Dawn, Fullerton, California

 Centering Prayer

(Menninger, Keating, Pennington. Website: centeringprayer.com)


Associated with the writings of three Cistercian Abbots, Fr Thomas Keating, Fr Basil Pennington and Fr William Meninger, is the practice of Centering Prayer. Practitioners are encouraged to spend twenty minutes, twice a day, inwardly reciting a  sacred word expressive of one’s intention to be in God’s presence. During this practice the sacred word” is used as a means of turning away from thoughts and distractions. Fr. Meninger believed this practice to be a modern application of the tradition found in the Cloud of Unknowing.

The following is typical of recommendations for this practice:

  1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within. (cf. [Keating's] Open Mind, Open Heart, chap. 5)

    1. The sacred word expresses our intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.

    2. The sacred word is chosen during a brief period of prayer asking the Holy Spirit to inspire us with one that is especially suitable for us.

      1. Examples: God, Jesus, Abba, Father, Mother, Mary, Amen.

      2. Other possibilities: Love, Peace, Mercy, Listen, Let Go, Silence, Stillness, Faith, Trust, Yes.

    3. Instead of a sacred word a simple inward glance toward the Divine Presence or noticing one’s breath may be more suitable for some persons. The same guidelines apply to these symbols as to the sacred word. 

    4. The sacred word is sacred not because of its inherent meaning but because of the meaning we give it as the expression of our intention and consent. 

    5. Having chosen a sacred word, we do not change it during the prayer period because that would be to start thinking again.

  2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within. 

    1. “Sitting comfortably” means relatively comfortably so as not to encourage sleep during the time of prayer. 

    2. Whatever sitting position we choose, we keep the back straight. 

    3. We close our eyes as a symbol of letting go of what is going on around and within us. 

    4. We introduce the sacred word inwardly as gently as laying a feather on a piece of absorbent cotton. 

    5. Should we fall asleep upon awakening we continue the prayer. 

  3. When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word. 

    1. “Thoughts” is an umbrella term for every perception, including sense perceptions, feelings, images, memories, plans, reflections, concepts, commentaries, and spiritual experiences. 

    2. Thoughts are an inevitable, integral and normal part of Centering Prayer. 

    3. By “returning ever-so-gently to the sacred word” a minimum of effort is indicated. This is the only activity we initiate during the time of Centering Prayer. 

    4. During the course of Centering Prayer, the sacred word may become vague or disappear. 

  4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes. 

    1. The additional 2 minutes enables us to bring the atmosphere of silence into everyday life. 

    2. If this prayer is done in a group, the leader may slowly recite a prayer such as the Lord’s Prayer while the others listen. (Contemplative Outreach, Ltd.)



(Main, Freeman. Websites: John Main Prayer Association
 World Community for Christian Meditation)


John Main, O.S.B. (1926-1982) studied mantra meditation in the Hindu tradition before becoming a Benedictine monk.  He was trained in the use of the mantra by Swami Satyananda in Malaya, who recommended to Main the practice of “Christian meditation”, employing an appropriate Christian mantra. John Main chose as his mantra the Aramaic word Maranatha, which means “Come, Lord”, (I Corinthians 16:22;  Revelation 22:20).

Although discouraged from using this method of meditation by his Benedictine novice master, Main later became convinced that there were parallels to this practice in the ninth and tenth Conferences of John Cassian, where Cassian recommends the formula “O God come to my assistance, O Lord, make haste to help me”.  John Main attempted to establish a community in Montreal to study and promote the use of the Christian mantra in prayer.  His work is continued by Fr. Laurence Freeman, O.S.B.

In Main's form of Christian meditation the practitioner is encouraged to recite the mantra Maranatha rhythmically for thirty minutes, twice a day.  The following are typical recommendations:

“Begin by settling into a peaceful and quiet place of prayer, where you may be undisturbed for 30 minutes. Find a body posture where you are comfortable, yet not prone to nod off, keeping your back straight and your shoulders relaxed. Empty your mind of all thoughts by focusing your attention upon the sacred silence in which you are to meet the living God.

[...] Begin repeating to yourself this one word (often called a mantra): “MA-RA-NA-THA”, keeping the accent equally on each syllable. Do this throughout the time of prayer, which is usually 30 minutes, twice a day. Whenever you find thoughts or images coming to your mind, return to the mantra. If you are distracted from this repetition, gently return to it as soon as you are aware you have been distracted.”  (The John Main Prayer Association)

For a discussion of the significance of the use of a Christian mantra, the relation to non-Chrisitan Eastern meditation, and the Catholic notion of infused contemplation see: http://www.innerexplorations.com/chmystext/john.htm





Although all the principal proponents of the methods described above are monks, canonically obliged to the daily celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, and whose spiritual lives are thus constantly enriched by the daily, weekly, and annual cycle of kataphatic liturgical prayer, there is seldom any recommendation of liturgical or scriptural prayer in conjunction with the twice-daily practice of Centering Prayer or Christian meditation.

There is seldom any strong emphasis in their texts on establishing a balance between these apophatic prayer methods and kataphatic liturgical prayer.

Perhaps the evolution of these practices and the deepening understanding of how liturgical prayer can itself serve as the source of rich, contemplative experience, will allow for a mutual interpenetration and enhancement of all parts of the interweaving cycle of apophatic and kataphatic experience.

This Webpage was created for a workshop held at Saint Andrew's Abbey, Valyermo, California in 2005 ....x....   “”.