Bible Study, faith, Prayer

Guide to Centering Prayer (or How to Calm Down and BE STILL)

My First Experience With Centering Prayer

When my daughter Savannah was 9 months old, I needed to go in for an outpatient procedure that wasn’t serious but would require 2-3 days of recovery time. I took off work, made arrangements for my mom and Jeff to care for Savannah and prepared for three days of bed rest. I bought a new book, a fresh journal, chose some of my favorite movies and music cds and let others know I would not be available for a few days. While I was writing in my journal on the morning before the procedure, I was surprised and a little unnerved by the fact that I was looking forward to surgery so that I could have some time to myself. “Something is wrong with this picture,” I thought and decided then and there that I would start taking short personal retreats on a regular basis.

Personal Retreat at Osage Monastery

I made a reservation at a retreat center called Osage Monastery in Sand Springs, which was only about 40 minutes away from home. It was run by a group of Benedictine nuns, but was open to people of all denominations. I stayed in one of several tiny cabins furnished modestly with a twin bed, a rocking chair and a desk. In the main house, we would gather for meals and centering prayer, which took place in a beautiful chapel with two walls of glass that looked into the forest. We would file in quietly and find a space on the floor cushions or chairs arranged in an inner and outer circle. The sessions were 30 minutes at a time and began with a sacred-sounding chime or gong, followed by 30 minutes of complete silence. Well, except for the occasional shifting positions, sniffle, cough, sigh or growling stomach. It was awkward at first and It seemed to take most of each session to quiet my chattering mind, but each time the gong chime sounded to end the session, I felt calm, peaceful, more connected to God and well, centered.

The chapel at Osage Monastery Forest of Peace where I first learned about centering prayer

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.

–Isaiah 26:3

What is Centering Prayer?

Centering Prayer is a silent form of “listening” prayer that allows us to experience and enjoy the presence of God within us. It does not replace other types of verbal prayer and intercession, but instead is a way to simply “rest in God” and to just be with Him. It serves to deepen your relationship with Jesus Christ, moving from a place of conversation to intimate communion.

Centering prayer is “receiving” rather than “active” prayer. As you sit in silence, “resting in God”, you move from conversation to intimate communion.

How Do I “do” Centering Prayer?

  • First, choose a sacred word as a symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within. This word will help to “anchor” you so that your mind will be able to settle down. Some examples of sacred words: Lord, Jesus, Love, Peace, Faith, Shalom, etc. I like to choose a word from my daily Bible reading such as praise, mercy or steadfast. I also sometimes choose two words–one for when I inhale and another for the exhale. My favorite sacred word for centering prayer is “beloved”. I like to breathe in the words”Be Loved” and think of receiving God’s love, then exhale “Be Love” to remind me of how I want to respond to others throughout the day. Other times I will breathe in “Peace” and breathe out “Be still”. Ask Holy Spirit to highlight a sacred word for you.
  • Sitting comfortably with eyes closed (sometimes I look at the floor or out the window), settle briefly, and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within. Sit on the floor or in a chair with your back straight. Don’t get so comfortable that you become sleepy, but comfortable enough to avoid thinking of the discomfort of your body during prayer.
  • When you become aware of your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word. It will happen. Suddenly you will be convinced that you have to make that dentist appointment right now, start a load of laundry, text a friend, or check Instagram or Facebook. Ask me how I know. Simply acknowledge it (I like to think of thoughts as clouds passing by me) and return to the sacred word. It’s normal to have to do this several times during a single session. Don’t get discouraged!
  • At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes. Remember that the positive effects of centering prayer are usually felt later in your daily life, not in the period of centering prayer itself. Think of it like taking vitamins. You don’t necessarily feel the difference as soon as you take them, but over time, they contribute to your wellbeing.

My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the meditation of my heart will give understanding.”

Psalm 49:3

Further Suggestions for Centering Prayer

  • Try lighting a candle. Over time, it will signal your body and mind that it is time to pray. I like to burn incense or sage because it reminds me that my prayers are “like incense” rising before the throne of God. (Psalm 141:2)
  • Start with 5 minutes at a time and work up to 20 minutes per session.
  • Aim for two twenty minute sessions each day, but if you only have five minutes, do it anyway!
  • Start a centering prayer meeting group. Gather a few friends once a week to sit in silent prayer together. Take time after the session to share what impressions or visions you had during prayer. You can also share what you feel that God is speaking to your heart.
  • Teach your children! I was hesitant to teach centering prayer in my middle school Bible classes because I didn’t know how this group of very active students would respond. To my surprise, they loved it! Several of them even asked “Can we do this in class every day?” It helped them to settle down and prepare their hearts and minds for the lesson.
  • Use the Centering Prayer App! It has passages of Scripture to read before and after your prayer session, and several choices for sounds that signal the beginning and end of each session. Below is the image of the Centering Prayer app icon:
This is the icon for the Centering Prayer app. It’s easy to use and offers a reminder of the guidelines as well as choices for which sound you’d like to use at the beginning and end of your prayer session.

For more information about Centering Prayer, visit https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org

Help us keep the fire on the altar burning (Leviticus 6:13) as we help support and sustain 24/7 worship and prayer at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City. We are committed to pray for your business, family and ministry, so feel free to share prayer requests!