This is the introduction to a series on deepening the devotional life and the practice of centering prayer. Centering prayer is Christian meditation or “silent waiting” as the Bible calls it and as the earliest Christian’s interpreted Jesus teaching on prayer in Matthew 6:6.
The centering prayer practice is a distinctly Christian approach to meditation and is based on the fundamental premise of grace – of God’s lavish and undeserved kindness towards mankind. Grace is a higher awareness of the divine nature than karma, it’s a closer step into the heart of God. Karma underlies basic human motivation and is the premise that you get what you deserve; you get returns only from what you invest. Karma also underlies physics as is in Newton’s third law, “for each action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. But the divine nature transcends physical laws and basic human motivation just like the rising sun transcends a dark night. The divine sunlight of grace and love gives us what we don’t and cannot deserve: access into the radiant warmth of the Father’s presence. And it doesn’t rely on an “equal contribution” from us beforehand or afterwards.
One of the modern day prophets of our time, the singer Bono from U2, describes the difference between grace and karma quite beautifully:
It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma…
You see, at the centre of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics – in physical laws – every action is met by an equal or opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it.
And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “As you reap, so will you sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.
That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s**t. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled…. its not our own good works that get through the gates of heaven…
The Bible says in James 4:8, ‘Draw near to God and He will draw near to you’. At first glance this seems to imply that we and God make equal distant movements towards each other like one step each. But we know in fact that God has already crossed an infinite distance to reach us through Christ’s life and redemption before we had taken even the first step. “When we were still sinners Christ died for us” is how Romans 5 neatly puts it. The steps God takes and the steps we take in “drawing near” are very different. They are not expected to be equal. Our work in drawing near is basically to consent. God’s response is to give all of Himself to us as He already has done in Christ.
This series looks at better understanding the “steps” that we and God both take towards each other in order for us to experience the divine presence, the beauty of union with Christ, the warmth of friendship with God and the transforming effect of His power in our hearts. I call these steps the “forces of the devotional life”, a kind of a push and pull between us and God like Jacob wrestling with the angel through the night.
The devotional life is the connection we have with God, and the “forces” we exert towards God are gentle and restful. In the same way centering prayer, like the whole devotional life, is a gentle action of consent, of surrender, of quiet waiting, of release and receptivity.
The problem is that karma is deeply embedded in our fallen human nature, in our ego. We have a strong desire to earn things and thereby to be in control of our destination in life. A journey into the heart of God is in the opposite direction; it requires dying to the ego and the desire to control, and allowing God’s love and kindness to control the direction we travel with Him.
This series is important even for beginners in centering prayer and meditation because it examines some of the very rich layers of truth in Christianity that describe the devotional life and the experience of God’s presence, and it help to anchor the daily practice of meditation by understanding the Biblical foundations on which is exists.
So what does the Bible teach as the correct ways for us to “draw near” in the devotional life? What are the forces we exert towards God? What are the spiritual postures we adopt towards Him in centering prayer? Some of them that we will examine are:
- Receiving grace
- Glancing with faith
And what are God’s moves in drawing near towards us?
- To love us – to give Himself for us
- To pour out grace on us
- To give us His presence, the cherished Holy Spirit
- To transform our inner world
- To work in our external world
- Supernatural healing, divine wisdom, insights – there’s no limit to the gifts of the Holy Spirit but these are all just by-products of God’s own presence
These are the topics we’re talking about in the weeks to come. For centering prayer they help us get into the right posture, to rely on grace not karma. They expand what we mean by the prayer of our sacred word, and they increase our expectation of knowing what God will do in response during our meditation time.
Watch the discussion session after a group session of centering prayer.
This is the introduction to a series of sessions aimed at deepening the experience of centering prayer, Christian meditation or “silent waiting on God” as the Bible terms it. To learn the foundations of centering prayer, watch, listen to or read our 8 session introductory course.