In many Eastern traditions, and growing in popularity in the Western world, more and more is being written about meditation. And some of us are at least thinking about meditating – especially as we hear Western medicine voicing its value with some physicians even writing prescriptions for meditation. The practice is being given credit for better health, relaxation and even lowering blood pressure.
Similarly, there is a discipline called Centering Prayer, a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. While Centering Prayer is attributed to the Rev. Thomas Keating, all faith traditions – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – practice some form of prayer; with Quakers and Buddhists honoring the silence.
In our world of technology and the use of cell phones, radio, CDs, TV and the Internet, silence becomes more and more difficult to find. Silence between two or in a group of people can even make us uncomfortable. Today, there is less time in our busy lives…
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to experience the power of an inner world.
Winter, with leanings to hibernation, is probably the best season to “awaken” to that world. Wrapped in fleece, watching a fire makes the journey inward a bit easier. It is our head that gets in our way. While solitary meditation brings inner peace, group meditation has proven to change society as evidenced in a drop in the crime rate in Washington, D.C. during research using large numbers of people meditating at the same time with that intention.
My first experience with group meditation was at the Christine Center in Willard, south of Thorp, where I believed I had booked a long weekend of rest and relaxation. When registering I was asked if I’d like to join others in a retreat experience for just an extra $25. I said, “Sure.”
I found out after I arrived I had signed up for a four-day silent retreat – a form of meditation that called for no writing, no reading, no music the entire time, alternating between sitting and walking meditation with a one-hour morning lecture. Of course food and sleep rounded out the days. It was an incredible experience to just be with my thoughts.
The word center contains the word enter. Brian Luke Seward in “Quiet Mind, Fearless Heart” connects the center of the labyrinth to the experience of centering ourselves in prayer and meditation. He writes, “Walking the labyrinth – as you walk from the entrance of the circle’s perimeter through a gentle maze of smaller concentric circles to the center, a divine stillness quiets the soul and a transformation takes place to prepare you, the student, so that the inner teacher will come. With the word center, like the path of the labyrinth, there is an implicit invitation to enter the heart.”
If the spiritual path is truly 12 to 14 inches from the head to the heart, then look no further than the meditating/centering process to get you there.
McKinney is a pastor at Unity Christ Center in Eau Claire. Matter of Faith, a column on faith and ethics, is printed periodically.