Episode 4: Centering Prayer as the Divine Therapy

“No matter how many times I return to the sacred word, I  think of it as returning to my intention and returning to God. I am returning to God and God’s presence within.”
- Pastor Tia Norman

On Today’s episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts, we hear from Pastor Tia Norman, a teacher and guide specializing in spirituality and practices anchored in the mystical teachings of the Christian Contemplative tradition. She provides a wonderful perspective on incorporating gentleness during the practice of Centering Prayer. Tia leads workshops, retreats, and courses and also serves as Pastor of Awakenings, a contemplative community in Houston, Texas. She is also a certified Embodied Yin and Yoga Nidra Teacher.

What’s in this episode: 
  • The unique way Tia found Centering Prayer and why she feels it is so accessible to others.
  • She touches on the “noise” that interferes with contemplation and how to access peace within it. 
  • The importance of “gently” returning to your sacred word and how the perspective of gentleness changed her meditative practices. 
  • Centering Prayer is like opening your hands to let go and simultaneously receiving, Tia suggests viewing it as a flow and a relationship.
  • A perspective shift - What if while we are praying, God is praying through us? 
  • How the practice of Centering Prayer can equip us to manage the difficult moments that come up in our daily life.
  • Tia shares what inspired the formation of her contemplative community and what a typical gathering includes.
  • She shares her perspective on being a woman of color who is in the contemplative community and how it relates to the Black culture. 
  • Where does Centering Prayer fit into the future as the practice starts to emerge?

“The work of the will in prayer is real work, but it is chiefly one of receiving. Receiving is one of the most difficult kinds of activity there is. To receive God is the chief work in centering prayer.”
- Keating, OM, OH p. 65-66

To connect further with Pastor Tia Norman:

Visit her website: https://tiaariane.com
Follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/2btia/
Check out her free Guided Meditation Download: https://mailchi.mp/9c19517d01a5/free-guided-meditation-from-tia-norman
Visit Awakenings Website: http://awakeningsinc.org/
Follow Awakenings on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/awakenings_inc/
Opening Minds, Opening Hearts EP #4: Centering Prayer as the Divine Therapy with Tia Norman

[cheerful music starts]

Colleen Thomas [00:00:02] Welcome to the first season of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts, a podcast about the transformative practice of Centering Prayer.

In each episode, we will talk to friends of Contemplative Outreach about their personal practice.

Listen in as our guests share insights about the teachings of Father Thomas Keating, how the practice impacts their work in the world, and their thoughts about how Centering Prayer connects to the living traditions of contemplation and meditation. We are your hosts, Colleen Thomas,

Mark Dannenfelser [00:00:36] and Mark Dannenfelser,

Colleen Thomas [00:00:37] Centering Prayer practitioners, and contemplative life seekers who love to talk a little too much about how the practice of Contemplative Prayer transforms our inner and outer worlds. Our hope this season is to open the door for you to explore more deeply this powerful practice of Centering Prayer.

[cheerful music ends]

Welcome to the Contemplative Outreach Podcast, Opening Minds, Opening Hearts. We're learning so much with every guest and we're excited today because Mark, we have a new friend with us.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:14] We do. It's so wonderful to have Tia Norman here with us. Tia Norman is a teacher, and guide specializing in spirituality and practices that are anchored in the mystical teachings of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Welcome, Tia! We are so glad you're here!

Tia Norman [00:01:33] Thank you so much for having me. I am beyond grateful to be here visiting with you, too.

Colleen Thomas [00:01:39] I'm so excited you're here, Tia, and we'd like to ground everyone into our conversation with hearing a little bit about how you came to the practice of Centering Prayer.

You're a certified yoga teacher, and you're a pastor. We're curious about all of this. First, can you tell us how you were first introduced to the practice of Centering Prayer? And what, maybe, drew you to the practice?

Tia Norman [00:02:05] Absolutely! I feel like I was drawn to Centering Prayer and Centering Prayer also found me. I was invited to go on a retreat. The timing of the retreat was kind of at the tail end of a lot of personal and professional crises.

Things in my home felt very disoriented. The relationship with my partner, my daughter's father, was ending. I wasn't really feeling fulfilled in the work that I was doing and I was invited to go to this retreat.

When I arrived, I was with a group, and when we arrived, there was the normal welcome. Here's the agenda, all of that — this is what to look forward to over the course of the weekend that you're here.

They introduced a gentleman who was associated with the family and the retreat facility, but he wasn't necessarily part of the retreat agenda. His name is Jack Willimy.

They invited Jack up to the podium, a tall, slender man, white hair, glasses. Jack walked up to the podium, he got in front of a microphone and he just stood there and it was quiet and he didn't say anything. That moment of silence, between Jack moving and being present in front of the microphone, my mind went wild. I was like, "Why isn't he saying anything?"

I just started to make up all of these questions about what was going on with Jack, “Is he okay? Is he nervous? Did he forget what he was going to say?” I realized in that moment of silence, that it was very noisy for me. Then when he did begin to speak, he had a presence, a cadence about what he was saying. It was really what he wasn't saying, that was drawing me in.

So every time he would get quiet, I was like, “What is that? What is that?”
So he told a little bit of his story, his connection to the retreat facility and then he said, "Tomorrow for those of you who want to join me, I'll be here in the Great Hall and I invite you to join me for a sit."

And I didn't know what that was but I did know the way this man was moving, the way this man was talking, and whatever was stirring within me, I was going to get up in the morning and join him. And what he shared at that time during that sit was Centering Prayer, and that's how it started.

He made it feel accessible and the way that he explained what we were doing in the silence or how we were being in the silence, and I felt like he was very open to any questions that I had and he also said, "You can do this at home. Get a timer and try this." We stayed connected, and we're still connected to this day so I owe a lot of gratitude to Jack and what he says and doesn't say.

Colleen Thomas [00:05:13] Yeah, I love this — the awareness — because we talk about awareness a lot when we talk about the practice. But it's interesting that you were first aware of this noisiness, like you’re saying, and I'm curious if you can maybe share more about what that experience was like the noise and maybe how in your practice, what's happened to that noise.

Tia Norman [00:05:45] Within that particular moment of silence and the noisiness within my mind, there was also a point where I was aware of how I was making up things. Like, I was aware that I really had no idea what was going on with Jack and it actually wasn't really any of my business, probably. I had just made up this commentary in my mind to try to fill the space that was feeling very awkward and empty. And that's really what piqued my curiosity. Like, what is it within me that's doing that? And where am I doing this in other areas of my life? Where am I filling space with noise?

The thing that I appreciate about Centering Prayer and how I find that both in and out of my practice, the noise is part of it. I can be with the noise. I also know that I can access a certain piece within it. I don't have to become attached to it.

So it's helped me, especially when I was beginning because there was a point where I was carrying a lot of stereotypes with meditation, like, your mind is supposed to be clear and if you're having thoughts, if you're not floating on a cloud somewhere, then you're doing it wrong.

But what I appreciate about Centering Prayer is that it says, "Hey, thoughts are a part of this, and let them be a part of it, and be with what is. And when you find yourself hopping into the boat or clinging to a thought, then here's a way to practice letting go.”So that's how it's informed both my practice and interactions with people day to day and the times when I find myself driving, and I'm like, "That is so interesting. Why are you thinking about that?"

Mark Dannenfelser [00:07:45] I love what you're saying about and the way you're saying it too. Clearly, it's a felt thing too — how we deal with our thoughts and all the noise that's going on in our heads, all the time, probably. Right? But in Centering Prayer, when we kind of consider the noise and the thoughts, there's this line from Keating about, “We’re to return, ever so gently, to the sacred word.” That's the way. It's not about stopping all of it. So I’m just curious to hear more about that from you, Tia, because you seem to really embody that.

Tia Norman [00:08:24] Thank you.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:08:25] And so, what about thoughts and the sacred word and that dynamic of kind of—?

Tia Norman [00:08:32] I love that you brought up “ever so gently”, because I missed that at the beginning. And so, I would find myself being very hard on myself, thinking, there was a lot of judgment on my part like, “Man, I'm having to return to this word 500,000 times. What is going on?" Some things that helped me put that in perspective was, no matter how many times I returned to the sacred word, I can think of it as returning to my intention, and returning to God. Returning to the intention to consent to God's action and presence within. And the “ever so gently” part made so much sense once it got my attention, especially in thinking of the judgment, the harshness, even anger, that may come in around returning to the word and how that is an embodied feeling. How every emotion that we have lives in our body.

So if I'm returning to the sacred word from a position of judgment and anger, I'm now bringing that not only into this space, but into my body, and it's going to have to just run its course.

So the gentleness is something that I was like, "Oh, I can be gentle about this. I don't have to judge myself and I can just be gentle and return to this word and return to my intention.” So I wish that gentle part was like, bold. I don't know. I just feel like you can't overemphasize that enough about the gentleness of the practice.

Colleen Thomas [00:10:12] Especially as a pastor, I imagine, because so much of pastoring seems to do with creating a space for people who come to church to encounter God. But yet, there's so much baggage around church and people, including myself, we come to church with our own, maybe sometimes fragile, damaged views about God. It's like, what we desire most, this relationship with God, church has hindered it in some ways. And so this idea of being hard on ourselves, we carry that with us to church.

I want to share this quote from Father Thomas Keating. In Open Mind, Open Heart, he says, "The work of the will in prayer is real work but it is chiefly one of receiving. Receiving is one of the most difficult kinds of activity there is. To receive God is the chief work in Centering Prayer.”

Maybe, can you talk a little bit about this notion of receiving and prayer and its relationship to gentleness? And maybe even how you navigate the work of being a pastor and inviting people into this gentleness and receptivity.

Tia Norman [00:11:37] This is something that I am still—. Receiving is not always the easiest thing for me. This is something that I am still bringing loving awareness to, and lovely awareness, but loving awareness to.

What helps me in this is a visual of your fist being closed, and how Centering Prayer is almost me coming and saying, "Okay, I opened my hand and when I open my hand, I can let go, and I can also receive." It helps me to think of it as a flow, and as a relationship. So how I hope that playing out in serving as pastor is, people who find themselves within our community is I try to think of myself like, there was a certain curiosity, there was a certain something going on within me that led me to this space and this place. What if that is true for the people that I'm encountering within our community? What if they are also curious? And how do you be gentle with that curiosity? And how access is a big deal to me. When I felt called from one vocation to another. It was very clear, whatever I do, it needs to feel accessible to people.

What that has meant is letting go of the ideas of, quite frankly, institutional validation, in a lot of regards. Trusting that whatever was stirring with me is also stirring within others, and knowing that I am not accessing anything that my neighbor doesn't have access to. And so, how do I join people in that space in gentleness and presence? And listen, not only to what their words are, but what are they saying from their heart?

Mark Dannenfelser [00:13:41] Tia, when you're talking, the thing about the open hand and the softening, there are so many things I know for me within me that are kind of clenched up and become blocks to that free-flowing energy, that divine energy, that's there.

You said that when you first came to the practice, you know, it was kind of a tough time in your life. And I imagine as you work with people in your community, in the awakenings movement, that's going to be there for members of the community, as well. AndI know part of your vision is to heal and to renew an inspired Spirit — to put that breath back in people or allow it to come back. And I'm wondering about that part of your work with your clear sensitivity to all that and how that works.

You know, Keatings' phrase for that was "Divine Therapy". That we're not just sitting and getting calm a little bit, but that there's this deep kind of healing that's going on too. I just wonder if your own experience or your experience in the community of how that shows up — what your experience of that is.

Tia Norman [00:14:46] I don't want to make this like an "either-or", "both-and", but a perspective shift that is offered is, many people are familiar with the more traditional types of prayer, praying in words and so, his idea of the absence of words is kind of foreign.

So shifting from this idea of what if when we are praying that God is also praying us. So, what if we are being prayed through? What if it's both-and? What if you are praying, and God is praying through you? And what if in being prayed through the wounds, the hurt, the experiences, the conditioning that we've all gone through, can somehow be transformed, alchemized — another way to say it?

I often compare it to, because many of us understand if we get a paper cut, then our physical body is immediately going to go to work to heal that wound. We don't have to say, "Okay, white blood cells, go do your thing. Go to the paper cut and go do your thing.” Our body just naturally does that. So I try to equate The Divine Therapy and our ability to heal to that. We are so wise and so intelligent, and our bodies and our spirit. We can trust that grace will show us things. If course, this is where the welcoming prayer comes in handy, too. Just equating that to if your physical body can heal, so can your spirit and your psyche.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:16:29] What you were saying before about that receiving element that God is straying through us to is a kind of a receptive thing, rather than let me try to make it all happen somehow. So beautiful.

Tia Norman [00:16:42] Yes, thank you.

Colleen Thomas [00:16:43] I love that image because I honestly don't know if I think about sitting quietly in the prayer. I know, we're not supposed to be thinking about really anything. We’re supposed to be sitting in the prayer, but thinking about myself praying, I have never had this image that you offered me just now of it's almost like I saw God praying over me. That's The Divine Therapy that I'm consenting. Like If you're in a church, well, a Black church experience, for sure, where there's altar call and someone can lay hands over you and pray over you. God's hand is on me praying over me in that 20-minute sitting.

Tia Norman [00:17:27] A common question that I get is, "When people are just beginning. It's like, what do I do? What am I doing? Am I praying?" Someone said recently, "Am I praying the whole time?" So I said, "Well, you're being this is a foreign concept to us, you actually don't have to do anything if you're being. And what you may realize through this being is that your whole life is a prayer. This moment, this conversation, it's all being prayed through love and into existence."

Colleen Thomas [00:17:58] That's part of what I think is pretty difficult about Centering Prayer and sitting for 20 minutes. Because there's a lot of practices or people trying out meditation and we say "Oh, just try for two minutes, try for five minutes. Just be for even just a minute." I think it's valid , we just did a minute to prepare for the podcast. I will take five minutes before a meeting or seven minutes and it works, but Centering Prayer, we are invited to sit for 20 minutes and twice a day if that.

[solemn music starts]

Mark Dannenfelser [00:18:40] In the Christian tradition, Contemplative Prayer is the opening of your mind and heart to God who is beyond thoughts, words, and emotions. Centering Prayer is a method designed to facilitate contemplation. The method suggests four guidelines.
One, choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God's presence and action within you.
Two, sit comfortably and relatively still close your eyes or leave them slightly open and silently introduce your sacred word.

Three, when you notice you have become engaged with a thought, simply return ever so gently to your sacred word.

And four, at the end of the 20-minute prayer period, let go of the sacred word and remain in silence for a couple of minutes. The additional time invites you to bring the atmosphere of silence into everyday life.

[solemn music ends]

Colleen Thomas [00:19:49] Twenty minutes is a long time to do nothing for someone who's just beginning to experience a Contemplative Prayer practice. So this where the sacred word comes back into play, it's the first guideline. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent.

Father Keating also says that the chief act of the will is not effort, but consent. And he goes on and says that the secret of getting through the difficulties that arise in Centering Prayer is to accept them. And so, I hear in people coming to you and saying, "Am I praying? What am I doing for 20 minutes?" Like, it’s not easy to—. ”Being” has this lovely vibe to it, but 20 minutes of accepting the difficulties that arise does not sound like a good time.

Tia Norman [00:20:45] No, it doesn't. It doesn't. Experientially, it is not always the funnest. May I say something in response to that comment?

Colleen Thomas [00:20:53] Yes, please.

Tia Norman [00:20:54] I know we're talking about Centering Prayer itself. The wild thing, like the crazy thing, I remember, when I was still working in marketing, and in a corporate office, there was this moment of intense tension. I was like, "I'm about to lose it. This is about to get ugly." And my sacred word just floated to me. Like, in that moment, I was like, "Oh, what is that?" So it is difficult within the practice and it is such a blessing at how the difficulties in the practice equip us to respond to those difficult moments in our day-to-day life.

Colleen Thomas [00:21:37] Absolutely. Yeah, that's coming up in all of our conversations too, Mark, right?

Mark Dannenfelser [00:21:42] I'm curious, so you mentioned your experience in the corporate world, and how that applies, and you deal with challenges and all, too, and I also know that you have experience in other meditative traditions, as well. Because this idea of the sacred word or sacred symbol, in the description of that guideline, it also says, "If a word, maybe you could also use the breath or an image”, but it's something that we come back to as a symbol of our consenting to God.I know in other traditions, it may be expressed a little differently or it's used differently. Like mantra meditations are different. So I'm curious about your experience, from the yoga tradition, or other traditions. I think that's a difficulty for a lot of us. What am I doing with that word or symbol?

Colleen Thomas [00:22:36] Is it a mantra?

Tia Norman [00:22:38] It's interesting that you asked this question because I've been writing about this. What has helped me with this is it gets back to the will and the effort if I am engaging in Centering Prayer, and truly, there is minimal effort required on my part, what does that feel like? What does that mean? And considering other traditions, what is the difference between a sacred word and a mantra? So what I would offer — it may be right, it may be wrong, it may just be what it is, it's helping me — is going back to that idea of a closed fist. And if I am beginning with a mantra, I am making an effort and willing myself to continuously place my awareness and my attention on the mantra. So, closed fist, continuing to place my awareness on this mantra.

For me, what Centering Prayer feels like is, you can put your hand down to the side, you don't have to keep picking up the mantra. You can open your hand and you can just be with whatever it might be flowing through it in the present moment. And when you start to notice that the hand starts to clinch like this around whatever is presenting itself, well then the sacred word is saying, "Hey, this is where we are right now. We're not here. We're here." So that's something I've been exploring lately.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:24:10] Yeah, that's beautiful, and that does go back to that “ever so gently” part. If we're struggling, if we're clamping down, maybe we're holding on a little bit or manipulating what's happening rather than this open intention simply to consent to God. Whatever that means, we don't always do and know what that means.

Tia Norman [00:24:29] Exactly.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:24:30] And we just rest in that. I know you've had experience, too, with the practice of Yoga Nidra. These kinds of practices are useful and helpful, too, but ultimately, we're not trying to make something happen, a specific outcome, some broader kind of thing. So it seems to me.

Tia Norman [00:24:49] It does. The reason why I did pursue a certification in Yoga Nidra is because there are some similarities with the healing of conditioning. So the things that we have been taught either through a variety of systems and the kind of dissolving, or at least bringing awareness to the false self and the ego. I can see in Yoga Nidra how what Father Keating would refer to as "that hard pan", Yoga Nidra supports that loosening and the evacuation of the wounds or Divine Therapy of it.

Colleen Thomas [00:25:28] Tia, can you share a little bit with us about—? I was blessed, I was able to visit virtually your community’s Awakening Movement.

Can you tell us a little bit about the community and you refer to it as a contemplative community? What does that mean? What does contemplative mean in the context of community? Is it a church? And I'm curious about contemplative church.

Tia Norman [00:25:55] Me too.

What I'm learning is that it's disruptive. Awakenings has not always been described, and has not always felt like a contemplative community. What it has felt like is an incubator where people could come and incubate ideas. And so, it's been described as it went from innovating out to innovating in.

I feel like, anytime we are introducing contemplative practices and Centering Prayer, it's going to be disruptive. People are going to be like, "I don't even know what contemplation is. I don't understand. Contemplate? What am I looking at? I don't even understand what you're talking about." You have some attrition because it's different. It is disruptive and we're just all at different spaces in the journey.

Thankfully, what it has changed into or transitioned to, because I did have space to incubate my curiosities around Centering Prayer and contemplative practices, it has evolved into this contemplative community. So I do say community, and people call it church just because it is on Sundays and there’s just not another language for it. But the genesis of awakenings, as a community, was in response to why young people are leaving church and what is needed. It came out of the anthropological study by Marlon Hall that it was even created.

And so what that looks like, there are still elements of incubation taking place. It looks like observing the charism of the community. So what are the curiosities and the gifts that are within the people that are showing up?

We have a community builder where someone will ask a question to take us from being observers to participants, the music is all original and performed by musicians and artists within our community.

And then it looks like a blessing — so reminding us of something that we already have within us, and a contemplative moment, which is a moment to center ourselves.

Then, truth communication is what we would call it instead of a sermon. The idea is that everybody has at least one truth to share that we could all benefit from.

So it's very community centered, and I am still learning what contemplative church looks like. So, welcome!

Mark Dannenfelser [00:28:39] It's very dynamic, having a community that's rooted in contemplative practice, but it's also doing work. Whether it's work on ourselves or work with others. I was always curious about that dynamic, and that seems to be very present in the community. What your friend Jack did, he gets up and he's quiet, but then he invites you into that. So I'm wondering about how that's showing up in your community as well — that direct dynamic of the back and forth, he started to say that we sit, we pause, we get quiet, we also engage. Whether that's within the community, or it's out in the larger community.

It's an interesting place for me, to think about this contemplation, sitting and navel gazing and how it supports us in our ministry, our work, our engagement in the world, or in our relationships.

Tia Norman [00:29:37] It's interesting because, what I am observing and what I feel like we're experiencing is a flow. So there are people who are already involved in what we might call activism or works towards social justice and they're finding Awakenings as a place of respite. “After taking all of this action, how do I fill myself back up? How do I continue this work without exhausting myself?”

And then there are also people who are kind of sensing into, ”Is the action I’m taking daily, the action I want to continue taking daily? Am I being called to do something else?”

So I feel like it's a beautiful ebb and flow. If you're in that place of curiosity and wondering, "Oh, should I step out and do this thing?" You're probably sitting next to someone who's stepping out and doing a thing.

And so, the ability to be in that environment and grow together is really quite a blessing.

Sometimes I laugh because I'm like, “Oh, yeah, action is a part of it.” Like, “Oh, man.” You know, that little, just personal nudge. Like, “Oh, I’ve gotta have this conversation. Why can't I just sit here on my meditation mat?” Like, “No, you gotta go.”

I'm not gonna say you can't, it would be very difficult to be engaged in Centering Prayer over a period of time and not have the actions that you take impacted. I don't see how that would work.

Colleen Thomas [00:31:19] I have two questions, really. One question is, in the liturgy of your Sunday experience, is there a time dedicated for Centering Prayer or a silent sit?

Tia Norman [00:31:33] There is a combination of things. So, sometimes it's the breath prayer. It's a contemplative practice. Sometimes it is silence. So what we've done is we've integrated it as a moment within the Sunday experience, and then on Wednesdays, there's the opportunity for—.

Colleen Thomas [00:31:50] To deepen that practice.

Tia Norman [00:31:52] Yeah.

Colleen Thomas [00:31:53] Okay, got it. Got it.

Are you experiencing a range of people very curious about Contemplative Prayer and practice and people somewhat resistant to Contemplative Prayer and practice?

Tia Norman [00:31:58] Yes, I would say that it's both, especially when I was named pastor and with that blessing was the knowing, because I had already been doing the Centering Prayer, small groups. So there was this knowing, “Hey, I’m a Centering Prayer girl,” and everybody wasn't coming to my small group. There was also this beautiful curiosity around it, which I think is just so wonderful. Because for me, it's like that silence that I talked about when Jack was getting up to speak, someone is also having it. It’s not that experience, but something is moving them there and that's just amazing to me and really beautiful.

Colleen Thomas [00:32:56] I have to ask you this, too, because there's really not a lot of podcast forums where I can talk with other contemplative women of color. And we both occupy spaces, contemplative spaces, where likely, like myself, you might be one of the only people of color in that space.

And these are conversations Mark and I have. We have with the Contemplative Outreach team, as well. But I would like to get your perspective on, as a woman of color who, myself, I've been formed by contemplative communities. I've always been drawn to silence and stillness. I've been formed in part by the Black church — not entirely, but in part — and I find myself very at home in contemplative communities.

I also find that Black communities, especially Black church communities, can be very wary of Contemplative Prayer, and anything mystical or meditation, even yoga! You know, there's a slight opening into the yoga world but even that is like, "Who are you posturing to?"

And so, have you encountered this In your explorations? Do you have any thoughts about how to bridge the gaps between these communities? Like Black church culture? Contemplative culture?

Tia Norman [00:34:23] What I try to remember is that I wasn't always here. I didn't always see things this way. I wasn't always engaging in Centering Prayer. Reflecting back on my own prayer life, my own spiritual journey, what that looked like, and that there have been times where something felt right for me and something didn't.

So trusting that in a larger landscape, I think that there is such an opportunity to explore these practices as a path of liberation. So, what does it mean to live liberated, to return to our inherent goodness, and also to find innovative ways to move in action toward the change that we would like to see?

I feel like the non-dual space that is opened in Centering Prayer as a form of innovation and thinking of things that we have never thought of before and how do we respond in times when we're being treated less than for whatever the case may be? I feel like there is such a vast wealth of knowledge there within the practice for communities that may have found themselves, or find themselves, on that fringes or outskirts of society.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:35:48] That's such an important question. It's a question that Contemplative Outreach, you know, the organization that is sort of helping to advance the practice of Centering Prayer. It's a question that comes up,not just the racial divide, and the cultural divides, even the practice itself really emerged when a lot of other practices, Eastern practices were emerging, and there is this kind of suspicion about that, or distance from that, and it's hard to integrate, even though that's really essentially what these contemplative practices are integrating. We call it union, I guess, in spiritual terms — “union with God”.

In terms of Centering Prayer, it's been 40-50 years since it's come into the modern era here, but it does come from the Eastern traditions in a lot of ways.

This is a question we are interested in as Contemplative Outreach, you know, in some way about what is the place for a practice like Centering Prayer, specifically, in this kind of larger spiritual landscape that is diverse and comes from different places? But this overall living tradition of the contemplative tradition of prayer and meditation and mindfulness and all these practices,I guess we kind of wonder. This is an open question for us, about where does Centering Prayer fit into all that's going into the future as we continue to emerge? And that we see this kind — of course, there's a long way to go here still — but we do see this interaction, this crossing a non-dual approach so it's not just us and them. Do you think there's a role for Centering Prayer there as we kind of continue on into the future?

Tia Norman [00:37:35] I absolutely do and this is where, for me, keeping in mind — asking, not even asking — someone making the decision to leave their tribe, so to speak, it feels very risky.

So even if someone is, let's say, they have a church that they've been going to for their whole life and they feel like there’s something more and being invited to it — a new way of knowing God, a more intimate way of knowing God — but then you have to keep in mind, “What are these people going to think of me? Where will I go? Who will my people be?” This is that ancient tradition of, you know, stepping outside.

I think for me, it's more about trusting.

I never imagined I would be having an interview like this. I was working for an NBA team, like, dream job in some regards and this gentleman gets up and speaks and doesn't say anything in front of a microphone, and now I'm being interviewed for this podcast. This is wild! This is crazy.

So a lot of what I feel like is, if we as contemplatives can continue to trust and follow where we are being guided, then if people do feel comfortable enough to step outside of whatever tradition they may be used to, they're going to find a landing place. It just requires this deep trust and a deep remembering of, “Girlfriend, you didn't even think five years ago you'd be g—. What are you thinking?” You know what I mean? So it’s like just letting go and trusting. Like, man, have a Centering Prayer practice on Wednesday and see who shows up. OK?

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I don't know the answer to it other than just trusting this thing that seems to be calling us forward to have these conversations and do this.

Colleen Thomas [00:39:18] Thanks for joining us on this episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts.

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This episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts is produced by Crys & Tiana.

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