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A Deep Relief: The Practice of Centering Prayer

12 “And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.” 1 Kings 19:12 ESV

Although I am a person whose bookshelf is full of books on spirituality, there has been one spiritual practice that I have learned about recently that is not from a book.

As I sat across from a counselor one night, we discussed ways to address coping skills for anxiety through my relationship with God. She suggested the practice of centering prayer. While this was a discussion for my specific context, I want to encourage you that this practice is for more than just the whirlwind of anxiety.

Two years prior it was very difficult to trust that God could work through counseling sessions and medicine to help me understand these fears. This was especially due to the fact that what I really wanted to do was read a good book on it, call it a season, and move forward with my life. Thankfully, God knows me better than I know myself. His timing and His ways on this journey have been sweet, difficult, piercing, and empowering.

A few things that often draw me close to God are music, nature, encouraging friendships, and wisdom found in books. However, centering prayer practice requires none of these. While the presence of God is absolutely present in the loyalty of a good friend, in beautiful words pinned in a song, and the green of trees testifying to God’s beauty, God’s presence is also in the silence. Centering prayer helps us slow down to notice the presence that is already there. Just as in other practices like reading scripture, fasting, praying, sabbath, and worship, we do not coax the presence of God. We do not practice these things so that God will take notice of  to center. When thoughts come to mind, you do not follow them as in other prayer practices, but you let the thoughts pass like a cloud. The thoughts come and go as you repeat only the centering word in your head.

The first time I practiced centering prayer I started at five minutes and centered on the word “trust”. See, long before I knew about this practice God had already been impressing on me the phrase “slow down and trust.” There was nothing fancy about picking my centering word, I just used what God was already showing me in life. Later, I chose the name of God, “Abba,” because it conveys a sense of sovereignty and closeness of God. The five minutes went by a lot quicker than I expected, and so I added five more minutes to my timer and continued. After doing the practice once or twice a day for a week, I noticed a growing desire to be in the word of God. I wanted to spend more time with God. My counselor expressed sensing the presence of God during her time, and I’m sure many others have their own accounts of experiences with centering prayer. I share my personal experience to offer you some insight into the practice. However, remember that you have your own relationship with God that is different from mine. Just as I am
different from my counselor, so are you different from me.

Elijah hiding his face from God after he hears His whisper. 1 Kings 19

Maybe for you, taking time like this is not something you can afford or maybe sitting in silence is terrifying. Let me encourage you with a story of Elijah. Previously, Elijah had just reached the point of giving up on life. Elijah was worn down and burdened by the wickedness around him and his love for the people of God. After the Lord’s angels provided Elijah with food and water, Elijah sought refuge on a mountain in a cave:

“And the word of the Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of  the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him” (1 Kings 19:11-13).

Just like Elijah’s simple response to the still, small voice, I do not come away from centering prayer always overwhelmed with a great “mountaintop experience.” It is much more like Elijah’s response, where after ten minutes centering on the name “Abba” I wrap up
in the cool of the morning, look out of the window trusting that the Lord is there, as mighty as the wind and as faithful as the morning.

I encourage you to practice New City’s core value of risk this week by taking the time to sit in the presence of God. I think you’ll find that this time is full of rest and love. As you are sent and spent by God throughout the week, you can go in the confidence of God’s sustaining I AM presence. You do not have to wait until Sunday to refill spiritually if you have grown tired as Elijah did. God has created us for this very communion with Him. Go in grace and peace this week.

 

Mary Katherine Wildeman, New City Stories Contributor