Q: I attended a one-day Centering Prayer event for people who were experienced in Centering Prayer. We had three periods of prayer, with some teaching. At the end of the third session I felt completely empty. There was nothing, and after the session, as I thought about it, it felt boring and I wondered why I would want to do that again. What happened for me? I do continue to practice Centering Prayer and I have wondered about attending a Centering Prayer intensive retreat but feel blocked by that experience.
A: Interesting way of expressing your reaction: “I felt blocked by that experience.” Something that usually flowed through you was no longer was felt. I don’t think it was your desire to pray Centering Prayer because you continue in the practice. I suggest that it might be the fear of what would happen if you had a longer prayer experience on an extended retreat and would experience nothing, therefore you may be bored and even leave.
What did you experience in the first two periods of Centering Prayer? It sounds like they were different from the third. This is quite common. Each prayer period is different; this is why we teach that the fruits of the prayer are not experienced during the prayer period but in daily life. With a commitment to Centering Prayer, over time we are able to let go of any reflection on ourselves, which takes a lot of practice and discipline. We don’t judge our experiences and we don’t judge the nature of our prayer. It doesn’t matter if one prayer period feels better than another. The transforming graces of the prayer are beyond our sense perceptions.
Perhaps you experienced a fear of boredom. What is boredom? Properly understood it helps us understand ourselves and our relationship to time. It helps us be in the moment appreciating the tick of the clock. It gives us the opportunity to choose how we want to fill our time, what we want to do with our lives. On an extended retreat there is always the opportunity to talk with one of the team leaders who can guide you through your experiences.
In the context of Centering Prayer, it is a “space giver,” allowing us to appreciate what is going on around and within us. I suggest that you received a gift of time, time that did not have to be filled because you were already in God’s presence. You had in you the emptiness that leads to spaciousness — looking beyond yourself. Jesus was all about this. He did not cling — he let it all go. Let it go and gently begin again. Looking forward to seeing you at an extended retreat!
In this year of Mercy,