Wouldn’t it be great if, during times we were stressed or in need of spiritual guidance, we could simply snap our fingers and summon God for assistance? Well, that may not be possible, but in the book Finding God in the Body, Benjamin Riggs offers us the next best thing. It’s an ancient spiritual technique that any of us can master and can put us in direct touch with the divine. It’s known as centering prayer.
Centering prayer is a Christian version of meditation.
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 technique (sometimes referred to as contemplative prayer). It was then that a Catholic mystic, who to this day remains anonymous, wrote a book called The Cloud of Unknowing. 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.
This is the basis of centering prayer. Riggs offers us an updated version of this spiritual summoning, which I have lightly edited and turned into the 5-step process you see below. The best-know contemporary proponent of centering prayer, Father Thomas Keating, believes that (like meditation) it should be practiced twice a day.
Riggs reminds us that “in silence, we come to know God.” So to begin the prayer, find a quiet place at home or outdoors, what I refer to as “a pocket of stillness.” But don’t be too picky, it’s even possible to use this technique in the car, after dropping off the kids, during your workday commute or on a leisurely drive.
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 or phrase every session. Whatever word(s) feels best to you.
- Sit down and get comfortable. Silently and clearly introduce the word. Repeat it.
- 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, even if it’s a quick prayer of gratitude thanking God for the good in your life.
The prayer has the power to calm your nerves and give you greater clarity if you’re looking for guidance in making a decision or an important life choice. And if you’re not feeling particularly stressed or don’t have any issues weighing on you, you’ll find it to be a mental palate cleanser. It’s the equivalent of a fresh breeze blowing through your living room window.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about a similar 5-step approach to centering prayer via the author David Frenette. You can read that version here. It’s similar to Rigg’s approach and you might want to pick and choose the parts of each prayer that work best for you. See the link at “Thomas Keating” for another version.
As noted in step 5 above, Riggs recommends ending your centering prayer session with a prayer of your choosing. While my personal favorite is the prayer of gratitude, Riggs points out it can also be a traditional prayer like the Prayer of St. Francis, also known as the Prayer of Peace. 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.