Category Archives: Centering Prayer

Holding Common Space

Common Space Interfaith Initiative’s first interfaith gathering was held at St Scholastica Monastery in Boerne, Texas in 2008. The idea was, and remains to this day, to share contemplative practices between faith traditions, and this particular retreat was a sharing of Christian and Buddhist meditation practices. We had 24 Christians and one Buddhist show up–my co-presentor. We were no doubt asking for that by hosting it at a Christian monastery, go figure!

Times haven’t changed at all in terms of our ability to predict the balance of attendees from different faiths at particular events, although it strikes me that Christians may be the most existentially curious group and perhaps the most open to learning about other traditions. It’s extremely hard to find out what will call some people to want to share space with strangers from different paths, but for me it’s about creating peaceful understanding in a complicated world. As far my role as facilitator goes, I’ve stopped altogether trying to identify individual needs and now just see my role as “one who holds space.”

There seem to be three key ingredients to holding common space between faiths: the first, finding a neutral location; another, the need to co-opt a capable co-presentor from the other traditions; and lastly, the need to present a form of “safe” practice, not one potentially at odds with the belief systems of your colleagues in circle. 

Thankfully, Common Space here in San Antonio no longer needs to borrow space from churches and monasteries, although I was extremely grateful for the early help. The neutral ground we have found for ourselves is in a community center which houses different non-profits, a local theater, and some other small businesses. Our meeting rooms are attached to a church, so we have the benefit of access to larger space if we need it, for presentations, visiting speakers, and so on, but the automatic association is not with Christian space. We have our own entrance and there is no religious symbolism to be seen on our route in or out.

Finding the co-presentor who is considered an authority by his or her faith colleagues in circle can be a challenge, and may take some time to finesse. However, once the right person comes your way, you stand a much better chance of gaining group members from that faith. With many potential attendees, the question is one of tradition and having the authority to speak. For instance, in a Sufi environment, Muslim attendees usually want to know the lineage of the prayer leader, to be sure they are properly authorized to lead.

Once the pragmatics of the space have been negotiated, “safe” practice become the key to having people return. The space has to be a place of comfort where attendees do not feel any risk of spiritual dissonance, including the risk of participating in a manner that  goes against their belief system. Here, I’ve found the silent meditative practice of Centering Prayer particularly useful: those in circle can choose a sacred word for their practice in keeping with  their tradition and we can alternate the texts used to open and close the circle between traditions.

There is so much more to say here, but I’ll follow up on these themes in later posts. Suffice to say that it is an honor to hold space between faiths, to provide that fertile liminal ground where peaceful miracles can happen. This liminal space between, however, is a fragile, delicate thing that needs to be nurtured like a wild rose: the petals can fall very fast without proper care.


The Silence of Angels and Men

Or, Reasons I Do Centering Prayer

 “You will feed with pleasure upon everything that is His.  So that the world shall be a grand Jewel of Delight unto you: a very Paradise and the Gate of Heaven.  It is indeed the beautiful frontispiece of Eternity: the Temple of God, and Palace of His children. The Laws of God…command you to love all that is good, and when you see it well, you enjoy what you love … They command you to love all Angels and Men.  They command all Angels and Men to love you” (Thomas Traherne, Centuries).

            Centering Prayer is a form of silent contemplative prayer that allows us to rest in the silence at our center where God resides.  We use a “sacred word” of our choice – something like “God,” “Jesus,” “Trust,” “Peace,” “Yes”; mine is “Agape,” Greek for “divine love” – to bring the mind back to silence when questioning, busy minds start to make noise. The sacred word symbolizes your consent to God’s grace and action in your life as you seek the place of safety and silent intimacy with Him that is at the center of every one of us.

Silence at the Center

             As Christians, we believe that the piece of God, the part of the Trinity that lives and acts in every single one of our souls, is the Holy Spirit.  Our souls are the part of us that are most like God, and it’s our souls that with continual measures of faith, hope, and charity in our mundane lives will gradually become more and more Christ-like.  Indeed, the attempt to become like Christ is at the heart of all serious Christian endeavor: who hasn’t at some time wished they had just one tiny piece of Jesus’ compassion, patience, or resilience?   Galatians 2:20 suggests our potential for identification with Christ:  “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”  In 1 John 3:2:  “Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is,” we see again our capacity to be Christ-like.  Doctrinal teaching and the examples of great Christians before us tell us that acts of piety – prayer, fasting, study, action – help refine us and encourage this process of transformation.

             While I fully appreciate and practice transformation through the spiritual disciplines (and, thus, my own action) – and while it speaks to my head – my heart still craves direct, passive experience of God’s own action in my life.  I can say with certainty that seeking God in the silence at my center has made me more open to and aware of God’s presence and action in my life and in the world around me.  I have a greater sense of connection with things and of my place in God’s universe; the glimpse of an ecstatic sense captured by Thomas Traherne, writing in 1662, “You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars.”  

            In 1997, Arundhati Roy wrote a book with the title “The God of Small Things.”  Centering Prayer helps me to find, and to see well, a bountiful God in the detail of daily living; in the curve of my daughter’s face, in the symmetry of an insect or leaf, in the smell of sage at dusk.  So that while, in this moment, God is transforming me, He is also transforming every part of my environment into Christ.  Christ’s face becomes everywhere and ever present.  The regular practice of contemplation or meditation is training me to listen beyond the noise of me to something other.  To a voice or presence of infinite calm, infinite love, and boundless peace.  To rest in that presence, even if only for the most fleeting instant, is to accept God’s eternal offer of profound relationship from his innermost dwelling place within you.

            I know that the place I come closest to knowing and experiencing the part of God, His Holy Spirit, that lives and acts in me, is in this place of silence.  I know that God works to transform me from the outside in but also, profoundly, from the inside out.  By dwelling for a while in the darkest recesses of me, and by waiting for God in that place, I know I will find Him, and that, when I do, He’ll gently remind me He was there all along.

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High

will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;

my God, in whom I trust.”  (from Psalm 91)