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