image: Mary Fleeson, 2017, Lindisfarne Scriptorium
I’m Rob Christ and new to the blog. I look forward to the conversation.
Celtic practice is trending again in the wake of great authors like Ian Bradley, e.g. The Celtic Way; Ray Simpson, Celtic Christianity; Kenneth McIntosh, Water from an Ancient Well; among many others. The movement is feeding a hunger for a simpler ecumenical faith that honors the ancient roots of Christianity with practical, open, modern application. I will speak occasionally on the theological roots along with its use and misuse for modern spiritual formation. In this spirit, I offer the following views on the key Celtic monastic tradition of centering prayer.
At its core, centering prayer is an act of profound humility. Intercession and supplication certainly has its place, but it dominates prayer in our churches and the personal prayers of most modern Christians. One of my fellow seminarians recently joked that corporate prayer has become a competitive sport in his church. Who can say the most heartfelt, praiseworthy thing to wow the crowd? Praises can also seem empty when “Lord”, “Jesus” and “God” are used as space fillers or as punctuation in prayers. Often, these patterns are attempts to use God’s name to exert control over circumstances and time. What is missing is contemplation. To be centered in prayer is to give up control. And, to be freed from what I call the tyranny of time.
In our Western, Post-Enlightenment, Dualist, Reductionist culture, we have completely internalized the notion of a linear, fixed timeline in our thoughts. Even with all the new physics of variable time in relativity and the multiverse, we remain the children of Newton and Aristotle. The Celtic saints were not so tied to the illusion of past, present, future and to rigid contemporaneous validation as we are. A notable example is that St. Brigid of Kildare is cited by legend to be the midwife of Jesus, despite her living in 5th Century Ireland. In the same way our reading of the Bible can discern a truer meaning when we have a light touch instead of a rigid adherence to a timeline.
Being in prayer with the eternal God collapses time. We tend to look at our past with regrets and the future with worries. To be in prayer is to completely surrender to that moment in God, when the past and the future fall away. The Greek word translated as eternal, αἰώνιος, does not have the modern English connotation of everlasting, rather it is “of an age,” implying being fully in the present, outside the timeline.
Imagine the power and grace available to the believer by being out of the tyranny of time! If believers are not worried about the future, not afraid of death, not bound by the regrets and pains of the past, they can do anything in the name of God. When we think of Joseph, Elijah, Paul and, of course, Jesus, we see people who are fully present in prayer, shedding all personal power and resting wholly in the Spirit.
Here are some practical tips for centering prayer:
- First, don’t fill every moment with words. It is very hard to quiet the mind, but a simple liturgy, a mantra or a few holy words can be very helpful.
- Second, simplicity and immediacy are key. If it feels fake, it probably is. If your mind wanders, make it part of the prayer. Pray in everything and in every circumstance.
- Third, God can handle it. There is no such thing as a prayer life – there is just life. Prayer can be angry, Prayer can be profane, Prayer can be weepy, Prayer can be whining. Look to Psalms, which is filled with all of these emotions.
- Finally, when you can, pray in a place where you can talk aloud, whisper, dance, speak in tongues, yell, or be silent. Full expression is very helpful for centering yourself in prayer.
Here are a couple simple Celtic style prayers to help center the mind:
Bless me, O Lord, for I seek you,
Bless me, O Lord, for I praise you,
Bless me, O Lord, for I surrender to you,
Bless me, O Lord, for I rest in you.
God around me
God in front of me
God behind me
God to my left and my right
God below me
God above me
God within me
(repeat with Jesus and Spirit)
These and many others are available from the Northumbria Community in their Celtic Daily Prayer books and other resources. Check them out if you are looking for simple liturgies to help you center in prayer.