Centering Prayer – What is it?
Centering Prayer is a technique of entering into the “Silence” through the use of a “sacred word”. Essentially it is the Christian version of the New Age/Hindu mantra . A word is chosen (called a “sacred word”) and repeated over and over again in an effort to “center” oneself, or, focus inwardly. By doing so, one supposedly will reach a state of mind where they can “hear” from God.
Now the word that is chosen makes no difference. Christians like to pick “Christian” words from the Bible (e.g. “Father”, “Lord” … I haven’t heard of anyone using “Beelzebub” though). But any word or phrase will work. One could pick “fence” or “sky” or “knick-knack”. The reason you can use any word is because the trick isn’t in the actual word itself. The trick is using the word or phrase to eliminate all other thought . By repeating the sacred word over and over again all the concentration of the mind bears down on that word and all other thoughts disappear. After a short time of repeating it your mind will begin to lose grasp of even the sacred word’s meaning so that you blankly repeat it over and over.
This is supposed to happen.
Thinking about the meaning of the word is the last thing you want. It means you’re thinking. The goal is to stop the “noise” of thoughts swirling around in your head. This kind of prayer “de-clutters” your thinking, slows down the rapid stream of your thoughts, and quiets your mind (the Silence).
Why would you want this?
To be able to hear God’s voice when He speaks to you, connect with God and so on. The technique described by Christians  and Catholics  (whom Christians are getting this from) is exactly the same thing as Hindu mantra meditation . It should be added here that the use of breath prayers and a candle flame is the same thing. Rather than focusing on a word someone focuses on his breathing or the flame to de-clutter their thinking and quiet the mind.
Centering prayer is not found in Scripture. No one who was ever only reading the Bible would walk away thinking they need to find a sacred word and use this prayer technique. The Bible is silent concerning “the Silence.” There is one very important point we shouldn’t be silent about. Notice that wherever centering prayer is written about there is universal agreement: Christians have learned it from Catholics, who themselves learned it from Eastern Mystical religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, etc.). Never will you read that Easterners learned mantra meditation from Christians who were studying their Bible. Always it is the Christian who gets into centering prayer after being introduced to the mystical teachings of Catholicism and Eastern religions .
This raises a very important question: if this is the root of centering prayer, what will the fruit be?
We’ll cover that in our next post.
1) Notice this is a New Age source saying this: “Those who have practiced Transcendental Meditation may be surprised to learn that Christianity has its own time-honored form of mantra meditation. The technique, called Centering Prayer, draws on the spiritual exercises of the Desert Fathers, the English devotional classic, The Cloud of Unknowing, and the famous Jesus Prayer …” “Reliance on a mantric centering device has a long history in the mystical canon of Christianity.” (As Above So Below: Paths to Spiritual Renewal in Daily Life by Ronald S. Miller and the Editors of New Age Journal; 1992; pages 52 & 53)
2) “Take just a little word, of one syllable rather than of two. With this word you are to strike down every kind of thought under the cloud of forgetting” The Cloud of Unknowing
3.a) “Christians … have developed two fundamental expressions of Unceasing Prayer. The first … is usually called aspiratory prayer or breath prayer. The most famous of the breath prayers is the Jesus Prayer. It is also possible to discover your own individual breath prayer….Begin praying your breath prayer as often as possible. (Prayer: Finding The Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster; page 122) 3.b)“It is particularly difficult to describe this type of prayer in writing, as it is best taught in person. In general however, centering prayer works like this: Choose a word (Jesus or Father, for example) as a focus for contemplative prayer. Repeat the word silently in your mind for a set amount of time (say, twenty minutes) until your heart seems to be repeating the word by itself, just as naturally and involuntarily as breathing.” (Sacred Pathways, Gary Thomas, pg. 185)
4.a) Thomas Merton, a popular Catholic monk who has pioneered Centering Prayer among Catholics and Evangelicals says “It is particularly difficult to describe this type of prayer in writing, as it is best taught in person. In general however, centering prayer works like this: Choose a word (Jesus or Father, for example) as a focus for contemplative prayer. Repeat the word silently in your mind for a set amount of time (say, twenty minutes) until your heart seems to be repeating the word by itself, just as naturally and involuntarily as breathing. (p. 152 ATOD, 2nd ed.) 4.b) “The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart..This way of simple prayer…opens us to God’s active presence….It is to this silence that we are called” (Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, pg. 41, 66)
5) Newsweek; January 6, 1992; article called Talking to God; page 44 – “The techniques Benson teaches – silence, appropriate body posture and above all, emptying the mind through repetition of prayer – have been the practices of mystics in all the great world religions. And they form the basis on which most modern spiritual directors guide those who want to draw closer to God.” “Silence is the language God speaks … says Thomas Keating who taught ‘centering prayer’ to more than 31,000 people last year. Keating suggests that those who pray repeat some ‘sacred word’, like God or Jesus…” (Newsweek; January 6, 1992; article called Talking to God; page 44)
6) “In the wider ecumenism of the Spirit being opened for us today, we need to humbly accept the learnings of particular Eastern religions … selective attention to Eastern spiritual practices can be of great assistance to a fully embodied Christian life.” Living in the Presence, Tilden Edwards, Acknowledgements page
One thought on “Contemplating Contemplative Spirituality (Part 5)”
This is very good: “Never will you read that Easterners learned mantra meditation from Christians who were studying their Bible.” It’s interesting that repeating one word over and over again is like self-hypnosis. When a person is hypotized he/she is open to the influence of whatever the hypnotizer tells them to do. When we are in that type of a trance with a totally open mind, demons can enter in and use us as they desire. I wish there was a way for you to teach this to the other pastors in the area who are dabbling in this with their congregations.