What a powerful night we had last night as Phileena Heuertz shared her story, taught us the history of contemplative prayer, and led us in the practice of centering prayer.  I am still thinking about these words:

Solitude teaches us how to be present.

Silence teaches us how to listen.

Stillness teaches us how to act.

Phileena taught us that centering prayer is rooted in the doctrine of the divine indwelling and is a process of interior purification.  And, if and when we consent, a union with God.  How beautiful.  One of the key teachings for me was that centering prayer is really not about listening for God’s voice or seeking an experience with him that we can talk about later.  Rather, it is to rest in his presence.  The evidence of God’s movement and presence in our time of centering prayer will be seen in the life that we live.  Over time, we will become more grace-filled, more at peace, less angry, more like Christ.

Download Phileena’s Teaching

The eight minutes of centering prayer was about what I expected.  The first couple minutes were, well, excruciating.  I couldn’t settle in and my thoughts flooded the space.  But then I said my phrase, “Here I am.”   More thoughts came.  As Phileena said, “the mind has thoughts like the heart has beats.”  So true.  I must have said, “Here I am” at least 250 times during that eight minutes.  Nothing magical happened in those moments, at least not that I felt.  I have a sense though, that God was at work.  I trust that he was.

Our time at the table, receiving communion, reminded me of the restoration Jesus offers and throughout that time, I said my sacred phrase again and again, “Here I am.”  “Here I am.”  I watched as we all lined up to receive, our collective, “Here we are, Lord” demonstrated, although not uttered.  There is not much else to say.   “Here we are.”

I can’t wait for my centering prayer time tomorrow.  Solitude.  Silence.  Stillness.  Here I am.  Would you be willing to join me this week?  Let’s just try 15 minutes every day this week.  (If you want to ease your way in, that’s okay too, but by Wednesday or so, try 15)  Here’s one way you might try:

one.  Sit in an upright, attentive posture and place your hands in your lap.

two.  Close your eyes and bring to mind your sacred word or image as your way of consenting to the presence and action of God within you.  Choose a name for God, a characteristic of God, or a word that symbolizes consent.

three.  With your eyes closed, recall your sacred word or image to begin.  As you notice your thoughts, gently return to your sacred word.  Do this each time your notice your thoughts.

four.  When your prayer time is over, transition slowly from your prayer practice to your active life.

If you want to know more about centering prayer, check out the many resources at Gravity Center’s website.  Thomas Keating’s book Open Mind, Open Heart, is also a must-have.

Last thing, Phileena reminded me that she just started a new blog series that will explore the themes in her book, Pilgrimage of the Soul, so take a look at that to follow along.  

Peace to you all,

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Mark says:

    I think this was the most difficult practice for me yet. I am unashamedly comfortable with the rational approach – studying, reading, thinking, figure it out (whatever it happens to be a the moment) so I can understand and explain it. This practice seems to take me away from that – from doing – and into just being with God where I don’t need to do or even think anything, but rather to just be and become present to the One who is already there. As I talked about this with my wife last evening she calmly ‘encouraged’ me with the idea that my difficulty and discomfort with this practice mean it’s probably just the practice I need engage in right now. We’ll see.

    • Aaron Niequist says:

      Thanks for sharing, Mark! I definitely relate to feeling more comfortable with the rational approach. Me too! Which is probably why the journey into the contemplative has been SO difficult for me and SO helpful. Let us know how your journey goes this week! Many blessings…


  • Kyla says:

    I, too, found our 8 minute exercise, and this practice of sitting intentionally in the present space, with our God, rather challenging. However, at least two points were brought up about this practice/discipline, that encourages me to try it! One is that, like Phileena mentioned how people turn to buddhism or hinduism or new age practices for that “mind-heart engagement”, that meditative peace that looks so attractive on a smiling Buddha- this Centering Prayer discipline restores that piece to our Christ-following lifestyle. And the second point, is that Mrs. Hybels stated that wise words from a wise man can only go so far, but deeper healing and counseling come from practices like this one! And, you don’t have to pay the Counselor 🙂

  • Joe says:

    I began a practice of sitting in silence, in the dark early morning hours, when my mom passed away back in 1999. It helped me to get through the grief created by her death and then the death of my dad a few years later.

    Eventually, sitting in prayerful silence became a regular, and very enjoyable part of my life. Each morning I would look forward to a time of silence in our peaceful unlit family room.

    My wife just passed away in February, and I truly believe that this practice has kept me from giving up and taking my own life. I honestly have felt the presence of God, during these quiet times, reassuring me that he is here and that he will take care of me. This has been incredibly comforting and healing. I thank God that he prompted me to adopt this habit all those years ago.

    • Aaron Niequist says:

      Joe, thanks so much for sharing your story. It’s been such an intense journey…especially in this last year. We are truly honored that you and Ben have found holy space in our community. Grace to you both! (Aaron)

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