Centering Prayer and the Christian Contemplative Tradition

from the Fall/Winter 2015 edition of Reflections magazine.

In 1970, three Trappist monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts — Fathers William Meninger, Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating — resolved to respond to the Vatican II invitation to revive the contemplative teachings of early Christianity and present them in updated formats.

To do so, they reached back centuries to the ancient tradition of contemplative prayer. Drawing from the monastic practice of Lectio Divina and practices described in the anonymous fourteenth century classic The Cloud of Unknowing as well as the writings of Christian mystics, the monks developed a simple method of silent prayer for contemporary people.

The prayer came to be known as Centering Prayer in reference to Thomas Merton’s description of contemplative prayer as prayer that is “centered entirely on the presence of God.” The monks offered Centering Prayer workshops and retreats to both clergy and laypeople. Interest in the prayer spread, and shortly after the first intensive Centering Prayer retreat in 1983, the organization Contemplative Outreach was formed to support the growing network of Centering Prayer practitioners.

In the traditional understanding, says the Contemplative Outreach website, “contemplation, or contemplative prayer, is not something that can be achieved through will, but rather is God’s gift. It is the opening of mind and heart — one’s whole being — to God. Contemplative prayer is a process of interior transformation. It is a relationship initiated by God and leading, if one consents, to divine union.”

Today Centering Prayer is practiced by people all around the world, creating local and global networks of Christians in communion with Christ and each other and contributing to the renewal of the contemplative dimension of Christianity.

This information is largely from the website of Contemplative Outreach, where you can learn more about Centering Prayer and other contemplative practices.

To read more articles from the Fall/Winter issue of Reflections magazine, or to read the entire issue, go to this page.

From The Episcopal Diocese of West Texas

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