I would have to say that I lean to the attention deficit side of life (ADD for short). ADD people have a difficult time focusing. Engage them in a conversation, and you might find them periodically texting or checking email on their phone. Or, assign them a simple task, and you will discover a myriad of detours taken before they finally reach the completed destination. You need an example? Well, I am beginning my fifth sentence in this article; I have already stopped to eat a peanut butter sandwich, check email, look at my calendar and make a quick glimpse at the news.
This ADD form of multitasking might be advantageous when working through a laundry list of mundane everyday chores; however, this can become somewhat problematic in personal relationships. Psychologist and spiritual director, David Benner writes, “Preoccupations and distractions keep us self-encapsulated. This limits presence and makes genuine encounters tragically rare. We may meet people, but typically we encounter only our opinions and judgments about them.” If our preoccupations and distractions have a profound effect on how we relate to people, might we ask ourselves the question as people of faith, how do our preoccupations and distractions impact our perception of God and our relationship with him? We all have our judgments and opinions about God. An important question to consider, then, is how do they affect our experience of his presence in our lives?
To help answer this question, I would like to turn your attention to a type of prayer that has been traced back as early as the fourth-century to Desert Father John Cassian. This prayer is called Centering Prayer. Centering prayer is a silent prayer that prepares us to abide in God’s presence. A presence that is closer than our own breathing. Benner describes centering prayer as quite simply releasing whatever thoughts enter the mind. It is in our intention to release our thoughts that we make ourselves available to the presence of God. Although getting rid of our thoughts might sound down right heretical to some of us, it is simply a way of being fully present to the One who is always present to us. It is important to note that this form of prayer is not meant as a substitute for other kinds of prayer, but that it can be a very helpful practice, especially for those who have long struggled with distractions in their prayer life.
Centering Prayer does not come in the form of a list or an outline. It cannot be reduced to a series of steps. However, there is a simple framework offered up by Benner for this practice. This framework can be summarized in two brief sentences: Be with God within. Use a prayer word to stay and return.
When I participate in this practice, I search for a prayer word that in some way depicts Jesus’ relationship with his Father and me. This means that the subjective, experiential side of my practice, being with God within, is grounded in such revelatory prayer words as faithful, longsuffering, merciful or steadfast love. These words communicate or paint a picture of God’s way with me. This prayer word is the only word reflected upon during the centering prayer session and its purpose is to bring my drifting attention back to God. With this word, I linger with God, making myself available to his presence.
To help you get started, I have included a modified description below of the practice from Adele Calhoun’s, Spiritual Formation Handbook: Practices That Transform Us.
Short Method for Centering Prayer
- Set aside a minimum of ten minutes. Set a timer if that helps you to be less concerned about when to stop.
- Settle into a comfortable position.
- Choose your prayer word.
- Take time to become quiet. It is not unusual for our minds to be filled with many noisy thoughts. Don’t worry about them or pay attention to them. Release them. Gently return your attention to the center of God’s presence by repeating your word. When your thoughts wander, let them drop to the bottom of your mind. Don’t go after them. Gently return to the presence of Christ through repeating your word. Let the word draw your attention back to Jesus. Be with Jesus. Listen. Be still. Anytime you are distracted, return to the presence of Christ with your prayer word or phrase. Simply enjoy this time with God.
- When you are finished, take several minutes to slowly return to your normal routine. In other words, don’t hurry.
1Benner PhD, David G.. Presence and Encounter: The Sacramental Possibilities of Everyday Life (pp. 82-83). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
2Benner, David G.. Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer (p. 141). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
4John 17:26 (ESV) I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
5Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Kindle Locations 5276-5278). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
John Novick has served in pastoral ministry for 25 years and assists the ministry of Odyssey in Christ in administrative, retreat and editorial staff roles.