On Centering Prayer
Consenting to God’s Presence by Cistercian Thomas Keating.
We invite you to enter into interior silence that leads to Contemplative Prayer in the Christian tradition. The main thing you bring to this is the desire or Will to come closer to God, to know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom the Father has sent. You access a presence already within as source and one that sustains you. Creation is not a onetime event but a continuous movement, one that is comphrensive, loving and constantly calling us to ever deeper penetration of the ultimate mystery. We are invited into more of the divine mystery and ultimate source of all that is. We access this by silence. We reach this through the silence rooted in ourselves. This is not sheer emptiness, but is an emptiness that is on the verge of becoming everything. It is everything and at the same time it is nothing. Every possibility is waiting to be realized. That realization is the Son as the source. We return to the source- not to fully rest there, for that is for the next life, but in order to manifest, in an active way, the full energy, life and power of the Trinity into all possibility. This is not an exercise of self help or a project, which is useful, it is an encounter with sheer reality, reality beyond anything we know as reality, a reality that is uncreated and unmanageable but that is accessible because of its great goodness and love and desire to share the maximum amount of divine life that we can possibly receive. And so as this life is within us there is no place to go to find it. There is a movement from our ordinary psychological awareness to the spiritual level of our being, because that is the level that turns towards the divine being. From our perspective Christ is the centre and to this we are drawn with an irrestiable force that is so tremendous that we don’t know how to describe it. We are moving into the interior space. The proper attitude to bring is consent. Effort is not appropriate apart from saying Yes to what is and allowing reality to rise up within us and to teach us what it is without words. This is a movement not against, but beyond the other relationships we may have with God. And so it is a conversation to communion and unitive consciousness. It is more of the heart, than of the mind, while part of the spiritual journey is to integrate the two. The brain gives us the capacity to enter the ups and downs of life, its sorrows and joys, while at our source we become transmitters of the divine goodness and life. Thus its presence is evident in our inmost being in our attitudes and behaviour. This is what characterizes Centering Prayer. It begins with Kenosis, self emptying is how the Trinity gives themselves to one another. The Trinity live in each other and not in themselves.
We let go of all possessive attitudes and allow the divine attitude, the separate self sense, our idea of ourselves or any attachment to self identity go. We develop a radical orientation to the divine disposition. This requires letting go of our immediate environment and all that is at the level of awareness, and moving to the intuitive level where our spiritual will is. Thus at the mouth of the soul, there is a need to be open 3600 to the divine environment that surrounds us, like the “divine milieu” (Tielhard de Chardin). Respect for our freedom and the human condition, protects us and sustains us in intimate compassion that knows no bounds. Into that unconditional love we allow ourselves to sink. There are different levels of self surrender. We are invited simply to be and to do nothing during this time as a way of deepening our relationship with God and as a discipline to remove the obstacles in us. Thus we let go of our pre-packaged dispositions and attitudes to life and allow God to be God in us. So to express our letting go and the whole level of psychological consciousness, we close our eyes as a way of letting go. This is what Jesus calls the Inner Room. “If you want to pray go into your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret, And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you” Matt 6:6. This is the level of intuition and spiritual will. Then make the intention to open and surrender to the Divine Presence. This is the acceptance of the God within, surrender to this presence and God’s action, forgetting self. There you will have a sense of God being all in all within. This is more than a meditation, it is a way of life. This is divine life living in us, teaching us to live human life in a divine way. So as we find ourselves in the inner room, we will discover obstacles within that challenge us to deeper levels of silence. In general we call them thoughts as they contain memories, plans, concepts, acts. We are asked only to consent with our spiritual will. We consent to the presence and action of God within us. The action of God is the healing of memories, thus we consent twice daily to the action of the Holy Spirit. We sit for 20 or 30 minutes as thoughts come down the stream of consciousness, as the imagination is a faculty of endless movement and energy, we need to let the thoughts go by, uncensored and with detachment. We are not our feelings or our thoughts, while we have them, we do not identify with them. We can change them or even ignore them. We ignore them by simply letting them come and go. When we get involved we need a symbol or gesture in order to renew the intention of our spiritual will. Ours is a love that is not out to get something but to give our whole being to the ultimate mystery.
The mystery of Christ’s humanity is at the heart of the gospel. We let go so as to become everything, not for our own satisfaction – this is the way things are. So as often as thoughts come, ignore them. Then we move silently towards the symbol we have chosen, often a word, as in the Christian tradition. We are accustomed to listening, this is an attitude that opens us to the divine presence. Silence is a way of listening at ever deepening divine levels. In secret you forget yourself, there is no self reflection. You leave behind goals, such as peace, delight, love or calmness. This is not up to us, but the grace of this healing begins a process, it frees the divine, supernatural organism within, we call grace, to begin manifesting the divine life in our uniqueness and life style. At the end return to ordinary thoughts and gently so as to bring this silence into everyday life with you.
Fionnuala Quinn O.P. International Co-ordinator for Contemplative Outreach.
Written from a CD found in the Sounds True Programme Centering Prayer: A Training Course for Opening to the Presence of God.