Four Questions about Centering Prayer and Other Forms of Contemplative Practice

Carl McColman | 3/22/2019 | Staff
amyc9948 (Posted by) Level 3
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I received the following email from a reader. I’m editing it slightly for the purpose of clarity, but otherwise posting it in its entirety.

My question hovers around how centering prayer and Cynthia Bourgeault’s expression of it sits in tension with Orthodox traditions of the Jesus Prayer. Bourgeault figures centering prayer as a unique and innovative method of contemplation that represents something new. I’m an Episcopal priest and new is really not my thing. I’m interested in recovery of the ancient traditions of the church — ressourcement as de Lubac, Danielou et all would say — and I wonder about this trumpeting of innovation. Is there really a new method of connecting with God or is this just a new articulation?

Distinction - Methods - Methods - Intention - Vs

More specifically, I wonder about this hard and fast distinction between so-called concentrative methods and receptive methods — intention vs attention. Centering prayer has made serious hay over this distinction and I wonder if it actually exists. Having done lots of centering prayer intensives, I must say that from my perceptive many people doing centering prayer are spacing out, going to sleep, in the name of contemplation. A little concentrative attention seems to called for — both to recognize what is coming up and to let it go. I’ve been doing intensive contemplative practice for 25 years and it just doesn’t jell with my experience. I wonder what you think about this “methods fetish” approach to contemplation. It’s about relationship with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit after all!

Perhaps what it boils down to is a question about letting everything be as it is and the invocation of the name. I find these exist on a continuum. As Theophane says we beat our wings sometimes and sometimes we glide in the silence of resting in God. Both schools of centering...
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