Renewing Our Understanding of the Contemplative Tradition

As the New Year unfolds it is a good time to renew our understanding of the richness of Contemplative Prayer, Centering Prayer and the role of Contemplative Outreach.

What is Contemplative Prayer?

It is a gift from the Holy Spirit. Contemplative prayer is the opening of mind and heart — our whole being — to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, images, words and emotions, whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, thinking, feeling and choosing; even closer than consciousness itself.

Though we may think of prayer as thoughts, images or feelings expressed in words, this is only one expression. Contemplative prayer is a prayer of interior silence, an experience of God’s presence as the ground in which our being is rooted, the Source from whom our life emerges at every moment.

Why is there a need for a renewal?

For the Church’s first sixteen centuries, contemplative prayer was the goal of Christian spirituality. After the Reformation, this living tradition was virtually lost. Today, with cross-cultural dialogue and historical research, the recovery of the Christian contemplative tradition is underway. The method of Centering Prayer, in the tradition of Lectio Divina (praying the scriptures) is contributing to this renewal.

What is Centering Prayer?

Centering Prayer is a method of prayer which prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer. Centering Prayer consists of responding to the Spirit of Christ by consenting to God’s presence and action within. It furthers the development of contemplative prayer by preparing our faculties to co-operate with this gift.

What about all the other forms of prayer?

Centering Prayer facilitates a movement from more active modes of prayer (verbal, discursive or affective prayer) into a receptive prayer of resting in God. Centering Prayer is meant to enrich and complement other forms of prayer, not to exclude or replace them. I like to think of Centering Prayer as the rest of the story in our relationship with God.

What are the essential elements of Centering Prayer?

Centering Prayer is at the same time a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. It is a discipline which helps us let go of the obstacles of self-centeredness and sin (living as if we are separate from God) which blurs the image and likeness of God in all of us.

What is its source?

Like all prayer, Centering Prayer is Trinitarian in its source, Christ-centered in its focus, and ecclesial in its effects; that is, it builds communities of faith and bonds the members together in charity.

Centering Prayer is drawn from ancient prayer practices of the Christian contemplative heritage, notably the Fathers and Mothers of the Desert and the monastic practice of Lectio Divina (praying the scriptures), in addition to The Cloud of Unknowing, St. John of the Cross, and St. Theresa of Avila especially in her Seven Mansions.

It was distilled into a simple method of prayer in the 1970’s by three Trappist monks, Fr. William Meninger, Fr. Basil Pennington and Abbot Thomas Keating at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, USA.

What is Contemplative Outreach?

Contemplative Outreach was established to bring this ancient prayer practice out of the monastic milieu to those in contemporary society. Contemplative Outreach is now a worldwide spiritual community of individuals and small faith communities committed to renewing the contemplative dimension of the Gospel in everyday life.

What is the Mission of Contemplative Outreach?

The intent of Contemplative Outreach is to foster the process of transformation in Christ in one another through the practice of Centering Prayer. Our primary purpose is to teach the method of Centering Prayer. We also teach Lectio Divina, particularly its movement into contemplative prayer, as facilitated by a regular practice of Centering Prayer.  We also offer practices such as the Welcoming Prayer and the Forgiveness Prayer, both which help bring the fruits of Centering Prayer into daily life.

Contemplative Outreach provides support and resources to assist individuals and groups in establishing a contemplative prayer ministry by offering Centering Prayer workshops, retreats and formation programs. Our programs are designed to present the richness of the Christian contemplative heritage in an updated and accessible format.