Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I was recently in a group that consisted of clergy, seminarians and lay people, and for some reason our conversation quickly transitioned to the subject of “Prayer,” as one thing that is hard for Christians today.” I was initially appalled at the audience involved with such discussion – Christians, themselves. I obviously felt defensive and my immediate instinct was to think that it was rather judgmental for this conversation to be happening in the first place. But then I thought to remain open to the conversation and give it some thought. Little did I realize that my initial impulse was actually preventing me from attuning to the reality of my prayer life, which I hope will be helpful to you in this reflection.
As the conversation unfolded, I had a subtle recollection of a moment in my life when I struggled to pray; a struggle that didn’t make sense to me at all. And many of my friends and family members didn’t also understand my struggle.
The Bible tells us in John 4:24 that, “God is Spirit, so those who worship God must do so in spirit and in truth.” I believe strongly that one way this worship can be adequately observed is in “silence,”which I have discovered to be very essential to “centering prayer.” “Centering prayer” is associated with the “Desert Fathers and Lectio Divina prayer traditions of the early Christian and Benedictine monasticisms”; it is also a form of prayer that hinges a lot on contemplation, and works well in availing oneself to a spirit of gentle inquiry with the hope that any dialogue that results can only strengthen our relationship with God. And so I believe if “centering prayer” is inevitably an essential to contemplation, then meditation is very imperative to the entire process.
After practicing “centering prayer” for a while, I have since realized that prayer goes beyond words, thoughts and feelings; it propels one’s disposition to openness and ushers one into a total surrender to God. Inasmuch as I think contemplation is an innate gift and disposition we all have from God, I think personally, it has to be nurtured and cultivated for our individual realization and enhanced experience. This is one form of prayer that has broken the deadlock to my spiritual life and made me more aware of the power and richness of prayer — which is our only means and source of enriching and fostering our communication and relationship with God.
Life can sometimes be busy, given the economic and industrial society we live in today, where we are always running out of time, which also factors into the challenge we often face in finding the space and time to be with God. But no matter how challenging this might be for us, it is yet a possibility that we, Christians, can cultivate the discipline to foster and deepen our relationship with the God we serve.
While there are other prayers that help us focus on the presence of God in the beauty of things around us, it is quite reassuring for me to know that “Centering Prayer” has the ability to help its audience focus on the presence and closeness of God within them; it allows us to be with God, thereby strengthening our relationship with God; identifying and learning how we can grow closer and closer to God each day. I believe “Centering Prayer” is one of the great forms of prayer there are to strengthen our individual relationship with God.
And so as we go about this summer, taking out time with family members, friends, and loved ones or on vacation, I encourage you to intentionally think about your prayer life and consider what you might do to either foster or enhance your relationship with God through prayers. “Centering Prayer” might have done the trick for me; this may not necessarily be the case for you. But I honestly urge you to reflect on your prayer life and think about whatever forms of prayer work best in strengthening your relationship with God. It is too easy to slip into the temptation of turning to God in prayers only when we are in trouble. But Paul, in Philippians 4:6, tells us to seek the Lord at all times, in every area of our lives; even thanking the Lord in advance for our blessings, seen or unseen.
I believe that a healthy prayer life is a great way to deepen our relationship with God, especially in the midst of the too many attachments in life that often shadow our relationship with God. I wish you all a blessed summer and fall. Vicar Dominic Smyth
(article appeared in Page 3 of the August issue of God With Us – see Monthly Newsletters)