Guide to Centering Prayer
What is Centering Prayer?
Centering Prayer is an ancient form of Christian meditation that, like lectio divina, promotes stillness before God. Centering Prayer grew out of a traditional contemplative practice and can be thought of as an extension of the contemplatio or contemplation step of lectio divina. In Centering Prayer, the aim is to train our minds to surrender before God and allow his presence within us. It is truly about resting in God, and opening our beings to him.
How to practice Centering Prayer: the Steps
Father Thomas Keating, one of the foremost teachers on contemplative prayer, says:
“Centering prayer is not so much an exercise of attention as intention.”
So, as you adapt the steps below, remember that, like all forms of Christian meditation, Centering Prayer is a practice. It takes time to focus your attention, and allow God to speak to you. When you are ready to start, you’ll find your Centering Prayer how-to below:
- Prepare: listen to the word of God in scripture. Perhaps read a daily passage, or verse. Then find a quiet place to pray and decide for how long you want to pray. Twenty minutes is often suggested as the starting point but, if you are just getting started, even 5 or 10 minutes may suffice. Find something to keep time.
- Get grounded: Choose a sacred word as a symbol of your intention. If (when) you find yourself distracted, you’ll use the word to gently refocus you. Examples of a sacred word might be Lord, Holy, Grace, Peace.
- Pray: Start your timer, sit in a comfortable position and gently close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths then breathe normally. Silently say the sacred word a few times, then let go. The key act of practicing Centering Prayer is simply (though more difficult than simple) to let go. If you find yourself thinking about something, gently say once or repeat your sacred word to refocus your attention
- Close: when time is up, say a closing prayer (e.g, the Lord Prayer’s) to gently close out your prayer time.
Centering prayer for groups
Centering prayer for groups can be a great resource for praying together in a Christian setting. It can also be a way to begin or end a gathering (e.g, a bible study) with the intention to invite God’s stillness into our lives.
To pray Centering Prayer in a group, designate a group leader. The leader will choose a scripture verse to begin and monitor the time (e.g., with a stopwatch or phone timer, with a chime).
Script for leading Centering Prayer in a group
- Leader: let’s begin by quieting ourselves. Take a deep breath in through your nose for 4 counts, then out for four counts. Let’s do this for a few moments. [Allow a few moments to pass.]
- Leader: as we get ready to practice, pick a sacred word. Remember that this word is not sacred because of its meaning, but because of its intent. The word will be a focal point to return to as you find yourself distracted in thought. [Allow a few moments to pass.]
- Leader: let’s begin. I’ll read this verse from Psalm 46, verse 10 then we’ll begin. It reads: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." [Pause in silence for your chosen length of time.]
- Leader: let us end with a prayer. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.
Centering prayer resources
You can also learn more at the following resources:
- Open Mind, Open Heart by Father Thomas Keating. In this book, Father Keating, a Cisterian monk and one of the foremost teachers on contemplative prayer, gives an in-depth guide to Centering Prayer.
- Contemplative Outreach website includes numerous resources and links to online courses, local groups, and more.
- Contemplative Outreach of NY website also offers events, resources, and a helpful newsletter to keep up with happenings around contemplation and Centering Prayer.
- Behold is a mobile app offering daily guided Christian meditation modeled on lectio divina and Centering Prayer. The website also offers numerous prayer resources including guides to Christian meditation and other types of prayers.