Posts Tagged ‘Centering Prayer’
By: Richard Foster ISBN: 9780830835553
Publisher: InterVarsity Press
“Tell my people, tell my children, that my heart is broken. Their distance and their preoccupation wound me… Tell them. Tell my children to come home.” (Richard Foster; Sanctuary of the Soul. pg150)
I think this, arguably, might be the heart and soul of this book; a call to slowing down and lessening the distance between ourselves and our Father, God.
I love the pace and the tone that Richard Foster shares this journey into meditative prayer. From the very opening pages of the book, Foster shares with gentleness, humility, and the patience of a wizened teacher the lessons he has learned during his years of study and experience in the discipline of meditative prayer.
The book is divided into three main sections: Part One, Laying the Foundation; Part Two, Stepping into Meditative Prayer; and Part Three, Dealing with Everyday Distractions. Each section is comprised of three chapters with an average length of nine pages. The book is a relatively quick read and moves along at an engaging pace. I didn’t have any difficulty following the flow of the book at all, but I do have a somewhat studied background on the topic of meditative (aka “centering” and “contemplative”) prayer and I am familiar with most of the sources cited by Foster in Sanctuary. I took note that it seemed as though special attention was given to avoiding esoteric terms that might be unfamiliar to a broad audience. I think this is important to making a book of this nature accessible to the masses and I think this is exactly what Sanctuary of the Soul is… accessible, readable, and understandable regardless of where a person may be with respect to their spiritual journey and maturity therein.
There were several things I appreciated at a personal level about this little exposition on meditative prayer. First, there is what I believe is a hallmark of Foster’s writing, a deep and rich sharing from the traditions, ancient and contemporary of the various streams of Christianity. These references are annotated well and there is a list of recommended resources for additional study and reading. Secondly, I appreciate and respect the decision to avoid making this book into a “how to” or “______ steps to perfecting meditative prayer.” There are several pauses throughout the book where Richard Foster is deliberate in pointing out that it is God who initiates and completes process of “listening prayer;” we are willing and surrendered partners in the process, but it is God who is the author and the facilitator of the work. Additionally, Foster reminds the reader that individual personalities vary, and experience as well as maturity plays into the equation of how God will define each individual’s journey into this style of prayer. He goes on to explain while there are some commonalities to the process and experience of meditative prayer, there is not an iron-clad rule to follow aside from the desire to grow closer to God and the discipline to provide the space to facilitate the growth. I was also encouraged (as I’ve already mentioned) by the gentle, non-threatening, and humble approach with which Foster shared his journey with the reader. It is only my opinion, but I think anyone reading the book would be encouraged to try this style of prayer without feeling intimidated.
I was thankful for chapter nine (one of the last sections of the book) as it summarized the lessons of the preceding chapters in the form of a Potpourri of Questions. Points that had already begun to fade from my memory were resurrected in this chapter. The highlights and main points were driven home again in a succinct yet inspiring fashion.
Finally, I don’t think this is the definitive work or “one-size-fits-all” book on meditative prayer; neither does Foster because he has shared the recommended resources at the end of the book. My reason for this observation is meant as another point of encouragement to continue research and to continue study and to continue the practice of this beautiful and necessary form of prayer. To paraphrase one of my personal mentors on this topic: “There is no failure or wasted moment when we turn and surrender our hearts to God. He is delighted and continues the good work in us with every moment we turn to him and seek his face.”
This is another wonderful resource from Richard Foster and I’m sure I will be turning to it again and again. I recommend it most highly to every Christian, wherever they may be on their journey with Jesus.
Book Review: Intimacy with God
Author: Thomas Keating
Publisher: Crossroad Publishing Co. ISBN: 9780824525293
This was a book that I have enjoyed and learned much from, but it wasn’t without effort.
First, let me say that I rate Intimacy With God: An Introduction to Centering Prayer a very good book on the subject of centering (or contemplative) prayer. I think it shares and teaches legitimate tools (techniques) that can be used to help facilitate prayerful union with God, but I don’t think this book is a “how to” manual of sorts. I believe that centering prayer is not something that can be taught through step programs as such, but centering prayer begins with the Spirit of God drawing the person into this holy and sacred union. Disclaimer aside, it is a good book.
I mentioned it was not without effort for me to read and glean from the book; the first few chapters, from the introduction to chapter three, were very difficult reading for me. I realize the care that Thomas Keating was taking to provide a foundation and education before moving into the practice of centering prayer, but it was tough reading for me; I got lost with the flow of the writing and I misunderstood his points on several occasions. It was only through persevering through these introductory chapters that later chapters and more explanation helped to make sense of some of the earlier work. I make this observation in light of familiarity with Keating’s writing style (Open Mind, Open Heart; The Better Part; The Mystery of Christ; The Human Condition; and others) which I have easily understood. Chapters four through seven (Divine Therapy, Deepening the Experience, Guiding Contemplatives, and Lectio Divina: Listening to Scripture) were, by far, my favorites.
It is important to understand the context that Keating frames this book. He contends that centering prayer is entirely a work of God that we enter into. He also contends this is the highest, deepest, and most unifying expression of prayer with God, but it is not meant to be an exclusive expression. In this book and in other works of his he states the following:
What centering prayer is and is not: (1) it is not a technique but a way of cultivating a deeper relationship with God (2) it is not a relaxation exercise but it may be quite refreshing (3) it is not a form of self-hypnosis but a way to quiet the mind while maintaining its alertness (4) it is not a charismatic gift but a path of transformation (5) it is not a para-psychological experience but an exercise of faith, hope, and selfless love (6) it is not limited to the “felt” presence of God but is rather a deepening of faith in God’s abiding presence (7) it is not reflective or spontaneous prayer but simply resting in God beyond thoughts, words, and emotions.
I think the above quote from Keating is important information to know. Additionally, I think because of the importance and the effectiveness in developing the relationship with God centering prayer affords the Christian, they would be well-informed to read other works on the subject. Keating is faithful to provide several works for additional study in the appendices of Intimacy With God.
This is a good book and I learned a lot. I have realized and found a language for sharing this expression of prayer that I have found difficulty talking about before. I have also been encouraged with the some of the supporting practices I learned in the book. It will be one that I recommend although there are others on this subject I have enjoyed more.
LENT: Confession, Meditation, and Repentance [2011MAR09]
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. — The Book of Common Prayer
In the blazing light of your love our failings are illuminated; our failure to give, our failure to love, our failure to follow our failure to serve, our failure to be the people, you would have us be. Forgive us and renew us. You know our nature, know our failings. Enfold us in your arms that we might daily know your forgiveness and healing love.
“The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness. He knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust…” (Psalm 103:8-13) …May I never forget the good things God does.
Tell my people of their sins…
Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me. ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ I will tell you why! I respond. It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting whe n you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord?
No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes. (Isaiah 58:1-12)
Litany of Penitence
Most holy and merciful God:
We confess to you, to one another, and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart, mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven. Have mercy on us, Lord.
We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us. We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit. Our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives, Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people, Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves, Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work, Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us, We confess to you, Lord.
For the wrongs we have done: for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty, for all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us, for our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us, Accept our repentance, Lord.
Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us; favorably hear us, for your mercy is great. Accomplish in us the work of your salvation, that we may show forth your glory in the world. By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord, Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.
Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life. Amen.
Book Review: The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living
By: Father Thomas Keating Compiled by: S. Stephanie Iachetta
Publisher: Continuum Int’l Publishing Group ISBN: 9780826433541
The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living is one of the devotional tools I selected for my reading this year. It is a collection of excerpts from the works of Father Thomas Keating. I have spent almost fifty days with it now and although I have not completed it, feel confident to voice my support for it and offer my recommendations.
I mentioned the book is a collection of excerpts; it is actually excerpts from at least ten published works of Keating. While I am familiar with Fr. Keating, I count this a great opportunity to become more familiar through some of his other writings. I freely admit that I have grown to appreciate his thinking and writing style as I’ve enjoyed this daily reader for the past few weeks. The structure of the devotional readings is as follows (this from the book’s back cover and Forward by George W. Hunt, S.J.):
“The book’s structure is both simple and elegant. Each day’s text begins with a line of prayer, a ‘prayer sentence’ that acts as both a theme and an invitation. Each closes with an appropriate, longer citation from Scripture that is a biblically based recapitulation of the theme. In between lies a brief reflection to inspire meditation, each an excerpt from the writings of the Cistercian monk, Father Thomas Keating…”
In as much as the book is described by Hunt, it is a success, at least to my thinking. While not every single meditation captures me with inspiration and thought provocation, there have been many that do. I look forward to the remainder of the year I will spend with this devotional piece and the introduction to more of the writing of Fr. Thomas Keating.