When I was ordained in 1965 I had no idea what spiritual formation meant or how to experience God, which is another way of saying I didn‚Äôt know how to pray. Oh, I did pretty well with leading prayers in worship, but that‚Äôs different from praying in a personal way that could deepen my relationship with God.
I‚Äôm embarrassed to tell you that it took many years for me to even recognize my need for some kind of disciplined prayer life. But there came a time when I simply couldn‚Äôt sustain my life and ministry without a change in direction. If my ministry was to have integrity, if I was to have integrity, I needed to take my own spiritual growth seriously. I knew that I needed a closer relationship with God. I knew that I needed more than head knowledge about God. I needed heart knowledge. That‚Äôs a long journey – the journey from the head to the heart – but I yearned for some experience of God. Simply believing things about God was no longer enough.
So I began to explore various time-honored spiritual disciplines and in the process I learned about Centering Prayer which is deeply rooted in the Christian contemplative tradition. I learned that Centering Prayer is an effortless way to pray in silence, a way to rest in God‚Äôs presence and to enter into a more intimate relationship with God. I learned that it was a way to consent to God‚Äôs presence and transforming action. I was immediately drawn to its simplicity.
But I had no idea what I was getting into. Yes, the Centering Prayer practice is a simple and effortless way to pray, but it‚Äôs not easy. It requires a strong intention and a regular disciplined practice. And what happens as a result of a consistent practice isn‚Äôt always comfortable. It‚Äôs not a quick trip to spiritual bliss, as Thomas Keating points out.
When I gave my deep consent to God‚Äôs presence and transforming activity, as one does in Centering Prayer, God took me seriously and things started to happen that I didn‚Äôt anticipate. Relationship with God is dynamic, and the transformation God desires, while always initiated by God‚Äôs grace, can sometimes be difficult and bring some anxiety. In order for something new to come into one‚Äôs life, some sort of dying is required. The death of old ways, the death of the old self is not easy. But the birth of the new is very healing and sometimes downright exhilarating!
So now after over 20 years of praying in this way, I can tell you that God has used my practice of Centering Prayer to lead me on a most amazing journey that continues to unfold in mysterious ways. Over time God showed me what needed to change. I began to experience God as a close and intimate presence; as unconditional love; as a friend who was nudging me into ‚Äúthe more‚Äù as Marcus Borg puts it. I began to trust God more and some of my fears began to dissipate. I became more confident about my ministry. I became less compulsive. I found myself listening to others more carefully and with more sensitivity. And as I continue this journey, as I continue to consent to God‚Äôs presence and action, I continue to experience God‚Äôs transforming grace.
I am surprised again and again by the Divine Presence and how God‚Äôs transforming work affects my entire life. Life-long patterns that are life-diminishing are slowly being replaced with healing and greater spiritual freedom. Some of my weaknesses are being exposed without devastating me, and I am increasingly able to appreciate my strengths without false pride. I am more centered and comfortable with being who I am. My compassion for others is deepening and my passion for social justice is growing. While God‚Äôs transformation is changing me I am also being invited to cooperate with God in the transformation of the world. Centering Prayer has enriched both my inner and my outer journey.
I expect this transformation to continue to the end of my life and beyond. In the silence of Centering Prayer I‚Äôm usually not aware of God doing anything but in between my practices, I often feel something stirring within me. And as I reflect on the changes that have taken place in my life over these last 20 years, I can very clearly see God‚Äôs action.
Please do not misunderstand. I have not arrived. Just ask my wife or my friends! So to those who know me I say: if you think my life is a mess now, you should have seen me before I took this spiritual journey seriously! I am simply not the same person I was. And yet I feel that I have only begun this incredible journey with God.
Donald Bredthauer, Retired United Methodist Pastor