Last summer, at a Centering Prayer training session, the leader commented that faith in God's indwelling presence is essential to the practice of centering prayer. She went on to say, however, that she found that many people come to centering prayer without that fundamental belief. In the weeks since that training session, from time to time I have reflected on my own belief, asking myself, "What do I believe about God's presence?" I am not a theologian, so I cannot speak from that perspective. Instead, I take St. Francis as a model. A friend recently explained that St. Francis was neither a theologian nor an ordained minister. Rather he spoke directly from his experience and relationship with God. She said that is why his message has stirred the hearts of ordinary people through the centuries. So let me speak from my heart about my experience of trusting in God's indwelling presence.
Whenever the question pops into my mind "How do I know that God dwells within me?" my first impulse is to call to mind a line of support from the Bible. There are many, but two that come quickly to mind are Psalm 5 "but I, so great is your love, may come to your house and before your holy Temple bow down in reverence to you," coupled with I Corinthians 6:19 "Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you since you received him from God." As I think about these two lines from sacred scripture together, seeing myself as the temple of the Holy Spirit is a starting point. Then I think about the love of God inviting me to turn my attention to God's presence in that temple, to reverently bow down before that divine presence. But I don't stop there. Romans 5:6 says, "The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given us." God didn't choose to make a passing stop. No, God has poured divine love into my heart through the gift of the Holy Spirit abiding there.
In addition to the Bible, people who are serious about seeking God have given explanations that strengthen my belief. I remember Father Keating speaking on a video explaining that it is the living God who holds us in being. If, for a fraction of a second, God stopped willing our being, "Poof," he said, we would cease to be! I love that image; it makes me smile. I see myself held tenderly in the hand of God, then, like a cartoon from the 1950's, poof, there is nothing. But that doesn't happen, my heart keeps beating and my lungs keep breathing. God‘s will that I should be holds me in existence. Here I think of the words "in whom we live and move and have our being." It comforts me to remember that at every moment God is holding me in existence.
Furthermore, God, who is holding me in existence, is imminently close. The phrase I have heard many times, "God is closer to you than your own breath," stops me short. That is really close. Trusting that God is that close, I allow myself the freedom to rephrase Psalm 5 this way, "So great is your love, that I may come into your house and before your holy presence bow down filled with awe." Often I repeat these words when I sit down for a time of centering prayer. They help me to concretely acknowledge God's presence in my heart and to set my intention to put aside my concerns and ideas, so that I can give my whole-hearted attention to the Divine Mystery within me. That is just my starting place. It doesn't make centering prayer easy. I still return to my sacred word again and again as I become aware of thoughts. Nevertheless, thinking about these words has strengthened my trust in God's presence beyond centering prayer. Over time the words from Psalm 5 have presented themselves to me at times when I was not doing centering prayer. Sometimes when I am riding my bike along the Mississippi and the beauty of nature overwhelms me, these words sing in my heart--so great is your love, that I may come into your house and before your holy presence bow down filled with awe. Sometimes when I am nervous because of a challenge, these words offer themselves to me as grace when I seek wisdom or strength...so great is your love, that I may come into your house and before your holy presence bow down filled with awe. Sometimes at night before falling asleep, I might call these words to mind, letting go of the cares of the day, to sleep in God's tender embrace.
In stopping to reflect on what I believe and what I have experienced, I have come to realize that trust in God's indwelling presence is a growing reality. My practice of centering prayer clearly rests on my belief and trust that God dwells within me. As I take time every day to consent to God's presence and action within me, that trust grows and touches all of my life. So experience shows me that while trust in God's presence is a starting point for centering prayer, it is also a fruit of centering prayer.
Carol Quest is a Centering Prayer presenter, and a co-coordinator of MN Contemplative Outreach.