Today, I talked about prayer in a way I've never taught about it before. Mostly, we think of prayer as us talking to God, but we've leaned far too hard into that definition. If God is God, shouldn't prayer be much more about God talking to us than the other way around?
I'm convinced that this is one of the 5 key tools for every person to get their spiritual life moving again (which is what the whole STUCK series is about) and today I introduced a concept that has been transforming for me. It's the idea that I need to spend more time listening for the voice of God - centered in His presence - than I do talking. I'm going to give you more information about that here, and some keys you need. Thomas Keating was really the one who pioneered this concept. I wouldn't consider myself any kind of spiritual giant, and I only do this exercise once a day, on most days. But it has been a major game changer for me.
Here are some very important keys - some of which I did not discuss today.
1) Dedicated time. I usually set aside 20 minutes. I set an alarm, and I'm often shocked at how quickly the thing goes off. It IS difficult at first, but once you begin to practice this kind of prayer, it really is amazing how you are able to still your soul and quiet the voices inside of you.
2) The Sacred Word. This is a tool I picked up from Keating's work. He encourages those who practice centering prayer to choose a word - any word - that helps you 'come back' should you find your mind wandering in thought. (examples might be One, light, way, path, living water...)
To actually think that you can empty your mind of all thought is not realistic. So, when you find yourself thinking about your to-do list or your last arugment or anything else, you are able to gently consider the sacred word, which is not magic, but it simply brings you back to the exercise. This is THE key, I think, in making this work. Because centering prayer is not the removal of all thought, but rather the releasing of the noise inside of me. It's the letting go of all of the clutter so that I can center myself in the presence of the One who is at work in me, through me and around me. I just want to BE in his presence. That's it.
3) Like a river. This word picture was also helpful for me. Keating talked about thoughts being like a river. Imagine you're sitting on the bank of a river, watching the water go by. You see a boat enter from the left, it floats directly into your vision, then to your right, then out of sight. During Centering Prayer, thoughts enter your mind. You don't try to fight them. But you don't focus on them either. The thought enters, like the boat on a river, you watch it float past you, then out of sight until it's gone. The point of the prayer is the River, not the boat!
This was very helpful to me. Someone asked me today, "How does an A.D.D. person do this kind of prayer?" Well, this is a part of the answer. Trying to ignore or suppress all thought is just not realistic. I use this river word picture and it is how I'm able to center myself in God's presence for 20 minutes. I literally imagine the thoughts that enter my mind like they are on the river, traveling past me. I don't grab them. I just let them go by.
4) Going deeper. Centering yourself in God's presence is not something that just happens. It takes time. It's like exercise. It takes a few minutes, which is why 5 minutes probably won't work. It also means that the more you 'practice' centering prayer, the better you get at it.
5) Other prayer. Of course, as I pointed out today, it's entirely appropriate - and Biblical - to present our requests to God. We did an entire series this year called The Circle Maker after Mark Batterson's book about this kind of prayer! I think you should pray for people, for yourself, for the desires and passions of your heart. I do, too. But if that's all you're doing, it's no wonder you're stuck. My spiritual life will never be the same now that I've found a new paradigm on prayer. It's been in the Bible the whole time. Jesus exemplified it. I just never saw it.
In case you'd like to learn more, the book I read is small and was helpful. It's called Open Heart, Open Mind.
I'd love to know if you take a risk and give this a shot and how it goes for you.