How To - Centering Prayer and Christian Meditation
Within Christianity there are two well known movements aspiring to bring Christians back into a contemplative experience of God. This relationship is all the more important in our busy day to day to lives where one compromise begets another until we avoid looking critically at our societal structures and individual lives. Christianity is not a religion of passivity, yet it requires quiet to be certain our actions are guided by God, Love, and not by our own selfish interests and ego. Meditation is simply one way of drawing closer to God and listening to and being guided by the Holy Spirit instead of acting on our own accord (which is often wrong). It also helps us to better control our emotions, particularly anger, to allow us to live more peacefully with others. This is, after all, an important message of Christ.
Both Centering Prayer and Christian Meditation come to us through historical practices (east and west) and through present day monastics in the Benedictine tradition. The Centering Prayer techniques are promoted by Father Thomas Keating, OSB and the Christian Meditation techniques come from Father John Main, OSB and are currently spread by his successor Father Laurence Freeman, OSB.
The two techniques are quite similar with Fr. Main's techniques utilizing constant repetition of a mantra and Fr. Keating's techniques using a word to simply quell the mind and to then let go of it. both are very useful techniques with one simply resonating with some more than others.
Father Main's Christian Meditation:
Fr. Main's techniques revolve around the manta Maranatha. Pronounced (MA, RA, NA, THA), the manta is used internally to control the mind. Maranatha is an Aramaic word that translates as "Come Lord" or "The Lord Cometh". This mantra does appear in the bible [1CO:16:22] & [REV:22:20] but it is handed down from Fr. Main's Indian teacher Swami Satyananda who was a Hindu monk raised in Roman Catholic schools. Fr. Main, and others, also drew similar techniques from The Cloud of Unknowing (The Classics of Western Spirituality) and John Cassian: Conferences (Classics of Western Spirituality) .
Father Keating's Centering Prayer:
Within Fr. Keating's Centering Prayer techniques one can choose any word, which is true in Main's case as well although they strongly recommend the mantra. Centering prayer utlizes a one or two syllable word that is only brought to mind when you notice that your mind has wandered. Words drawn from the Bible are fine or even words such as "Peace", "Love", etc. would all work. What you don't want is a word that inspires much thought. "World Peace," for example, might have your mind wandering about thinking about all of the current events in the world - this is not the point of these contemplative practices.
Both techniques recommend that you develop and follow a regular meditation schedule - 15-30 minutes twice a day is ideal. Other than that you simply find a quiet place, sit ideally with your back upright and straight, and meditate until your alloted time is over.
While there is a sense of progress in the contemplative live it is not the point. You have to start with faith and simply word from there. Most of the benefits are subtle initially and all of them require devotion to the techniques. Month after month and year after year, however, you will find that are changing on every possible level - with your relationship to God, your relationship with yourself and your relationship with others.