A centering prayer is a simple way of praying in which breath and a “prayer word” keep attention focused on God’s presence. It is a listening prayer in which all thoughts and intentions other than openness to God are set aside. It helps us empty inner clutter and chatter to create a space for being with God.
Sit with relaxed but erect posture in a comfortable chair, both feet on the floor, hands open and receptive in your lap. Close your eyes.
Offer a brief prayer to state your intention to God and to ask for help and guidance. (For example: “I’m here, God. Waiting, listening, open. Empty me of fear, worry, and inner chatter. Allow me to rest and rejoice in your presence.”)
Use your breath to create a sense of peace and letting go into God. Breathe deeply, slowly, calmly, starting with several cleansing breaths that end in an audible sigh. As you fill your lungs and exhale, feel the tension in your muscles—your entire body—flow out with the air. Continue to breathe in a regular, natural rhythm from your abdomen rather than your chest.
Focus on breathing God in, breathing all else out until you feel calm and centered.
Continue paying attention to your breath as you focus your body, mind, and spirit on the reality that God is present and that you are here with the intention of loving and being loved by God.
Listen beneath or within your breath for a prayer word (or phrase) that expresses the desires and needs of your heart in this time. Don’t struggle for the word. Trust that it will arise as you continue to be still and open.
When you have been made aware of the prayer word or phrase, repeat it silently to yourself in rhythm with your breathing.
Breathing in: Fill me….
Breathing out: …O God
Breathing in: (silence)
Breathing out: ...Peace
When distracting thoughts pull you from centering in God (e.g., chores, a work deadline, a friend you need to call) bring yourself back by returning to your prayer word and the rhythm of your breathing. Don’t fight the thoughts, but recognize and let them go as you re-center on God through your prayer word and breath.
When the time for prayer has elapsed, offer a brief word of thanks to God, take several more deep breaths, become aware of the room around you, move or stretch in your chair, and open your eyes when you are ready.
Set a regular time and place for your centering prayer. Twenty minutes is recommended, but longer or shorter time frames may be used. Experiment with five or ten minutes initially and work up to twenty minutes. Some spiritual directors suggest twenty minutes in both the morning and evening but this may not be feasible for everyone.
Be still, and know that I am God! — Psalm 46:10 NRSV
But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. —Matthew 6:6 NRSV
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. —Psalm 85:8 NRSV
Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel by Thomas Keating
The Breath of Life: A Simple Way to Pray by Ron DelBene