I had no idea that 30 minutes on a Thursday in May would change the shape of my whole day and lead me into a new weekly spiritual practice.
Walking into the quiet room that morning, I wasn’t sure what to expect of my first centering prayer experience. My friend and coworker Kara Lassen Oliver had invited me to attend the weekly prayer group she leads at her church. I had never participated in a contemplative prayer gathering. With anticipation and curiosity, I showed up, and I’ve been going every week since.
When I entered the circle that first morning, I wasn’t aware of how deeply I’d be impacted by this new-to-me spiritual practice.
Later, as I headed to work and then went about my activities that day, I truly did feel more centered. I’ve heard people talk about feeling grounded, but I think that day was the most tangibly I’ve experienced such a state of being - an inner anchor holding me steady. Throughout the day I felt a sense of calm security as I remembered the love of God I had encountered during centering prayer that morning. As I interacted with people, I noticed a more genuine sense of kindness and care toward them. When we are deeply centered in the love of God, that love overflows from our hearts into our relationships with others.
Each week as our group gathers, we light a candle to remind us of the Holy Spirit. We read a poem or a Scripture to ground us. And then we take three deep breaths and enter together into silent prayer. Occasionally, Kara speaks into the silence.
“You may notice that your mind has begun to wander,” she says quietly. “Just notice without any judgment and come back to the present.”
She reminds us to offer a blessing for the people, tasks, or situations that have come to mind and then to let our wandering thoughts be stilled in the security of God’s love.
Though we are practicing inner solitude, we hold the space together and cultivate a sacred community of presence and stillness.
reminds me that I don’t have to do or say or even think anything to be known, held, and loved by God. For someone like me who enjoys keeping busy and checking things off of a to-do list, this practice encourages me to stop performing and producing and instead just be. Though I know in my mind that my worth is not found in what I do, practicing centering prayer encourages me to experience it in my soul and live it in my body.
Centering prayer is teaching me to notice the presence of God in each moment. The spirit of God is as close as the breath in our lungs. Centering prayer reminds me to rest in this nearness.
Some weeks I find that my mind and heart are struggling to release the events of the past, the concerns of the future, the activities on my calendar, the tasks on my to-do list. I suppose that’s why we call it a spiritual practice. Centering prayer requires time and intention and rhythm. We journey with God through faithful practice, believing invisible spiritual growth is taking place even when, in the moment, we don’t always recognize the change. As I consent to this practice of centering prayer each week, I trust that God is forming me more fully into the likeness of Christ, inviting me to live as the beloved child I was created to be.
For an introduction to centering prayer: Forty Days to a Closer Walk with God by J. David Muyskens
For a deeper practice of centering prayer: Sacred Breath: Forty Days of Centering Prayer by J. David Muyskens
Emily Snell is Publisher’s Assistant and Church Relations Specialist for The Upper Room.
Kara Lassen Oliver serves as Director of Publishing Initiatives for the Central Conferences and is the author of three Upper Room Books - Passing It On, Meeting the Messiah, and Stepping Out on Your Own.
“Prayer, searching the scripture, and service are means of entering into and sharing the heart, mind, and work of Christ. A balanced spiritual practice helps us get in step with the transforming rhythm of Jesus’ life with God: work and worship, engagement and rest, service and Sabbath, contemplation and action.” Read more.