Q: I’ve practiced Centering Prayer on and off for years. Same with Lectio Divina and the Liturgy of the Hours. Now I’m trying to blend them into an integrate twice-a-day prayer practice. Morning and Evening Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours would seem like an appropriate framework to hold Centering Prayer: after the psalms there’s a scripture reading followed by a pause for silence. I’d simply like to use the time to do my Lectio (scripture reading) and expand that pause for silence into 20 minutes of Centering Prayer. But the direction for Lectio on this website specifically recommends Lectio Divina AFTER Centering Prayer instead. Is there a particular concern or reason for that, or am I free to integrate it with the Liturgy of the Hours in the way that makes the most sense for me?
A: Thank you for your question on how to blend several prayer practices into two daily prayer periods. It seems many lay folks are being drawn to pray the Liturgy of the Hours to begin and end their day. I am grateful for the chorus of prayers being lifted up around the world as Christians pray the same readings throughout the day. It helps me remember I am not alone when I am praying alone in my prayer room. The Spirit seems to be calling you to dive into your relationship by combining the verbal prayer of chanting or reciting the psalms, meditation on the Word of God and simply resting in God’s love and peace. Since I have the same prayer practices I will speak from my experience at home and also the experience that I have had while leading retreats and praying the Office with the Brothers of Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY. https://holycrossmonastery.com/
First, why does Fr. Thomas recommend praying Centering Prayer prior to Lectio Divina? He taught that the time we spent in both prayer practices were important to both our relationship with God and our relationship with ourselves. He stressed that Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer were separate prayer practices with different guidelines especially around the sacred word that is used during each. As you may have experienced the sacred word during Lectio Divina changes with each prayer period as we listen with the ear of our heart to receive what the Spirit brings to our attention. Thus, our sacred word during Lectio Divina has content based upon the passage we are praying. Our sacred word during Centering Prayer is one that hardly ever changes and has no conceptual content except our intentionality. So, when we combine Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina there is usually a short time of transition such as a verbal prayer to the Spirit that helps us remember we are now praying Holy Scripture.
Our time in Centering Prayer helps us open our minds and listen with our hearts by putting aside our false self and preconceived notions as God heals the falsity in our human condition. This allows us to be open to hearing the Word of God directly as a conversation that also informs our life in God. The two prayer practices are similar in that we are sitting with God, listening to God, responding to God and resting with God. But only in Lectio Divina do we concentrate on those moments. You may have found that the rest in Centering Prayer is experienced differently than the rest of Lectio Divina in that the Spirit seems to draw us in and out of rest during Lectio Divina to read more, reflect more and respond more. In other words, even though resting in God in all its forms is resting in God, the human experience of that rest is different. The Spirit inspires each of us to grow in relationship in our own particular ways, as God knows who we are and what we need even so much as knowing the number of hairs on our heads. (Luke 12:7)
Your description of your prayer time, starting with the Liturgy of the Hours, including time for Lectio Divina on a scripture passage then time of silence is very common amongst those who combine the three prayer practices. My question would be are you transitioning to Centering Prayer by finishing Lectio Divina and using your Centering Prayer sacred word? Or, is your silent time the rest that comes from spending time praying Holy Scripture? Does it really matter? That is up to you and the Spirit.
At Holy Cross Monastery, the Anglican Benedictine Brothers chant the psalms, have a short scripture reading and then an extended time of silence during the Diurnum office. For me, the silent time is spent in Centering Prayer but sometimes I am praying the scripture that was read to us. As you may have experienced, when you are praying the office if we are open God brings to our attention what it is we need to hear about our growth in Christ as we chant the psalms. Lectio Divina becomes a natural part of praying the office as we grow in relationship. We can’t avoid learning about ourselves if we notice what word or phrase touches our hearts. As the chant continues, we may not have time at that instant to meditate on that word or phrase as the choir is not waiting for us for the next verse! Yet, we can take the word or phrase with us into the day to meditate, and respond in prayer. Lectio Divina becomes our way of life.
That all being said, Thomas always called his teaching on Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer guidelines. He would be the last to say he knew more than the Spirit when it came to an individual’s prayer life. So yes, please feel free to integrate your Centering Prayer time with the Liturgy of the Hours as makes sense to you and how the Spirit inspires your prayer life.
May God continue to bless you as you grow in Christ.
Peace be with you.
– Leslee Terpay