CENTERING PRAYER AS A WAY TO KNOWING SELF

PG Blanton (2011) writes:

“Centering Prayer, developed by Meninger, Pennington, and Keating in 1975 (Keating 2005), is a synthesis of various sources from the Christian contemplation tradition. Bourgeault (2004) tells us that Centering Prayer is a contemporary expression of the ancient custom of contemplation as it was practiced by the Desert Fathers and Mothers in the third and fourth centuries. Until recently, their teachings were sealed away in a set of Latin volumes called the Patrologia Latina, but Merton (1) ma960de the Desert teachings available for the first time in a contemporary, accessible way in book called The Wisdom of the Desert.

The essence of the Desert teachings was captured by John Cassian, who studied with the Desert Fathers and Mothers in the fourth century. He brought what he learned from this Egyptian monastic experience back to the West in a collection of writings called the Conferences (Pennington 1982). His teachings have been maintained primarily in the West by the Rule of St. Benedict.

Centering Prayer is inspired by John Cassian and other sources from the Christian contemplative tradition (Keating 2005). In Conferences, no. 9, Cassian describes a method of “pure prayer” which was later developed in The Cloud of Unknowing, which was written by an anonymous fourteenth-century author. The writings of St. John of the Cross in the sixteenth-century and the more recent works of Thomas Merton inspired Meninger, Pennington, and Keating to develop Centering Prayer. This contemporary expression of an ancient tradition was first called “Prayer of the Cloud,” but it later adopted the term coined by Thomas Merton: “Centering Prayer” (Bourgeault, 2004).

It is important to note that Centering Prayer was developed in the 1970s. During this decade, there was a movement among spiritual teachers of major Eastern religions to come to the United States and present their respective methods of meditation. (Note: In 1977, the American Psychological Association sounded the call for research into the clinical effectiveness of meditation.) Numerous young people who learned these other traditions came to St. Joseph’s Abby in Spencer, Massachusetts, where Keating was abbot, asking for a Christian method of contemplation. Since there was not a contemporary method of Christian contemplation, Meninger, Pennington, and Keating were prompted to create one.

Centering Prayer also is a process of leaving behind thoughts in general, and thoughts about the self in particular, in order to get in touch with our entire selfhood. First, Centering Prayer is about letting go of thoughts. By withdrawing our attention from the ordinary flow of our thoughts, Centering Prayer is designed to make us aware that we are not just our thoughts. Centering Prayer is a method that teaches practitioners how to handle the thoughts that arise by letting them go. By releasing your thoughts, you can enter into the “being” mode. Keating (1999) writes of Centering Prayer, “It is an exercise in being rather than doing” (p. 85).

Centering Prayer is a process of leaving behind thoughts about the self. According to Centering Prayer, people look outside of themselves to construct an image of themselves. However, Centering Prayer is about looking in another direction, to the center, to see who we are. We are more than our thoughts or stories tell us about ourselves, Centering Prayer teaches us. The constructs of self that occur in our heads or in society are limiting, so we need to release them. Instead, Pennington (1999) observes “we come to know ourselves really only in the eyes of someone who loves us” (p. 90). This someone is the one Jesus called Abba.”

What a beautiful knowing…. and the wisdom that truth & beauty comes in the form of a person.

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