Is Centering Prayer “Old” or “New”?

Carl McColman | 3/26/2019 | Staff
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An old book cannot contain new knowledge. But a new book just might contain old wisdom.

Last week on this blog I posted a detailed email I received from a reader which included several wonderful questions. You can read the full email here.

Questions - Time - Week - Prayer - Something

I’m going to take on the questions from that email one at a time. This week, we’re considering “is centering prayer something old or something new.”

Here’s the question in the reader’s own words….

Question - Hovers - Prayer - Cynthia - Bourgeault

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?

Since you’re an Episcopalian, I’m going to use an Episcopalian example to try to unpack the nuance of your question. Centering Prayer is “new” in the sense that the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was “new.” Yes, it was a brand-new prayer book when it was published 40 years ago (has it really been that long?). But to the extent that the 1979 Prayer Book includes many ancient forms of prayer, from the Psalms to many of the collects and other prayers included, it’s not really entirely accurate or fair to dismiss the ’79 BCP as completely “new.” It is a new edition of a very old resource.

Analogy - Water - Prayer - Centering - Prayer

I think the analogy holds water for centering prayer. Centering prayer is a new “method” — that’s an important word, and in a future...
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