Prayer Workshop - July-August, 2013
Every day, early in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon or evening, I take 20 minutes just to be in God’s presence. During these two periods of the day I try to be completely open to God, who is my source, lover, and constant companion. Twenty minutes twice a day is not a lot of time. But it is enough to turn my life around.
This way of praying — centering prayer — involves not so much talking to God but rather communion with God. Often our minds continue to be active, giving us many interruptions to think about. But centering prayer teaches a simple way of dismissing those thoughts. A “prayer word” helps us let go of thoughts and renews our intention to consent to God’s presence and action. The psalm says: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). In silence we let go, and consent to God’s coming to us in faith and love.
I often choose one word to begin with. A word can be a good way to express in a nutshell my intention to commune with God. Then, when my mind wants to take me on tangents of thought, I just renew my intention to be open to God by using the prayer word. You can use a short, sacred word such as “Jesus,” “Father,” “Mother,” “love,” or “peace.” Over the nearly 20 years that I have practiced centering prayer I have used the words “Spirit” and “presence.” You don’t need to repeat the word constantly, like a mantra. Just repeat it when you need to renew your desire to be with God. God will hear you! Start with a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to give you a word. Then stay with that same word for the 20-minute period of centering prayer.
Sometimes I don’t even need a word. Just a glance toward God is enough. Also, at times I like to add deep breathing. My breath becomes my symbol of consent. As I inhale I take in the love God gives to me, and as I exhale I let go of selfish desires. The sacred name of God, “Yahweh,” goes well with this. Yahweh is the name God gave to Moses as he was being commissioned to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. It is the verb “to be” or “to create” in Hebrew. So it says to me that God is real, the Source of all. The connection between breath and spirit goes back to the original languages of the Bible. The Hebrew word ruah and the Greek word pneuma mean both “breath” and “spirit.” So when we pronounce the name “Yahweh,” the name actually sounds like breathing. It is the first and last sound anyone makes in this life.
If you try adding centering prayer to your devotional life, the results will be significant. I expected to find God during my prayer time, but I was surprised to find a greater awareness of God during the rest of each day. Sometimes I have been given deep emotional experiences of sorrow, joy, and overwhelming love. But I have also encountered times of dryness when my prayers seemed empty. Don’t despair! The daily discipline will result in profound changes. I see God in the symmetry of trees and in the smile of a stranger. I am more inclined to see the work of God in events.
I am also more aware of the present moment. At times in my life, I lived either in the past or in the future. I dwelt in the past by going over what I could have done to make a past situation better. Or I was anticipating something in the future, rehearsing what I was going to say or do. But I missed entirely what was happening in the present moment. Yet God works in the present moment! We need to pay special attention to
the way God works. In the practice of centering prayer we can put aside thoughts about the past. We can let go of thoughts regarding the future. We can be totally present with God.
The practice of centering prayer can also help us let go of attachments that have taken hold of us. We are all compulsive at times — such as becoming overly attached to going to the gym or to eating certain foods we like. In the practice of centering prayer we let go of our desires for security, esteem, and power. That surrender allows us to accept the transformation that Christ wants to work in us. We let go of control, and we surrender to God’s control. We let go of our thoughts and our attachments just to be in silence with God.
Several meditations in this issue deal with prayer and meditation. Consider reading the following meditations again as you reflect: July 2, 3, 5, 15, and 27, and Aug. 1, 2, 6, 10, 23, 27, 29, and 30.
Here are the basic guidelines for centering prayer:
1. Choose a short, sacred word as the symbol of your intention to commune with God.
2. Sit comfortably and — with your eyes closed — settle briefly, and silently introduce the sacred word to begin your time of prayer.
3. When your thoughts, feelings, or images interrupt your prayer time, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
4. At the end of your prayer time, remain in silence with your eyes closed for a couple of minutes.
Try it for a few weeks. See if it brings you closer to God. See if it changes your life!
— J. David Muyskens
Dr. Muyskens is a retired minister of the Reformed Church in America and adjunct professor of spirituality at New Brunswick Theological Seminary, in New Brunswick, NJ. He has been a spiritual director for the last 20 years. He now lives in Grand Rapids, MI with his wife, Donna.