Monday, October 13, 2008

Centering Prayer

"Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.” Thich Nhat Hanh, Present Moment, Wonderful Moment

When times are uncertain or when difficulties are present, people will often complain to me that their prayers feel hollow or that they aren't sure their prayers are being "heard" or that they don't know what to "say" in prayer. In these moments, I usually offer a form of prayer that is very new to many people in our culture (though it is an ancient practice in many religions, including Christianity).

We are so unaccustomed to silence in our lives. We eat with the television on. We drive with the radio on. We never turn our cell phones off. Noise and distraction fill every minute of the day. When do we take the Psalmist's advice to "be still and know that I am God"?

Our lives probably have enough talking, enough noise, enough frenzy without making our prayers be more of the same. Rather than figuring out what to say in prayer, or trying to discern if what we say is "heard", we may benefit from a practice of simply getting quiet, turning off the interior chatter (or at least turning it down), and becoming fully present to a given moment, becoming aware that we are actually breathing, and learning to notice a moment without making judgment or commentary. We may need to simply "be still and know…"

There will be plenty of opportunities for our affirmations (every declarative statement is in fact an affirmation). There will be time for reciting the poetic prayers from a treasured book. We can always turn to incense or candles or anything that helps us connect with our Higher Power. But in addition to these "doings," let's learn to add simply "being." Call it Centering Prayer. Call it Meditation. Don't bother to call it anything. But in a day full of doing, spend a few moments of being…being quiet, being aware, being connected to All-That-Is.

On a park bench, on the sand at the beach, in a comfortable chair, or on a cushion on the floor, simply sit and notice your breath. In. Out. In. Out. There's a thought…don't engage it. Just notice it, and back to the breath. In. Out. In. Out. Another thought…don't judge it; don't follow it. Just notice it and return to the breath. In. Out. In. Out.

If your mind is too busy, jumping around, refusing to settle, don't get discouraged. Focus on a word or phrase. Shalom. Relax. Jesus. All is well. I am in the universe/The universe is in me. I am here now.

Any word. Any phrase. Breathe in: "I am." Breathe out: "here now." Breathe in: "Peace." Breathe out: "Relax." Breathe in: "All is well." Breathe out: "All is well."

Use any simple word or phrase and connect it to your breathing. See how the discursive thinking calms down? See how rich the serene moment is? Suddenly, there is no anxiety about being heard, or saying the right thing. Suddenly, there is only now, and right now, there is this Breath of Life, this calm experience, this perfect moment. Indeed, all is well!

We make enough noise. What we may need is a few moments of intentional Silence. In the midst of all the doing, let's become aware of simply being. Breathe in. Breathe out. You are in the presence of All That Is, unified with It. There is no doubt that such centering prayer is accomplishing exactly what it should. Amen.

Sunshine Cathedral
Durrell Watkins, M.A., M.Div. – Senior Pastor

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