On the Method of Centering Prayer

Q: I am an Episcopalian practicing Christian meditation, and find myself agonizing about technique, being somewhere between Father Keating and John Main. As I am disabled, I meditate lying down, assuming this is fine. I repeat “Jesus” as a mantra, silently sounding the syllable “Jee” on my inhale, and “sus” on my exhale. My, at this point, rather painful quandary is, am I using a valid technique, or does intent matter much more than any method. Please help, and God Bless.

A: Please be at peace. Thomas Merton penned this beautiful prayer, which supports your intuition about intention:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Thomas Keating also affirms that in Christianity, motivation is everything.

In teaching Centering Prayer, Contemplative Outreach avoids the use of the word technique because it has a judgmental connotation to it, setting a person on the potential path of wanting to do things right. Centering Prayer is called a method of prayer, and does not have rules but guidelines. There is our intention to consent to God’s presence and action in our prayer, but there is also the awareness that if prayer is a relationship, then each person‚Äôs relationship may develop and evolve as they live out the essence of the prayer. Once aware of the guidelines, the Spirit, or the Spirit moving through life circumstances, may move people to adjust.

You have established that lying on your back is for you the proper posture for prayer. You set aside time each day to faithfully pray the prayer and you are noticing changes in your life. Centering Prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline in service of fostering that relationship. As your relationship with God grows and deepens, you may feel called to move into a more receptive, non-conceptual level of relationship, beyond any focus on words or breathe. Remember in Centering Prayer, our sacred word, breath or glance has no inherent meaning; it serves only as a symbol of our intention to consent to God’s presence and action. Over time, many practitioners report that their sacred symbol disappears altogether as the relationship with God deepens and the unloading of the unconscious quiets.

– Fr. Carl Arico