By Joan Kovacs
"Join a Centering Prayer Group", is one of the practical suggestions Fr. Thomas Keating offers to extend Centering Prayer into our daily life. After introductory workshops, more than twenty years ago, I did just that! And I have been a member of a weekly prayer group ever since.
Then came my life changing decision. In my final retirement, I would move from New York City to my hometown, Red Wing, Minnesota! In addition to the weight of decisions to relocate, to sell my cooperative apartment, to buy a new home, to become a part of a new community, one of my major concerns was to find another Prayer Group---maybe a Monday night Prayer Group?
Monday nights were reserved as "Prayer Group Night". The group of ten of us had been together for so many years that Fr. Thomas suggested that we should be called a Prayer Community. Each Monday night we met in a member's home for Centering Prayer, sharing, Lectio Divina and shared prayer. Then time around the dining room table for coffee and talking and talking! We were bonded through our Centering Prayer, sharing life stories, Lectio and love. We witnessed each of us growing in our own unique way to become the adults that we are today. The Holy Spirit surely was in our midst guiding us.
What was I to do? How would I find a new prayer group? Would I be accepted as a new member? What would it be like to be a new member? What would be the prayer group's format?
Contemplative Outreach's web site offered help. I was referred to Sr. Virginia Matter, one of the coordinators for Minnesota's Contemplative Outreach Chapter. Her gracious email directed me to the Villa Maria Retreat Center, Frontenac, MN – only fifteen minutes from my new home. The response from the "Villa" was encouraging-yes, the group welcomes new members.. When did the group meet? Monday mornings!!
This Villa group also had been together for over twenty years. Originally it was started by Fr. Carl Arico, who came to the Villa to do a retreat and workshop. Several current members were at those original sessions and throughout all these years have carried the spirit of Centering Prayer to many new participants.
I was welcomed first by a phone call from one of the members. When I came to the group, I was introduced and immediately included in the morning's plans. This group uses the Readings for the coming Sunday for Lectio. Did they have time to share "around the table"? Yes, at the beginning of the morning's meeting coffee and--- is served and there is sharing of the events of the recent journey. I could sense the bonding within the group and the concern that the members have for one another and those qualities were extended to me. I felt included in the circle of pray-ers.
What makes these groups Centering Prayer Groups? Deep faith as evidenced by the commitment to pray, respect and acceptance for each other, desire to be strengthened and to give strength are the basics for the members. There is strength in prayer groups and for each of us recognizing that we are united with persons around the globe in the worldwide practice of Centering Prayer. All of us are bonded together and journeying together!
Originally I was introduced to Centering Prayer by Mary Mrozowski, In the late 1980's Mary, the Amma of Centering Prayer, formed a Sunday night Prayer Group. We were fourteen adults gathered mostly from the Long Island Divorced and Separated Catholic Organization. Our meetings were held weekly in her living room. She was our teacher and spiritual guide. After our prayer, Lectio Divina and sharing, an Italian Sunday night supper was served and we talked and shared some more. (Most of us were alone either from a divorce or an "empty nest" and that meal was an important part of our community's bonding). When Mary entered the Contemplative Outreach's Lay Community, this prayer group gradually disbanded and I joined another prayer group newly formed in my home parish. Earlier I had been part of the team that presented an Introductory Workshop to the parish.
And so do I miss my NYC group?---yes, and we will always be united in prayer on Monday nights. I read their Lectio book, "Falling Into The Arms Of God" as my daily reading. When I go back to visit, I am welcomed and I am able to share my new life experiences and join the sharing on the Lectio. We are always in each other's hearts and prayers.
And am I enjoying my "new" prayer group? Yes! I am blessed with new companions on the journey as we grow in faith and love together. A Centering Prayer Group continues to be an important part of my life.
Joan Kovacs lives in Red Wing. She is a member of the Prayer Group at the Villa Maria Retreat Center, Frontenac, MN.