Those of us serious about God often feel like we’re floundering about in an ocean without a boat or life vest. We may feel that without help we’ll drown in the roles and responsibilities, our to-do lists and daily dramas. A drowning person fights to stay afloat, and we who seek the wholeness of a life with God through prayer often struggle to stay afloat. There are two problems that the spiritually serious face. The first is not to work hard enough. Prayer is work—not just the practice of prayer which our active lives, the many distractions that come to us moment after moment, do not support, but also the work of pressing past our illusions about ourselves, the masks we wear, the falsehoods that we parade about. To get past ourselves and into God is work.
That said, the second problem we face is trying too hard. Drowning in the sea of distractions we can panic. Floundering about we will waste precious energy and go really nowhere.
Fr. Thomas Keating and the Centering Prayer school of contemplative spirituality help us here. Keating’s practice is receptive. It is a non-combative form of payer. And while Keating and his school do teach a method, that method is established on attitude. The method supports the attitude. That’s important. A method approach to the life of prayer can get in the way of intimacy with God. Most of us have an annoying habit of attaching ourselves more to a method than to the God we seek.
Here’s the center of Centering Prayer’s method.
Go into silence twice a day, aiming for 20 minutes each sitting. “Seek the face of God” above all else (Psalm 27.8), and simply open yourself and consent to whatever God wishes to do within you. Put unwavering trust in this consent. It is enough. Better than anything else. And when the barrage of thoughts come at you:
- Resist no thought
- Retain no thought
- React emotionally to no thought
- And return, ever so gently, to the sacred word you’re using as prayer, calling your attention back to God when you get distracted.
By consenting to God in this way, you are receptive to grace, and you’ll stop floundering about in the sea of your otherwise distracting life.