Back to Basics

It's Holy Week, and today I drive to Riverton to renew my ordination vows in company with the clergy of Southland. As part of my Holy Week discipline, I have been going back to the future, revisiting the basic concepts of Centering Prayer. The first of these is to choose a symbol, a word or gesture or action or thought which will act as a non verbal reminder of what CP holds at its core: giving assent to the action of God in my life. This is what I was told to do when I was first converted: "give my life to Jesus", but of course it took about 24 hours for me to discover that this is something more easily said than done. I give my life to Jesus and then immediately try and take back the bits I think would be better under my own management, i.e. all those bits which don't fill an hour or two on Sunday and a few other daily minutes of wrestling with the Bible.  The Christian life is really an exercise in trying to live up to a promise I once made and finding myself subverted on a minute by minute basis by myself. The big trick is to get myself out of the way, and this takes practice. Which is where Centering Prayer comes in.

Every day I sit still for a while. I don't try to enter into any hi-falutin trance or special state of spiritual receptivity. I don't endeavour to think anything special or feel anything or have anything that might remotely be described as a spiritual experience. I don't try and shut myself down. I use my symbol, in my case a word, as a reminder of my own intention to consent to God. And I let God do what God wants to do. What stops God's action is the continual stream of nonsense occurring between my ears in the form of thoughts and sensations and strokes of brilliance and long stretches of pointless reverie. I don't try and resist these or try, Canute like, to stop the tide of them; but neither do I let them carry me off anywhere. By gently, effortlessly coming back to my symbol, I observe them and let them go on their (usually pointless) way.

Centering Prayer is a method of practicing saying yes to God's action and learning to step aside while God does what God has been asked to do. Like all methods though, it can become a bit jaded. Doing it a couple of times a day make make it into a routine, a chore to be done. And, genius procrastinator that I am, I come up with thousands of ingenious ways of undermining my own best efforts, usually by deploying some sort of achievement standard How am I doing today? Boy, aren't I getting good at this? Oh no! A surfeit of daydreams today, you lazy schmuck! So, as in all things, it's good to periodically go back to basics and revisit first principles. And Giving consent to God is the first of theses. I do this in the few minutes before I sit down. I do it be reminding myself of this principle at odd times during the day.

I did it this morning by breaking my routine; by taking a walk on the beach as the sun rose, my normal time for sitting still. I walked in a place I knew well and retook a picture that I had taken years ago, and which I once used as a header for this blog. I took it carefully, thinking of first principles, of observation and exposure and composition. I thought of the day ahead, and of commitments I have made. I tried, again, to consent to God.And then I returned home to stillness.


Annie said…
I find that walking is very effective in centering prayer. There is something about the motion, deep rhythmic breathing and fresh air that opens mind and heart. The movement of body quiets the spirit, such that there is room to hear in the depths, 'Be Still, and know that I am God." This is a centering prayer. Thy will be done.
Annie said…
Or, say another way, in the words of Eugene Peterson in his Forward to the book "The Way is Made by Walking'" (a wonderful book, which I am sure you have encountered): Walking could turn out to be the most significant spiritual act in which we will ever engage." I am the Way, Jesus says.
Eric said…
hesitantly, stumblingly learning to say 'yes', to the One who is God's 'Yes' to us