Growing towards God: tools for listening to God

this article is from the Rupertsland News

If we are to begin to open up and uncover the parts of ourselves that long to connect with God, this requires prayer.

In our exploration of spirituality over the next while, it seemed appropriate to begin with some tools for listening to God.  If we are to begin to open up and uncover the parts of ourselves that long to connect with God, this requires prayer.  Talking about prayer can stir up a variety of emotions.  We may feel that we are not very good at praying, probably most of us would feel that we don’t do enough praying, and many of us may feel that we’re never sure if our prayers are getting “through the roof” – actually reaching the intended target of communicating with God.   And when we pray, is it one-way communication – us speaking the longings of our heart to God?  Or is prayer an opportunity for God to speak to us?  How much of our prayer should be speaking and how much should be listening?

In his book, Prayer, Richard Foster reminds us that we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives.  Foster believes that this side of eternity, we will never unravel the good from the bad, the pure from the unpure.  So why do we pray?   At its heart, prayer is about transformation.  We simply need to come and be present to God.  God receives us as we are and accepts our prayers as they are.

If we want to develop our inner spaces in such a way that we can learn to be more responsive to the nudging of God, some form of contemplative prayer can be very helpful.  St. John of the Cross said “silence is God’s first language”. In her book on Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, Cynthia Bourgeault explains that virtually every spiritual tradition that holds a vision of human transformation at its heart also claims that a practice of intentional silence is non-negotiable.  Many of us may experience what we might call “free silence”  — those times when we intentionally choose to quieten our lives for a period by taking a walk in the woods, sitting quietly by a secluded lake or sinking into a scripture verse and letting our imagination and feelings carry us more deeply into it.  In this kind of silence, the free association of our mind provides the key to renewal and the silence furnishes the backdrop where this work can go on.  But, Bourgeault says, there is another kind of silence in which we don’t allow our mind to float.  In fact, we make a deliberate effort to restrain the wandering of the mind.   This is called intentional silence.  Centering Prayer is a discipline of intentional silence.

Centering Prayer helps us to begin a process of inner awakening…

Centering Prayer helps us to begin a process of inner awakening, to move beyond our ordinary awareness to a place of spiritual awareness.  We are commanded by Jesus in Matthew 6:6:  “whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret…”.   Bourgeault says choosing the silence of  Centering Prayer is like putting a stick in the spoke of thinking, so that the whole cogwheel of thinking patterns gets derailed and the more subtle awareness at the depths of your being can begin to make its presence known.  At first, you may think of Centering Prayer as an inner sanctuary to which you go or a place apart with God.  But, in fact, Bourgeault says, as the practice becomes more established, this inner sanctuary begins to flow out into your life.

So how do we engage in Centering Prayer?
Here are some guidelines that may help.

  • Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within. The sacred word is chosen during a brief period of prayer asking the Holy Spirit to inspire us with one that is especially suitable for us.  Some examples might be:  God, Jesus, Abba, Father, Love, Peace, Mercy, Stillness, Faith or Yes.
  • Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly, and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within. You should keep good posture while praying.  We close our eyes as a symbol of letting go of what is going on around and within us.  We introduce the sacred word inwardly as gently as laying a feather on a piece of absorbent cotton.
  • When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word. Thoughts is an umbrella term for every perception, including feelings, images, memories, reflections, commentaries and physical sensations.  By returning “ever-so-gently” to the sacred word, a minimum of effort is needed.
  • At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes. The additional 2 minutes enables us to bring the atmosphere of silence into everyday life.

Centering Prayer is normally done for 20 minutes and ideally twice a day.  A kitchen timer can be used to time the session.

If you are searching for more of God and long to sense God’s presence and peace within you, Centering Prayer may be for you.  If you want to learn more, join us at St. John’s Cathedral  on Tuesday, November 8th where we’ll focus on Tools for Listening to God.