Centering Prayer: A Door into the Trinity and Beyond Self

This is a guest blog by David Rawls.

In this blog I will be presenting a method of praying which helps us to better access the Trinity in our prayer lives.  Whereas many approach the topic of Trinity and prayer from a theological position, I plan to avoid an exegesis of such terms. It is my hope to provide a rarely used tool called centering prayer, which I believe can help us enter into the Holy Trinity.  The Apostle Paul may have had in mind centering prayer when he wrote Romans 8:26-27: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

Centering prayer by its very nature takes the focus off the one praying and seeks to focus on the Trinity.  Sarah Coakley believes this type of prayer, found in Romans 8, is a way in which a believer yields to the Spirit which then allows the Spirit to direct toward what is most important.  She says, “prayer at its deepest is God’s, not ours, and takes the pray-er beyond any normal human language or rationality of control.”[1]  Simply put praying in this manner is a way in which we listen and God talks.  Bruce Demarest further suggests that the goal is “to permit the Holy Spirit to activate the life-giving Word of God.”[2]

So, what is centering prayer?  Thomas Keating defines it as “a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship.”[3] So what are the practical ways to foster this discipline?  Here are a few practical steps which come from Michael Frost’s book Surprise the World.

Eliminate Distractions

Frost suggests that listening to the Holy Spirit is not an easy task.  One must seek to eliminate anything which might be a distraction.  It is important to avoid things which might interfere with your contemplative time.  Sights, sounds, smells and even taste can become a hindrance to listening to the Holy Spirit.  The quieter the place where you will be praying the better to eventually hear the Holy Spirit.  Matthew 6:6 reminds us from Jesus’ prayer that one should go into their room or closet.  The idea is that one needs to remove distractions.  Frost suggests that finding a comfortable position is essential.  This of course will depend on a person’s preferences.  He also suggests that if you clasp your hands together so that they are not moving it will make you less aware of them while you listen.  Closing your eyes is also important as it helps keep light out and helps us focus simply on God.  Personally, I have been trying this method at intervals of 10 minutes but Frost suggests 20 minutes or more, as he believes something happens many times 10 to 15 minutes into your quiet time.

Let God In

It becomes important that as you start in contemplative prayer time that you do not begin by asking questions or telling the Holy Spirit what you want.  The goal is simply to enjoy God’s presence.  Rather than controlling the Holy Spirit you are wanting the Holy Spirit to control you.  Frost says that we will be tempted at times to want the Holy Spirit to get to the point or to reveal what he wants.  If Coakley is correct, we need to believe prayer is not ours as much as it is God’s.  It is up to God to speak and reveal to us.  It is our job to let God in and have the place for him to do it.  Frost would say, simply let God’s love lavish you.  Phil Fox Rose says when we go into centering prayer it is important to “resist no thought; retain no thought; react to no thought.”[4]  Our minds are usually busy.  To simply not have any thoughts can be discouraging.  Frost suggests that we can help our minds by possibly saying things like,  “Amen, Abba, grace, love, peace and even let go.”  Ultimately, in centering prayer we let thoughts happen.  Frost says that the more we practice this discipline the more our thoughts will slow down so that we might hear the Holy Spirit.

Follow God’s Promptings

When we begin to quiet ourselves we may start to hear promptings which God gives us.  These promptings can be missional in nature.  God may place on our minds a person we need to see or talk to or even revisit.  The Spirit may prompt us to help someone in need.  Is it possible that when the Apostle Paul received his Macedonian call he was using the centering method?  Certainly this fits Paul’s theology of Romans 8 where it seems the prayer life he promotes is focused more on listening rather than petitioning.  The prompting can also lead us to a sin for which we need to ask forgiveness, or changes we need to make in the form of repentance.  A God-prompting can also help in restoring relationships. Not every encounter will prompt us to do something.  It is likely that most promptings simply will be for us to experience God’s presence in our life.  In this manner, as we simply enjoy God, we can be certain that the Holy Spirit is groaning and interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:27).  This is by no means a secondary reaction but a way to be reminded and encouraged that God is alive and well and that we are loved by Him.  Frost says that this is a time when God can bring oxygen to the soul of the believer.

Centering prayer is a great tool for the believer to enter into the life of the Trinity and to be shaped by the Trinity.  Referring back to Romans 8, we find that this may be the way a believer can focus on the things of the Spirit and not on the flesh. Ultimately this is one of the themes of Romans 8.  This is the purpose of centering prayer.  It brings us directly into the Trinity.  We are no longer praying to a God “out there” but we enter into the very Godhead itself. Coakley describes it this way; “an act of cooperation with, and incorporation into, the still extending life of the incarnation.”  Centering prayer reminds us that as we pray to the Father, the Holy Spirit prays for us in words we don’t even know, to conform us into the likeness of Jesus.  This is our goal to be more like Jesus.


[1] Coakley, Sarah. God, Sexuality, and the Self (p. 115). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Bruce Demarest, Satisfy Your Soul, (Colorado Springs: Nav Press, 1999), p. 133

[3] http://www.centeringprayer.com/

[4] Phil Fox Rose, “Meditations for Christians,” On the Way, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/philfoxrose/meditation-for-christians/


 

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