The, um, Joys of Centering Prayer

You knew it was coming…the blog post on Centering Prayer.

This Lent, Blackburn’s Chapel has committed to reading through the book, 40 Days to a Closer Walk with God by J. David Muyskens.  Part of the exercise is to spend 20 minutes a day in centering prayer.  That’s 20 minutes of quiet, silent time with God, attempting to let your thoughts pass by you.

When I told my friends and family we were attempting this I got the reactions I expected.  They ranged from “That will probably be really good for you” to bursts of laughter.

I don’t do quiet well.  I never have.  What I’m learning through our accountability time is that nobody does.  The people who seem to be good at centering prayer and find it life-giving have been doing this for years.  They’ll be the first to tell you it wasn’t easy for them in the beginning (and it still sometimes isn’t.)

One thing the centering prayer time has forced me to do is to notice all the things that distract me.  And here’s the kicker: it’s not the stressful things.  My brain is all too willing to let go of those.  It’s the thing I want to think about.  The have-not-yet-but-might-happen-in-the-future things.  But it’s all just that: The Future, that ominous not-yet-here place.

So much of what we do in this house and in the church is think about the future.  What will our project look like next year?  How can we prepare for it?  How can we learn from it?  How can we invite people for next year?  Etc.

It reminds me of a conversation I had once with a mentor of mine.  We were talking about how many pastors we knew that struggled with deep anxiety.  My mentor said to me, “Well, it’s hard sometimes, living in two places.”  When I asked her what she meant she explained that, as pastors, we are asked to live in the future, when the kingdom of God will be realized on earth and in the now while we are working toward it.  Living in two places makes you anxious, she said.

I’d hazard a guess that it’s not just pastors and pastors’ families that deal with this.  As Christians we are asked to live in two places.  And that sometimes makes it hard to be present in the place we’re in, right now.

I’d be lying to you if I said I love centering prayer.  But I’d also be lying if I didn’t admit it was changing the way I interact with time.  By realizing those future-oriented distractions, it’s made me more aware of the times when I’m not being present.  When I’m somewhere-in-the-future in my mind and I’m not fully present with this project, with this year, with this congregation, with this place, with today.  By turning over 20 minutes a day to God, (as the book put it, this is saying, “I love you, too” to God), God is transforming the way I live in time.  And it’s helping me trust that God will still be there and will still be God next year, next decade and next millennium.  And that truly is a mercy.

Lindsey L.

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