In our last post, we talked about the form of mindfulness prayer known as Centering Prayer and we went through the step-by-step process of this type of prayer. However, a lot of people find it hard to achieve Centering Prayer right off the bat.
For those unfamiliar with this type of silent prayers, we recommend a gradual approach toward 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 each day.
Step 1: Walking Contemplation: The Labyrinth
Labyrinths are a form of walking mindfulness. These designs appeared in churches around 1200 CE. The labyrinth itself is less important than 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 neighborhood or a busy park won’t do. Many church yards have labyrinths these days. It’s worth searching around your 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, saying only that you welcome the presence of the Lord into your heart. As you begin to walk, place your attention on the soles of your feet or the sensation of breathing in your chest. Let your thoughts and emotions go. Don’t put anymore energy into them. As new thoughts come up, turn your attention away from the thought and return it to your feet or breathing. When you get the center, you may pray again, for nothing more than 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 walk, including just pacing back and forth in a room. 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 developed by Gregory of Nyssa in the 4th century CE. This prayer can be done in groups or alone. It’s a good practice for someone who is not used 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
Audio Divinia is a less common form of “sacred listening,” but it can be a step toward 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, images, and emotions that arise in the mind. The point here is to begin to let go of worded 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 feelings, 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 you pray. Just let them go. Also, add a fifth step: just listen to the music one more time, and as images, thoughts, and feelings arise, just let them go, and turn your attention back to the music in the same way you would turn back to your sacred word in Centering Prayer. After the music is complete (don’t put it on a loop), just sit in total silence for a five minutes.
“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 13 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, 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 repetitions. Eventually you will come to rest at a mental posture that is the same as Centering Prayer.
At this point, you should be ready for Centering Prayer.
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