Try Centering Prayer: Change. Anxiety. Fear… Freedom. Healing. Wholeness
I invite you to pause, just for a moment, pause.
Slowly, inhale a deep, full breath. Slowly, let it out.
Try it again. Close your eyes if you’d like. Slowly take a deep breath in, breathing in the love and grace of God. Slowly exhale, breathing out the love and grace of God into the world.
(Repeat as many times as you desire.)
Change. Even this simple breath prayer that I have prayed and have lead others in praying thousands of times causes me to pause to and to reflect differently in today’s pandemic times. Breathe. Breathe in (the virus) – Breathe out (the virus). Breathe – oh wait, I’m wearing a face mask. I can barely breathe.
With change (and a pandemic) often come anxiety and fear.
I learned early on in life that change is constant.
In one form or another, change happens on a regular basis whether we like it or not.
How we respond to change is what shapes and makes us.
Does change lead us toward anxiety and fear or toward freedom, healing, and wholeness?
Fortunately, change is not the only constant in our lives.
God is also constant and present with us and in the world around us.
For centuries, people have been pausing before God in a form of prayer known as contemplative prayer or centering prayer.
Centering prayer is an ancient prayer practice that connects us to the Holy within ourselves, within others, and within the world around us.
It allows us to become more attuned to how and where God is active and working. Centering prayer grounds us and centers us in the love and grace of God.
It calls us to pause and to rest in God, with God, and before God.
There is no agenda, no intention on our part, no wordy prayers, no to-do list or check boxes.
We are simply to be with God.
In this time of being present, God does healing work within us.
This is not something that we necessarily feel in the moment, but it is something that is realized and lived out over time and practice.
The monastic writer Basil Pennington O.C.S.O. states, “We don’t mediate to enjoy twenty minutes of bliss. We want that shift of consciousness wherein we become more fully aware of our self and God and live out of that reality. We want to live centered lives that freely hold everybody and everything in love—lives that are empowered by the Lord at the center of our being.”1
In my everyday, ordinary life this sounds beautiful – to live a centered life that freely holds everybody and everything in love—a life that is empowered by the Holy at the center of my being.
In the midst of a worldwide pandemic where everyone is experiencing the vastness of change this becomes paramount.
I encourage you to reflect on your own life.
What is driving your responses to the changes around you?
Are you able to respond from a place of freedom, healing, and wholeness, or does anxiety, worry, and fear cast a shadow on your choices?
Wherever you are on your journey, I invite you to explore centering prayer as a regular spiritual practice.
As you do, be gentle with yourself.
Sometimes the practice of centering prayer can feel awkward and you wonder if you are doing it “right.”
Keep practicing and know that God is with you and working within you to bring you to a sense of freedom, healing, and wholeness so that you can more fully experience and share the love, peace, and joy of God.
There are many places to learn more about the spiritual practice of centering prayer. One such opportunity is through Columbia’s Center for Lifelong Learning.
In August, I will be teaching an asynchronous online class through the CLL’s Spirituality Program entitled Call to the Center: A Contemplative Prayer Experience.
In this class we will meditate on selected texts within the Gospel of Matthew and Basil Pennington’s reflections on these texts.
The chosen scriptures “very directly express God’s call to a deeper union with God through prayer and contemplation.”2
It is Pennington’s hope that “by living with these texts for a time, your sense and experience of that loving call of God will be enlivened and be made more vivid and powerful in your life.”3
The Rev. Deedra Rich is a pastor, spiritual director, retreat leader and supervisor for spiritual directors. She has worked with the Spirituality Program at Columbia for almost 15 years serving in a variety of capacities – facilitator, instructor, former director, and practicum advisor. She also serves as an instructor and supervisor for the Certificate in Spiritual Direction. Deedra has served both Baptist (CBF) and Presbyterian (PC USA) churches. In part time capacities, she currently serves as the Director of Christian Education and Spiritual Formation at Emory Presbyterian Church in Atlanta and as the Garden Site Manager at the Friends of Refugees’ Jolly Avenue Garden. Her current interest and area of study is integrating Benedictine Spirituality, specifically their spiritual practices and intentional rhythm of life, into one’s everyday life. She also enjoys practicing centering prayer, yoga, gardening, and hiking.
2 Call to the Center: The Gospel’s Invitation to Deeper Prayer, Basil Pennington. (1995)