Amidst the turmoil of racial unrest this summer, I, like many who practice in the contemplative world, felt a call to explore my pain and discomfort, and to discern a worthy response. And how could that response derive, at the deepest possible level, from God’s call to me? I knew the answer lay right before me, in my regular Centering Prayer practice. Could I lay my urge to “get into good trouble” at the feet of a practice of “consenting to God’s action within” and see what happens?
My Centering Prayer practice includes meeting (via Zoom) with a group on Fridays. In late July I shared with them my desire to create a separate group to explore this call. Not surprisingly, many in the group were also wrestling with this. “The mostly non-violent racial uprisings occurring in our cities have brought me to acknowledge an urgent need to do some active soul searching. I am an educated, professional Caucasian woman who practices Centering Prayer and I am not sure I am seeing clearly my part in this upheaval.” said one of our members. Our Friday practice is to center for the first 30 minutes, and then, for the next 30 minutes, share in reading aloud, paragraph by paragraph, a book on Centering Prayer. Knowing that this model worked, I sought out a worthy book; Howard Thurman’s book Jesus and the Disinherited came out of our discussion as a perfect vehicle to explore the issues of inequality. We settled on a name for our group: Centering Prayer at the Intersection of Faith and Equity/Equality (CPIFEE). (We talked a bit about equity vs equality but never settled on one or the other, and were content to leave it at both.)
I put forth these suggested goals and purposes for the group:
- It is not a discussion group, nor an action group.
- It is an intentional exploration of the intersection of Centering Prayer with issues of equality/equity, and the experience of emptying, listening to God in silence, consenting to God’s action within, and also then listening to God in the words of others who have labored within the context of faith for the rights of the “disinherited”, the underprivileged, marginalized, or oppressed.
- It is offering space and time for God’s action within, whether that be “renewal”, “inspiration”, “guidance”, or anything else.
- It will be a goal to emphasize “listening” – within and without.
- The group will seek to hold safe, supportive, listening space for each other
Our starting group of 17 has settled into a group of more like 12-13. After 11 sessions, we are slightly more than halfway through the book.
Our sessions start with a selection from Howard Thurman’s Meditations of the Heart, followed by 20 minutes of Centering Prayer. We use the final 30 minutes to read Jesus and the Disinherited together. We take turns reading aloud, intentionally reading at a slower pace so as to give the text the spaciousness it requires to be absorbed into our hearts. We respond from our hearts. In the words of one of our participants:
“By Centering together and through the wisdom of Howard Thurman, this group is supporting me in my endeavor to discern what is influencing my position. Our time together is rich, honest and informative through the sharing of experiences and views; the reading gives us much to ponder. The meetings are administered effectively. The follow-ups to each meeting sum up our time together and provide ways to continue in individual thought during the week. All to say, I am finding this to be a worthwhile, valuable experience. Thanks also be to Zoom for enabling us to gather from various geographical regions.”
Those who are familiar with Thurman’s book will attest that it can be a painful text to read, but searingly true and timeless. For myself, it was the perfect vehicle for this experience. Reading this book immediately following a heart-opening time of Centering Prayer – in small sections, aloud, among trusted companions – is like no other reading experience. The group itself has become treasured community for me, succeeding at offering a safe space for each other, responding from the heart, and with an ability to hold silence and to acknowledge and sit with discomfort when it arises. I am grateful for their showing up and sitting with me as companions at this intersection.