Peacefulness through Prayer
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
as I rejoice in the Lord.
Psalm 104:34

This Lent I (Dr. Toddy Holeman) committed to engage in 20 minutes of centering prayer every day until Easter. Centering prayer is an ancient Christian prayer practice that includes quieting yourself (mind and body) so that you can turn your focused attention on the One who loves you best. In contrast to “dialogical prayer,” Centering Prayer involves personal silence – that is, I am not forming sentences and talking with God in the way we usually think about praying. Instead, I seek to “meditate” on my Heavenly Father with earnest expectation. Meditating before the Lord is very scriptural (e.g. Psalm 63:6; 104:34; 119:48 just to name a few). I begin with a brief devotional reading and a cup of coffee. Then I set the timer on my smart phone to 21 minutes – 1 minute to get settled and 20 minutes for prayer. Then I focus on breathing deeply in and out to help still my racing thoughts and calm my body. This can take a few minutes to “corral” the ping-pong ball of random thoughts, words or ideas in my mind. I often use a sacred word as a way to usher myself into God’s loving presence. I come to my loving Father with no expectation of angelic choirs or visions of rapture. I come – just as I am. I don’t have to hope that God will show up! He is already there, hoping that I will show up! When my thoughts jump to my “to do” list, I return to him. When I want to get going on my day, I remain until the chimes sound. The cumulative result is a peace that passes all understanding and remains with me. This doesn’t happen every day. But the peaceful calm that comes from being loved by God is present in my heart. This is a peace that “charms our fears” (Charles Wesley). In other words, centering prayer will help you to experience God’s peace, which will displace your fears. It all depends on where you place your focused attention.

Here are five suggestions for practicing centering prayer from Dr. Toddy Holeman, chair, Department of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Asbury Theological Seminary:

  1. Breathe. Take time to practice breathing in and out, fully and completely and then notice what changes happen in your body and in your mind. You might try inhaling for a count of three or four, pausing, then exhaling for a count of five to seven. The exhales activate your body’s calming system.
  2. Choose a Sacred Word. Add your sacred word to your breath. Your word can change daily if you like; it merely anchors your mind on God. You can say your sacred word when you inhale and “sink” deeper into God’s presence when you exhale.
  3. Buddy Up. Often centering prayer is a rich experience when practiced with others. If you are new to centering prayer, invite another centering prayer neophyte to join you in learning about it.
  4. Journal. Jesus promises us peace and often our fears get in our way of Jesus’ peacefulness. Notice what fears emerge as you practice centering prayer and instead of judging yourself for them, simply release them to the One who loves you best.
  5. Don’t Give Up. Centering prayer is a practice. Being in God’s presence is the focus. Peace is the byproduct. Practice makes permanent.

To learn more about centering prayer, see the following resources:

  1. Richard Foster, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey Into Meditative Prayer, Part 2 will provide you a great resource for entering meditative prayer or centering prayer.
  2. Centering Prayer Collective – Asbury Seminary’s Master of Arts in Counseling students have been learning about Centering Prayer and have blogged about their experiences here.
  3. Meditate on John 20:19-23 and notice how Jesus meets the disciples in their room of fear and offers them peace. As he breathed on them, through the Holy Spirit, he empowered them to forgive. Our focus on God’s peace instead of our fear, empowers us to seek relationship repair through forgiveness.

Emotional contributor: Dr. Toddy Holeman, Chair, Department of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Asbury Theological Seminary

Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus

Curator of content: Dave Higle