Exercise Your Muscle of Surrender: Centering Prayer
Katie Harmon-McLaughlin of Walnut Creek, CA, USA
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. -Matthew 6:5-6
I never liked Centering Prayer. It felt too much like nothing to me. I needed to see some results from my prayer life-a full journal page, a brilliant insight, a warming heart.
Then, there came a time when I felt weary in every possible way-weary of prayer, weary of words, weary of always trying to be more than I am, weary of striving for achievement. I expressed this weariness to my spiritual director, who was gentle and wise as she listened and then asked, “Do you think you are being invited to rest into God’s presence as you are?” I began to see that I had become attached to what my prayer life produced rather than simply spending time with God. Silence was opening up to me in a new way. What I once perceived as “nothingness” was suddenly full with presence that only required my willingness to show up.
In the Christian tradition, there are two primary ways of relating to God in prayer: kataphatic (with image) and apophatic (without image). Kataphatic prayer is what we most often experience as we connect with God revealed through images and words. Dwelling in the Word, the Mission Prayer, Lectio Divina, and the Examen are all ways of being with the Holy through language and form. Apophatic prayer (Centering Prayer, Silence) invites us to dwell in God as mystery, beyond the words and images we normally rely on. Both ways of praying are essential as we continue to grow deeper in God.
Apophatic spirituality is often referred to as the via negativa or the way of negation. The season of Lent invites us into this kind of spiritual journey as we explore themes of letting go, releasing attachments, and discovering the fullness of God in the emptiest of places. Lent is a season of negation, of embracing the self-emptying love of Christ as our own life pattern.
Cynthia Bourgeault describes apophatic prayer forms, such as Centering Prayer, as an opportunity to “exercise our muscle of surrender” (Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, Cowley Publications, 2004, p. 24). We enter the silence (for as long as we can bear at first-two minutes or 20) being present to reality as it is, bringing our whole selves as we are, resisting the urge to fill the space. A sacred word (Christ, peace, grace, etc.) may serve as an anchor to return us to this intention when (not if!) distractions creep in. Each return to the original intention of presence is a flex of our muscle of surrender, growing stronger in time.
Rest in the promise that there is nothing here to achieve. The invitation is simply to be available to the God who is here and now. Experiment with being present in a deeper way. Join us on this Lenten journey of self-emptying, Christ-like love.
I surrender into your love.
Set a timer for 20 minutes. (If that feels like too much at first, choose a time that will be comfortable for you as a starting place, committing to expand that time in future prayer.) Allow the rhythm of your breath to draw you deeper and deeper into silence. As you breathe, claim one sacred word (Christ, peace, grace, trust, etc.) emerging in you as an anchor to return you to the intention of your prayer when your thoughts begin to wander. Gently release the thoughts and images that come, making space for presence to the One who is with you here and now. Release, return, “be vulnerable to divine grace” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:10b).
Today’s Prayer for Peace
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