Day 26: Centering

December 23, 2021

Day 26: Centering

We get straight to the heart of contemplative prayer today. Centering.

The Quakers “used the term centering down….The idea is to let go of all competing distractions until we are truly present where we are.” [1] Or, as Richard Foster calls it, recollection. That is, recollecting ourselves until we are unified, whole. I tend to think of it in musical terms: in unison. Many instruments can play a single note together, and if the musicians are good at playing (and playing in tune), the unified sound will sound will be pleasant to the ear. Even, having a distinct resonance.

When I first really tried contemplative prayer, about 30 years ago, I found it so difficult! Sure, I wanted to seat myself comfortably and then slowly and deliberately allow all tension and anxiety drop away from myself. Sure! Except – I had such difficulty actually succeeding. Contemplation and especially meditation seemed like far-away goals. Goals I would periodically try to shoot for, and periodically miss. Over the next 10 years I found myself occasionally – successfully practicing contemplation.

And, Foster absolutely agrees. He talks about the fragmented and fractures lives so many of us live. “We become painfully aware of how distracted we really are.” [2]

Sure, I have weathered some periodic storms in my life. Regular squalls, too. But with centering down, I allow the Lord “to calm the storms that rage within by saying ‘Peace, be still.’ We allow [God’s] great silence to still our noisy hearts.” [3]

Is it, perhaps, that God is finally breaking through to me? Knocking down walls or barriers that I have long ago erected, perhaps even to protect myself? Probably so. I should hope that I am letting God in. I hope so. I pray so.

As I come to the end of this Advent season, with but one day left – Christmas Eve – I come full circle. I feel like I am back to the beginning, with centering, or being present, or recollection. Whatever you call it, I think it is central to contemplation. Sure, we have examined many ways to come before God in contemplation and meditation, and even actively stand (or walk) before God. Yet, I get the sneaking suspicion that without centering down, I would be having some difficulty in contemplative prayer.

Lord knows, I do try. Periodically, and not daily. (Yes, the Lord and I have had many, repeated discussions in prayer about my periodic awareness, or presence, or faithfulness. And, I am sure we will continue, because I still do not have a daily practice of prayer. After all these years…)

I hope this journaling through Advent has been helpful for you. It was for me. Still, I have one more day. One more day to continue to witness to the power of contemplative prayer in my life.

Dear Lord, thank You for this past Advent season, for my journaling each day. Thank You for the insights I have received. Help me continue to see You for clearly, follow You more nearly, and love You more dearly, day by day.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the website www.contemplativemind.org for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: www.pastorpreacherprayer.com, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )


[1] Foster, Richard, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (Harper: San Francisco, 1992), 161.

[2] Ibid, 162

[3] Ibid.

Day 25: Retreats

December 22, 2021

Day 25: Retreats

Have you ever been on a retreat? Separating yourself from the daily routine and the busy-ness of the rushed and hurried activities? Sometimes, a retreat at a spiritual house of worship or a Christian camp can be revitalizing – even if it is only for a few hours.

As I think back on several retreats I have attended over the past twenty years, one immediately popped into my head. This happened several times, when I took a personal day of prayer. I spent six hours a day away, at a church nearby (in a different denomination) where a friend of mine is pastor.

Sure, I have had wonderful experiences with others at retreats. Excellent times of worship, meaningful speakers, close friends sharing deep feelings and intimate experiences. Yet, for this time of journaling for the Tree of Contemplative Practices, I knew which retreats I ought to mention.

These were times when I chose to step away from my busy life as a pastor at a small church. (Yes, even though it is small, there somehow are plenty of things to fill up a week’s worth of activities and time.) I purposed to take six hours away, from 9 am to 3 pm, on a Monday. Several Mondays, in fact. I had an excellent guide for the retreats in my devotional book. And, so I began.

I purposely turned off my cell phone. As a result, I remember being amazingly focused on the passages from the Bible I read. Time seemed to be sequestered – or I did. Almost as if I was separated, outside of time. I still remember that room in the education wing of the church. Warm, welcoming. Sitting at the banquet-sized table on a surprisingly comfortable plastic chair helped me to focus my mind and spirit on the words and ideas of the Scripture passages I read. And, my mind did not wander. (Much.) Wonder of wonders, I was able to freely journal on the thought questions from my devotion book.  

I do have a worthwhile book that gives much more direction for these solo retreats. I didn’t use it for my solo retreats, which were more focused on prayer and the Bible, and how it spoke to me. This additional book is called The Praying Church Sourcebook. It comes from the Evangelical tradition of the Christian church. I’ve spent some time praying with and walking with friends from this faith tradition, and many of them really know how to pray – I am blessed by their prayer!

Several suggested guidelines include: 1) Let the Word of God speak to you. 2) Write your thoughts in a journal. 3) Plan for variety during your prayer time. 4) Be willing to pay the price (in emotional and experiential terms). And, 5) “Take time to listen to the Lord. Let the Holy Spirit teach you throughout the day. Read the Bible, respond to truths that come alive to you, and apply what you’ve learned in your own life.” [1] Vander Griend has some specific steps he recommends, which look like they would be quite helpful. One profound statement: days of prayer do not just happen. We need to set aside the time, otherwise modern culture, stress, busy-ness and the worries of the world all combine to keep us busy and forgetful. We must break away and intentionally make the time. (And, I am preaching to myself even more than I am writing to you.)

Let us pray: gracious God, thank You for listening to us when we pray. Thank You for times of prayer when it seems like you are right next to us, sitting in a chair or on the couch nearby. Thank You too for those times when we are not sure You can even hear us. Help us to be able to make time, take time to step out of the daily routine. Thank You for intentional times of prayer. Help us to make them, we pray. Amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the website www.contemplativemind.org for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: www.pastorpreacherprayer.com, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )


[1] Vander Griend, Alvin J., and Bajema, Edith, The Praying Church Sourcebook (CRC Publications: Grand Rapids MI, 1997) 159.