Search for Meditative Prayer

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My Search for Meditative Prayer – June, 2011

In the late 90’s I searched for a way to feel the presence of God. My traditional faith was about words and works, sacraments and sermons. I prayed as though God were absent from all creation. Although good in themselves, these faith characteristics were not feeding me in my search for the God that I sensed was close and waiting to be discovered. My spiritual director, a Benedictine sister, introduced me to contemplative prayer practices as a way to go deeper and discover the God waiting to be found. I was introduced to Centering Prayer, a meditative practice that uses a sacred word to stay focused on the intention of the meditation. This intention is simply to drop all distractions during meditation so you can give yourself totally to the presence of God; allowing God to transform you and heal the wounds of your lifetime. The main premise of this prayer is that the Divine lives within you and desires to transform you so that union will occur between you and God. This prayer should be practiced twice a day for 20 minutes. This prayer became my primary prayer practice for over 10 years and the transformative fruits were noticed not only by me but by my friends and loved ones. My prayer word was “Abba Father” during this period. During this phase of prayer, I saw God as a loving Father, Daddy.

In about 2005 I was introduced to another contemplative practice called Christian Meditation. The intentions of this prayer are identical to those of Centering Prayer – to pray in silence, be still and wait for God’s gift of transformative contemplation. However, the practice differs slightly. Instead of using a prayer word that you use when thoughts or distractions arise when meditating, one uses a mantra that is to be silently repeated during the meditation period. Christian Meditation seemed to have more rhythm as the sacred word becomes harmonic with the breathing of a body sitting in silence. It was suggested that one use a mantra like “Maranatha” which means ‘Come Lord Jesus’. This prayer practice also should be done twice a day. This practice made me realize the need for integration between my intentions, my mantra, my breathing and my body rhythms.

I next investigated a practice called Mindfulness Meditation. The purpose of this meditation is to achieve a mind that is stable and calm. Through this practice I began to realize that this calmness or harmony is a natural condition of the mind. Through mindfulness meditation we are just developing and strengthening our mind’s condition, and eventually we are able to remain peacefully in our mind without struggling. Usually instead of a prayer word or mantra, the meditator simply focuses on the breath, flowing in and out during the meditation period. As you start the practice, you have a sense of your body and a sense of where you are, and then you begin to notice your breath. The breath is going in and out, in and out. With each breath you become relaxed. Mindfulness Meditation seems to be more about attention than intention. Unlike the previous meditations discussed, this practice is about training the mind instead of any spiritual objectives like opening yourself to the presence of God. The traits of compassion and love are the fruits of this practice.

Over the years my meditation practice has evolved while my primary intentions remain the same – to be open to God’s gift of contemplation. Now I rarely use my prayer word once I sit for meditation. My intention to be silent and totally present to God seems to take over. My mental operating system seems to be united with my breathing body and distractions seem to melt away. I still am looking for a way to unite my focus, my breath and my intentions in a way that recognizes that that the Creator of the Universe and the God that dwells within me is continually loving and recreating me. I recently heard Richard Rohr speak about the name of God as being sacred and unspoken by the ancient Hebrews. The name YAHWEH was never spoken and appeared without consonants in ancient times – YHWH. This name was ‘breathed’ as such with a whisper: breath in – ya, breath out – way. Furthermore, early Christians believed that God’s very breath was the source of all human life. Breath had become a metaphor for this intimacy between the Divine and humanity. The use of breath in a meditative prayer as a way to experience this intimacy will enhance one’s realization that God is as close to us as our very breath. The use of a prayer word like ‘YHWH’ which can only be breathed and not spoken will deepen our contemplative prayer practice further.

In summary, the intention of one’s contemplative prayer practice is most important! However, the seeker’s practice is helpful in the realization that God is not separate but available to us as the Indwelling Spirit. A meditation practice that unites the use of a most sacred prayer word like ‘YHWH’ with our gift of breath that incorporates intention, silence and stillness will make a contribution of great value to finding the Divine that dwells deep within our core – a place where we are mysteriously one with the God of all creation. Somehow I think that one’s search for the perfect prayer practice never ends. My new focus on integrating breath the sacred name of God with give my Centering Prayer practice new life! My prayer intention remains clear as I seek more clarity about how my God lives within, loves and transforms me. My practices will evolve and grow as I gently dismantle my old beliefs and dissolutions that God was separate from creation. Intellectually I know that my practices are about me, not God. Over time all these practices fade away as we experience the peace of total surrender. The Holy One continually reads the intentions of the heart and as Thomas Merton says “But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.” My new prayer word represents my evolving feelings about God – The Divine Breath that breathes life, love, compassion and the seeds of transformation within me at all times.




2 Responses to “Search for Meditative Prayer”

  1. John Theobald Says:

    Using the breath as a sacred symbol instead of a word is part of Fr. Keating’s original instruction for centering prayer

  2. Nanoya Barrett Says:

    Ifelt like I was reading my own story when I read this article. It was exactly like my very own search, contemplation, spiritual practice and conclusions. This contemplative practice has brought me, too, to the wordlessness of the presence of God. When I read about the word Yahweh, I couldn’t believe it, as this was something that had touched me, too and I had spoken about it to many people. That God cannot be named, ought not to be named. God is to be experienced and one is gifted with that nameless presence of all that is. My challenge currently is to continually see God in every living creature (and what is not alive??). Nature comes easily, but I am still struggling at times with my fellow pilgrims on this journey – my teachers as I call them, who are gracing me with patience, love, forgiveness (big one) at my perceived hurts and pain. Oh yes, my ego self can be very much present at times. However, I can touch deep within to that amazing presence and be bathed in that grace. Each day I begin again and am so grateful for the Examen and also the gift of gratefulness. Thank you for this wonderful article which spoke to my soul. Nanoya.

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