I’ve given several talks on prayer and meditation this year. And as I prepared for a recent talk I felt that I wanted to add a preface to my remarks. I have been practicing Centering Prayer on and off since the late 1990’s. It is a dear practice to me, but over the years my feelings about the practice have changed. What I used to approach as a life-saver, I now see as one way among many ways to God. And whereas I used to think that everyone should practice one of a very few “best practices,” I have grown to appreciate that each of us has his or her own spiritual path to walk and that, for the most part, people seem to find their way best by following their own lights.
What’s more, as my sense of union with Spirit has grown, I find my “need” for formal practices is has changed. These days, I mostly practice by “just sitting” in silence, open and receptive. You could call it Centering Prayer, but I’m just doing what comes naturally to me at this point. I feel that for some of us, especially those like me who look to experts to tell them how to do things, that we have to learn to trust our own judgement, to follow our own internal guidance system. In Christian language, we should allow and trust the Holy Spirit to teach us how to pray, rather than relying too much on someone else’s practice. When we do this, the unique embodiment of Spirit that each of us is will, I think, be encouraged to come forward and blossom in its uniquely exquisite beauty.
It is with all this in mind that I offered the following words.
Tonight’s talk is on Centering Prayer, a practice and a path to Divine Union, to intimate communion with ultimate reality, to all that is, including all of us.
For me, this is a most intimate topic. It engages me at a very deep level. In fact, it engages my connection with Ultimate Reality, by whatever name you relate to that reality: God, Goddess, BuddhaNature, Brahman, Allah, Life, Spirit,
It engages my years of longing for intimate knowledge of, contact with, and embodiment of that Reality.
During those years I’ve practiced church-attending, hymn singing, recitation of communal prayers. I’ve marveled at Spirit in nature, music, sex, science, and literature. I’ve been to the mountain top and I’ve visited despair and depression.
Part of me wants to tell you that Centering Prayer is IT, the path, the perfect practice for you, for everyone. I want to say that of all the practices I’ve engaged, from Methodist pew-sitting to Korean Zen Meditation, that Centering Prayer is the best.
And I do believe, and know for myself that it is a powerful practice:
In my “golden years” of Centering Prayer practice, I attended three major retreats in as many years: 1) a 10 day “intensive” in Snowmass, in 2000, at which I met Fr. Thomas Keating for the first time 2) a 21 day retreat, in upstate New York, in 2001, with one week of teaching from Fr. Thomas Keating, Fr Carl Arico, David Frenette and 3) a 10 day intensive in Conyers, Georgia (Assumption Abbey), in 2002 led by Fr. Basil Pennington, another of the original developers of the method of Centering Prayer. Those years changed my spiritual life. There is no comparing before and after except to say that they changed me profoundly.
Centering Prayer is a life-transforming practice; but it is a practice, a method that can help us to connect to our natural condition, which is of being always already completely connected to God, already in Divine Union.
Our Union with God is already established. And so there’s a sense in which taking up a practice might take you away from God. As Br David Steindl-Rast told me during one of our discussions on prayer: “God doesn’t want our prayers, God wants us.”
Imagine, if you will, that you were in intimate embrace with the living God. Can you feel into that possibility? Can you imagine it? And while enjoying that embrace, imagine you received a text message about tonight’s program. And imagine turning to your Beloved, the Living God with whom you’re in nondual embrace, and saying, “Hey, this program looks great. I think I’m gonna go to this so I can learn about intimacy with you!”
What I most recommend is that each of us follow our own God-given natural way of being in communion with God. To the extent that you can do that, learning a practice might be a distraction from the Union you can already enjoy.
But then again, we are often so alienated from ourselves that we need practices! Or we may believe Union with God is something “otherworldly” or exotic. And so we go looking – all over the place, and often in the wrong places!
To the extent that we do feel alienated from our true selves, then practices are life-savers. And Centering Prayer is a powerful practice, developed and “tested,” if you will over decades, practiced around the world, and supported by a worldwide organization which provides rich resources to support your deepening in relationship to God.
If you feel drawn to Centering Prayer, then I most highly recommend it to you! But please remember: your Beloved is right with you in intimate embrace: here, now. The state you seek and indeed are headed toward is also paradoxically, always already the case.