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contemplative prayer

Contemplative prayer or centering prayer is unique to other forms of prayer because it is generally wordless. It is more a posture than a conversation. It is an experience of beholding God in silence as one might behold a gorgeous sunset. It is about letting go of our mental grasping of God and simply releasing into the mystery who is God.


Contemplative or centering prayer practitioners, like Martin Laird, Thomas Keating, and Cynthia Bourgeault, as well as ancient resources like The Cloud of Unknowing by an anonymous 14th Century author, do suggest at the beginning of the practice to engage the words of a breath prayer to keep one’s mind still, connected to the breath, and open to God. A breath prayer is comprised of a single word or two on the inhale and a single word or two on the exhale; like Jesus Christ (inhale), have mercy (exhale). Part of the centering prayer practice is discovering the breath prayer that is most intrinsic in you for God.


To begin this practice, it is valuable to set a realistic time as a goal. Five or ten minutes may be perfect for you. Often the suggested time is 20 minutes twice daily, though that is something to work up to! If it helps, set a timer on your phone or a nearby clock so that you don’t have to worry about when to end. Begin with several deep, cleansing breaths, making sure you are sitting up straight and tall, chest lifted. (Prayer cushions/stools are readily available on-line, if you are interested.)

Now begin to experiment with your breath prayer, trying out different names of God on the inhale and a simple desire or request on the exhale. Stay “pinned” to the words as you stay “pinned” to your breath. Let a natural cycle develop with your breath prayer as you open yourself to God who is Love. Important to note: When you get distracted, which you will, and a random thought steals your attention, don’t panic and don’t beat yourself up. Simply witness the thought and then let it go. Or as Keating suggests, imagine taking a broom and gently whisking it away. Remain in this prayer posture, allowing the mind to rest on the placid waters of God’s presence and genuine love for you. When the timer notifies you of the end of your prayer, ease out slowly and gently, and thank God.

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