About a dozen of us came to the church in the dark, an hour before the Sunday morning service, and formed a circle on shabby folding chairs around our teacher. Our expressions were serious and determined. We wanted to learn how to Really Pray. We figured there must be lots to learn, since Sister Shirley’s class would last for six weeks.
I still have the little card she gave us, the one with the instructions. It’s lived for years in my threadbare first Bible. Essentially, Sister Shirley told us, Centering Prayer is as simple and hard as this:
1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word.
3. When engaged with thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.
Turns out, there wasn’t much more to teach us. The six weeks were more like a support group, meant to get us in the habit. Sister Shirley checked in with each one of us, gently, about how faithful we’d been to our prayer practice over the previous week.
We struggled. Our lives felt too crowded and urgent for silence. Some days, we forgot all about the Centering Prayer thing. Often, we tried to pray and fell asleep instead.
“When that happens,” Sister Shirley instructed, “just thank God for the rest.”
I’m still grappling with these simple instructions. It seems so hard to do so little! And I’m way out of the habit now. I’ve found room in my life for so many more things than just sitting there in thankful enjoyment, in quiet relationship with God.
Which is why I’m glad you’re reading. Sister Shirley knew: these kinds of simple things, it’s hard to do alone. We need each other.
And if you want to use these four simple steps to follow along at home, I’d be delighted. Leave a note in the comments if you’d like to share your experience.
Today’s 15 minutes of prayer: taken on my lunch break, in the training room. Crazy, dreamlike thoughts floated through my mind and I tried not to get stuck in them (with limited success). I think I actually did fall asleep for a minute. When it was over, I mentally conjured Sister Shirley’s expression of patient encouragement.