Reflections on the Beginnings of Centering Prayer

“In the silence we are guided by the spirit.”
Thomas Keating

As I sit and think about my life’s journey, I am keenly aware of God’s presence and action and how my faith in the Spirit has grown through Centering Prayer, my association with Contemplative Outreach, and especially through my years as a member of the Contemplative Outreach faculty.

We were nine women and two men who came together each Monday night in 1984, in Westbury, Long Island, NY in the attic of a local church.  The pastor was kind enough to allow us to use this ‚Äúupper room,‚Äù as Mary Mrozowski *, our prayer group leader, called it.  We did a contemplative walk, sat on low children‚Äôs chairs for two 20 minute periods of Centering Prayer and then shared the trials and tribulations of our lives.  Most of us were divorced single parents, raising teen-age children and dealing with various life challenges.

Mary would always have some good advice for us.  It was only later that I realized that this advice was God-centered, coming from Mary‚Äôs deep faith in God‚Äôs presence in our lives. As the prayer became more a part of my life, so did my trust develop to accept this loving advice.

This Centering Prayer group in Westbury was the first one in the Long Island area.  Later, sometime in 1985, as a result of the Introductory Workshops that Mary led in various Long Island towns, she began sending us to parishes in these neighboring towns to help people begin praying in small groups. My first reaction was, ‚ÄúMe, help people with prayer? This will never happen!‚Äù  But with Mary‚Äôs guidance and the help of the Holy Spirit – which I had just begun to acknowledge – it did happen. I was setting aside time each day for Centering Prayer, once a day at first, and then twice a day. I was able to encourage and guide the people in these first prayer groups. I was able to share with them about the prayer, my experiences, and about the changes I saw happening in my life.

One day, still later in the year, Mary invited us to a delicious turkey dinner she had prepared, and announced ‚ÄúLong Island is now a chapter and you are all facilitators (leaders of prayer groups).‚Äù Again, doubting thoughts arose. ‚ÄúMe?  No way!‚Äù  But, as I continued to grow in the prayer, I realized that the Holy Spirit was guiding me, and I was able to help organize groups, answer questions about the prayer and offer advice when asked.

At one of our meetings, Mary announced that she was leaving her job and moving to West Cornwall, CT to form a contemplative live-in community, which was moved to Warwick, NY the next year. Once again, the doubter in me thought, ‚ÄúOh, this will not be possible – and what will happen to our Long Island chapter?‚Äù  Well, as you might imagine, under the guidance of Fr. Thomas and the Holy Spirit, the live-in community known as Chrysalis House lasted until Mary‚Äôs sudden death in 1993. 

But what did happened to our Long Island Chapter?  At first, we felt lost and abandoned, but again the Spirit came to our aid.  We were privileged to have Fr. Carl Arico, Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler and the main Contemplative Outreach office right across the river from us in New Jersey.   They helped each of us realize what gifts we could bring to the chapter. They led us through the transition of leadership.  We struggled, but we survived.

At the same time, although I was not always aware of it, as I sat in Centering Prayer each day, my trust in God grew, and I realized the Spirit really was working in my life.

“In the silence we are guided by the Spirit.”

Anne Mazza
East Meadow, NY

*Mary Mrozowski (d. 1993) was a founding member of Contemplative Outreach and the creator of the Welcoming Prayer practice.