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Centering Prayer: Entering the Apophatic Prayer Tradition

Posted on October 27th, 2011

Be still and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10)

At our staff meeting yesterday, I introduced “Centering Prayer.” I shared from the notes below and answered a few questions. Then we took ten minutes of silence together before the Lord.  Their overwhelming positive response truly surprised me! While my life has been significantly impacted over the last four and half months by this, I was unsure of what to expect. The following notes are quotes and insights from my Sabbatical journal. They come from the following three books:  Thomas Keating’s, Open Mind, Open Heart, Cindy Bourgeault’s Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, and Basil Pennington’s Centered Living. Introduction: There are 2 primary ways of praying in the church:kataphatic – prayer that uses words, images,  e.g. Scripture, icons, song, worship and; apophatic – prayer that is beyond words, thoughts and images. There are many ways of prayer. Centering prayer is only one form, a form of very intimate communion with God.  It goes back to the first century as a central way to enter into the contemplative dimension of life.  It has served many. This may not be for your journey now, but, minimally, see it as an invitation to enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus. Centering Prayer – Definition: Centering Payer is wordless union, a state of being in direct contact with God who dwells within us. It is about intention, that is, being totally open to God. It is the boot camp of the Garden of Gethsemane (“not my will, but you will”) as we consent to the presence and the action of God within us.  It is an exercise in letting go. We lay aside every thought, even that of looking for spiritual consolations as we go through the experience of the Song of Songs, experiencing the presence and absence of God 3 Guidelines as you begin your time: 1.     Be in faith and love to God who dwells in the center of your being

2.     Take up a love word towards Him (e.g. Abba, Father, Lord,) and let it be gently   present, supporting your being with God in faith-filled love.

3.     Whenever you become aware of anything, simply gently return to the Lord with the use of your prayer word. Recommendation is do to this twice a day for twenty minutes while at the same time spending time in Scripture around it. Characteristics

  • By your willingness to stay at the apophatic at all costs, you are developing a spirit of spiritual non-possessiveness (Matt. 5:3). One great temptation is a sort of spiritual materialism where we want only good feelings. This is a dying to self ,over and over again.
  • During the course of centering prayer, we are slipping in and out of interior silence. By interior silence, we are referring to a state in which we do not become attached to the thoughts as they go by.
  • The prayer is not a conversation in words, but an exchange of hearts.
  • Centering prayer is training in letting go. We listen to God. We listen to His silence. Our only activity is the attention we offer to God as we let go of all thoughts. We rest in God’s arms. It is an exercise in being rather than doing.
  • Purpose of Centering prayer is not to experience peace but to evacuate the unconscious obstacles to the permanent abiding state of union with God.
  • The restructuring of consciousness is the fruit of this regular practice as you slowly become more free from the swings of the false self system.
  • Contemplative Prayer is the school in which we must pass to come to the contemplative state, the means God normally uses to bring people to an abiding state of union.
  • To be on this journey is the greatest contribution we can make to the human family.  As in this prayer, we are developing the capacity to wait upon God with loving attentiveness.

What has been, if any, of the apophatic prayer tradition or centering prayer? How might it fit in with us in the Western church?

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