Q: While debriefing the 20-minute prayer practice as part of the Centering Prayer Introductory Workshop, two participants shared experiences about which I would like some advice. One mentioned going in his "space" of a blue aura, which he recounted as the place where he infrequently experienced a special nearness of God. As he recounted it, it sounded like he was working hard to get into that space. The other person said she was filled with a feeling of wellbeing and relaxation, in which she reveled during the prayer time and sort of drifted happily off into that space. How should I as a facilitator respond to these reactions to the prayer period?
A: When responding, always be gentle. This leap into silence is like learning how to swim. Honor whatever they experienced. Then review guideline #3, stressing that the intention of Centering Prayer is to consent to God’s presence and action, which in this context is to ever-so-gently let go of whatever one is experiencing and return to the sacred word. In the emptiness of Silence, there is the feeling that you have to experience or grab on to something. It is like learning to swim and your arms are working so hard to hold you above water. As one begins to realize that Silence is their friend, they can gradually let go of what they are experiencing and surrender to the Silence.
As you mentioned, it seemed the gentleman was working hard to get into that space and the woman was letting go but holding on to the experience. If each of them felt their experiences were important, take the time to hear them out. Then emphasize when they are in a period of Centering Prayer, the invitation is to enter into this prayer of consent – letting “thoughts” come and letting them go.
I have found in dialogue like this that people are desiring the presence of God, but are unaware that God is already present, in a way other than what they are accustomed to experiencing – and beyond any experiences.
– Be well,