Centering Prayer and the Importance of Silence in our Lives (part two)

Centering Prayer and the Importance of Silence in our Lives (Part Two)

I first encountered the idea of Centering Prayer when I went to the Cistercian monastery, Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia, nestled against the Shenandoah River and the West side of the first mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway to make a retreat with the Abbot—Cistercian Father Dom Edward McCorkell, in 1983.

I was living in Washington, D.C. at the time. Many of you, my readers, have heard me speak of Father Edward and Holy Cross Abbey before in this blog, but in this in another blog to follow I want to share with you how Centering Prayer can enrich your life, and help to “center” you in God’s presence.  Centering Prayer has been at the root of my contemplative life.

When I went to see Father Edward the first time I didn’t know what he was talking about! And it took me quite a while to learn because (as many of you know—and to the consternation of some) I have had issues with bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder, and in those days I couldn’t sit still, so sitting for twenty minutes of silent prayer twice a day was quite a challenge indeed! But eventually I got the hang of it, learned to love it, and eventually I began to notice it working changes in my life.

Cistercian Father Thomas Keating, whom I quoted in my last blog, created an international organization to sustain the work of Centering Prayer called Contemplative They send out little cards the size of a credit card that offer the Rules for Centering Prayer.

The one in my hand says on one side: “Allowing, Accepting Unconditional Love.” And on the other has four simple rules:

Centering Prayer

  1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.

  2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and introduce the sacred word.

  3. When engaged with thoughts, return ever so gently to the sacred word.

  4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

It’s so simple; and like all things new such as dieting or starting an exercise program, the important part is one’s motivation; I have to ask do I want to do it? And do I have a sense of what I’m headed for?

Virtually every spiritual tradition has a sense of transformation or awakening and demands intentional silence as essential. Be it meditation of the Buddhist, the Sufis, mystical Judaism, or the contemplative prayer of Christians, there’s a common affirmation that the practice of regular silence is necessary.

But what is this “Transformation” or “Awakening”? Some New Age stuff? Hardly. Let the Gospels speak!

“You must be born again from above.” (John 3:)

“ Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ear dies, it remains just a single grain but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

“For whosoever wants to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for me will find it,”  (Matthew: 24-25)

Christianity is surely most interested in the total transformation of the human person.

The Method of Centering Prayer

Father Keating has developed a kind of cult around him with lots of humorous stories. He is said to have described the process of Centering Prayer as “taking a vacation from yourself.” All meditative practices actually intend to do that.

There are basically three kinds of practices: concentrative methods, awareness methods and surrender methods. Centering Prayer belongs to the last (and least common) category.

Concentrative methods, which are probably the most common, rely on attention in which the mind is given a simple task to focus on, mostly commonly a mantra, a sacred word repeated over and over.

Awareness methods are favored in Buddhist practice in which one aligns oneself with an inner observer and watches the play of energy as thoughts and emotions take form.

A surrender method is simpler. When a thought emerges into consciousness or takes form, one simply lets it go. Thomas Keating likes to denote this as a prayer “not of attention, not of intention.

So, our intention is to be totally open to God. Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest whose book Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, has assisted me in deepening my grasp of nuances of Centering Prayer says.

“Totally available, all the way down to the innermost point of your being, deeper than your feelings, deeper than your memories and your desires, deeper than your usual psychological self—even deeper than your presence! For even what will go on in this prayer is ‘in secret’ (the word in Matthew 6:6 that Jesus uses in his instructions on prayer: deeper than even your conscious mind and even your most bedrock sense of “I am here.” Hidden even from yourself, in that innermost sanctuary of your being—where, in the words of that most beloved monastic formula, your life is “hidden with Christ in God.”                         p.22. 

In our intention it’s not possible to make ourselves empty or still. As soon as we focus on doing so, we’ll get a stream of thoughts about what to fix for dinner or what I forgot to put on our grocery list or what I was so mad about my husband or . . . All this is perfectly normal. All you have to do in Centering Prayer is: If you catch yourself thinking, you let the thought go.

Bourgeault: “If you find yourself tangled up in with a thought—no matter what kind of thought—you simply, gently let the thought go. You release it, thus bringing yourself back into alignment with your original intention, which was to maintain that bare, formless openness to God.”

Father Keating has a story about a nun who was frustrated on her first twenty-minute taste of Centering Prayer, lamenting, “Oh, Father Thomas, I’m such a failure at this prayer, In twenty minutes, I’ve had ten thousand thoughts.

“How, lovely, the Abbot responded, without missing a beat, ten thousand opportunities to return to God!”

Cynthia suggests that this simple story captures the essence of Centering Prayer in that it focuses on our intention to return to be open to God.

Years ago, I would rise early in the morning and have very fruitful sessions of prayer and then I fell out of practice for a number of years. I just returned to practice after a weekend retreat with Father Bill Sheehan, OMI (I’ll introduce you to him in my next and final blog on this subject.) And at present, the thoughts just keep coming, so I just have to stay with the sacred word. But Cynthia suggests, “even in those turbulent periods of prayer, when it seems like one thought after another, there are in fact tiny microscopic pauses when the thought drops out and the sacred word also drops out. These moments don’t last long, typically, but no one ever said that the Divine needed a lot of time to touch our innermost being.” Her words have been a consolation to me in my present somewhat meager practice.

She also consoles, “Whatever your mind serves you up is just fine.” And Father Keating has said the only thing you can do wrong is to get up and walk out.  Father Keating emphasizes, even if you feel your efforts are unsuccessful, realize what it means to “consent to the presence and action of God within us” in whatever form it comes. The power of the prayer is in the consent.

The Sacred Word.

It’s a word you choose yourself. It could be a religious word, such as Jesus / Father, Abba / Kyrie / Come, Lord. Or it could be a word that describes a spiritual attitude, such as, open / still / be here / listen / let go.

Ms. Bourgeault, indicates that it’s easiest to describe what the sacred word is not.

First, it’s not a mantra; you don’t repeat it constantly. You only use it when you notice a thought arising.

Second, a sacred word is not a “special” word. It doesn’t sum up the height and depth of your love for God. It’s just a “place-holder, the finger-pointing to the moon of your intention.” It should be as simple and as emotionally neutral as possible.

Third, the sacred word is not a thought-suppressing word, or “a baseball bat to put down thoughts or replace them with itself.”

Time is what makes gradually makes the sacred word sacred. Over time, it will lodge itself in your unconscious and then start to work its magic.

It’ll pop up spontaneously when you start thinking. And after a while, you’ll notice it emerging in the middle of your life in stressful situations—in a traffic jam, or otherwise ungrounded in an argument at home. Therefore, think about your sacred as a long-time commitment; it will surprise you how helpful it will be for you.

And now my prayer for you . . . .

Dear God, After all these years

I finally realize how deeply you love me.

And I want so much for others to know

how much you love them too. 

Help them to come to you in the silence of their hearts.

To know how deeply they also are loved. 

And now, before you go, here’s a great song for you on this theme. Click here. 

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer


Centering Prayer and the Importance of Silence in our Lives

Centering Prayer and the Importance of Silence in our Lives

Most of us learned that Prayer is talking to God. Right? And so we babble on in our prayers and list all our needs, or say a rosary, or read Scripture—all certainly worthy methods of prayer, of course.

But how many of us really learned to listen to God in our prayer? That requires silence. And many of us are afraid of silence because we may not like what’s running around in our head.

However, true silence can be acquired. “Silence is God’s first language,” according the sixteenth century mystic Saint John of the Cross. When one enters into silence, that person, sooner or later comes into—and experiences the loving presence of God. To help facilitate the process and habit of entering into this kind of silence is what Centering Prayer is all about

If you permit me a little fun with you, perhaps you’ve noticed that I sign off on my writings by saying “contemplative writer.” When you say that word, by the way, it’s contemplative, not con-tem-play-tive. (Pronouncing it correctly will place you in the company of those who—ahem­—know something about this stuff!

So, first, what is Contemplation?

We’ll let Cistercian monk Thomas Merton who was a monk of the Abbey of the Gethesemani in Bardstown, Kentucky tantalize you with his description of what contemplation is . . .

Contemplation is the highest expression of our intellectual and spiritual life. It

is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual

wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for

life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being

in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant source.

Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that source. It knows that

source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes both beyond reason

and beyond simple faith. For contemplation is a kind of spiritual vision to which both

reason and faith aspire, by their very nature, because without it they must always

remain incomplete. Yet contemplation is not vision, because it sees ‘without seeing’

and knows ‘without knowing’. It is more profound depth of faith, knowledge too

deep to be grasped in images, in words or even in clear concepts. It can be

suggested by works, by symbols, but in the very moment of trying to indicate what it

know the contemplative mind takes back what it has said and denies what is has

affirmed. For in contemplation we know by ‘unknowing’. Or, better, we know

beyond all-knowing or ‘unknowing’.


Poetry, music and art have something in common with the contemplative

experience. But contemplation is beyond aesthetic intuition, beyond art, beyond

poetry. Indeed, it is also beyond philosophy, beyond speculative theology It

resumes, transcends and fulfils them all, and yet at the same time it seems, in a

certain way, top supersede and to deny them all. Contemplation is always beyond

our own knowledge, beyond our own light, beyond dialogue, beyond our own self.


In other words, then, contemplation reaches out to the knowledge and even

to the experience of the transcendent and inexpressible God. It knows God by

seeming to touch him. Or rather it knows him as if it had been invisibly touched by

him….Touched by him who has no hands, but who is pure reality and the source of

all that is real! Hence contemplation is a sudden gift of awareness, an awakening to

the real within all that is real. A vivid awareness of infinite being at the roots of our

own limited being. An awareness of our contingent reality as received, as a present

from God, as a free gift of love. This is the existential contact of which we speak

when we use the metaphor of being ‘touched by God.’

             (From New Seeds of Contemplation / Burnes & Oates / 1999)

Well, Centering Prayer is not Contemplation itself, but is leading toward it. Contemplation—entering the presence of the holy—is what Centering prayer is designed to assist us with.

The rules for Centering prayer fit on a card the size of your credit card. They’re sent out by an organization called Contemplative, founded by another Cistercian Abbot Father Thomas Keating—who is really the founder of the Centering Prayer movement and long-time Abbot at Snowmass Abbey in Colorado. (We’ll get to those rules in our next blog.)

But first, in a brief article he gives a short Theological background for Centering Prayer.

The grace of Pentecost affirms that the risen Jesus is among us as the glorified Christ. Christ. Christ lives in each of us as the Enlightened One, present everywhere and at all times. He is the living Master who continuously sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and to bear witness to his resurrection by empowering us to experience and manifest the fruits of the Spirit and the Beatitudes both in prayer and in action.

Lectio Divina (Reflective reading of Sacred Scripture) is the most traditional way of cultivating friendship with Christ. It is a way of listening to the texts of scripture as if in conversation with Christ and he were suggesting topics of conversation. The daily encounter with Christ and reflection on his word leads beyond mere acquaintanceship to an attitude of friendship, trust and love. Conversation simplifies and gives way to communing, or as (Pope St.) Gregory the Great of the 6th century, summarizing the Christian contemplative tradition, put it, “resting in God.” This was the classical meaning of contemplative prayer for the first sixteen centuries.

Contemplative Prayer is the normal development of the grace of baptism and the regular practice of Lectio Divina. We may think of prayer as thought or feelings expressed in words. But this is only one expression. Contemplative Prayer is a process of interior purification leading, if we consent, to divine union. The Method of Centering Prayer is a method designed to facilitate the development of contemplative prayer by preparing our faculties to cooperate with this gift. It is an attempt to present the teaching of an earlier time (e.g., The Cloud of Unknowing) in an updated form and to put a certain order and regularity into it. It is not meant to replace other kinds of prayer; it simply puts other kinds of prayer into a fuller perspective. During the time of prayer we consent to God’s presence and action within. At other times our attention moves outward to discover God’s presence everywhere.

In saying that contemplative prayer is the normal development of the grace of baptism, Father Keating is negating those who say that contemplation only belongs to those in the Contemplative Orders like the Cistercians or the Carmelites. His Contemplative Outreach movement that has crossed the globe and many religious traditions is quite revolutionary stuff!

In our next blog, we’ll look at how the process of a Centering Prayer session fits together. How ‘bout dat?

Now, before you go, here’s a contemplative hymn for you, Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. Click Here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman,

Contemplative Writer


Happy Valentine’s Day! True love is faithful love ~ How do you measure up?

Flagler Beach Florida sunrise / bob traupman.


We’ve been reflecting on St. Paul’s eloquent words about love from I Cor. 13. And this is my final post on the subject.

Love is not pompous, it is not inflated,it does not seek its own interests,                                                                        it is not quick-tempered,                                                                                                                                                                   it does not brood over injury,                                                                                                                                                           it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

Romantic love wears off in a few months.  True love requires fidelity.  I often remember people I met briefly twenty or thirty years ago and there is still a place in my heart for them, even those who turned out to reject me.  And when I think of them I believe my prayer is able to touch them now, either living or dead and let them know I still love them.

We think we know all about love. Yet Love is  an Art and a Discipline that is only learned and acquired by trial and error.  Thus, we have to learn how to love.  Or perhaps unlearn what we have learned in abusive homes  or families and find people who can teach us well.  I am profoundly grateful for the people who allowed my soul to unfold and blossom because of their love.

When I taught high school seniors (49 years ago!) I had them read two books,  Erich Fromm’s Art of Loving and Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Both books still should be required reading by anyone who wants to become a whole and healed human person.

Many of us keep focusing on finding the right object of our love.  Fromm — and Jesus — tell us that being a person who is capable of loving the stranger in the checkout line at the 7-11 or your sibling whose guts you can’t stand is the way we will learn to love.

Love is being free to love the one you’re with so you can be with the one you love.

It is just not possible to love some and hate others.  St. John says, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” (1 John 3:15)

Love is being able to see and respond to the loving energy of the universe and spread it around instead of trying to possess it for oneself.

Love is faithfully loving whomever God puts in our life at every turn of our life’s journey. A hard task sometimes. I know.

How often we fail.  But that’s what growth in love and Christian spirituality is all about. Sometimes it requires a heroic effort and sacrificial love ~ the love of Jesus, the Love of God for us.  And so here’s my final prayer for this Valentine’s Day . . . .

Good and gracious God,

We live in a world that gives us so few models of faithful love.

Help us to learn the art and discipline of loving.

Help us to understand that we cannot love one person ~ even ourselves ~ unless we let love ~ rather than hate ~ flow from our heart to touch and heal and nourish those around us.

Heal us, Lord.

Let us trust in You for you are the Source of all Love,

Your Love is flowing like a river giving life to everything along the way.

a river from our own hearts to everyone we meet this day. 

I also ask your blessing on all married couples and those engaged to be married.

It’s not easy to be faithful in this world today.

Pour out your abundant blessing upon them in all their struggles.

Renew their love and their joy this day and all the days of their lives.


And now before you go, wouldn’t you like to hear a romantic melody for your beloved?  Well, here’s a very unique one: Cold Play’s True Love  Click here. 

With love

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

And here is the entire text of St. Paul’s Ode to Love (I Cor. 13)  Savor each line and see how you measure up. . . .

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;

if I have all faith so as to move mountains

but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast

but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous,

Love is not pompous, it is not inflated,

it is not rude,

it does not seek its own interests,

it is not quick-tempered,

it does not brood over injury,

it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

It bears all things,

believes all things,

hopes all things,

endures all things.

Love never fails.

So faith, hope, love remain, these three;

but the greatest of these is love.

     I Corinthians 13

St. Paul’s Ode to Love ~ How do we measure up?


Many of us are thinking of our Valentine’s these days — our lovers,  intend-eds, spouses, classmates, mothers and also spouses remembering their deceased loved ones.

Hallmark would encourage us to “send the very best.”   And marketeers would like to get their greedy fingers on our credit cards for this one-day holiday, wouldn’t they?

So let’s go a little deeper here. What is true love, really?

I’ve officiated at the marriages of many young couples who have chosen St. Paul’s Ode to Love for their wedding Mass.

It has got to be one of the most glorious pieces of prose of all time.

Take the time to take it in and see how you measure up.

. . . . If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love,                  

I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;

if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient,

love is kind.

It is not jealous,

Love is not pompous,

it is not inflated,

it is not rude,

it does not seek its own interests,

it is not quick-tempered,

it does not brood over injury,

it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

It bears all things,

believes all things,

hopes all things,

endures all things.

Love never fails.

So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is Love.

~ I Corinthians 13 

Dearest God,

You are Love itself.

We give you thanks for the people in our lives who have loved-us-into-the-Persons-we-have-become.

We rejoice in them and remember them in love.

But so many of us are wounded because we’ve not experienced the parental love that would allow us to know how to love.

Help us take your apostle Paul’s words to heart that we may truly know the true meaning of love.

May we have a heart open to all persons, all of life, all of the universe.

To You Lord, be glory and praise, now and forever.


Before  you go, take a moment to listen to Bette Midler’s “The Rose” Click here. It’s a song  I’ve always favored ~ one of my generation. I think it sets the tone for what I want to say here.   Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen and have a great day!  It’s a song I’ve always attributed to Our Lady.

 I’ll be publishing two more Valentine’s blogs trying to unpack the meaning of St. Paul’s Ode to Love before Valentine’s Day.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer