Tools for Calm and Wisdom: Welcoming and Centering Prayer Practices

Which would feel better to you: to be anxious, tense, fretting, enslaved to obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior, despairing…or as calm as you can be under the circumstances, resting in quiet trust, finding a place of inner peace even in the midst of turmoil or vigorous action?

The answer is obvious, but how to achieve it is less so.  We are in an extremely stressful, distressing time.  One of the best things we can do for ourselves and for the world around us is learn the spiritual wisdom and skills of our tradition that are designed to calm us and open us to the Spirit.

If you are ready, then read on…

 

The Holy Spirit is real.  It is the most real thing there is.  It is the mysterious force that brought the universe into being and formed the earth and then sparked life out of lifeless elements, and it has inspired every cell’s love of life ever since.

The Spirit was at work in the development of human consciousness and language, and so in time the Spirit led people to recognize that a Spirit existed, and to try to describe and name it.  They called it Atman-Brahman, the Tao, Gitche Manitou or Wakan Tanka, words meaning the Sacred Way or Great Spirit.  They called it by its attributes, Comforter, Advocate, Power and Guide.  Their ancient Biblical words for spirit connected it to life forces of the body and earth, the breath and wind (ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek).

Jesus said anyone who disrespected him could be forgiven, but anyone who disrespected (“blasphemed,” see Luke 12:10-12) the Spirit could not be forgiven.  Straying from the Spirit is the one thing we can do that makes us absolutely wrong, because the Spirit is what gives life, nurtures life and guides us to more evolved life.

The Spirit is trying to guide and empower us to attain ever greater health, harmony and community, greater oneness, compassion and love, greater inclusiveness, justice and peace.

The human ego, on the other hand, has a much narrower agenda.

A challenge comes along and the ego activates our primitive fight-or-flight brain and we feel our whole body transform into an ancient human facing a sabertooth tiger with nothing but a rock and a stick in our hands.  Of course, if a car is speeding toward a child or our grandmother is about to fall down the stairs, the adrenal burst is a gift of the Spirit, a superpower that can help us save lives, including our own.

But the ego and our brain’s emergency response system are not the sources of our best thinking or deepest wisdom.  They are not what we need to guide our lives or our society because their agenda is only the tiniest part of the Spirit of life’s agenda.

It takes an enlightened ego to see that it is in its self-interest to step back, relax its grip and hand control to the Spirit’s higher wisdom and power.

So if you would like to be calm in the midst of the turmoil of life, that is your first task.  You need to convince your smaller self that it would feel better and be better off if it let the Spirit drive the bus.

Then you are ready to trade your stone-age rock and stick for the spiritual tools that have helped millions of modern people find the peace, wisdom and power they needed to “make a way where there is no way,” as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it:

“When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way…”  Sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood in June 1965

We each have our own ways of calming and opening our hearts to higher wisdom and power, things like going out into nature, listening to music, reading, talking with a wise friend or support group and different forms of mindfulness, meditation and prayer.

Below are instructions for two of the most effective tools our spiritual tradition offers for this time.  If you would like to learn more about them you can attend our Heartfulness Contemplative Training Circle zooms (click here) or email unitedchurchofstrafford@gmail.com.

Welcoming Prayer Practice

The Welcoming Prayer Practice is a simple yet powerful tool that helps to release us from the grip of our thoughts or emotions, from our ego or small self, and open us fully to reality and the Spirit in the present moment. In times of both personal and societal upheaval, the Welcoming Prayer Practice is one way to transform the perceived ‘obstacle’ of painful emotions into greater freedom and connection to the Spirit’s comfort, guidance and power.

Mark and Lisa Kutolowski and Metanoia of Vermont hosted a webinar on the Welcoming Prayer practice on March 27, 2020.  At the start of the session Mark gave a twelve minute introduction that briefly puts the practice in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and social and economic upheaval we are going through and then gives a succinct, insightful and extremely useful overview of the steps.  Here is an audio recording of his introduction:

In addition, here is a pamphlet that gives an overview of the Welcoming Prayer practice from Contemplative Outreach, the leading provider today of training in the Christian contemplative tradition:
www.contemplativeoutreach.org/welcoming-prayer

And here is a more advanced 35-minute talk by Cynthia Bourgeault, a leading contemplative teacher and author of many books including: Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening; The Heart of Centering Prayer; and The Wisdom Way of Knowing.
www.wisdomwayofknowing.org/resource-directory/the-welcoming-practice

Centering Prayer Practice

Below are some resources to learn Centering Prayer in addition to attending our Heartfulness Contemplative Training Circle zooms (click here).

Click here for the Contemplative Outreach page which offers a brief definition and summary of simple instructions.  Keep scrolling down that page and you will find a book that is the classic introduction by Thomas Keating, and a pamphlet with detailed summaries of the technique, and a delightful video of Thomas Keating teaching Centering Prayer, all of which are excellent.

In addition to those, Cynthia Bourgeault’s book Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening is even more appealing to many people than Open Mind, Open Heart, the book by Thomas Keating on the Contemplative Outreach site.

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