Have you ever found yourself desperately needing to pray, but you can’t find the words or the headspace to sit down and formulate a prayer? There have been times in my life where I have been so gripped by anxiety or worry that simply finding the words to pray seems overwhelming. During one of those times in my life, I discovered centering prayer. Centering prayer is an ancient form of Christian meditation that uses a simple prayer word or phrase in combination with the breath to focus the mind and heart back on God. A common prayer phrase is, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”
Combining this phrase with the breath, you meditate on “Lord Jesus Christ” on the inhale and focus on “have mercy on me” on the exhale. Sitting quietly while breathing and praying seems too easy to be effective, but this practice helps you to be present to yourself and to God, and to have deeper communion with the Lord beyond just words.
When I am in the grip of anxiety, my mind is usually worried about something other than what is real in the present. Through centering prayer, anxiety’s grip loosens when I begin to focus on the truest reality in my life—the presence of God with me, even in my physical body. By combining the physical act of breathing with the spiritual act of prayer, a beautiful merging of heaven and earth takes place as I sit quietly with the Lord. Once the clouds begin to clear and I recognize the presence of God even in my very breath, my perspective begins to shift, and I become grounded in God’s presence. My need for control fades and my heart grows roots into the gentle presence of Jesus within me and around me.
In the western world, we are obsessed with the mind and with words. It’s easy to think that more information or more thinking will help us out of deeply rooted destructive patterns, but the reality is that sometimes we just need to get out of our heads long enough to let our spirits talk to God in ways that don’t always touch our cognitive awareness. Centering prayer gets us out of our heads and lets our spirits talk to God; the clarity and peace that comes when we let go in this way is deeply transformative.
Will you accept an invitation to try out this practice? First, pick a prayer phrase or word, such as: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me;” “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;” or simply, “Jesus.” Feel free to pick something that is personal to you. Sit upright on the floor or in a chair with your feet on the ground, or even lay flat on your back with your eyes closed. Then simply focus on inhaling and exhaling with your prayer word or phrase for five minutes. Notice how you feel when the five minutes are finished.
Centering Prayer originally appeared in With The King, a prayer and reflection journal written by The King’s University faculty and staff designed to enrich your prayer life different prayer practices and perspectives.