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Monday, April 12, 2010

What we see

Jesus said to Thomas, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

There is more to life, and to our spiritual lives, than those things that can be seen.

At the end of February we had a day-long workshop at Trinity about the practice of Centering Prayer. Centering Prayer is a way of cultivating a relationship with God, taught and encouraged by an organization called “Contemplative Outreach”. In one of their pamphlets, Centering Prayer is described as a “method of prayer which prepares us to receive the gift of God’s presence, traditionally called contemplative prayer.”

So what is Contemplative Prayer? In the same pamphlet, contemplative prayer is described as “a process of interior transformation, a conversation initiated by God and leading, if we consent, to Divine union. One’s way of seeing reality changes in this process. A restructuring of consciousness takes place which empowers one to perceive, relate and respond with increasing sensitivity to the Divine presence in, through, and beyond everything that exists.”

In a book called “Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening”, author Cynthia Bourgeault, who is an Episcopal priest, retreat leader, and spiritual teacher, writes about two “ways” of praying that have been recognized in Christian spirituality over the centuries.

Cataphatic prayer engages our “reason, memory, imagination, feelings, and will... the normal human operating systems that connect us to the outer world and to our own interior life.” Most of what happens in a church service appeals to one or more of our “faculties”, and give us content to focus upon.

Apophatic prayer does not appeal to our faculties of reason, memory, imagination, feelings or will. It tries to bypass our normal ways of relating to the world, to create space for our under-used, and often ignored other faculties, what Bourgeault calls our “spiritual senses”, or “spiritual awareness”.

Bourgeault quotes a Trappist monk named Father Tom Francis, who is also a teacher of Centering Prayer:

“....the person goes to their center, their spirit, their true and deep Self, their personhood, where they are made in the image of God, spirit to Spirit, in a wordless union, communion, the lover with the Beloved... the state of being in direct contact with the God who dwells within...”

I spent this past Saturday with a group of Centering Prayer teachers and group facilitators. These folks were not monks or hermits or wild-eyed mystics. They are ordinary people who have answered a longing in their own hearts, to spend time each day in silent prayer, opening themselves to the possibility of the presence of God.