Use the winter slowdown to grow closer to God

Categories: Guest Views

by Doug Scott

dscott

Doug Scott

Contemplative prayer has a rich history in our Catholic tradition

Many people in the Diocese of St. Cloud are used to the challenges of winter. Blustery weather and long nights can keep some of us inside for days on end. With the extra solitude comes an opportunity to grow closer to God. Winter is the perfect time to become familiar with the power of contemplative prayer.

What is contemplative prayer? It is the gift that helps us experience and deepen our relationship with God dwelling in us.

It has its roots in Scripture passages like Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God” and Mathew 6: 6 “…when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

It has a rich history in our Catholic tradition, dating back to the desert fathers and mothers of the fourth century. Unlike usual prayer that involves thinking or saying words, contemplative prayer consists more of just being present to God.

Seeking stillness

Now if this sounds too abstract for you, not so fast! Teresa of Avila and Augustine experienced God closer than their own breathing, closer than they were to themselves. Such awareness isn’t reserved just for saints. With practice, each of us can experience God in this same intimate way.

Unlike meditation which might involve reflecting on a Scripture passage or a mystery of the rosary, contemplation usually seeks stillness so we can keep our minds open and fully present to God. One way of creating this openness is through a contemplative prayer called centering prayer.

Father Thomas Keating has been an advocate of centering prayer for more than 40 years. His books “Open Mind, Open Heart” and “Intimacy with God: An Introduction to Centering Prayer” are essential reading for budding contemplatives. I discovered this wonderful prayer almost 10 years ago and find it easy and rewarding. Here are the basics of centering prayer:

Begin by choosing a sacred word like ‘love,’ ‘peace’ or ‘Jesus.’ Any word that is special to you will work.

Next, select two times during the day to sit comfortably with your eyes closed for a minimum of 20 minutes each. At first, it might be hard to sit quietly that long; do the best you can. As you sit, thoughts will run wildly through your mind. Let them run their course. This steady coming and going of thoughts is sometimes referred to as the “monkey mind” and is a normal part of centering prayer. When you find your mind fixed on a thought or other bodily sensation, gently introduce your sacred word. As your prayer continues, return to your sacred word when necessary.

Your sacred word isn’t just a device to help you stay centered during prayer; it’s your “skin in the game.” Making the investment in your personal sacred word and consciously using it demonstrate your faith in both the process and the outcome of your prayer and ultimately in God who is behind it all.

As you sit quietly, try not to fall asleep! Sometimes I become so relaxed I doze off. If you find yourself waking up, just resume your prayer. Slowly you’ll begin to settle into yourself — peaceful, alive, just you and God who created, sustains and lives in you. When you are finished, remain quiet for a few minutes and then go about your business. That’s it. Pray this way as often as your schedule allows.

Some challenges

Father Keating says centering prayer is not meant to replace traditional prayers but rather is meant “to cast a new light and depth of meaning on them.” It is intended “to take us beyond conversation with Christ to communion with Christ,” bearing fruit both during our prayer sessions and in our daily lives.

There are some challenges associated with any contemplative prayer. One is we might fail to understand the source of this prayer’s power and end up having a relaxing sit but nothing more. Another is we might be afraid of doing it wrong and not even try. If this is how you feel, just know that the simplest contemplative prayer is remembering you didn’t create the universe or yourself, then closing your eyes and resting in the One who did.

To learn more about centering prayer, visit www.contemplativeoutreach.org. Make sure to watch the helpful videos. If you like to pray with others, go to www.minnesotacontemplativeoutreach.org to find the nearest centering prayer group.

As you experiment with centering prayer this winter, claim these words of St. Augustine from “The Confessions” for your inspiration: “Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our heart is not quiet until it rests in Thee.”

Doug Scott is a member of St. Louis Bertrand Parish in Foreston.