Centering Prayer

What is Centering Prayer?

Though most authors trace the roots of Centering Prayer to the contemplative prayer of the Desert Fathers, to the Lectio Divina of the Rule of Benedict, and to works like "The Cloud of Unknowing" and St John of the Cross, the origins of the Centering Prayer movement today can be traced to three Trappist monks in the 1970s: Fr William Meninger, Fr Basil Pennington and Abbot Thomas Keating.

In Centering Prayer we enter into conversation with God. Many of us are familiar with prayer as talking to God, but talking to God without listening is only part of the conversation. Centering Prayer is one method of listening to God, the practice of surrender, silence, letting go, opening up to the Presence of God.

The premise of Centering Prayer is that we have a hunger for spiritual growth and deeper communion with God. But as long as we are content to pray only with words, leaving no time for God to speak in the silence of our hearts, the communication of prayer cannot become very deep. To practice a method of silence allows God to enter ourselves in ways that bring healing, wholeness and growth in ways that just speaking to God cannot. As Thomas Merton said, "Contemplative prayer has to be always very simple, confined to the simplest of acts."

How do I practice Centering Prayer?

For peope who have experienced frustration with meditation, Centering Prayer offers a different approach. You merely sit or kneel in silence with the intention to be open to God. As thoughts come you gently allow them to pass, not holding on to them. After 20 minutes, you go about your daily work. Centering Prayer is simply a time to sit in quiet with no other agenda other than to be in God's Presence.

Centering Prayer really has just one action: When you realize you are engaged with a thought, you let it go. For some people choosing a sacred word or symbol can help you focus and allow yourself to settle into silence and God's Presence. Possible sacred words might include:

Jesus, God, Father, Mother, Love , Peace, Lord have mercy.....

Don't change the sacred word once you begin to pray as this involves thinking. In this way, when you become aware of thoughts (thoughts being everything from feelings, images, memories, self-reflections, commentaries, etc - all a normal part of Centering Prayer) you can gently return to the sacred word. Believe it or not, even the holiest thoughts and loftiest insights are distractions in the work of silent prayer.

Resist no thought; retain no thought; react to no thought. When you realise you are engaged with a thought, return gently to the stillness. Centering Prayer is not about pushing thoughts away, or trying diligently to have no thoughts. Our minds were designed to have thoughts. As Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault says, "striving for emptiness is a surefire way to guarantee that your meditation will be a constant stream of thoughts." In Centering Prayer, we let thoughts happen but we don't engage them. We let them float by without giving them attention, and , before you know it, they are gone. With practice , the clutter in your head will reduce, but you may stay in the attachment-surrender loop for an entire session. That's OK too. As Fr Thomas Keating says, ten thousand thoughts are "ten thousand opportunities to return to God."

Sit comfortably, feet planted on the graound and back supported - so there is no need to adjust while sitting and to encourage alertness. Sit for 20 minutes or more if at all possible. Something often happens to the stillness around 10 to 15 minutes in. If you stop too soon you will miss it. The end of the prayer period can be determined by a timer but not one that is too loud! Centering Prayer is not simply about repeating a sacred word continuously, having no thoughts or a blank mind, or acheiving a spiritual experience. Rather Centering Prayer places a strong emphasis on interior silence and communion with God.

At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a few moments. Perhaps bring yourself back to daily life by reciting the Lord's Prayer.

There is no such thing as a "good" prayer period or a "bad" prayer period. There are no goals. Sometimes the distractions will be more present than others. Centering Prayer is prayer at its simplest. Intention and faith are all that matter with this method.

Centering Prayer is best as an addition to other prayer practices and can enhance them. After time in Centering Prayer, one can move into a time of intercessions or even Lectio Divina - reading scriptures in prayer.


  1. Open Mind, Open Heart, Thomas Keating
  2. Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, Cynthia Bourgeault