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).