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Silent Prayer
Centering Prayer or
Contemplative Prayer

In 2003 scientists pointed the Hubble Telescope at nothing. It was a patch of space that is nothing but black. And they waited. After 10 days the image they saw was amazing. The ultra deep space picture shows not just stars but entire galaxies (10,000 galaxies!), and gives us a humbling glimpse of the big picture of our universe.

I think this is an interesting metaphor for silent prayer. When we pray in this way we point our consciousness at nothing. And we wait. We wait not with the expectation that tens of thousands of points of light will be our reward, but rather that by listening to God in this way, we glean a tiny glimpse of the enormity of God. We can feel a little bit of God’s big picture.

Prayer is a conversation with God. Conversations are two way streets. Half the time we talk and half the time we should be listening. Silent prayer is listening. A cup filled to the brim cannot take in anything else. Our brains are filled to the brim with thoughts. Sitting quietly with God will allow those thoughts to settle like grains of sand in a jar of water. Or like clouds floating past us, we allow them to sail away.

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How do I get started?

If you have never prayed silently before you may be worried that it will be hard to get started. Try this: Make a cup of tea.  Pray for God to be with you.  Sip it slowly in silence. Notice the steam. Notice the cup. Notice how it feels in your hands. Try not to make any judgements. Just notice and be still.  When you are finished, thank God.  Do it again tomorrow.

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Now what?

When you are ready for more try this:

  1. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed, relax, and quiet yourself. Be in love and in faith to God.
  2. Choose a sacred word that best supports your sincere intention to be in the Lord’s presence and open to His divine action within you (i.e. “Jesus”, “Lord,” “God,” “Savior,” “Abba,” “Divine,” “Shalom,” “Spirit,” “Love,” etc.). An alternative is to watch your breaths. Know that your breath is from God and that the Spirit is the breath of God.
  3. Let that word or breath be gently present as a symbol of your sincere intention to be in the Lord’s presence and open to God’s divine action within you.
  4. Whenever you become aware of anything (thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, associations, etc.), simply return to your sacred word, your anchor. Please know that thoughts will come to you. You haven’t failed if thoughts come into your head. Of course they will!  You may need to stop and write them down and gently go back to the silence.
  5. Try it for 20 minutes. 40 minutes would be a great goal.  But whatever you can do, please be gentle with yourself and patient, as God is gentle with us.

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Where can I get more information?

Start with this pamphlet by Thomas Keating.

A classic book is Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton.  Be aware that Merton wrote this for monks, so it’s not an easy read.

Open Mind Open Heart by Thomas Keating  is another classic.

Some websites to check are Centering Prayer, Contemplative Outreach, and Spirituality and Practice