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How is Centering Prayer rooted in the Christian tradition?
Centering Prayer is a traditional form of Christian prayer rooted in Scripture and based on the monastic heritage of Lectio Divina. It is not to be confused with Transcendental Meditation or Hindu or Buddhist methods of meditation. It is not a New Age technique.
Centering Prayer is rooted in the word of God, both in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ. It is an effort to renew the Christian contemplative tradition handed down to us in an uninterrupted manner from St. Paul, who writes of the intimate knowledge of Christ that comes through love.
Centering Prayer is designed to prepare sincere followers of Christ for contemplative prayer in the traditional sense in which spiritual writers understood that term for the first sixteen centuries of the Christian era. This tradition is summed up by St. Gregory the Great at the end of the sixth century. He describes contemplation as the knowledge of God impregnated with love. For Gregory, contemplation was the fruit of reflection on the word of God in Scripture as well as the precious gift of God. He calls it, "resting in God". In this “resting.” the mind and heart are not so much seeking God as beginning to experience, "to taste" what they have been seeking. This state is not the suspension of all activity, but the reduction of many acts and reflections into a single act or thought to sustain one's consent to God's presence and action.
This form of prayer was first practiced and taught by the Desert Fathers of Egypt, Palestine and Syria, including Evagrius, John Cassian and St. John Climacus. It has representatives in every age, e.g. in the Patristic age, St. Augustine and St Gregory the Great in the West, and Pseudo-Dionysius and the Hesychasts in the East: in the Middle Ages, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, William of St. Thierry, and Guigo the Carthusian; the Rhineland mystics including St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Mechtilde, Meister Eckhart, Ruysbroek, and Tauler; later the author of the Imitation of Christ and the English mystics of the 14th Century such as the author of the Cloud of Unknowing. Walter Hilton, Richard Rolle, and Julian of Norwich; after the Reformation, the Carmelites St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Therese of Lisieux; among the French school of spiritual writers, St. Francis de Sales, St. Jane de Chantal and Cardinal Berulle; among the Jesuits, Fathers De Caussade, Lallemont; and, among the Benedictines, Dom Augustine Baker and Dom John Chapman; among modern Cistercians, Dom Vital Lehodey and Thomas Merton.
Over the centuries, ways of cultivating contemplative prayer have been called by various names corresponding to the different forms they have taken. Thus we have Prayer of Faith, Prayer of the Heart, Pure Prayer, Prayer of Simplicity, Prayer of Simple Regard, Active Recollection, Active Quiet, and Acquired Contemplation. In our time a number of initiatives have been taken by various religious orders, notably by the Jesuits and Discalced Carmelites, to renew the contemplative orientation of their founders and to share their spirituality with lay persons. The method of Centering Prayer is a further attempt to present the teaching of earlier times in an updated format and to make it available to ordinary people who are experiencing a hunger for a deeper life of prayer and for a support system to sustain it.