“Bless Them and Change Me”


Q: This question is in reference to the proper procedure for a group doing Centering Prayer. Our leader starts out by going around the circle and checking in with each person, how they are doing. Then we have a short psalm reading and then we do our first 20-minute sit, followed by a 2 minute meditative walk around the chapel, then we do a second 20 minute sit. At the end of that we say the Our Father and then members are free to offer their intentions for prayer as in intercessory prayer. During this time things can get political, praying for all the troubles of the world, as well as our government and certain pending issues. We don’t get into a discussion, but it can stir up some feelings internally in me that conflict with what certain commenters have said. I don’t say anything or challenge what that person said, but it’s irritating. What do you think about this, as well as the idea of the check-in with each member at the beginning? Does this defeat the purpose of Centering Prayer? Thank you for any response you may have.

A: Thank you for reaching out to us about what your prayer group includes in its gatherings. The order you listed: check-ins, silent prayer, contemplative walk, silent prayer followed by the Lord’s Prayer and a time of intercessory prayer is a very common Centering Prayer meeting outline. One of the purposes of such a meeting is to build community not only through silence but also as a group wishes through the two practices you asked about – check ins at the beginning and a time of intercessory prayer at the end. This does not take away from our silent prayer together unless one allows it to.

I used to serve an intensive retreat in New Jersey and had your same question about sharing after long periods of Centering Prayer. We would have days of silence, then view a video on the last day of the retreat only to have people react out of their false self to one of Fr. Thomas’ teachings. I wondered how is this good? How could they have been basting in God’s presence for so long and take so little time to revert to falsity. Then, my mentor Fr. Carl Arico would say something to me like “this is their lesson to remember that the false self is close at hand.” I came to realize that no matter how much we pray, our growth in Love is a slow process and our emotional programs for happiness will express themselves even in what we think is the most holy of times.

We may not agree with the intercessory prayers that our fellow prayer group members are bringing up but that is our internal problem not theirs. Someone may not “agree” with our intercessory prayer but that is their problem not ours. An example of being able to be with others no matter their notion of God, growth in Love, or what is important to them would be the many devotions of others that I personally may not participate in my church community. I would like silence in the chapel when I enter but I have come to a place that realizes the verbal prayers that are being said can flow over me, blessing me just like our thoughts in Centering Prayer going down the river. Everyone’s notion of God is valid and special and has nothing to do with me.

Please consider that the irritation you feel toward a comment or prayer during the group meeting or really anytime in ordinary life is God bringing to your attention something that may need to be healed, forgiven or even celebrated. Fr. Thomas had this saying about having a jolly attitude toward our thoughts. Irritation is a thought. When I notice and engage with an irritating thought in everyday life I say interiorly “There you go again, Lee.” Then I ask God to “bless them and change me.” When I ask for change within myself it is not to have me agree with the other person’s perspective but to change me to accept the person for who they are in God while also accepting myself in all it’s falsity and glory.

This all being said, it is important for the group to be accepting of each member and remember we are not all the same. Prayer groups have fallen apart because they take on what I call a personality. The Centering Prayer group personality should be one of the Benedictine values of welcoming the Christ in everyone and being humble in our relationship to God.

Please let me know if this was helpful or if you have any questions.

Peace and love to you and your group.
Leslee Terpay