By Rick Hamlin
Centering Prayer: A Way to Be with God
This week's guest blogger is Anne A. Simpkinson, Guideposts' online managing editor. Anne, who’s been practicing Centering Prayer since 1996, shares about this prayer practice and how silence can bring us closer to God.
Last year was pretty stressful for me. I kept waiting for the dust to settle, but just when it did, something else came down the pike. Counter-intuitively, I spent less time in prayer. When Lent rolled around this year, I seized the opportunity to commit to praying more.
Specifically, I wanted to spend more time with my practice, centering prayer, a method sometimes called “the prayer of intention.” The prayer is an acknowledgment that God is always with us, but we’re not always with God. Through centering prayer, we intend to remove the barriers we might have between God and ourselves and to “rest in Him.”
The way to remove those barriers is simple but not always easy. I enter into silence as described in Mathew 6:6: “But you, when you pray, enter your inner room and with your door closed pray to your Father who is there in the secret place, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” When a thought, emotion or memory comes knocking on the door or barging in, I silently repeat my sacred word, a one- or two-syllable word such as peace, Abba, Jesu or Amen. It’s a way of saying, “Right now, I want to be with God. Come back later.”
I also like to think of the practice as an elevator. You get in on the first floor and with you are your spouse and kids, your parents, your friends, teachers, neighbors, your boss. Also in that space are your worries, your fears and anger, your to-do and grocery lists, your work projects. As you can imagine, it can get pretty noisy in there.
But as you stand there in silence, the elevator starts moving. If you find yourself engaged in conversation with one of your worries, you simply repeat your sacred word silently, to yourself. Amazingly, at each floor, someone or something simply wanders off. In time, even if the thoughts and emotions are sharing the elevator car with you, they stand back quietly against the wall. At some point, you realize that God has also been with you in the elevator from the very start. It’s just that with the crowd and the noise, you hadn’t noticed before. Now you can simply be with God.
One’s prayer session and practice aren’t always smooth. At some floors, two people (or emotions) may leave and five more might come aboard. But the practice is called a practice because one just has to keep at it.
The sixteenth-century mystic St. John of the Cross described silence as “God’s first language.” Of course, God’s “language” is His presence. When we immerse ourselves in silence is when we can truly be with God, as God is—not how we want Him to be, not how we think He should be. God just is and we are just with God.
I’ve found that the more I cultivate silence, the more I’m able to tune out life’s everyday noise—drop my annoyances, my reactivity, my self-doubt—and carry with me a sense of God’s presence in my life. And isn’t that what Lent is all about?