Category: Non word based Prayer

Centering prayer

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Centering prayer is one way of  moving away from, or beyond,  “conversation with God” and simply responding to the desire of your heart for deeper communion with the Divine.  When we practice centering prayer, we intentionally make space to seek and find God in silence.  Centering prayer is drawn from the long history of Christian contemplative prayer, including the practices of the Desert Fathers and Mothers in the 3rd century.  

There is no single “right way” to pray like this but we have found the following suggestions helpful.

  1. Find a quiet place where you won’t be distracted and a way of sitting, kneeling, lying that allows you to concentrate.
  2. Have a timer, and pen and paper (or their equivalent) to hand.
  3. Spend a few moments relaxing your body and mind.  Breathe in and out gently at your own pace.
  4. Choose a positive word or very short phrase (sometimes called the “sacred word”) as a way of symbolizing your consent to the Divine presence and action within you, and of your own desire for closer communion with God.  It can be any positive word or short phrase with which you feel comfortable and that reminds you to be present to God.  Some examples might be: God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Abba, Father, Mother, Comforter, Love, Listen, Peace, Mercy, Let Go, Silence, Stillness, Faith, Trust, Holy, Glory. 
  5. Set your timer initially for two or three minutes maximum. Breathe in and out at your own natural pace and repeat the word or phrase silently in your mind as a way of focusing on God.
  6. It is perfectly normal to have all kinds of thoughts pop into your head as you try and concentrate like this.  Don’t start judging yourself, or characterise yourself as a “bad pray-er”, or “no good at this sort of thing”!  Simply let the thought float away and bring your attention back to your sacred word again.  Occasionally, a thought is so urgent or relates to something so vital that you wont be able to concentrate further until you make a quick note of it – hence the need for pen and paper.
  7. Sometimes, you start meditation with a particular word or phrase and you discover after a minute or so that it feels like the “wrong” word for that moment.  Simply stop for a while, choose another word or phrase that feels “right” and carry on.
  8. When the timer goes, ask yourself – did that feel like an appropriate amount of time?  Too short, too long?  Adjust the amount of time accordingly for the next occasion, but don’t set yourself impossible targets – 10 minutes is a good target to aim for eventually.
  9. A note of caution – this kind of prayer is simply a way of being open to God.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel anything in particular and it is not about having a “successful” , or a “good” prayer time.  It is about your availability to God’s presence.

non-verbal prayer

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woman praying under tree during daytime

There is always a danger with prayer that it becomes too cerebral, word-based, even academic, so this page is a chance to think of other ways of praying, ways of using other parts of ourselves. We do not often get to know friends by talking non-stop: how do you grow in friendship? Adapt the same methods to communicate with God, to pass time with Him, even to waste time with Him!

Walking: why not take a walk with God? Go through the woods and praise Him for the beauty, go through the town and intercede for the people you pass.

Gazing: The first way of contemplating is to look at God, gazing in awe, wonder. It may be considered in terms of those who contemplated the Christchild at the nativity (shepherds, magi, the Holy Family, animals). It is opening the being to God whilst maintaining inner silence, taking time to be alone with Christ.

Painting/drawing: both looking at painting and doing it for yourself, either to encourage yourself to look at something fully, or to paint free style and to see what comes up. An example of looking at a painting:

Dance: westerners are often particularly bad at using their bodies in worship and prayer, but it can be very liberating, our bodies can express things our tongues cannot say. Find a quiet place, with no one watching, use music if you want, reach out to God.

Writing see elsewhere for journalling, but consider also poetry, free expression, writing a letter to God.

Music. The human voice is a wonderful instrument for prayer, but think also of percussion and other instruments, of non-Christian music. Could learning to play the clarinet be for you a spiritual discipline?

Audio – a simple option, but we take in Bible stories differently if we hear them. Many of the older parts of the Old Testament originate from an oral tradition rather than from the written word. So why not try listening? There are many audio Bibles (David Suchet’s NIV is I think the best known and very good), Bible Gateway  has some audio versions. You might like to sit back in peace, take your audio gear for a beautiful walk, knit, iron or carve wood whilst you listen! Keeping the hands/body busy can help the mind concentrate.

Christian massage – Letting a (trained!) fellow Christian touch you in a way that ‘restores, reconciles, reassures, forgives, heals” (Henri Nouwen).