In our last post, we talked about the form of mindfulness prayer known as contemplative prayer. We also went through the step by step process of Centering Prayer. However, a lot of people find it hard to do Centering Prayer right off the bat.
For those unfamiliar with these types of silent prayers we recommend a gradual approach towards deepening into silence. Pick and choose. Go at your own pace. But the telios (fancy Greek word for goal) is to sit in centering prayer or ceaseless prayer (see below) for 10-20 minutes after light exercise.
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Step 1: Walking Contemplation: The Labyrinth
Labyrinths are a form of walking contemplation (or what non-Christians would call walking meditation. See terms.) that appeared in Church around 1200 CE. The labyrinth itself is less important that being able to walk in a space where you do not have be aware of your surroundings, or respond to your environment. You need to be in a distraction free environment, so usually just walking around your neighborhoods or a busy park won’t do. Many church yards have Labyrinths these days. It’s worth searching around for area for a deliberate place to do this. This site can help you find one near you.
The key to this form of contemplation is to let your active thinking rest, even as your body slowly moves. Before you begin, open a prayer to God, asking only that you welcome the presence of the Lord into your heart. As you begin to walk place your attention on the souls of your feet, or the sensation of breathing in your chest. Let your thoughts and emotions go. Don’t put any more energy into them. Just let your walking or breathing let the thoughts and emotions dissolve. As new thoughts come up, turn your attention away from the thought and return it your feet or your breathing. When you get the center, you may pray again. Asking for nothing other the to invite God’s presence. Stand in stillness for a few moments, and then continue out the way you came. You can do this with any kind of there-and-back again, walk. Continue for 10 – 20 minutes. Learn more HERE.
Step 2: Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina or sacred reading in Latin, has been around since the 12th century. It is a kind of self-reflective scripture reading that leads gradually into silence. This form of prayer was based on the Jewish tradition, and was developed by Gregory of Nyssa in the 4th century CE. This can be done in groups or alone. It’s a good practice for someone who is not use to extended silence. Essentially there are four stages that gradually lead you to contemplative silence. There is a lot written on this, so we will simply refer you to this BLOG for the details.
Step 3: Audio Divina
This form of sacred listening, is less common, but it can be a step towards greater inner stillness. In this form of prayer, you actually just listen to a calm, soothing piece of music and reflect on God. In a four part process, just like Lectio Divina, you slowly become mindful of God and images and emotions that arise. The point here is to begin to let go of word prayers, and instead simply sit with the feelings and images that arise as you listen to the music. In time, you will want to let go of these images and feels, and just let them pass without pondering or savoring them. Here is a four step guide to the prayer. However, we recommend a slight modification. Do not journal or write your thoughts down after your prayer. Just let them go. Also, add a fifth step: just listen to the music one more time, as images, thoughts and feelings arise, just let them go, and turn your attention back to the music. Turn back to the music in the same way you would turn back to your sacred word in Centering Prayer.
“Pray without ceasing” 1 Thess: 5:17
Step 4: Ceaseless Prayer
This passage from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is at the root of the ancient Christian practice of ceaseless prayer. This is when a very short prayer phrase is repeated mentally to oneself over and over again. The prayer should not be longer than about thirteen syllables. Most commonly, in the Eastern Church this would be something like Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy) or the Jesus Prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me. As with Centering Prayer, as thoughts arise, return your attention to your prayer repetition. Do not ponder your thoughts, judge them (at this stage) or hold onto them, just return to your prayer. You should really only use this prayer as a way of getting to a more silent posture like Centering Prayer. We recommend, using ceaseless prayer for a few weeks, and then slowing your repetitions down until you have long silences in-between. Eventually you will come to rest at a mental posture that the same as Centering Prayer.
At this point, you should be ready for Centering Prayer.