The chaos and conflict that define our world are manifestations of the chaos and conflict that plague our hearts and minds. The writer of James understood this reality, “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?” (James 4:1) While world peace is a high priority for followers of Jesus we cannot truly work for peace in our world if we do not also pursue peace in our hearts and minds. Being a peacemaker requires that we be peace-full.
But being peace-full often seems beyond our grasp, doesn’t it? Most of us are far more familiar with endless anxiety than we are with lasting peace. While we long to live in the eye of the storm we often find ourselves swirling in the winds of adversity and uncertainty. In a recent blog post Richard Rohr both insightfully diagnosed the problem and pinpointed the pathway forward:
Notice that whenever we suffer pain, the mind is always quick to identify with the negative aspects of things and replay them over and over again, wounding us deeply. Almost all humans have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) of the mind, which is why so many people become fearful, hate-filled, and wrapped around their negative commentaries. This pattern must be recognized early and definitively. Peace of mind is actually an oxymoron. When you’re in your mind, you’re hardly ever at peace, and when you’re at peace, you’re never only in your mind.
Like love and joy, peace is not something we can pursue directly. It isn’t something we can create in ourselves, at least not in any lasting way. We can no more tell our mind to be still than we can tell the wind to stop blowing. Peace, like all the fruit of the Spirit, is the work of God. Our work is the spiritual practice of Centering Prayer.
Centering Prayer is an ancient practice that opens us to the presence of God by submitting ourselves to God in silence. To use Rohr’s language, Centering Prayer helps us to get out of our minds in order to get more deeply in touch with God. For centuries followers of Jesus have discovered that Centering Prayer is a profoundly powerful pathway to experiencing inner peace.
Intrigued? Want to give it a try? You’ll find some simple instruction here. Or you can watch this brief video by Father Thomas Keating, one of the great contemporary advocates of Centering Prayer, here.
But before you give it a try, let me share three things I’ve learned about Centering Prayer.
First, intention matters. Getting clear about why you are practicing Centering Prayer, and carrying that intention into the practice, is really important. Your intention might change from day to day. That’s OK. Just be clear as you enter in. Above all our intention is to enter more fully into the presence of God, to connect with God heart to heart.
Second, the goal of Centering Prayer is not to stop thinking. People often confuse Centering Prayer with the Zen practice of emptying one’s mind. Thoughts are a sign of a healthy mind! At the heart of the practice of Centering Prayer is learning to detach from our thoughts, letting each thought float by like a leaf on a river.
Third, Centering Prayer requires trust. This is not a rational process; it’s a relational process. Sitting in silence for 20 minutes shouldn’t “do” anything for us because we’re not doing anything! But that’s just the point. We trust that God is at work when we are not. Submission to God is trust enacted.
I’ve been practicing Centering Prayer for two years now and I can honestly say that nothing has helped me to experience more inner peace than this simple way to pray. Peace is God’s gift to give. Centering Prayer is ours to practice.
Many people find silence difficult or even troubling. So this week’s question is: what keeps you from spending more time in silence?
Jeff Marian is lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN