Resting with God in Centering Prayer

by M. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O.

From "Resting with God in Centering Prayer," PrayerNotes, St. Meinrad, IN:  Abbey Press.
 

     "Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you."  It's the end of a long day.  We are bone tired.  Perhaps we've been on our feet all day at the service of others.  Or perhaps we suffer mental fatigue -- so many things to attend to, so many problems to cope with.

     Life can be very demanding.  We want to be there for others.  We want to be responsive to our calling and to our God.

     But we get so worn.  We need to be refreshed -- made new and vigorous in a way that really lasts.  Where is this One who offers to refresh us?  How do we come to this God?

Enriching your prayer life

     *Open your heart to God.  There were once two young men who worked with their brothers along the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  They were fishermen, strong and hearty, full of life.  And they were seekers of God. 

     "Are you the one?" they asked the Baptizer from the desert east of Jordan.  "No, I am not the one.  But wait -- He is coming."  So Andrew and John waited.  Then, one day as the Baptist spoke to the crowd, he suddenly cried, "Look, there is the Lamb of God!" 

     John and Andrew took off.  As they came up behind Jesus, he stopped and turned.  We have then the first recorded words of Jesus to his disciples; they are significant:  "What are you looking for?  What do you want?"

     The God who made us, our God of love, will give us whatever we want.  Not what we say we want, but what we really want.  God listens to hearts, not to lips.

     Later Jesus said:  "Ask, and you shall receive."  But the asking must come from an unwavering heart's desire.  The most powerful prayer is the prayer that lays open our heart to God, even when we do not utter a word.

     *Seek God within you.  John was a bright young man.  He wasn't going to settle for anything less than the whole.  "Master, where do you dwell -- where do you make your home?  We're moving in."

     The Teacher answered gently:  "Come and see."  What John and Andrew were to learn was, though the birds of the air have their nests and the foxes their dens, the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head.

     Nonetheless, they followed Jesus -- day in and day out, for some years.  Then, on the eve of his death, when Jesus opened his heart most fully to these men whom he loved, he finally answered John's question.

     "Where do I live?  Where do I make my home?  If anyone loves me, my Father and I will come and make our home within that one."

     God is at home in us.  God abides within us in intimate love.  God is always there.  The problem is that we are rarely at home -- with ourselves or with our God.
 

Creating your own prayer experience

     Slowly and meditatively say the following traditional Irish prayer to prepare yourself to enter into centering prayer:

     I weave a silence on to my lips, 
     I weave a silence into my mind, 
     I weave a silence within my heart.
     I close my ears to distractions,
     I close my eyes to attractions,
     I close my heart to temptations.

     Calm me, O Lord, as you stilled the storm,
     Still me, O Lord, keep me from harm.
     Let all tumult within me cease, 
     Enfold me, Lord, in your peace.
 

"Let this little word represent to you God in all his fullness  and nothing less than the fullness of God.  Let nothing except God hold sway in your mind and heart."
                                           -- The Cloud of Unknowing 
 

     *Find a time and place to enjoy God's refreshment.  God dwells within, at the center of our being.  Centering prayer is a simple, very ancient Christian method of coming home to rest with God.  It is a way to enjoy the refreshing embrace of divine Love.  It is a way of saying yes to God's most gracious invitation:  "Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you."

     We need to be good to ourselves and give ourselves time to enjoy this God of ours.  Twenty minutes, more or less, in the quiet of the morning (after we have exercised and showered) and in the cool of the evening (after we have washed up, before sitting down to supper) is a good practice.  But actually any time is good.  And any place will do -- though a quiet spot where we are not apt to be disturbed has its advantages.

     *Give yourself completely to God in love.  We sit down, choosing a comfortable chair -- one that gives our back good support so it can take care of the body while the spirit rests in God.  Relaxed and quiet, we close our eyes.

     God is here within us.  In love, we give ourselves to God.  For these 20 minutes we are all God's -- Father, Lover, Spirit of Love.  We just try to be in faith and love to God who dwells in the center of our being.

     To remain quietly, restfully with God, we take up a love word and let it be gently present, supporting our being to God in faith-filled love.  Our little word might be God, love, Father, Jesus -- whatever word we want to use to express our love.  We let that little word gently repeat itself within.  God, God, God ....

     Whenever anything else comes to mind, even nice thoughts about God, we simply, gently use our prayer word to return to God and to rest quietly with God.

     This is not a time for thinking, speaking, imagining, or anything else.  It is a time for rest.  It is a time for giving to God not our thoughts or words or ideas or images or acts, but ourselves -- so that God can hold us in love and refresh us, renew us, heal us, makes us whole.

     When our time for quiet refreshment with our loving God must come to an end, it is best not to jump right into action.  We take a few minutes to return gently to activity.  We let that beautiful prayer that Jesus taught us silently pray itself within us:  Our Father ....

     We let God bring now to our mind the things we learned in the deep silence of love.  Then we can bring this wisdom back into our active life as a source of peace and love.

Lifting your heart of God 

Such a simple prayer.  That is perhaps why we don't find it so easy.  We like to be doing things -- to assure ourselves we are praying.

     Yet if we are faithful to our practice of centering prayer -- 20 minutes, twice a day -- we will gradually see its fruits in our lives as we begin to live more and more out of the center, out of the fullness of who we are.

     In centering prayer, we give all and we receive all.  We confidently give ourselves completely in this embrace of love.  And we give our Divine Lover the joy of giving us all:  God's very Self, our heart's truest desire.
 

When you pray, gather up your whole self, enter with your Beloved into the chamber of your heart, and there remain alone with him, forgetting all exterior concerns; and so rise aloft with all your love and all your mind, your affections, your desires, and devotion.  And let not your mind wander away from your prayer, but rise again and again in the fervor of your piety until you enter into the place of the wonderful tabernacle, even the house of God.  There your heart will be delighted at the sight of your Beloved, and you will taste and see how good the Lord is, and how great is his goodness.
                                                            -- St. Bonaventure
                                                               On the Perfection of Life

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