Centering Prayer: Some Reflections

An Old Woman Praying Nicolaes Maes

Some Christians think that Centering Prayer is an invaluable way to deepen their spiritual lives, others think that it is the work of the devil and many more have never heard of it. For the benefit of the latter I shall briefly summarise it based on this leaflet (pdf)

The Guidelines

1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.

2. 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.

3. When engaged with your thoughts*, return ever-so gently to the sacred word.

4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

On the subject of choosing the ‘sacred word’-
The sacred word expresses our 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. Examples: God, Jesus, Abba, Father, Mother, Mary, Amen. Other possibilities: Love, Peace, Mercy, Listen, Let Go, Silence, Stillness, Faith, Trust, Yes.

The practice is recommended for 20 minutes a time, twice a day. Its proponents argue that it is based on an ancient Christian practice referred to in, for example, the medieval English work The Cloud of Unknowing which is true so far as it goes. It is no coincidence, however, that this practice emerged and was publicised at a time when Eastern meditation techniques based on Hindu or Buddhist mantras were gaining many adherents in the West. Indeed it is strikingly similar to Transcendental Meditation which also recommends two twenty minute periods with eyes closed. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Christianity appropriating and Christianising this or that aspect of non-Christian cultures, philosophies or practices, The key question is always: does this provide a bridgehead to advance Christianity into new areas or a breach to permit non-Christian beliefs to invade the Church? In the case of centering prayer we can only answer that question when we have some sense of its benefits or risks…click here to read more

Did Teresa of Avila teach Centering Prayer?

St. Teresa’s Transverberation by Joefa de Obidos (Wikimedia Commons)

Last winter on social media, I came across another Catholic author who was promoting yoga. Not as an exercise program, but for spiritual growth. I was shocked. I asked her why she wasn’t promoting prayer instead. She answered, “Meditation is prayer!”


Two months ago, my brother forwarded an email from a colleague, asking about Centering Prayer. A friend was pushing it relentlessly. I looked at the website of the Catholic group that promotes Centering Prayer and found this in the FAQs:
This form of prayer was first practiced and taught by the Desert Fathers of Egypt … the Carmelites St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Therese of Lisieux…

The other day a new reader asked in the comments about meditating on Sacred Scripture. “Is this the same as the method of Fr. John Main, who has adapted an Eastern mantra method for Christian meditation?”


I have written a little on this topic before, but I think it’s time to revisit it. Let’s start with Teresa of Avila.

Continue reading at Connie’s blog Contemplative Homeschool.