartedly recommend. M. Basil Pennington’s Centering Prayer: Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form is a bit dated now (published in 1980) but is probably the classic introduction to this meditation method. It does a nice job of situating Centering Prayer both in the western mystical tradition, as well as in relation to non-Christian meditation practices. For a more up-to-date survey of Centering Prayer, including an excellent overview of the psychological and even therapeutic dimensions of the practice, read Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault. Bourgeault is an Anglican priest from Canada who has been a practitioner and teacher of Centering Prayer for a number of years now (in fact, she’s coming to Holy Spirit Monastery in February to lead an advanced Centering Prayer retreat).

At some point in the future, I’m going to post a little article about Centering Prayer’s detractors. Right here in Lilburn, GA we have a Catholic laywoman who is on an anti-Centering Prayer crusade. Stay tuned to this blog to learn more about her (and my response to her criticisms).

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • dancingwriter

    Sounds interesting. But… anti-prayer activists? Christianity sure is weird sometimes! :-)

    • Carl McColman

      There are elements in the Christian right who denounce any practice within Christianity that even appears to have connection to non-Christian spirituality. Since Centering Prayer on the surface resembles transcendental meditation (not surprising since Centering Prayer was actually developed as a Christian response to TM and other eastern-based meditation practices), some ultra-conservatives denounce Centering Prayer as “new age.” I will be writing more about this later…

  • Anonymous

    Centering Prayer

    Many years ago I told a Baptist friend that I was meditating. She looked at me as if I had willingly sold my soul to Satan. Something about opening the mind to dark forces. I guess that’s why some keep their minds shut so tightly!

    I usually fall asleep when I try to center. Someone should write The Busy Mom’s Guide to Centering Prayer.

    Bad Alice

    • Anonymous

      Re: Centering Prayer

      Richard Foster wrote of his personal concern regarding centering prayer in his book “Prayer.” He expressed his concern in terms of Scripture, that if you drive out seven demons, seven more even worse will come in. In contemplation, one does not drive out demons. One simply directs one’s attention elsewhere, to a place where the Holy Spirit can act in the inner stillness, where the “demons” do not interfere with grace. As to falling asleep, that is perfectly normal. As you persevere in the practice, you will find it less of a concern. You will come to recognize the place of inner stillness, which is a different psychological space than the that where we sleep.

  • Anonymous

    The Essence of Christian Mysticism

    Those of you familiar with centering prayer, and the work of Fr. Keating, may be interested in the books of Bernadette Roberts, one of the most advanced contemplatives living and writing now, and a friend of Fr. Keating. She will be presenting a retreat for the first time in the East, on The Essence of Christian Mysticism, at Grailville, Loveland, Ohio, May 5-7, 2006. See for details.

  • Anonymous

    Centering Prayer

    Centering prayer is a practice as old as Christianity itself. It came into Christianity through the Desert Fathers in Egypt in the second century, if not earlier. The practice has been a part of monastic life since then. Fathers Pennington, Keating, Merton and others brought the practice out of the monastery, where it was sometimes considered an advanced practice for spiritually mature monastics. It is not meditation but rather contemplation and is practiced in other traditions. The writings of Father Pennington and Keating are introductions to the practice. As I have matured in the practice, I have found the best guides to be “The Cloud of Unknowing,” and the writings of John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila. “The Cloud of Unknowing” is quite accessible and a basic reading for those wishing to follow the contemplative way. John of the Cross writes what may almost be called technical manuals for the journey. I find that John explains clearly what I am experiencing in my contemplative practice but can be daunting if one has not already experienced what he discusses. All of these works spend a great deal of time integrating contemplation into medieval Roman Catholic spirituality and theology to help the practitioner and to avoid accusations of heresy. The the core of these writings is a compelling analysis and understanding of human psychology that does not accept the ego (or false self) as the unavoidable lot of humanity.