Lesson 17: Active desire
In the previous lesson we started giving thought to centering prayer. In this lesson we will progress and cover four guidelines to aid this method of praying.
17.1 Your active desire
The first of the four guidelines for centering prayer reads like this:
1. Choose a sacred word that symbolizes your active desire to be in God’s presence and longing for His reviving work within you.
So centering prayer is all about that active desire, emanating from within you when you pray, to be in God’s presence. There is this story in which a man tells that he always goes to a clearing in the forest to pray to God. ‘But why would you do that?’ someone asked him. “God is everywhere, right?” The man replies: but I am not always with God.”
This story tells me two things. Firstly, we cannot demand God’s presence. But you don’t have to. He is already there. God is omnipresent! In this way, you could say everyone always resides in God’s presence. But, secondly, I also know that this doesn’t just happen everywhere, to purposely be in His presence. I also need appropriate places, designated moments or dedicated exercises for that. Centering prayer is such a place, such a moment, such an exercise. Then I purposefully carry through my desire to consciously be in God’s presence. Centering prayer is the clearing in the forest of everything else also going on in my life that constantly demands attention.
So the ‘active’ component of the desire is the fact that I actually do something. Without making the assumption that this encounter would be attainable by myself, but by simply being obedient to God’s call: “Seek my nearness.” The sacred word you choose symbolizes that active desire. You are not meant to think about the word, but to always place this word at the center of your consciousness. As an anchor point, so to speak, for your desire to be in God’s presence.
17.2 Being open to renewal
Centering prayer as a clearing in the forest. It is the place where you are open to God’s renewing activity within you. God is at work in your life. There are many ways to (actively) hold back that work and shut yourself off from it. There are also many reasons why the renewing work of God does not take hold in your life. Because we are all injured people. We have built walls, we find it difficult to leave ourselves vulnerable, we carry painful memories with us and we are bound by habits in our actions and thoughts that we find difficult to break free from.
All this is part of our lives. And it seems to become louder and ever more present when we try to be quiet. Do you recognize that too? Especially in the silence, you feel the pain you normally are able to avoid by simply carrying on with your everyday life. Therefore, with this in mind, we should not be surprised if centering prayer turns out to be difficult. Being open to renewal presumes there are things in our lives that need to be renewed. Perhaps you can also describe the renewing work as the redeeming work of God in your life.
I personally like to use these three words to make that renewing salvation a bit more tangible: forgiveness, healing, and deliverance.
- We need forgiveness for our sins: forgiveness for what we have done wrong, forgiveness for where we have failed, forgiveness for the unwillingness we may experience when it comes to living from love.
- We need healing from our wounds: healing from the pain that has been inflicted on us and left deep marks on our lives and our being, healing from the painful memories stored somewhere in our soul, healing from our inability to surrender to God’s love.
- We need deliverance from our ‘bindings’, our bondages: deliverance from addictive habits created in the course of our lives by what went wrong in relationships, in our upbringing and in conflicts, deliverance from fear and undue anxiety, deliverance from our inability to surrender ourselves.
17.3 Letting go
What I’ve written so far about the renewing (forgiving, healing, and freeing) activity of God’s Spirit already testifies a little of the profound effect centering prayer can on our innermost and so in our lives. We can experience the prayer silence to be the space where God will do his healing work. In a way we can also speak of a therapeutic elaboration of this way of praying, remembering that ‘therapy’ in the Bible is the Greek word for ‘healing.’ In centering prayer, we meet our God as our Healer who lovingly and patiently allows His grace to work within us. I usually associate therapy with having conversations (although I know there are many other forms of therapy). What is actually unique about centering prayer is that the ‘work’ does not happen in words we say and sentences we speak but in the silence. In centering prayer, we learn in the silence (and it can take quite a lot of time to actually experience this) to let go of all our thoughts, all our pain that emerges again, all our sad memories by always going back to our sacred word. Centering prayer is an exercise in letting go and letting God do His work in the hidden.
1. What touches you most in the above text about the first guideline of the centering prayer?
2. How do the themes of forgiveness, healing and deliverance relate to your life right now?
Now choose an exercise (lectio divina, the Jesus prayer, or centering prayer) that appeals to you right now. If you choose centering prayer, have you yet found or discovered the sacred word that best expresses your active desire to be in God’s presence?
Choose how much time you want to spend on your exercise using the timer.
Choose your ’timer’:
For a (new) text for a lectio divina exercise, you can use one from the selection added.
To get into the silence, you can first listen to Dona Nobis Pacem.
A statement by Kees Waaijman, professor of spirituality:
It is impossible to say what praying is exactly, but it is very definite. Prayer is: becoming more receptive to anything that presents itself in our environment. Nothing but listening. To not isolate yourself from what this moment demands from you. Praying is to receive everything.