If you’ve had a deep religious background and you are desiring and open to the presence of Christ, you will experience God in centering prayer in new ways and old. My background is protestant evangelical-pentecostal and charismatic for almost four decades. I grew up in a Christian home and first experienced the presence of God when I was about 7 years old. For me centering prayer caused the pieces suddenly to fit into place that had previously been a puzzle. Faith became much more real and made sense because this prayer practice put an almost natural trust in God’s love inside of me and made Christ’s presence a constant reality. Hundreds of scriptures came alive with fresh meaning. My walk with God became a lot more simple and a lot more real.
I began to see a new angle to everything I had been taught as a Christian, not a contradictory angle but a fresh angle – like looking at something in its reality where I had previously been looking at a shadow.
It is possible that you will be at a disadvantage if you’ve spent many years in religion, because there are many things that you may have learnt that are outside of the realm of Christ’s words and the essence of the Bible. These could actually hinder you from a deeper experience of God.
What are some of these obstacles?
- Relying too much on a conceptual understanding of God – i.e. limiting God to your thoughts rather than knowing him in your heart.
- Thinking that all the answers about God can neatly be known and understood if you’re a well studied Christian rather than grasping that most of the reality of God is a mystery that cannot be understood but only experienced. “Knowing” in spiritual (and biblical) terms is experiencing not understanding.
- Anthropomorphism which means treating God too much like a human person. God the Creator must at least be as big as creation itself – a lot more significant than any person you know. God has personality – actually three, the members of the trinity – but He or She is way too big to be reduced to an understanding of being like any human relationship that you have had. Yes He’s a Father, but He’s also the energy force in every atom, the eternal Reality outside of time, omnipresent, unknowable, indescribable, unfathomable and awesome. I deliberately use the pronouns “He” and “She” here because it gets some religious people nervous, and touches on the truth that God is way too big to equate to one or other human gender.
- Another obstacle is that a lot of self-effort is taught or assumed to be needed in religion. With this mindset its almost like you’re “making God happen” for yourself with your thoughts, your studies, your worship and your activities. The reality is that God comes to us, we don’t come to God. And the more we try to control the situation the less real it is. The more receptive we are, the more God actually does.
Centering prayer is an entirely receptive practice. That’s point number one in understanding what it is. It’s simple. You are say a prayer inviting God to be present with you and to work in you, and then you wait trusting He will do that. Your prayer is one word with a simple meaning – you’re surrendering to God’s presence and action within you. That simplicity is disturbing if you’ve been taught by religion over decades many many things that you need to do or to know to be close to God.
Probably the biggest obstacle to those with a religious background is something called the “Western Model of Christianity” which actually doesn’t have anything at all to do with Christ and God. This Western Model first came into the church around the year 800 AD in the Holy Roman Empire with King Charlemange during what is known as the Dark Ages and when the “barbarian invasions” (my own forefathers the Goths – so I don’t like to call them barbarians) were hammering Europe. This heresy – though it still deeply resides in religious thinking today – taught that mankind is inherently evil, that the world is doomed, that the best that can be done is to focus on the afterlife, that the role of the church and authorities is to control people and keep them from sin, and that kings and their rulers are specially appointed by God for this task subject to blessing of the papal authorities.
The Western Model taught three very damaging things that destroyed the essence of the Christian experience and still continues to damaging true Christian experience today:
- That God is “out there”, distant and hard to access.
- That good works are primarily produced by human effort.
- That the only reward we seek is in the afterlife.
Christ’s teaching was 180 degrees different. He taught that God’s presence is inside of men and women on day 1 as they take their place as sons and daughters of God. Acts chapter 2 says that the precious presence of God was “poured out on all mankind” because of Christ’s work to open heaven to man. God’s presence, the Holy Spirit, works inside of willing people to transform them, place love inside of them and make them good from the inside out. And eternity begins in this life as we experience God.
These core truths could be termed the “Scriptural Model of Christianity” and have a major impact on whether or not we actually experience God’s presence in a transformative way in this life.
I mention these things not to get philosophical but because they are the core doctrines not only of the Christian faith, but the underpinning concepts of centering prayer. If there’s one theological truth, one pillar, one teaching that centering prayer relies upon, it’s the teaching of the indwelling presence of the Trinity – God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
You start the centering prayer practice knowing, that because Christ came and sacrificed himself, the presence of God is already inside of you and your practice is a journey to discover and be aware of this great gift that you already possess. After his resurrection Christ’s first act was to breathe on His disciples and say, “receive the Holy Spirit” (John 22). The image here is that the Holy Spirit dwells inside of us like breath, the basic human life-force. God is as close as the air we breathe. As oxygen flows through our blood, God’s presence flows through our spiritual veins. The goal of true religion and the purpose of centering prayer, is to dispel the monumental illusion that God is absent. The centering prayer practice is aimed at becoming more and more aware of God’s abiding presence within us. Unlike many religious practices inspired by the Western Model, we are not trying to attract God’s presence from outside of us.
And how is God with us? As an impersonal force? As an angry dictator? As a policeman? As a judge? What is it that Christ breathed into his disciples after his resurrection? Jesus in his lifetime had shown them a different God from anything they had previously been taught by their Old Testament religion: one who is Abba, a caring father, and now for the first time in John 22 after his victorious sacrifice, said to them that God would be their Father too. It’s that kindness and love that is the presence that dwells inside of us right now. God’s presence is us is the divine DNA that is implanted within, and the purpose of true religion is to become like God, children growing up in the house of the loving Father.
Everything about centering prayer is accepting and agreeing that God’s Spirit dwells inside of you. If God is out there, you better do lots of high effort religious activity to try to attract Him (and it won’t work). But if He’s inside of you then all you have to do is to become aware of it. The former is what Jesus termed “dead works” while the latter is “faith.”
This is simple but it’s radical. Why this is radical is because you’re moving from one part of your being that has dominated you all of your life, to another part of your being that is the center of who you are. You’re moving from your mind to your spirit which is your consciousness, your awareness. But you’ve relied on your mind all your life so this is like learning to swim when all you’ve ever done is walk.
So in centering prayer we “wait” rather than “think”. We access the realm of our spiritual nature which is our consciousness or awareness. That is the part of our inmost being that is who we really are. We are not our thoughts. We spend 20 minutes aware and conscious with a desire to experience the presence of Christ that is intricately woven into our awareness and consciousness by the Holy Spirit. We do that by praying our “sacred word” whenever we are distracted by thoughts as a short one word symbol for a prayer that says, “Christ I consent to your presence and your action within me.”
And then we wait in loving attention on God who responds energetically to our invitation. Your mind won’t grasp what is going on but your spiritual nature is alive and walking through a heavenly garden with God Himself.
- Centering prayer is an act of receiving – you pray a prayer and you keep your intention to consent to God’s presence and action, and then you let Him work.
- Centering prayer relies on the theology of the indwelling Presence of God. Trust and accept that Christ already dwells inside of you.
- Realize that there is a different part of you, your spirit, that is at the centre in centering prayer and that’s why you can’t track and understand what is going on with your mind.