Q: As I go deeper and deeper into contemplative and introspective work the barrier I run into is the constantly articulated goal (by all the great teachers, saints and writers) of becoming more loving. Detachment and relinquishment are not struggle points but I find an empty space left behind as I go through the process. So my question is: what practices have helped or could help with building a greater Christ-like love within me, or helping me access and be filled by Christ’s own love. I’ve considered borrowing from Buddhist sisters and brothers some loving kindness meditation practice but specifically want to know if there are practices within the Christian contemplative tradition that could help.
Lindsay: This is such an important question to keep track of as we grow in our practice. I would suggest that you look, not outside Centering Prayer practice, but within it. The fourth guideline of Centering Prayer is the key to bringing the energy of the practice into our lives in a fruitful way, and yet this guideline is often the most neglected.
At the end of the prayer period, we are invited to remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes as an important transition time for bringing the prayer into daily life. I often use this time to rest quietly after the prayer, asking God, “What is mine to do today?” Sometimes the answer comes to me in words and I spend some time praying about and visualizing some particular action into which I am invited. Other times I feel I am being asked to use the transition time in a less specific way to feel my intention to make myself more available for God to act through me.
This use of the time after the main Centering Prayer period also has the benefit of reminding me that I don’t always know what God wants from me or what it means to be loving. You describe detachment, relinquishment, and empty space as gifts that are coming to you through your contemplative practice. Our culture equates love with warm emotions, but sometimes love takes the form of an absence of reactivity that leaves other people the freedom to be themselves. Your detachment as the fruit of your contemplative practice may be allowing you to get yourself out of the way so that God’s love can pass directly to others through you even if you feel like you aren’t doing much of anything at all. If we would love as God would have us love, this may mean trusting the gifts that come to us through our prayer and accepting that they may not be what we were expecting.
While there are other practices such as the Welcoming Prayer, the Forgiveness Prayer, the Jesus Prayer, or Ignatian Prayer that you could add to your program that might help you to grow in compassion, there is virtue in trusting that, through the simplicity of the one powerful practice of Centering Prayer, God’s love can find a way to flow through us into the world.