Thursday after Ash Wednesday: Time to Center

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Photo: Getty images

Every day as I sit in front of my computer to write a letter, compose an article, construct a bulletin or do something related to my work, I get frustrated because the machine often does not work as fast as I want it to. Stepping back a bit, I recognize how silly this frustration is. All I need to bring to mind is a world without these marvelous machines. How long it took me to hand-write a draft, type it up, and then type it again (and maybe even again) once I discovered all the mistakes in the finished product. This is a perspective unknown to recent generations who began their learning in front of an iPad or some other computerized gizmo.

In all this, we begin to realize that we move at a pace in daily life that keeps our soul as busy as our bodies – our unconscious as full as our conscious minds. We switch from idea to idea, task to task, observe images, have thought, experience emotions with the speed of the computers that are suppose to make our lives easier.  No wonder so many people in our day find it difficult to pray or to perceive a Divine Presence in their lives. They encounter even greater difficulty when people like me say that the best way to become aware of this presence and to tap into its power is to, well, pray.

Interestingly, we deceive ourselves if we think this is a problem unique to the modern age. Since the beginning of humanity, the press of daily life has made prayer a problem – something often left to others – to priests, monks, nuns, and those who seemingly have more time and space for such things. No wonder then, that contemplative prayer has been part of our Christian practice from ancient times. Its modern counterpart, centering prayer, is not only a way to pray but has the potential to make a significant impact on the pattern of our lives even when we are not “praying.”

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You see, the problem with prayer is that it requires us to slow down. It actually requires us to be still. How can we master the focus needed to be aware of the Divine much less to commune with that presence when we are continually assaulted by those same ideas, images, feelings, thoughts, and emotions that were so present to us even before we sat down to pray. Even as we try to calm ourselves inwardly, the demands of tonight’s meeting, or the need to arrange the little league car pool, or even figure out what will be for tonight’s dinner soon impinges on our mental, emotional, and spiritual space. This constant chatter makes our efforts to pray way too hard and we “throw in the towel,” frustrated that this “prayer thing” is beyond us. 

Thomas Keating, a Cistercian monk and a master of centering prayer, teaches that we are not able to see the fruits of this prayer while we are praying, as when others notice that our spiritual practice of centering prayer has made a difference in us. The practice of centering prayer enables us to “let go” more easily by being less and less focused on those things that seem so urgent (and are often ultimately unimportant). As we develop the “muscle memory” involved in this practice, we gradually see that many things over which we fret have little or no real impact on the people we are called to be.

For more information on centering prayer, you may want to download the simple and practical guide found here: Thomas Keating’s guide to centering prayer
Source: Rector’s Blog

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