The History of Centering Prayer


Marc Chagall

Centering Prayer is a modern meditative prayer practice that renews the Christian Contemplative Tradition. This tradition is rooted in Jesus’ teaching, refined by early church fathers and 3rd/4th century mothers and fathers of the desert. It predates all schisms within Christianity and transcends doctrinal differences. This silent prayer gradually transforms and heals our relationship with God, ourselves, and others. It leads to a commitment to the needs and rights of each member of the human family and fosters a sacred respect for the inter-dependence of all creation. It prepares Christians for a better understanding of interdenominational differences and deepens respect for other world religions.


For the Church’s first sixteen centuries Contemplative Prayer was the goal of Christian spirituality. After the Reformation, this living tradition was virtually lost. Today, with cross-cultural dialogue and historical research, the recovery of the Christian contemplative heritage has begun.

In the 1970s three Trappist monks, Fr. William Menninger, Father Basil Pennington and Father Thomas Keating introduced Centering Prayer to the modern world as an easy-to-learn method of this ancient practice which leads to intimacy with God.

What is Centering Prayer?

aurora-borealis-lines-c2a9-christopher-martin-3059[1]The root of prayer is interior silence. Though we may think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words, this is only one expression.

Intention and consent are at the heart of Centering Prayer. We have no human faculty to perceive this Mystery. Our experience in Centering Prayer is not limited to the felt presence  of God but is rather a deepening of faith in God’s abiding presence.

Through a fidelity to the practice, Centering Prayer deepens to a method of surrender.

Centering Prayer as a discipline is designed to withdraw our attention from the ordinary flow of our thoughts. We tend to identify ourselves with that flow;  but there is a deeper part of ourselves. This prayer opens our awareness to the spiritual level of our being. That level is not immediately evident to ordinary consciousness. Since we are not in immediate contact with that level, we have to do something to develop our awareness of it. It is the level of our being that makes us most human. The values that we find there are more delightful than the values that float along the surface of our psyche. We need to refresh ourselves at this deep level every day. Just as we need exercise, food, rest and sleep, so also we need moments of interior silence because they bring the deepest kind of refreshment.


What Centering Prayer is not:

  •  It is not a technique but a way of cultivating a deeper relationship with God.
  • It is not a relaxation exercise but it may be quite refreshing.
  • It is not a form of self-hypnosis but a way to quiet the mind while maintaining its alertness.
  • It is not a para-psychological experience but an exercise of faith hope and love.
  • It is not limited to the felt presence of God, but rather a deepening of God’s abiding presence.
  • It is not reflective or spontaneous prayer, but simply resting in God beyond thoughts, words, and the emotions.

There are three ways that you can deepen your understand and practice of Centering Prayer:

  1. Attend an introductory workshop or take and on-line course on Centering Prayer at
  2. Attend a Centering Prayer group, at which time the group facilitator will provide you with basic instructions.
  3. You are strongly encouraged to attend an introductory workshop whenever it fits your schedule.