by J. David Muyskens
In Centering Prayer you choose a word, sometimes called a prayer word, sometimes called a sacred word, that expresses your desire to be in an intimate relationship with God. This word says you intend to enter that secret room of communion with God. It is not a time for thinking or for words but for presence. Whenever a thought kidnaps you from that intention, you return to that word as a way of letting go of the thought and returning to God.
Ask the Holy Spirit to give you a prayer word that expresses your desire to be with God in faith and love. You may be led to use your most familiar name for God. Some examples may include the following: God, Jesus, Father, Abba, Mother, Lord, Spirit. Jesus’ word was Abba. The early church used the name of Jesus when approaching God.
You may be led to choose another word that expresses, for you, your desire to be in communion with God. Such a word could be love, amor, peace, faith, trust, grace, mercy, joy, silence, stillness, calm, open, presence, yes, amen.
Having chosen a sacred word, you use it for the entire period of Centering Prayer. In time one word will become second nature for you. As the author of The Cloud of Unknowing said, your sacred word becomes attached to your heart. . . .
In the years I have practiced Centering Prayer, I have had only two prayer words. First I used the word Spirit as a familiar name for God. Later I changed to presence, which symbolizes my consent to the presence of the Trinity and of my being present. I have thought about changing it again, but this word has become so much a part of my subconscious it keeps coming back. It is not a matter of thinking about the word and what it means but using it as a way to free me from all thought. A simple, short word works best. Avoid anything complicated or a word that has so many connotations that it will take you into more tangents of thought. At times I do not need the word. I let go of it. Just a gentle turning to God is enough.
Guidelines of Centering Prayer
(as stated by Thomas Keating, founder of the Contemplative Outreach Network)
- Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
- Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
- When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
- At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.
Use a sacred word you have already chosen or take a little time to ask the Holy Spirit to give you the prayer word for your Centering Prayer time. Let the word emerge from deep within you as you wait on the Spirit’s prompting. Gently introduce that word as you begin twenty minutes of Centering Prayer. With that one word you state your intention to consent to God’s presence and action. When you find yourself thinking about something, let go of that thought by returning to your sacred word. This is not a violent or forced action but a very gentle one. Don’t change the prayer word during the course of the twenty minutes. Close the twenty minutes with thanksgiving.
More on Centering Prayer
Credit: From Forty Days to a Closer Walk with God by J. David Muyskens. Copyright © 2006 by J. David Muyskens. Published by Upper Room Books. Used with permission.
Art Credit: © Beth A. Richardson – “Water Lily.”