An ancient path to renewal

By on September 1, 2004

In the unrest facing the Anglican church today, one of the most promising paths through the conflict lies in the renewal of Christian spirituality. In his foreword to the book Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening , Trappist monk and Centering Prayer pioneer Thomas Keating suggests ?that there is something in this prayer that can restore harmony, dignity, and depth to our lived Christian community.? Mr. Keating’s words might equally well be spoken of Cynthia Bourgeault’s powerful new book.

The author of Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening , Ms. Bourgeault is an Episcopal priest, principle teacher for the Contemplative Society (www.contemplative.org), noted author of three previous books, and a popular retreat and workshop leader throughout North America .

Ms. Bourgeault poses the question of where we might turn when our spiritual longing begins to outdistance our earliest childhood instruction in prayer. The answer she suggests lies in the simple, silent, meditative prayer practice known as Centering Prayer and its ability to open us to ?the centre of our being? where we discover ?an innermost point of truth which shares not only the likeness, but perhaps even the substance of God’s own being.?

Centering Prayer was developed in the early 1970s in the Trappist monastery of St. Joseph ‘s Abbey in response to the growing appeal of Eastern teachings on meditation. But Centering Prayer is much more than an Eastern transplant imposed upon contemporary Christian spirituality. Ms. Bourgeault eloquently demonstrates that silent meditative prayer is deeply rooted in the earliest foundations of Christian spiritual tradition. Ms. Bourgeault argues that the practice, as it has been passed on primarily by Mr. Keating and his followers, offers a profound opportunity for the practitioner to live the central teachings of the Christian faith.

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Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening contains all the instruction necessary to begin practising the rich spiritual discipline of silent prayer. But the book is much more than a how-to manual. Every page of this book contains profound but accessible spiritual teaching and wisdom for living. Ms. Bourgeault’s teaching on the Centering Prayer has the potential to deepen and enrich anyone’s spiritual life regardless of their prayer practice.

In clear, accessible, and often poetic prose, Ms. Bourgeault outlines the theology, spirituality, and psychology that form the foundation for a life of prayer.

Ms. Bourgeault is no uncritical apologist for Centering Prayer. While applauding the riches of this practice, she poses serious questions to how it is sometimes presented. In the process of this exploration, she provides a valuable template for assessing all spiritual practices within a Christian context. Her warning against confusing the spiritual journey with our culture’s current obsession with therapy is timely and important.

In Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening , Ms. Bourgeault has rendered a profound service to the Centering Prayer movement. But, even more importantly, this book presents a path for deepening individual Christian spirituality and renewing the entire church. People who, through Centering Prayer, discover their ?real comfort zone in a consciousness completely at home in itself and completely at home in God, regardless of the outside circumstances,? will be much less inclined to get caught up in the drama and intensity of life’s inevitable turmoil. Thus Ms. Bourgeault’s prophetic voice points the way to restore harmony, dignity, and depth to our lived Christian community. Rev. Christopher Page is the Rector of St. Philip’s Anglican Church, Oak Bay, B.C., a teacher of Centering Prayer, and author of Christ Wisdom (Pathbooks, fall 2004).

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