In my life, centering prayer is a gift that is supported and strengthened by practicing centering prayer in a group. For the past 20 years I have participated in the St. Olaf Saturday morning centering prayer group. This October, I have been blessed by centering at the Minnesota Contemplative Outreach Heartfulness Retreat and at the Contemplative Outreach Annual Conference in Snowmass, Colorado. As I look back on both the Heartfulness retreat and the conference, I savor experience of communal centering prayer.
The weekend of October 7 to 9, 40 people gathered at Dunrovin Retreat Center for a “silent” retreat which included six sessions of centering prayer. For each session, we gathered in a circle in a room with a beautiful view of the St. Croix and settled into 30 minutes of silence, then a meditative walk, then another 30 minutes of silence. I am always grateful for Father Keating’s advice not to judge the success of a session of prayer. If I were to judge, I could find plenty to worry about. Instead, as I look back on that early October weekend, I have the sense of deep relaxation, peace and contentment.
Retreats end and life returns to normal which means practicing centering prayer on my own twice a day. This personal practice, however, is supported by attending centering prayer on Saturday mornings at St. Olaf Catholic Church in downtown Minneapolis. Even after 20 years it surprises me that I don’t have to make myself get up on Saturdays and drive to centering prayer. I simply want to be there. Gathering for centering prayer on Saturday morning seems as natural and important as breathing.
At the end of October, I flew to Colorado to attend the Contemplative Outreach Annual Conference. The prayer room at the conference looked out onto snow-covered mountains. We were asked to keep the prayer room sacred by not talking as we came in or went out. Thus, 150 of us would gather silently to pray. Many people would pause as they entered to bow gently to the center of the circle, adding to the sense of sacredness. The bell would ring three times and we would sit in silence for thirty minutes. Then the bell would ring again. I am not saying that centering prayer is ever easy or that I hardly had to use my sacred word. What I did experience was the palpable, supporting presence of others silently giving themselves to the prayer. When I think back on the experience, I remember it as being embraced by the silence of everyone present; as if our circle was being wrapped in a heart-warming mystery.
Now I am home again and my practice is continually strengthened by the memory of the group experience and by the commitment to prayer of all the members of Contemplative Outreach--at St. Olaf, at Dunrovin, and at Snowmass.
Carol Quest is a Minnesota Contemplative Outreach Chapter Coordinator and a Centering Prayer Presenter.