Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
September 14, 2009
Local Catholics find peace through centering prayer
Simple method provides twice-daily path to experience of God's presence
Practitioners of centering prayer say it can lead to spiritual healing and closer union with God.
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
For Marilla Currie-Wasney, centering prayer brings a sense of peace and the presence of God.
"I find that you really don't feel alone. You feel God's presence with you," says Currie-Wasney, who helps facilitate a weekly centering prayer support group at Providence Renewal Centre.
"One thing I absolutely feel is God's presence with me throughout the day and again in the evening when I pray again.
"It's a beautiful prayer in that way. People find the presence of God within themselves, and it helps with their own direction in whatever they need."
Centering prayer is a simple method of Christ-centred contemplative prayer, a renewal of an ancient Christian contemplative practice, updated for the modern age.
Practitioners say it can lead to a deeper prayer life, personal healing, spiritual transformation and closer union with God.
Members of local centering prayer groups are looking forward to the Oct. 2-4 visit to Edmonton of Trappist Father Thomas Keating, the founder of the centering prayer movement in North America.
Currie-Wasney said centering prayer involves the use of a sacred word such as Jesus, Abba, Divine, Shalom or Love. When thoughts start to enter her mind, she says the sacred word to bring back her focus.
"The thoughts that go through your head are integral, and you don't necessarily stop the thoughts in your head. You allow the thoughts that come through your head, but we try not to attach to any thoughts. You just rest in God's presence," she said.
The word serves as the symbol of her sincere intention to be in the Lord's presence and to open his divine action within her.
"Myself, it's usually a word that comes from the Holy Spirit and sort of resonates with me.
"It's a word that just comes to you. It could be any word that brings you back in focus in resting with God," she said.
Keating is a Cistercian monk from St. Benedict's Monastery in Snowmass, Colo.
He will lead a conference, Living Contemplatively in Today's World, at Providence Renewal Centre. It will include a lecture on Friday, Oct. 2, two lectures on Saturday, and a retreat day on Sunday.
"He is the one who has nurtured centering prayer as a form of contemplative prayer," said Kevin Carr, who facilitates the weekly centering prayer support group.
Keating was abbot through the 1960s and 1970s at St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Mass. Many people in the area at that time, some of them born Catholic, had turned to Eastern practices such as Buddhism for contemplative work.
Carr said, "More than anything there was the interest that developed in people in some of the Eastern forms of meditation.
"There was a lack of recognizable approach to prayer within the Catholic Church for most people. There have always been contemplative orders like the Trappist monks."
Keating learned that many people had no knowledge of the contemplative traditions within Catholicism, and set out to present those practices in a more accessible way. The result was centering prayer.
The actual practice of centering prayer is not alien to Catholics, who are advised to meditate in some form daily - such as on the rosary, or on Scripture through lectio devina.
"Centering prayer is a heavily rooted prayer practice within the Church, within Christian meditation. It has Christian roots," said Currie-Wasney.
Carr said that often people think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words. But that is only one form of prayer.
Centering prayer places a strong emphasis on interior silence, he explained, and is based on emptying ourselves, quieting ourselves. Ideally, the prayer will reach the point where the person is not engaged in their thoughts.
There are at least three other centering prayer groups in Edmonton.
The group at Providence meets on Wednesday evenings, at 7 p.m. for prayer followed by a time of faith sharing. Between nine and 16 people attend on any given evening.
"We have weekly support sessions, and these are the people who practise centering prayer daily," Carr said.
TWICE A DAY
"People who practise centering prayer usually pray this way twice a day, probably for about a 20-minute period. These are people who have an introductory course or have been introduced to centering prayer and what it's all about."
Carr finds the practice of centering prayer and the group sessions a meaningful experience in his life. Praying together with others is a nurturing experience for him.
"I recognize that prayer is a gift from God, not something necessarily that I do.
"It's one where I consent and make myself present to God within me. Prayer is a gift that enriches my spiritual life," he said.