When I’m tired of words, I find refuge in silence.
In fact, as much as I love words, praying in silence has become one of my favourite ways of praying. Sometimes it’s a sacred pause to pray before a meal. Sometimes silently praying along in our corporate prayers as a church. Sometimes simply sitting quietly with God at the end of the day.
That’s why I was intrigued by the title of Rich Lewis’s recently released book, Sitting with God: A Journey to Your True Self Through Centering Prayer (Anamchara Books, August 2020). The book is clearly grounded in Scripture and the Christian tradition of contemplative prayer, but the author is also open to new experiences, such as silent prayer in a Buddhist temple. He writes of God as Mystery, of Christ within us, of the Holy Spirit who fills us and works within us. This is the language of mysticism, yet the book is also immensely practical.
I’m happy to have Rich as my guest today to talk about what he means by sitting with God in the silence of centering prayer.
Rich, I appreciate the simple definition of centering prayer that you give early in your book (page 48): “1. Show up. 2. Let go. 3. Open your heart.” But if centering prayer is that simple, why does it need a whole book, and a whole life-time of practice?
Centering prayer is not a sprint. It is a long-term marathon with God. The depths of God are bottomless. God is a vast ocean. Each time we sit in the silence of centering prayer, with our sacred word, we let go and open to the presence and actions of God within.
What happens during this time? I think of it as a reverse prayer. God prays in us the actions we are to take each day. Other times God provides us with inner peace, calmness, wisdom for daily tasks or perhaps an excitement for life. The exciting part is that the fruits of the practice are unique for each practitioner. God knows what we most need!
Centering prayer helps us to become the person God wishes us to become: our true self. We are never done becoming this person. It is a life-long journey.
What do you hope for your readers?
Centering prayer has been so life-giving and life-changing I simply want to share it with others who want to learn more. For those new to centering prayer, I want them to feel free to explore and try it for themselves. I always suggest to give it a month. See if this practice makes sense for you. If it does, dig deep in this well and see what happens.
I also tell people not to give up their other forms of prayer. Centering prayer can complement other ways of praying. For example, I practice the Jesus Prayer and verbal prayer in addition to centering prayer. For those who currently practice centering prayer, I hope this book will help them to go deeper into their practice.
You’re a husband and father with three children, you have a job with a large corporation, you write regularly for your website, and now this book. How do you find time for silence and centering prayer?
The first thing I do before I start each day is my centering prayer sit. This means I set the alarm 30 minutes earlier to make the time for it. This sit is like a reset button for me. I sit with God so I can walk with God during my non-centering times of the day.
I also take a second sit each day. This means I stop what I do and take this sit. On most days it is usually before lunch. I need this sit! It reconnects me to God and slows me down. I am always amazed by how productive I am after this sit.
In your book you also say that when you slow down in centering prayer, you’re more able to slow down and be present in your everyday life. I’d love to hear more practical examples of centering prayer and daily living.
Sometimes at work or at home there is a task that frustrates you. You are stuck. You do not know the way forward. This is the perfect time to turn to centering prayer. Let go of your frustration and sit with God. I often find when I resume my day that God has provided me with wisdom for the task, and I can then move forward.
Let me share a second example. I do not like to go to the doctor’s office. It makes me anxious. I will arrive early and take a short five-minute sit in my car before I head into the office for my visit. I need this sit. It calms me down so I can be present for my appointment.
Those are great examples, Rich, and I can understand how centering prayer has been so life-giving for you. Is centering prayer for everyone?
Anyone can practice centering prayer. This makes me think of the quote from Basil Pennington, one of the founders of centering prayer. “All are called to the intimacy of contemplative union with God, not just a chosen few.”
At the same time, I also understand that centering prayer is not for everyone. There are many other wonderful contemplative practices: Christian meditation, the Jesus Prayer, walking, the labyrinth, art, to name a few.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
When starting centering prayer for the first time, take baby steps. Start with one minute if needed. Work your way up to twenty minutes. Add a second daily sit. Be kind and gentle to yourself. If you miss a sit, do not beat yourself up. Simply show up for your next sit. God will patiently wait for you to show up. God is delighted that you have taken the time to sit. God loves you!
Rich Lewis teaches centering prayer in both his local and virtual community and offers one-on-one coaching. He publishes a weekly meditation, book reviews, and interviews on his site, Silence Teaches. His new book on centering prayer is now available: Sitting with God: A Journey to Your True Self Through Centering Prayer.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: When we pray, do we always need to talk? What if we are silent? (from Sitting with God, page 45)
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