An introduction to Centering Prayer. March 2021

February 2021

“Surrender to the unknown marks the great transitions of the spiritual journey.
On the brink of each new breakthrough there is a crisis of trust and love.”

 —Thomas Keating,The Better Part

 

In Memoriam

 

Fr William Meninger OCSO died Sunday morning, February 14th at age 88 in his infirmary room at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. The day before his

death he led an international Zoom talk on the gospel of Mark.

Fr. Meninger was born in 1932 in Malden, Massachusetts, USA. He entered St. Joseph’s Abbey in 1963, made his solemn profession in 1970, changed stability to Snowmass in 1982 and changed his stability back to Spencer in 2020. He had been ordained a priest of the Diocese of Yakima, Washington in 1958. He had been in monastic vows for 55 years and 63 years a priest when the Lord called him.

Fr. William Meninger, Fr. Thomas Keating & Fr. Basil Pennington were the three principal architects of the Centering Prayer method and movement. 

Some of his books include St. John of the Cross for BeginnersJulian of Norwich: A Mystic for Today and The Loving Search for God: Contemplative Prayer and the Cloud of Unknowing.

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“Everything is a Grace.
Everything … Everything … Everything.”

– Fr. William

Read the complete bulletin here   https://mailchi.mp/coutreach/february2021ebulletin?e=9aa0837e74

 

January e-bulletin

“‘The wind blows where it will, and you do not know where it is going.
So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ …
[T]o be moved by the Spirit
is an entirely new way of being in the world.”

 – Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart

 

 Is Centering Prayer Time for Everybody?
 with Joy Andrews Hayter

 Q: When I tried Centering Prayer, my mind was filled with thoughts ALL the time. So I found that all I could do was use the [sacred] word throughout the entire   time – 20 to 30 minutes. … Tried again and once again my brain was never still.  Are there people for whom God is saying “no” to meditation? …  Are there people for whom contemplative prayer will not work?

Read Joy’s response here

Save the Date

 

Contemplative Outreach United in Prayer Day 
Saturday, March 6, 2021

The United in Prayer Day will be a worldwide Zoom event
on the Saturday before Fr. Thomas Keating’s birthday, Saturday
March 6, 2021.

Anyone is free to join this global virtual offering. Chapters may also join-in or organize their own events. More details to come.

The complete e-bulletin is available at        https://mailchi.mp/coutreach/january2021ebulletin?e=9aa0837e74

December e- bulletin

December 2020

”[T]he best description of God is ‘is-ness’ without any limit … God is everything.”

 – Thomas Keating,

 

 

Q: “How do I choose my sacred word for Centering Prayer”

Dear Friend,

Thank you for asking for clarification on the first Centering Payer method guideline: “Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.”

The sacred word is a symbol that expresses our intention to consent to God’s presence and action within. It is sacred not because of its inherent meaning but because of the meaning we give it as the expression of our intention to consent. In other words, the sacred word is sacred not because of its content but because of its intent. Our intention during the Centering Prayer is to be with and surrender to God whatever that looks like.

The sacred word is chosen during a brief prayer to the Holy Spirit, a word of one or two syllables as recommended in The Cloud of Unknowing written in the fourteenth century. Examples of the sacred word are: God, Jesus, Abba, Father, Mother, Mary, Amen, Mercy, Yes, Love, Listen, Peace, Let Go, Silence, Stillness, Faith, Trust. You can even choose a word from another language or  a  lyrical one such as Kyrie. Please notice if the word you receive causes an emotional reaction within you– whether negative or positive. If it does, you might want to pray for another word, as an emotional reaction during Centering Prayer is considered a thought and will take you out of the prayer.

There isn’t such thing as a right word, a wrong word, a better word or a more sacred word. The sacred word is only a symbol that expresses your intention to consent. Any one or two syllable word of love will do. Many people choose their name for God as theirs.

Having chosen a sacred word, do not change it during the period of Centering Prayer because that would be engaging in thoughts. I invite you to commit to the sacred word that you were gifted from the Holy Spirit for at least 30 days. You don’t have to shop around for a better word. For instance, one day thinking before praying, “I really need peace so I’m going to use the word Peace for my sacred word today.” Since Centering Payer is based on your  relationship with God, this would be trying to manipulate God. God as our Divine Physician heals and gifts us as He sees  fit, it is up to us to let go and let God during this prayer. Spending time with God in this way, is accepting his anointing and love. Jesus says in Matthew 10:30 that even all the hairs on our head are counted. If God knows each one of our hairs, He  must know us more than we know ourselves and what we need.

The longer you have the same sacred word the more you don’t have to think about using it , it will say itself. Long time Centering Prayer-ers will tell you they have had their scared word for years, perhaps never changing it.

That all being said, there are two other means of returning our attention to God during Centering Prayer the sacred breath and the inward sacred glance. In terms of the breath, this is a noticing not an effort to follow the breath. More artistic or visual folks may be drawn to the inward glance, a noticing of God within.

I hope this helps clarify  any questions you have about choosing a sacred word. Let the Spirit guide your choice. If not, please let me know. Here is a little more on the sacred word from Fr. Thomas’s book Open Mind, Open Heart,. You may want to read this book in its totality  to learn more about the Centering Prayer.

“The sacred word is a way of renewing your intention to open yourself to God and to accept Him as He is. While this does not prevent anyone from praying in other forms at other times, the period of Centering Prayer is not the time to pray specifically for others. By consenting to God, you are implicitly praying for everyone past, present and future. You are embracing the whole of creation. You are accepting all reality, beginning with God and with that part of your own reality of which you may not be generally aware, namely, the spiritual level of your being.”

All of Fr. Thomas’s Spiritual Journey videos are available on the Contemplative Outreach YouTube channel. Part 1 of his teaching on the Method of Centering Prayer is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FWvxwfN_CE

Enjoy and celebrate the journey to Love. Peace be with you.

Leslee

 

 

You can view the complete e-bulletin at   https://mailchi.mp/coutreach/december2020ebulletin?e=9aa0837e74
 

November e-bulletin

“The promise is that we are developing our capacity as human beings to do the things that God does with the greatest of ease: to forgive, to show compassion, to respect everyone, and to experience oneness with everyone.”

 Thomas Keating, Reflections on the Unknowable

 

 

 

 

Q&A Corner

Zoom Prayer and Video

 

Q: Zoom has surely opened up new possible ways to practice together in these rather isolating times; for this I am grateful! At the same time, I must admit the transition hasn’t been easy. Learning to work with the technical challenges and the hum of a computer in my sacred space has been another arena in which to employ my contemplative practices. As I pray my way through resistance to this new reality, there is one thing that keeps tripping me up; I hope you can help… I’m troubled by the practice in some virtual Centering Prayer groups of people turning off their cameras during the sit. I’ve heard it explained and even encouraged thus: some people feel more comfortable with the camera off, due to the intimate nature of the prayer; stopping the video may allay a sense of discomfort that some people experience from the fear of being watched during prayer. It’s not my intention to judge others’ needs or experiences, but this line of thinking concerns me. Am I alone in this?

 

Marys Answer.

 

 

 Thank you for your email. Many folks can relate to your sharing. Yet what kept coming to me as I read your words was Matthew 6:6, “But when you pray, go to your inner room, shut the door, and pray to your Father in secret.”(NAB).

It is an individual discernment what “shutting the door” looks like. For some it is just closing their eyes. For others it maybe eyes semi-open. For some a quick glance around the prayer circle, for others solitary space as indicated by turning their camera off.  What is important for me to remember is that this is about my relationship with the Divine Indwelling. As Matthew goes on to say, “And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”   It is much like sitting next to someone who is snoring or restless in prayer. I can either focus on them and be annoyed, or I can ‘return ever so gently’ to my sacred symbol.

The true beauty of any gathering (zoom or in person) is the lived experience of, “whenever two or three are gathered in my name I am there”(Matthew 18:20). That is what I am experiencing in this extraordinary time of Zoom/Covid 19.

Blessings,

Mary

 

You can view the complete e-bulletin at        https://mailchi.mp/coutreach/nov2020-e-bulletin?e=9aa0837e74

October e-bulletin

October 2020“Because we are members of one species, all of whom are interconnected and interdependent, our every thought, word and deed affect everyone else
in the human family instantaneously, regardless of space and time. 
Hence we are accountable to each other as well as to God.”

 Thomas Keating, Reflections on the Unknowable

 

In Memoriam

 We honor the second anniversary of the passing of two great Beloveds of our contemplative community. Abbot Joseph and Fr. Thomas were together in the monastery for more than 50 years and then passed on within four days of each other. We remember them this month and give thanks for the many blessings they freely gave to so many of us. You may wish to dedicate one of your Centering Prayer sessions to their memory and to their deep wish for the healing and unity of all creation.

 

You may wish to revisit Fr. Thomas
Memorial Videos:

You can read the complete bulletin here  https://mailchi.mp/coutreach/october2020-e-bulletin?e=9aa0837e74

September e-bulletin

“Deep prayer increases our trust in God so that we can acknowledge anything
and are not blown away by it.”

Thomas Keating, Intimacy with God

 

 

Unloading of the Unconscious

 

Q: I have practiced Centering Prayer for years now and I was wondering if you could explain the process of unloading of the unconscious. What happens when forgotten memories and feelings, past traumas, just erupt during the prayer session. Does it mean that by being brought to the surface they are healed? How to handle them during the prayer itself as they are much more difficult to let go than “ordinary” thoughts.

Mary: As Fr. Thomas taught, the Divine Therapist embraces every opportunity we provide (by faithfulness to our practices) to remove all the obstacles within us that preclude the free flow of Grace/Love in our lives. A regular practice of Centering Prayer almost guarantees the “cleaning out the basement” will begin! For most lay folks, the bulk of the “unloading of the unconscious” occurs in the midst of our daily lives though, not during the time of prayer. Relationships, careers/jobs, health issues provide a myriad of sources to begin to free us from our unconscious attachments and aversions. Yearly retreats also enhance the unloading process.

But what is most important to remember from my perspective is that while the psychological/physical content of the moment may be uncomfortable and down right dreadful, it is a true indication that the Divine Therapy ( healing process ) is fully underway. God is truly LOVING US INTO LIFE. A Radical, Invincible Trust begins to emerge in the One who brought us to the moment; that One will see us through the moment, because the only way out IS through. Often we are only aware of this in hindsight. For if we were fully aware of the unloading we think we are really in charge of it! The 12-step way of saying all of this is, “God is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” So faithfulness to our daily practices is our way of saying yes to the invitation to be transformed and consent to Divine Union, the fourth Consent.

When really overwhelmed with emotion or pain during Centering Prayer just be. Fr. Thomas taught that in the midst of unloading the sacred word is like a buoy in a hurricane. No where to be found! But if we ride it out, so to speak, a calming begins to emerge after a while and we can “ever so gently” return to our sacred word/symbol.

You can read the complete E-bulletin at   https://mailchi.mp/coutreach/september2020-e-bulletin?e=9aa0837e74

August E-Bulletin

August 2020

“Contemplative prayer allows the hunger and thirst for God to well up.”

Thomas Keating

Voices of the Community

Pulsing with Life by Sandy Hilger

Saints Simon and Jude Centering Prayer Meeting Huntington Beach, CA

 

I saw a tree in the park.
The young leaves were bright green, through and through.
“That’s nice,” I thought, “They look so young and fresh!”

But then I took time to pause, and I saw:
The older leaves were yellowed-green, only the central veins kept the same bright hue,
still spreading the life-giving energy of the tree upon which they hung.

And so, I wondered:
Do our centers show more fully as we fade?Do our central lifelines continue to pulse with the life-giving energy of the universe?

I like to think it is this pulsing energy we seek in Centering Prayer.
I seek to join my feeble pulse with the eternal loving life-energy of God.
To join God’s rhythm, in unison.

And so, I try again, and again and again,
to find His life-giving, loving pulse,
and join mine to His – if only for a second or two at a time.

Dark Night of the Soul and Clinical Depression

 

Q: I’d like to know more about the dark night of the soul and  how it differentiates  from clinical depression.

Joy: Thank you so much for asking this question. Many of us are going through a range of difficult feelings with so much going on in the world around us, so much suffering. Although I am a spiritual director and not a psychologist I can provide some of my initial thoughts about your question. You may also find it helpful to read Thomas Keating’s description of it in Invitation to Love.

Let’s start with the dark night of the soul. When we are in the dark night of the soul our prayer life might feel dry. We can feel abandoned because it is hard to relate to God in the way we have related before, and it may seem like God is completely absent. But it’s also a time when God can reveal his/herself to us in a new way. God is actively and completely loving us, carrying us through the whole thing, even when we find that hard to feel. It’s a time when our entire image of God is being expanded, taken out of the little box in which we had it, as God loves us into a new, fuller relationship.

The dark night experience can take time, and it can be painful. We might feel lost or unsure of ourselves and even vacillate in any calling we may feel to serve God. It’s a time when our false self is being revealed to us―our emotional programs for happiness can become more obvious to us. This can include our desire to be sure of things, i.e. for security, as the ways we usually reach for God no longer seem fruitful. Our desire for affection and esteem may have led us into habits or addictions that we come to realize do not feed us the true spiritual nourishment we desire. Our desire for control may rear up as anger, for example, when we realize that we can’t make God show up, or appear to us in the way we would like. All of this can be highly frustrating, and even humiliating. But it’s not humiliating in the sense that we have been found to be bad or horribly flawed, but rather in the sense of its Latin root humus, or earth: we are becoming fertile soil where God’s love can grow and flourish in us and thorough us. As difficult as it is, this whole process of the dark night brings us to see more clearly the barriers we put up that can keep us from noticing, accepting, and receiving God’s love. It comes as a gift to us from God.

Deeply humbled by seeing more and more of the false programs and agendas that have kept us from experiencing the love of God, we may be drawn to give up, in a way. Even this is a gift, however challenging. We can’t “fix” the false self by ourselves: we need God. We can do our part, seeking whatever resources are available including therapy, and trusted relationships with people anchored in God who can gently assure us of the deep love that God has for us and also gently reflect back when are off the mark. We can engage in practices that help us to integrate our bodies, minds and hearts as we affirm our intention to grow deeper in relationship with God; including meditation such as Centering Prayer; and Welcoming Prayer, the in-your-life version of letting go to God.

We don’t come out of the dark night with a sense of accomplishment, or “Oh hey, I did it!” And we don’t necessarily find ourselves in a place of “peace and serenity” or whatever we might have imagined as some ideal spiritual state. What we find is closer to an acceptance of ourselves in any given moment, exactly as we find ourselves, with all that is going on inside us. There is a deeper faith, a deeper seeing that it all belongs to and is loved and cherished by God, in no matter what state we find ourselves. (Just to clarify, this is not the same as passively giving in to the circumstances that surround us, but rather, aligned with who we are at the core, we can choose our actions in those circumstances in alignment with our true self, with who the Beloved created us to be.)

There are some similarities between the dark night of the soul and depression. Depression can also bring pain, discouragement and disengagement. And some feelings of sadness are a normal reaction to grief, loss or other life circumstances. But when clinical symptoms including trouble concentrating, hopelessness and feelings of worthlessness, insomnia, and especially any suicidal thoughts are present they are best treated by a professional―a workup for depression will depend on a lot of factors. When at all in doubt, please consult with a professional to be sure you get the care you need.

That said, there can be a large overlap between depression and the dark night, as there can be a spiritual undercurrent to both. I am touched by Thomas Moore’s words, in his Foreword to Mirabai Starr’s translation of The Dark Night of the Soul:

While I wouldn’t equate the dark night with depression, I do think our depressive moods could be imagined spiritually rather than only psychologically. John might help us see that what we call depression is a kind of initiation rather than just an emotional problem. …We might imagine the same experience as a crossroads in our effort to make a meaningful life and to achieve a sense of union with the life coursing through us. Depression has its physical, emotional and psychological dimensions and is tied in with our background, personality, and experiences. It has its chemical and genetic base. But it is also spiritual and potentially valuable in making a meaningful life.[1]

Overall, know that whatever you may be going through, you are not alone. And when we are brought to our knees, literally or in our hearts, there can be room for God to show us more of who God is. Look for the gentle, small hints throughout the day, the joys that slip between the griefs. There may be wafts in a baby’s smile, in the gentle swish of a breeze through a tree or an ocean wave, or in our abject prayer as we pray for another who is suffering, or as we go through a deep loss. We are all so deeply loved by God, exactly as we are, beyond our circumstances and any hoped-for outcome, from the very beginning. I pray that we can learn how to let go to that, to trust.

I hope this has answered your question, and I pray that you feel met by God, wherever you are.

 

[1] St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul. Mirabai Starr, translator. New York: Riverhead Books, translation copyright 2002.

 

 

You can read the complete bulletin at  https://mailchi.mp/coutreach/august2020-e-bulletin?e=9aa0837e74

July e-bulletin

July 2020

“God’s activity is the work of the Holy Spirit in your particular embodiment in this world … 
We are pleading for the supreme gift of the Spirit simply
by consenting to God’s will and action.”

Thomas Keating,  Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit

 

Highlighted Online Retreats and Events

Welcoming Prayer Sessions on Zoom:
The last Welcoming Prayer Session on Zoom will be held August 13th. Whenever you need a Welcoming Prayer session you can view all the recordings on our YouTube channel here. Scroll through the list until you see the practice sessions.

 

Lectio Divina Immersion and Presenter Training Zoom Retreat
August 7, 8 2020 
This online retreat will  provide an opportunity to explore and deepen one’s individual practice of Lectio Divina as a way of praying the scriptures in an online community. Register here

 

The Great Reality Deep Within 
12-Step Zoom Weekend Retreat
Friday, August 14 to Sunday, August 16

This retreat is for those in 12-Step recovery who have a desire to learn a method of meditation and companion practices, as well as for experienced meditators who wish to deepen their established practices. Registration due by August 7th.
Read more and register here.

 

Thomas Keating’s The Secret Embrace 
with Cynthia Bourgeault
Offered by Spirituality & Practice
Monday, August 31 – Friday, September 25
 

This course will allow you to glimpse, through the shimmering facets of Fr. Thomas Keating’s poetry and Cynthia’s insightful exegesis, key aspects of his final journey of transfiguration – a path open to us all. The whole course will be set on the foundation of the question “How do we live in this world of pain and uncertainty with the courage and unity that come from turning toward the stillness, the transfiguration?” 
Read more and register here

You can see the full bulletin here      https://mailchi.mp/coutreach/july2020-e-bulletin?e=9aa0837e74

May E-Bulletin

May 2020

“Silence is not just silence or emptiness or nothingness but … the best preparation there is because then there’s no obstacle. And God’s love – since it’s so pervasive – just comes in, like the weather, and like it fills any empty space.”

Thomas Keating, God is Love,The Heart of All Creation

 

  A Borderless Practice:
  The Interspiritual Invitation of Centering Prayer

  By Keith Kristich

 

 

 

 In the weekly Centering group I have led for the last seven years, it has been my joy to find conservatives and progressives,   Evangelicals,  Catholics, Episcopalians, and fundamentalists gathered in union to open to the mystery of God. It has also been my joy to    welcome practitioners of Buddhism, spiritual seekers, and in particular, two close friends of the Jewish faith.
 
But how does such a diverse group of people come together in union when there are so many distinctions and differences of thought and mind? Because Centering Prayer is “non-conceptual”, during our twenty minute silent sit, we don’t cling to our cherished concepts and beliefs about God, but rather sink into the naked and immediate heart of God as the Ultimate Mystery, always just outside the reach of the mind’s grasp. Read more>

 

 

Lectio Divina in Moments of Crisis
with Leslee Terpay

Q: How can Lectio Divina help us during this time of Covid-19?
 

Read Leslee’s response here.

 

More resources:

 

Have questions? Submit your questions about your Centering Prayer practice, the spiritual journey and the contemplative life to any of our contributors by emailing isabelle@coutreach.org.

An archive of all Q&A’s may be found here.

 

See the complete e-bulletin here  https://mailchi.mp/coutreach/may2020-e-bulletin?e=9aa0837e74