This has been a wonderful first week at The Awakening Institute’s new location in Titusville, Florida, as MaryAnn held her first Art at The Awakening, which is spiritual formation for young people (ages 2-12) through creativity. (For more details please visit our website at www.theawakeninginstitute.com. ) This Wednesday we will hold our first Word and Worship Bible Experience, as we explore the letter to the church in Ephesus. Please join us at 6:30pm. We will open each of these Wednesday night experiences with a time of Centering Prayer, followed by contemplative worship, silence, reading of the Scripture, praying the days Scripture, living the Scripture and resting in the Scripture. This will be followed by a study time and closing with a prayer of quiet. Thus, I thought it may be a good time to explore, this week, Centering prayer as part of our series on spiritual disciplines, practices, and holy habits
Now, as always, I pray that you may take a moment to know God’s presence with you, at this very moment. Now is a good time to be still for a few moments and let God speak to your heart.
Centering Prayer 1
Centering prayer is a method of prayer which prepares us to receive the gift of God’s presence, as we move toward divine silence. This occurs as we respond to the Holy Spirit, who helps us surrender to God’s presence and movement within. This is an inner conversation with God who is with us. This is a conversation initiated by God in which the Lord blesses us with the ability to perceive, relate and respond, as we grow more and more aware of the Lord’s Divine presence in every moment of our lives. Centering prayer, at its core, is a relational practice between us and God, designed to address our reactive, cluttered mind, and to bring our mind into a more receptive, invitational and ultimately luminous way of being. However, the mastering of Centering Prayer, especially in its early way of practice, when one maintains a conscious sacred word, is not an end unto its self, nor is it our final goal. As with all contemplative practices the ultimate way of being with God is by way of unknowing, where we experience a luminous way of being that allows us to swim, immersed, in the glory of God, who is everywhere. Centering prayer takes in two complimentary ways of knowing the mystical presence of God. These are referred to as cataphatic and apophatic.
The kataphatic way is content filled prayer, which employs such things as thoughts, images, imagination, and sacred articles that help is to sense God’s presence in a sacramental manner. In essence the cataphatic approach defines God by saying who God is, which of course is limited to the extent of our human finitude. Therefore, any further sense of God’s presence must transcend that which we generally refer to as knowable in an empirical manner. This is where the Apophatic Way comes into play.
The apophatic way is void of content; it is a silent, unknowing, way of being. This cannot be accomplished, it can only be received, thus the need for a profoundly receptive mindset, which is also a gift from God, as we live in an ever deepening relationship with, thus awareness of, God with us. In the apophatic way we move toward forgetting what may be termed the finite things we think we know and to simply rest in God’s incomprehensible presence, beyond all human knowing or description. In this, that which was seen as truth from the finite, limited, perspective is now brought to a fuller knowing. It is not wiped away as much as it is brought to a more complete truth. In a manner, the apophatic way seeks God by eliminating all that is not God. And paradoxically we discover that God simply is, pure isness, and thus we find that everything is grounded in God, the Creator, and thus everything, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, reflect and reveal the Creator. This is most profoundly known in human beings, as we are all created in the image and called to bear the likeness of God. The apophatic way is a way in which we, by God’s grace, become open, non-judgment, and in the moment, before God, as the simple light of God, who is Love, touches and embraces the light of life in humanity. This occurs in, though, and by Jesus Christ, who is the life that is the light of humanity (John 1:4). This is a light that purifies and gives sight to the blind (Luke 4:18). Now, by way of this purification, the image of God, the image of Love, who we are, is revealed. Thus, this is a profoundly non-dual way of being, where all creation, heavenly and earthly, is seen as one and we can rest, united/Oned with God, in Christ Jesus.
Centering Prayer is primarily of the apophatic kind. However, it must be grounded in the kataphatic to be the directing experience we desire. Thus, our sacred word is introduced, which ultimately gives way to the Silence of God’s gentle voice. One is not better than the other. Together, the kataphatic and apophatic complement and transcend one another, becoming more than the sum of their parts.
"Unless the via negativa works with a solid via positiva to extend its trajectory, we are left looking around aimlessly and emptily."
Huston Smith, in the forward to The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counseling, ed. By William Johnson, pub. Doubleday, 2005, p.3
The Cloud of Unknowing...
The Cloud of Unknowing is the primary writing from which Centering Prayer has been developed. To be sure, variations of Centering Prayer have been used for millennia. Earlier, much earlier, we find practices with similarities to Centering Prayer in the writings of Evagrius Ponticus, and his work on sinful thoughts, Origin and the development of the Seven Deadly sins, as well as The Jesus Prayer of the Greek Orthodox Church. For today let us take a brief look at, “The Cloud of Unknowing.”
The Cloud of Unknowing…
The Cloud of Unknowing is an important book written by an unknown 14th century mystic, which has inspired countless individuals and great religious thinkers such as Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Teilhard de Chardin. In a nutshell, The Cloud states; “that ordinary thoughts and earthly concepts must be buried beneath a “cloud of forgetting,” while our love must rise toward God hidden in the “cloud of unknowing.”
In Chapter 7 of The Cloud of Unknowing we read; “If you want to gather all your desire into one simple word that the mind can easily retain, choose a short word rather than a long one. A one-syllable word such as ‘God’ or ‘love’ is best.”2 Here the writer of The Cloud is speaking to the beginning, and lesser experienced contemplative. In these early chapters the writer of The Cloud refers to the sacred word as weaponry; armor, shield and spear. This is language that best addresses what may be called the reactive mind, or beginning receptive mind, which responds initially to the more tangible ways of the kataphatic. However, later in Chapter 32, the writer of The Cloud writes to those who have less cluttered thus less distracted minds. These individuals have matured so as to live out of a more receptive and clear mind. In this we have moved from a way of being, which is both divisive and exclusive, to one of unity and inclusion. The sacred word has done well in its work of giving us focus and the gift of deeper awareness, but now the writer of The Cloud says, “When distracting thoughts annoy you try to pretend that you do not even notice their presence or that they have come between you and your God. Look beyond them—over their shoulder, as it were—as if you were looking for something else, which of course you are.”3
May God Bless You All, Gene Yotka
1 The Awakening Institute will be holding a 3 hour seminar/worship on the Practice of Centering Prayer on February 14th, 6:00-9:00pm. Please go to our website www.theawakneinginstitute.com for details.
2 The Cloud of Unknowing, ed. by William Johnson, 48, Doubleday, 1973
3 The Cloud of Unknowing, ed. by William Johnson, 78, Doubleday, 1973
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