Father Thomas Keating created the phrase in centering prayer of repeating a sacred word or words to interrupt the unbridled memories and endless thoughts that float around in our heads. Carl Jung concluded the vast majority of our thoughts repeat over and over as mindless self-talk and ceaseless chatter. My thoughts bouncing like a pinball in my head leave no inner space to listen for the voice of God.
As a disciplined soldier ordered to attention, a sacred word commands my mind to pay attention at any given moment. When I engage a sacred word or scripture, I call my mind to action and to be aware of God’s presence. It declares the intention of my heart to obey the will of God. Keating states, “In centering prayer, the sacred word is not the object of the attention but rather the expression of the intention of the will.” A sacred word quiets my mind to pay attention to God.
For me, it is the spiritual practice of surrendering my life and will to God’s will. The sacred word flows from the depth of my heart expressing the love and desire for an ongoing personal relationship with the risen Christ. It is a discipline that creates a spiritual awareness of my “being” aligned with Christ’s being and presence. The sacred word initiates the “inner space” needed to discern the voice of God in the silence. The repetition of these words tends to quiet the thoughts and voices in my head. In the silence, I can be present “being to being/spirit to spirit” with God. The repetition overrides and calms the myriad of thoughts in my head so I can be present in my heart with the Father. It is important to understand I am not attempting to control the thoughts or trying to empty my mind of all my thoughts. The one thought I focus on is the love of God for me and the transformation of my heart to love others.
It is the spiritual practice of letting go and releasing over and over a host of thoughts, impressions, and feelings that continuously invade my mind. There are pure and impure thoughts, healthy and unhealthy ones who come and go without apparent reason every moment we are awake. When they have no place to go or leave the same ones will return again and again as constant banter in our heads. I don’t try to repress them, hold them, correct them or interfere with them. That is one of the keys of practicing contemplative or centering prayer. I release them again and again so I can quiet my mind and practice being aware of the presence of God. It is essential to understand that centering or contemplative prayer is only one of many aspects of prayer.
I let go of the multitude of voices to hear the majesty of His voice in my spirit. My sacred word is the words from the ageless Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. For you, it might be “Jesus” or “Be still and know I am God” whatever word or phrase you reverently use in daily prayer or meditation to glorify God. Let the sacred word bring the resurrected Christ alive in your heart and then present your requests to Him.
Mathew 6:6 “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” NIV
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