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Along the Journey  |  

The Daily Practice of Centering Prayer

The arc of a life is marked by watershed moments – those defining times that clearly demarcate a before and an after.

I remember this one like it was yesterday.

It was early March 2020.

I’d been told by my daughter’s school that she’d have an extra week of spring break so that teachers could have time to transfer their classroom teaching online.

I asked my close friend, a bioethicist working at the local university, how long she thought “this” would go on – “this” meaning the powering down of public life due to this Novel Coronavirus thing.

“Two years,” she said.

I stared at her slack-jawed.

“Minimum,” she added

I reeled; two years? There was no way we’d get through two years of lockdown and isolation.

How would the collective get through it? How would I?

I knew I needed to lash myself to something stronger and deeper than this unprecedented disruption, something that would ground and feed me both. I had my work cut out for me as a parent, as a program director, and as a human being who cared about other folks.

What to do?

That was when I began my daily practice of centering prayer – not because of some inner yearning to deepen my spiritual journey, but out of desperation and a strong survival instinct.

After all, what could be bigger to lash myself to than God?

I began my centering prayer practice modestly – just 15 minutes a day, first thing in the morning after making the coffee (always coffee). I sat in a chair next to my picture window, cued up the app I downloaded from Contemplative Outreach, and hit start.

The opening gong chimed.

Not going to lie – when the closing gong sounded 15 minutes later, I didn’t feel any different.

No epiphanies, no ethereal calm.

Just 15 minutes older.

So I tried it again the next day.

And the one after that.

It was a practice born likely out of equal parts stubbornness, desperation, and hope that it would provide some modicum of sanity in the midst of the crazy that was the early pandemic.

It took nearly a month, but I began to notice an internal shift.

Gradually, I’d worked up to 30 minutes every morning – first thing, after coffee (of course.)

Gradually, it moved from something I made myself do to something I needed to do.

It became as essential a part of my morning routine as that coffee.

Occasionally, I’d skip a morning because I wanted to sleep in a bit or had another early commitment.

I felt unsettled for the rest of the day, with a nagging sense of something missing.

If I skipped for more than a day, I got downright grumpy.

My daily baseline had changed, and the practice had worked on me as I had worked on it, becoming “like oil in my bones,” as a friend described it.

I found that shift remarkable.

The practice was so simple – nothing more sophisticated than a cup of coffee, a free app, and half an hour of intentional sitting.

No mantras, no movement – just a visualization that helped me remind my mind’s eye that this time was different and that I would be spending it with God.

Sometimes, God and I would talk. Mostly, we’d just sit.

Four-plus years later, I still engage in this practice every morning.

And I still get grumpy if I’m traveling or working and skip for a few days.

I credit it with keeping me anchored and functioning during the pandemic and in the non-Covid tumult I experienced during the time since.

I’ve received so many gifts from the practice, too.

I’ve found clarity and peace, gifts that helped with discernment.

Mind you, centering prayer isn’t the answer to all of life’s problems, especially those that require professional support or intervention.

What it does do, however – what all practices do – is provide a different baseline from which that other important work can happen.

It doesn’t change the world, but it changed my engagement with it.

For me, it gave me a bigger horizon against which to navigate the impossibly ginormous challenge of a global pandemic.

It was a daily reminder of the abiding and compassionate presence of the divine, a presence that ran deeper and more reliably than something as big as a virus that shut down the world.

I committed to showing up daily.

And it’s not so much that God showed up, too – it’s that I realized that God was there all along.

I continue it today because I still need that reminder. Furthermore, I’ve learned the company is pretty great.

Dr. Helen Blier is the new Director of Lifelong Learning at the Center for Lifelong Learning. She is deeply knowledgeable about lifelong learning for ministers, church leaders, and theologically curious laity, having served in the field for over ten years.

Along the Journey