Rediscovering Centering Prayer

Photo: Liz Andrasi Deere

I went on a run yesterday.

I’ve always wanted to be a runner but have never been able to cultivate the strength and endurance and discipline to bring that dream to life.

There are a few reasons for this.

I’ve discovered some things about my body in the last few years. First, I have exercise-induced asthma (I had a bad respiratory infection as a kid that landed me in the hospital and required years of breathing treatments). Second, I have food allergies (when I eat foods like soy, apples, and strawberries, then elevate my body temperature with exercise, I get sick). Third, my body builds muscle quickly and it needs a lot of fuel to do that (it was hard to fuel my body when I was most focused on being thin, really only exercising to lose weight).

These days, I use an inhaler before I work out, I stay away from foods I know make me sick, and I eat to fuel my body and enjoy food.

My goals have shifted and now I want to run to help clear my mind and alleviate stress. I want my heart and lungs—all of my body, really—to be strong.

Another helpful part of my new running endeavor is that I’ve found a coach.

Before, I had no one to tell me what shoes would be best for the way my body is built, or how to set a pace that is challenging yet comfortable and manageable, or what sort of food would best fuel my body. I didn’t have anyone to ask for advice or help.

I have one now, though. I’ve joined a group training for the Charlottesville Ten-Miler led with a volunteer coach, and I finally don’t feel so overwhelmed trying to chase this running dream alone.

Reframing Discipline

It takes discipline to be a runner. I didn’t really want to run yesterday afternoon. I talked myself into and out of it, multiple times. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. I wasn’t sure if I needed new shoes. I wasn’t sure if I could start my training on a hill.

Finally, I realized, part of discipline is just doing the thing. Just taking that first step. So, I put on my shorts. Then puffed twice on my inhaler. Then pulled on my socks. Then laced up my (perfectly fine) shoes. Then got in my car. I drove to and parked at the base of Monticello Trail and turned on my interval app. I walked for one minute, then ran for thirty seconds. I repeated that until I landed one mile up the trail.

It didn’t feel good at first. I felt stiff and silly running for such short bursts. I wondered what the other people on the trail thought of me. But by the time I took the last step of the mile, I felt good. I was smiling. I felt accomplished as I took my time walking slowly back down the trail, taking pictures and breathing deeply. My mind felt clearer. My legs felt energized. I had done it. I could have done more, but I chose to trust my coach and take slow, deliberate steps to build a sustainable practice. I’ll be out there again tomorrow.

I’ve yearned to run for a long, long time. I just didn’t understand how to actually do it. I’ve found myself in the same situation as I’ve longed to connect with God.

Longing for Connection

Growing up in church I was offered a handful of ways to address this longing: wake up early, read the Bible, pray.

I was never very good at doing this, though, and I felt ashamed.

I wanted to be close to God but kept failing in my attempts. I assumed God was disappointed in me and I worried about whether or not I was actually a Christian. My solution? Try harder.

When I went to seminary, though, my perspective shifted. Faithful people throughout history have cultivated space and practices that allow for deep, meaningful connection with God. There are so many stories and examples and guides readily available, I just didn’t know about them yet.

I was required to read a book before arriving at seminary, Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas, and in it I discovered that the awe and wonder I felt when I was standing in a forest or looking up at a mountain was a perfectly valid way to notice, worship, and be drawn into communion with God. Same for studying, and cooking, and caring for others.

Gary Thomas became my first spiritual discipline coach. Many others have joined him as my guides in the years since: spiritual directors, faithful friends, dear mentors, and of course, other writers. (I wrote more about this here if you’d like to read more about this journey.)

I know every day and every season out on the running trail won’t be the same. I will need to draw on different tools if this is to be a sustained part of my life.

Walking with God is no different.

I’ve found it helpful to have a multitude of practices, or spiritual disciplines, to draw upon as I walk with God each day.

Rediscovering Centering Prayer

Psalm 46:10a

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.
Be.

I learned about centering prayer while in my Covenant Group at Truett Seminary. It was here in this group of women that I discovered so many of the practices and rhythms of life that now help draw me into communion with God.

It doesn’t look hard on paper. Sit still and be quiet for twenty minutes. When the mind starts to wander, repeat a word or phrase to draw back to the practice of simply being with God.

But it is hard for me to just be.

My mind is always churning. I’m almost constantly planning and worrying and running through a to-do list. It makes it hard to be present and notice God.

Because it is hard for me to just be I need the spiritual discipline of centering prayer. I need to practice just being with God.

I’ve felt disconnected from God lately. Life has been full and hectic, and I’ve been struggling through hurt and disappointment. I’ve been striving toward goals and frustrated when I’m not making the sort of progress I think I should.

In the midst of this season I was reminded through a podcast about the gift of centering prayer. I decided I would incorporate it into my life again and see what happened.

I searched and found an app that guides me through the practice and allows me to choose scripture and prayers to open and close my time of silent, centering prayer. A coach of sorts. (Here it is, if you’re interested.)

I chose the word “trust” to call me back to the present moment with God when my mind inevitably started churning away.

Very quickly I realized I was tempted to use centering prayer to clear my mind so I could sleep better or so I could be more productive in my writing and work.

What I found when I shifted my intent and asked God to guard me from this temptation though, was I felt nourished by having time when I’m not required to do anything at all, just be with God.

I think a lot of times as I follow God, I feel like I need to do something for God. For me, this looks like a lot of things: loving people, giving money, giving time, praying, going to church, being productive in my writing work…the list goes on. These aren’t bad things. But what I’m finding is that God desires for me to want to just be. To be still and know that God is God and I am not. To be still and know that I am created by God and loved by God.

The good things that I do…loving, giving, praying, writing…they begin to flow naturally out of the time I spend simply abiding and being with God.

Practicing the discipline of centering prayer keeps this truth in front of me. It reminds me that it is okay to rest in God. It reminds me that I am valuable to God simply because God created me and loves me, not because of anything I do. I don’t have to earn that love.

A Final Thought: Some Words from Jesus

Matthew 11:25-28, The Message

“Are you tired?
Worn out?
Burned out on religion?
Come to me.
Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.
I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

 ♦♦♦

I am tired. I am worn out. I am burned out on religion. Are you?

I am finding through centering prayer what it means to come to Jesus. To get away with him and recover my life. I’m learning how to take a real rest. I’m learning the unforced rhythms of grace—slowly but surely—as I walk with Jesus and work with Jesus and watch how he does it. I’m discovering what it means to live freely and lightly along the way.

Maybe centering prayer is a practice you need, too? If so, I’d love to join you and cheer you on. Are you taking up this practice for the first time or returning to it? Here’s that app again, just in case you find it helpful. I set mine up to begin with a reading of Psalm 25 and end with a version of the Lord’s Prayer. There’s no right or wrong time of day for this practice. Try out different things. Let me know how it’s going in the comments!

Liz Andrasi Deere is a Texan living in Charlottesville, Virginia with her husband and puppy. She loves food, trees, travel, and practicing hospitality—both offering and receiving it. Liz graduated from Truett Seminary with her Master of Divinity and is a freelance writer and editor. She shares some of her writing each week on her blog Lamplight Stories.

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