Centering Prayer

by Oz Lorentzen

I read Henri Nouwen, The Genesee Diary, and parts of Basil Pennington’s Centering Prayer. The main impact these readings had on me has to do with the importance of silence, and the role of silence in prayer.

Silence as both withdrawing and refraining from external noise, sound and speaking, and refraining from internal noise, thoughts and inner dialog is presented as a critical component of prayer and ministry. John Eudes’ comment to Henri Nouwen that speaking/teaching arises out of prayer/contemplation really resonated with me. Much of Nouwen’s wrestling along these lines, his analysis of his motivations for speaking, writing and teaching, corresponds with my own journey. Thus, I found much of Eudes’ counsel to be pertinent.

The idea of speaking/teaching out of the fulness of times of silent meditation and contemplation is both an encouragement and challenge. It is an encouragement since I have already adopted this approach to my teaching/speaking. It is a challenge because it shows me how I have yet to embrace this in its entirety. In particular, I have not yet reached the point where I am always content with leaving the results of my speaking, teaching, or other forms of engagement with others, in God’s hands. Though I know this conceptually, I still often carry the weight of worrying about outcomes and trying to “secure” them. (Incidentally, I have found a very interesting correlative voice in the work of Watchman Nee, [especially in The Spiritual Man] who seems to be providing a biblical theological expression of the insights of the mystics.)

According to Nouwen & Eudes, the solution to this sort of conflict is to make God one’s chief concern, focus and desire—the heaviness of service comes from having ego attachment to these activities. Further, this type of God orientation, becomes a depth and reality out of which ministry, service and/or teaching comes with a ring of authenticity. A beautiful picture indeed!

Silence is the best way to express this commitment to, desire for, God, and His purpose and glory. Silence is a discipline where human pride and superficiality is curtailed, since the flowering of one’s own opinions, and/or the “pleasure” of society is essentially restricted. This allows for a deeper root for both human companionship and one’s thought processes. Eudes says, “Without solitude there can be no real people.” (p. 31) And, without “real people,” there can be no real relationship. So we see that silence/solitude is the prerequisite for any compassion or ministry to others (which includes praying for others).

One area that I found interesting is Nouwen’s continued interest in national and international politics and events and how this interest was managed by Eudes for the rest of the monastery. Nouwen seems to feel that being able to be compassionate requires being up on the media. This is contrary to the suggestion that only in solitude can true compassion be developed, and Nouwen wrestles with his own commitment to the media. This may be a bit too self-congratulatory, but I agree with Eudes and have maintained a virtual fast from the news media (among other media forms) for several years. This does seem to leave more space/room for being open to God awareness.

I was, thus, heartened by Eudes’ suggestion that exposure to journalistic portrayals of events would detract from a contemplative lifestyle. Not that there is a suggestion that one bury one’s head in the sand, but that one utilize more thoughtful and developed expressions of current events, in the case of the monastery, through the form of historical novels/autobiographies. In keeping with this approach is the statement by the hermit at the monastery about Thomas Merton; who, he says, writes about being a hermit (about solitude) but does not live in (out of) the fulness of this becausehe is to concerned about writing about it. Nouwen’s reflections on being a “temporary monk,” his struggles with obedience, and the contrast with the monks at the monastery all highlight the same basic point: silence and solitude and its life revolutionary effects is an extremely narrow gate—and few there are who enter in!

And so, I sit with the ongoing recognition that silence is crucial, but nearly impossible. And, I continue to feel the tug of God on my heart and soul—a deep yearning for, longing for, His embrace. To live in the center which that stillness brings, to make prayer my work, by seeing His gift in and through my day to day life, to be open to the transformative power of God’s Spirit, by finding Him in all: this is the inchoate picture of living that these reflections engender.

Deep Calls to Deep

Standing

skin stretched

taut tight

like a

diver

on the

high board

every

nerve

tingling

in anticipation of

the plunge

soul ready to explode

in contemplation of

the burst of joy

at the coming embrace

poised

wanting

ready

steady

body arched

mind cleared

hands, arms, stretched high

flung back

in praise

in surrender

in faith provoked

plunge

even so I await your touch

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