Over the last few months, I've been picking up a certain book from time to time. It's not the kind of book one can gobble up like a mystery or a Harry Potter book. It's one of those books that require TIME. Time to sink in. Time to chew on. Time to belong to one's heart and practice.
Fern, my chiropractor's wife, sent me this innocent little powder-blue number. Along with other review copies of the latest Christian publications, it arrived at the radio station where she works, and after Fern attended the retreat I spoke at last spring, she thought it may be something of interest to me. And is it ever!
One thing I've really been wanting to learn to practice is the concept of Centering Prayer. And this book, Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird, teaches exactly that skill. But what IS Centering Prayer?
Centering Prayer is a silent prayer time, a time to listen to God. But to keep our minds in "listening mode" and off the grocery list and other distractions, one is to concentrate on a "centering" word or phrase (usually Scripture) and to repeat that word or phrase to oneself synchronized with our breathing. The most advised prayer to "center" on throughout the ages has been the "Jesus Prayer." Of Russian Orthodox origin, the "Jesus Prayer," in its longest version, is: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner." But this rather cumbersome phrase can be shortened in several ways: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me," or "Christ have mercy" or simply "Jesus." The point isn't which version is used; the point is to use this word to re-center our thoughts on God when we find ourselves distracted by our own wandering minds. During my college years, I first ran across the idea of the "Jesus Prayer" in J.D. Salinger's novel Franny and Zooey, a book that has always intrigued me and which Laird mentions often in his own book.
A Scripture verse can be used just as easily as the "Jesus Prayer" in Centering Prayer. Really, it doesn't matter which phrase is used as long as it brings glory to God and allows us to fend off distracting thoughts. The overall idea is to use this "skill" to open our minds to God. Of course, God will speak when He will (i.e., we can't FORCE Him to speak to us), but at least we can be ready to truly hear Him by learning to focus our minds to the point that we can hear the "still, small voice" that is His communication with us.
Laird's little book is teaching me much about Centering Prayer, a prayer practice used by Orthodox, Catholic, and even some Protestant believers. My friend Carol has used Centering Prayer at her Baptist church in the past. So it's not just for mystics; it simply puts us in a position to hear God and respond to Him. And that's exactly what I want to learn to do better as I study this little book, a gift from a dear friend.