In silence, we come to know God.
The evocative quote above comes from Benjamin Riggs and his book Finding God in the Body where Riggs looks at the elusive nature of God and how and where we might connect with the divine. One way is through a practice that is known as centering prayer, an act that might be thought of as a Christian version of meditation.
Centering prayer was originally referred to as contemplative prayer. While its origin may date back to early days of the church, religious scholars point to the 14th century as the seminal point of this spiritual invocation. It was then that an unknown Catholic mystic wrote a book called The Cloud of Unknowing that set the foundation for this practice. It included guidance like this:
This is what you are to do: lift up your heart to the Lord, with a gentle stirring of love desiring him for his own sake and not his gifts. Center all your attention and desire on him and let this be the sole concern of your mind and heart.
Riggs offers us his version of centering prayer, which I have lightly edited and turned into the 5-step process you see below. The best known modern day proponent of centering prayer, Father Thomas Keating, believes that (like meditation) it should be practiced twice a day. Just be sure to find “a pocket of stillness” before starting the process.
The 5 Steps of Centering Prayer
Choose a word or two as a symbol of your consent to let God into your heart. It can simply be the word “silence” or words like “Amen” or “peace and love”. Use the same word(s) every session.
Take a seat and get comfortable. Silently and clearly introduce the word.
Use the word with sincerity, letting it fall down into the stillness of your body. Breathe. Silently introduce the word again.
When you notice yourself drifting off into thought, gently reintroduce the word.
Conclude by resting in the silence of the body for a few minutes. Before getting up say a prayer.
As noted in step 5, Riggs recommends ending your centering prayer session with a prayer of your choosing. My personal favorite is the Prayer of Gratitude, by which we recognize and give thanks for all the good in our lives. Riggs points out it can also be a traditional prayer like the Prayer of St. Francis, also known as the Prayer of Peace. It’s a gem and for easy reference I’ve included it below.
The Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.