Centering Prayer and Trauma


Q: I have been practicing Centering Prayer for 12 years, and recently I have been praying for the transformation process to hurry up. To put it more politely, for removal of barriers to union. The resulting unloading seems to bring another re- experiencing of emotions related to personal and generational trauma, whose emotionality has temporarily reduced my ability to cope with some family events. When I sit with the feelings and allow myself to notice God there, I experience a sort of sigh: Thy will be done. [What] about the use of outside resources like 12-Steps, counseling [and others]?


A: There are two aspects to your question that I will attempt to respond to: transformation through the practice of Centering Prayer and the use of outside resources to support that transformation.

Transformation is a process which happens on three levels: Simple, transitional and radical.

Simple transformation takes place in the context of our intention and willingness to consent to changes and we are actively addressing those changes that need to take place in our lives.

Transitional transformation happens when we are doing all we are called to do but we begin to feel out of control. There is an uncertainty about what is going on in our lives; we not quite as sure of ourselves as we were in the past; reactions, emotions, viewpoints and habits of prayer are shifting. Some have described it as a disorienting feeling of falling apart.

Radical transformation is where God the Divine Physician has taken over and is working on levels of our being beneath our conscious awareness. No work on our part would be able to bring us there. The divine surgery is getting to the root of our “stuff.” We are no longer in charge and we are becoming accustomed to it.

You seem to be in the transitional transformation level. Trauma is held in the body – the issues are in the tissues. While Centering Prayer can help dislodge and heal it, and the Welcoming Prayer continues the unloading, healing and coping, even Fr. Keating acknowledged the need for good counseling and professional help to deal with traumatic events.  Resources like the 12-steps, counseling, somatic therapies, etc., all can help. Ultimately it comes down to a combination of practices—spiritual, psychological, physical—and with God’s grace, their cumulation and your dedication bring healing and freedom. These are all manifestation of God’s gifts; use them as you need. Remember the gift of Centering Prayer is the constant and never-ending consenting to God’s presence and action in our lives through all of God’s creation.


Fr. Carl

Related articles:

  • See the article in the December 2020 newsletter on page 11, “Skillful Means: Reorienting to Centering Prayer,” which provides context and guidance for adjusting contemplative practice in ways that are workable for those with history of trauma.
  • See the article in the December 2015 newsletter on page 9, “Transformed Trauma,” giving practical advice about how to properly engage contemplative practices to access deep healing.
  • See this article in the June 2017 newsletter by Dave Scheider on page 9, “Post-Traumatic Prayer,” about his experience of being healed by the prayer.
  • The article immediately following Dave’s by Ray Leonardini is also related (p. 11)