Comparing Centering Prayer and Buddhist Meditation

Q:  I am curious about the difference in effects between a Buddhist meditation and Centering Prayer, given that in Centering Prayer there is a large emphasis on consenting to the Divine presence as we are being “worked on.” In Buddhist meditation, since there is no such intention to an outside source, does the same kind of “divine therapy” take place regardless? Or are there different effects?

A:  I do not know enough about Buddhist meditation to compare the differences in effects between a Buddhist meditation and Centering Prayer. What I do know ‚Äì and experience – is the fruits of Centering Prayer. We do not use the term ‚Äúeffects‚Äù because it implies that prayer is going to bring about certain effects, which would distort the purpose of Centering Prayer. It is a prayer of consent to the presence and action of God in our lives. This consent takes us is into the hands of God, and I feel that in each of us, under this consent is a desire to live out the great commandment, ‚Äúto love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself.‚Äù

Centering Prayer is a prayer of relationship – it deepens one’s relationship with the Triune God ( Father, Son and Holy Spirit). It is a consenting to the relationship and opening to the presence and action of God. This relationship intensifies over time manifested by the fruits in one’s life. It is a two-fold manifestation:  in letting go and in receiving, a de-centering on oneself and a centering on the presence of God, a letting go of separations and a welcoming of unification. It moves us from a god out there to a God within, from an ‚Äúall about me‚Äù to an ‚Äúall about us‚Äù consciousness. It is a journey into the heart (heartfulness), a moving beyond the intellect (mindfulness).  Mindfulness it a step toward heartfulness.

Spell check wanted to change the word ‚Äúheartfulness‚Äù to ‚Äúhurtfulness.‚Äù Interesting.  Is it not the hurts of life that hold us back from the wholehearted giving of ourselves completely in relationships?

When we say ‚Äúlet us pray,‚Äù we are saying ‚Äúlet us have a relationship,‚Äù and like any relationship there are degrees of intimacy. Let‚Äôs use the example of marriage:  There needs to be a time for listening, there needs to be a time for reflecting, there needs to be a time for responding and there needs to be a time for just being with the one you love.

In Christian prayer, there needs to be a time for praying and reading which we call vocal prayer; there needs to be a time for reflecting on our prayers, which we call meditation; there needs to be a time for responding from the heart, which is called affective prayer; and there needs to be a time for just being in the Divine Presence, which we call contemplation. You will never be forced to love God; in prayer you share your willingness and openness to give intimacy a try. Of course, God is already loving us unconditionally and just waiting for us to get over it (whatever that “it” is) and finally respond.

Centering Prayer is bridge between affective prayer and contemplation.  It shows our willingness to take the next step toward greater intimacy. When you come down to it, Centering Prayer is very personal, relational, intimate.  In this intimacy, there is a purification of the false self to call forth the true self, an inner penetration of the divine into the human manifested by the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, a letting go of the old man and calling forth the new man. In the words of St Paul, ‚ÄúI live now not I, but Christ lives in me.‚Äù I participate in the divine nature. Centering Prayer each day, twice a day for 20 minutes, gives me the opportunity to express my intention, but so much more than that — my desire, my longing, my yearning to be one with my God ‚Äì an expression of my aching to be consumed by my God and return to the womb of God from whence I came.

Fr. Carl.