Two years ago Contemplative Outreach hosted a Global Introductory Workshop on Centering Prayer in the midst of the pandemic. Several hundred people from around the world tuned in to hear four excellent presentations on the guidelines that define the Centering Prayer method. Follow-up sessions were provided that lent further support for people who were new to the Centering Prayer method or who wanted a refresher on the basics of the prayer. This, in turn, led to the question, “what’s next?” Especially in the age of COVID when people around the world were confined to their homes but wanted the presence of a contemplative community in their prayer lives, how could they be supported? The answer came in the creation of two Meditation Chapel groups designed for people who were new to Centering Prayer, or were curious about the prayer and the teachings of Thomas Keating.
The Tuesday group (the G1082 listing on the Meditation Chapel calendar) is led by Irene Chang and Denny Davis, both residents of South Dakota, USA. Their group meets for an hour and includes opening prayers followed by 20 minutes of Centering Prayer, concluding with instruction from various Centering Prayer sources that include reading Open Mind Open Heart by Keating or viewing segments of the Keating videos. Conversation and discussion follows the presentations before final prayers are added to conclude the hour.
The second group (G1085) is led by Pattye Spezia who resides in Texas, USA, and Michele Jankanish who lives in the state of Washington, USA. This hour-long group meets on Thursday and follows a similar outline to that of the Tuesday group. Opening prayers and 20 minutes of Centering Prayer are followed by sacred sharing on personal experiences of Centering Prayer and questions about the method, as well as insights from Centering Prayer materials such as Open Mind Open Heart and Invitation to Love by Thomas Keating. The occasional viewing of Keating videos and the practice of lectio divina are included as well. Final prayers are offered before the group concludes its weekly gathering.
Both groups have a loyal core group of participants who join in the prayer group each week. They are frequently joined by others who are exploring the group to see whether it is a “fit” for them or for whom the time is convenient on that day. Some newcomers stay with the group while others move on. The four facilitators convey the message that everyone is welcomed, no matter where they are on the journey.
Participants, in turn, have shared that they have found a safe space in both groups that allow them the freedom to either speak deeply or remain silent. The deep conversation from participants often touches on the struggles and joys they experience with the prayer, as well as the understanding and support they experience from group members and facilitators that encourages them to persevere with Centering Prayer. Participants have also expressed appreciation for other fruits of the Spirit evident in the groups, in particular the unity of the group (we are all “one” in this prayer). Members of the two groups are scattered throughout the United States and abroad but they feel a bonding with one another. The prayer has been instrumental in opening their hearts to the realities faced by others who live near and far. Their contemplative practice has created a deeper solidarity and heart connection with the other members of their groups.
While providing a place for those new to Centering Prayer to build their practice and enhance their understanding of the method, participants also include long-term Centering Prayer practitioners. Some are returning to the practice of the prayer after a period of absence and wish to recommit themselves. Both the beginners and the more experienced have expressed their appreciation that the groups allow them to learn from one another and give them an opportunity to delve more deeply into Contemplative Outreach materials. This was demonstrated just recently when a visitor to the Tuesday group observed that the description of the group should clearly advertise the group welcomes both beginners and experienced folks. The visitor made this observation after noting that the instruction included both an introduction to the prayer and a more in-depth and advanced presentation of Centering Prayer. This input has led to a new description for both groups that clarifies their purpose.
The four facilitators welcome any and all who find their way to the two groups. Visitors are always warmly greeted and encouraged to return the following week. In our pandemic age, we are discovering that community is possible online and persons who are drawn to contemplative practice should be encouraged to check out Meditation Chapel. The Tuesday and Thursday groups mentioned above are just a couple of clicks away. Drop in and join them.