Saturday, May 19, 2012

What is Centering Prayer



What is centering prayer?

Centering prayer is a form of meditative or contemplative prayer that has  ancient Christian roots. Seeds of what would become known as contemplation were sown early in the Christian era. The first appearance of something echoing contemplative prayer appears  in the 4th century writings John Cassian. He writes of a practice he learned from the Desert Fathers (specifically from Isaac). Cassian's writings remained influential until the medieval era, when monastic practice shifted from a mystical orientation to Scholasticism. 

 It can therefore be very safely argued that contemplation was one of the earliest devotional practices of Christian monasticism. During the enlightenment a shift in practice took place moving emphasis from the heart to the head and so contemplation.was supplanted in importance  by  scholastic theologians, with more of an interest in rational systematic approaches.

The primary expression of centering prayer in  late Medieval Christianity is thr book The Cloud of Unknowing. Cloud was actually written in Middle English, not Latin. This indicates the primary audience was not solely meant to be priests and monks, but the common person. The  heart of the 'cloud's" practice centers around experiencing God's presence in daily  life.

 Despite what you might hear from so-called “discernment ministries,” centering prayer and other contemplative practices are very much a part of Christianity's early DNA.

Centering prayer shifts the focus in prayer from talking to God, which is probably how most of us are more accustomed to praying, to listening. It emphasizes prayer as a personal relationship with God,  as a movement beyond conversation with Christ to 'being" with Him..

As abbot at St Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts ( an area with a high concentration of spiritual retreats)through the 60s and 70s. cistern  monk Father Thomas Keating , tells of meeting many young people,  who had turned to Eastern practices for contemplative work  He found many of them had no knowledge of the contemplative traditions within Christianity and set out to present those practices in a more accessible way. The result was a clearer contemplative practice of Centering Prayer.

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