How ARE You? Centering Prayer and Contemplative Practice – by Naomi Wenger

candle holder circled by carved figures

“How areyou?” That simple question can open us deeply to the ground of our being. For the question is driven by the innocent verb “to be,”which isthe ground of existence. It is also the most we can know of God — God’s essence. God IS. All of our other descriptions of God are just that, labels that help to identify God in one way or another. In Moses’ initial encounter with God in the bush that was burning but not consumed, God self-identifies with this notion. God identifies as “I Am.” God is Being. 

When we pray, we usually think of addressing God in some fashion and approaching one of the aspects of God that we can understand: God the peace-giver, God the provider, God the powerful one, God the fixer of all things awry, God creator, God redeemer, God the comforter. Yet, none of these roles is in itself the essence of God. So another way to pray is to come to God as Being and simply present our own being to be aware with/of that One Being. We call this kind of prayer Contemplative Prayer. It is prayer as alignment rather than answers, of agreement not argument, of yieldedness instead of resistance or insistence. 

While there is a place for the conversant kind of prayer where we plead for special mercy from God, there is also a deep need for the kind of prayer where we are not in control but rather we practice giving ourselves over to God—not for a particular result like spiritual growth, but simply to practice giving ourselves over to God. The wonderful thing about this kind of prayer is that it always results in spiritual growth and the awareness of God’s constant Presence throughout our days.

One of the methods of contemplative prayer that has been used through the centuries comes from TheCloud of Unknowing, an anonymous 14th century English treatise on contemplation. In the 20th century, William Menninger, Basil Pennington, and Thomas Keating co-labored on interpreting this work for non-Middle-English speakers and called the method Centering Prayer. The Cloudhas now been translated into contemporary languages. Commentaries on both the book and the method of Centering Prayer have been written and are readily available.

Centering Prayer is easy to learn and effective for aligning our will with God’s will. It is not a set of rules to follow but a way of releasing what is not ours to hold and holding onto God instead. George MacDonald, in the the novel David Elginbrodhas that eponymous character say, “The kingdom of heaven is not come, when God’s will is our law: it is come when God’s will is our will. While God’s will is our law, we are but a kind of noble slave; when his will is our will, we are free children. Nothing in nature is free enough to be a symbol for the state of those who act immediately from the essence of their hidden life, and the recognition of God’s will as that essence.” Acting immediately from the essence of a life hidden in God is both the goal and result of the practice of Centering Prayer. 

I encourage you to read The Cloud of Unknowing ora book on Centering Prayer and give it a try. Brief information on the method is available on the Contemplative Outreach website. We also practice Centering Prayer together at The Hermitage each Saturday morning. You are welcome to join us.

Naomi  Wenger, March 2019

Prairie Prayer Gardens – Praying Counter to the Flow

prayer garden
Prayer Garden

While walking the trails at The Hermitage, you may come across two seating areas, each with a bench and a single chair, nestled into the edge of the woodland overlooking a short-grass Prairie. The grasses, sedges and abundant wildflowers in the Prairie provide a home to butterflies and other insects, birds, and small mammals. Deer and other larger animals find forage and prey in this verdant place.

The first Prayer Garden is dedicated to the memory of Gertrude Bailey Ruder, whose life of prayer and careful concern for living things we honor by this placement of a bench and chair, plantings of bulbs, flowering shrubs and the gathering of nut trees in this natural clearing on the edge of what was once the middle of a wooded area.

The second garden sits on a hill overlooking the trails and much of the wildlife that has come to call this prairie home. This area also has a bench and a single chair situated under the shading branches of a white oak that will hopefully become the dominant tree on this forest edge.

What you cannot see under the Prairie are three fossil fuel pipelines. The first, was initially constructed in 1968. This pipeline was retired in 2014 after a massive rupture in 2010 dumping over 800,000 barrels of crude oil into the tributaries of the Kalamazoo River.

The second pipe, carrying natural gas, was installed in 1999. The gas runs at a rapid rate through this 4-foot diameter pipe. Friction inside the pipe heats the surrounding soil so that the snow melts first here each winter often leaving a stripe of bare land.

The third pipe is actually a “replacement” for the first pipe. The new pipe, is two times the size of the first pipeline, carrying millions of gallons of the Athabasca oil sand’s diluted bitumen (dilbit) to the refineries.

As part of our “protest” against both our own way of life and the oil company’s placement of a poison stream under the earth’s surface we planted the Prairie. We also created the two prayer gardens flanking the Prairie.

The placement of these two gardens across from each other, counters the flow of oil and gas through the pipelines. As folks pause to pray, to listen, to watch and learn, they participate in the hope we have for this land: that someday, it will no longer be needed to transport toxic materials to support our unsustainable lifestyles of ease and injustice toward the world’s poor and marginalized. We hope that the Prairie symbolizes our trust that the land will be returned to its more productive use of sustaining all kinds of life. As we pray “across” and “against the flow” may we find what actions we can do in our own lives to send the message to international oil and gas companies that this pipeline is not “needed.”

Naomi Wenger