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Are Centering Prayers Biblical?

Are Centering Prayers Biblical?

It could be very easy in this modern age to look at a Christian who is practicing the Centering Prayer and assume that they are being blasphemous, relying on other religions like Buddhism, or outright wasting their time. Although this meditative practice might strike some Christians as too “woo woo,” it actually has its roots in Christianity’s rich heritage of contemplative practices.

At its heart, the Centering Prayer is a way to center our minds, bodies, and souls back on God, and to develop our rich inner world even as we move about our daily lives externally. It was developed by Thomas Keating in the 1960s and 1970s but is a practice that distills other contemplative practices from thousands of years ago.

It takes about 20 minutes to complete from beginning to end, involves the choosing of a sacred word to help you let go of all other thoughts, and is designed to help you open up to the transformative power of God.

If this is a practice you would like to learn to integrate into your daily walk with God, keep reading.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/4maksym 

What Is the Centering Prayer?

It is hard to define the Centering Prayer without first defining what a contemplative practice is.

Contemplative Outreach defines contemplative prayer as “…the opening of mind and heart– one’s whole being–to God. Contemplative prayer is a process of interior transformation. It is a relationship initiated by God and leading, if one consents, to divine union.”

In essence, it is practicing being aware of the presence of God and being transformed by it, in the very moment, as it’s happening. In my experience, it differs from Christian practices that I’m used to in the modern church, where you do something like prayer or Bible study and “expect” the fruit of it to happen later, as a result of the work you put into it. But contemplative practices are different: God is doing the work, and he is transforming you presently, currently, imminently. It’s very powerful.

The Centering Prayer is one type of contemplative prayer with a very interesting history.

In the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council moved to renew the Catholic Church and update its liturgy to be accessible in a modern world. Because of this, they called for a reexamination of their contemplative practices within monasteries and to essentially come up with a method for laypeople to practice contemplation without having to become a monk or a nun.

Until this point, contemplative practices in Catholic traditions were ascetic in nature–avoid all pleasure and indulgences, and be rewarded with the presence of God. But Father Thomas Keating, one of the three founders of the Centering Prayer, had a desire to bring contemplative practices to the modern layperson, without having to live a life of strict sacrifice. His interest in contemplative practices started when he was in college, but felt he had no one contemporary to turn to in order to learn contemplative practices from. Modern-day Christianity had largely lost its roots of contemplative practices, but after his many decades as a monk, he knew firsthand they were so powerful.

So, answering the call of the Second Vatican Council, Father Thomas Keating and two other Trappist monks studied the writings and traditions of ancient Christian contemplative heritage. They came up with the simple method of the Centering Prayer so that an ordinary person could experience the transformative power of the presence of God without having to live a life of asceticism or be a part of the clergy. The popularity of the practice spread quickly and profoundly.

The ancient practices that the Centering Prayer is based on are “The Cloud of Unknowing and in the writings of Christian mystics such as John Cassian, Francis de Sales, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux, and Thomas Merton.”

But, as the website for Contemplative Outreach emphasizes, (the organization that came out of this effort to come up with the method), “the Centering Prayer is based on the wisdom saying of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘…when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will repay you.’ Matthew 6.6 (New American Bible).”

It is really a beautiful and profound thing, that these three men were able to distill hundreds of years of contemplative practices, usually reserved for those who devote their lives to silence, study of the scriptures, and fasting, and bring the power of these practices to ordinary people–able to fit this practice into their everyday lives, for just 20 minutes a day!

God’s Spirit truly is abundant and accessible to us all of the time.

daily prayer, morning prayer

Is the Centering Prayer Biblical?

When it comes to being a little wary of contemplative practices because of their association with Eastern religions, New Age Christianity, or just generally the “woo woo,” this question is totally understandable. How do we know that this practice is something God would approve of, and isn’t just a cleverly disguised spiritual trap?

To be clear, the Centering Prayer is not a prayer directly from the Bible. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t biblical.

Let’s break down the principles of the Centering Prayer and see if they have scriptural backing.

The Centering Prayer aims to 1) use meditation in order to 2) connect people with the presence of God by 3) setting their minds on things above and opening themselves up to God’s power so that 4) they can be transformed.

1. Is meditation biblical?

The Bible mentions meditation 23 times, 19 times in the book of Psalms alone! According to this article, meditation is a “key component of Christian growth.” Isaac, Joshua, and David are all major characters of the Bible whose meditative practices were a key part of their walks with God.

We all meditate on different things every day of our lives–meditation simply means to focus your mind on something. So, we can meditate on our worries and our problems, or we can intentionally meditate on the truth of God’s Word and what he has done in our lives. The Bible teaches us to control and direct our thoughts (Col 3:2-4, Romans 6:6-8). So yes, meditation is very biblical.

2. Is practicing the presence of God biblical?

To practice the presence of God simply means to become aware of God’s presence in the very moment you’re living in. Yes, God is present all of the time. But we are not always aware of it. But to focus on God’s presence in a way that draws us close to him is an essential way to grow closer to him and be transformed by his power.

Psalm 16:11 (ESV) says “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” And Psalm 27:8 (ESV) recounts “‘You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’”

It is clear that seeking an awareness of God’s presence is a good and righteous thing to do. Yes, this aspect is biblical.

3. Is setting your mind on things above biblical?

As mentioned above, the Bible teaches us that we have power over how to direct our thoughts. One of the verses that highlights this ability is Colossians 3:2, which exports us to “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

The Centering Prayer is just one practical method of how to do this. So yes, this aspect of it is biblical.

4. Is God’s transformative power through his spirit biblical?

God’s very presence transforms us, 2 Cor 3:18 tells us: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

We do not have to veil our faces to be with God anymore, like Moses had to under the Old Covenant. Because Jesus died for our sins and because we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us, we can experience God’s presence directly and beautifully. This presence transforms us to be closer and closer to his image, and the image he designed us to be from the very beginning.

So yes, being transformed by God’s presence is biblical.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/olegbreslavtsev 

How Do You Pray a Centering Prayer?

After all this build-up, praying the Centering Prayer is really quite simple.

As with any spiritual practice, you get out of it what you put into it. If your heart is present and open, it will go differently than if you are just checking a box out of obligation. However, the beautiful part of having a consistent practice of contemplative prayer is that you can always try again, and each practice builds on itself.

Here are the simple steps to praying the Centering Prayer:

1. Set aside a set number of minutes to practice this prayer.

2. Find a comfortable place to sit that allows you to be “relaxed in body and alert in mind.”

3. Choose a “sacred word.” This word can be anything that you wish to use as an anchor back to God when your mind wanders. One to two syllable words work the best, like “love,” “peace,” “Jesus,” “Spirit,” etc. There are no rules about your sacred word–but do your best to allow the Spirit to choose your word for you based on what your heart needs at that very moment. Keep your mind and heart open to the word that the Spirit places on your heart. And once a word feels right, stick with it for the duration of the practice. Your sacred word is not a mantra; you are not repeating it over and over. It is simply there as a reminder of your intention to stay open to the transforming power of God’s presence.

4. Set a timer. You can choose to start with 5 or 10 minutes if you are just starting out, and extend to 20 as you feel comfortable.

5. Gently close your eyes.

6. Begin the practice. Any thought that wanders through your mind, let go of it. Do not judge it, do not hold onto it, simply let go of it. Use your sacred word to bring your focus back onto God’s presence and your intention for this time.

7. Repeat this rhythm of bringing your focus back onto God’s presence for the duration of your practice.

And that is it! Hundreds of years of contemplative practices distilled down for you to use whenever works best in your daily routines.

Woman praying on a rock with the view of the sea

My Personal Tips:

- Know ahead of time and accept that you are human and are therefore going to have your mind wander to other things during this time. Of course, you are going to worry about what to cook for dinner and who you need to text back. It’s okay. Have compassion on yourself when this happens and use your sacred word to bring you back.

- Go with your gut when it comes to your sacred word. Our minds are powerful, and the Spirit knows what we need. Trust that when a word is on your heart, it is there for a reason. Be open to this word’s definition/connotation/use for you changing throughout the practice. For instance, once my sacred word was “nothing,” because I was trying to focus my heart on the fact that I contribute nothing to my relationship with God; that he does all of the heavy lifting so I do not have to rely on myself. But as I did this practice, the word “nothing” came to be an invitation to see that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, separating me from God’s love. The Spirit had many things to show me that morning.

- Do this practice with other people. We are communal beings and have so much to learn from each other. Even though it is a bit awkward at first, it is so beautiful to hear how God is speaking to each of us as individuals, and how we can learn from each other as a community.

Over time, practicing the Centering Prayer has been proven to neurologically transform people to live from the heart. It is proof that God’s Spirit is alive and working in his people today; but also that his Spirit has always been with his people with the mission of transforming them out of love.

Put this method into practice and see what you get out of it, and then share it with those around you!


The Christian Contemplative Tradition
History of Centering Prayer
Vatican II: A Half-Century Later, A Mixed Legacy
Centering Prayer: Its History and Importance

Christian meditation
What Does Meditation Mean in the Bible? How Can I Practice Biblical Meditation?
Centering Prayer: The Very Basics
Christian Centering Prayer | Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault | 2017 Festival of Faiths

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/KristinaJovanovic

Kelly-Jayne McGlynn is a former editor at She sees the act of expression, whether through writing or art, as a way to co-create with God and experience him deeper. Check out her handmade earrings on Instagram and her website for more of her thoughts on connecting with God through creative endeavors.

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This article is part of our Prayer resource meant to inspire and encourage your prayer life when you face uncertain times. Visit our most popular prayers if you are wondering how to pray or what to pray. Remember, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and God knows your heart even if you can't find the words to pray.

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