Last week I began attending a Centering Prayer class at my church. This method of prayer traces its origins back to the prayer practiced by previous generations of Christian hermits, mystics, monks and nuns. It’s a way of praying that gets our agendas out of the way so that we can listen for God, and be open to God’s presence and action in our lives. It’s based on Jesus’ own instructions, found in Matthew 6:6–8:
But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask.
Naturally, our class assignment is to set aside a period of time for Centering Prayer every day. It’s felt a little bit like homecoming for me, as I have participated in contemplative “sit” for years, individually and collectively, including with my coworkers when I worked at the Center for Action and Contemplation.
One of my particular challenges is sticking to a certain time of day for prayer. I already have a morning routine that takes as much as two hours to complete, so adding another twenty minutes doesn’t feel right—in part because I know it’s good for me to get away from the computer at various times during the day. So I tend to take my prayer time, my contemplative sit, in between portions of my freelance work and other online projects.
On Friday, I chose as my prayer time a mid-afternoon period when I thought I had a sufficiently long period of time available. I set the timer on my phone, assumed my prayer position, and began sinking into silence.
I don’t know how long I had been praying, but suddenly my phone rang. I have assigned specific ringtones to a few of my more regular clients, so I knew, without opening my eyes, who was calling. I also knew that this client was hoping to finish two different projects that day, which I had been editing, before taking a week off for her first real vacation since Christmas. There was no question in my mind that I should answer the phone.
As we conversed, I was aware of how my (prayer-centered?) ability to stay calm and collected, going “the extra mile” to work things out, helped this client to lower her anxiety level and get the work done. (I even remembered to turn off my timer so it didn’t go off in the midst of our conversation!) We finished our discussion, I concluded my revisions for her, and then went on to complete my workday with a few additional tasks. Somehow I knew—instinctively—that I didn’t need to try to return to my interrupted prayer practice.
Later, I realized more consciously that I hadn’t needed to return to my prayer practice because God had, in that moment when I responded to my client’s need, invited me into living my prayer through action instead. I was still praying, and there was no question that God was with me, even in me, as I breathed peace and calm and assisted my client in getting out the door for a long-overdue time away from the office. It perfectly illustrated what I was told at that first Centering Prayer class: We are called to learn it well…and then let it all go.
Has this kind of a situation ever happened in your life? Were you able to let go of the need to “do it right” and trust that you were being called to do something different—that was still the right thing in that moment?
Can you open yourself to that type of “yes, and” approach to your discipline of prayer? Can you practice diligently, and then let it go when you are called to live it out in a new and different way?