Christian meditation or centering prayer?

I recently started a group that I called Christian Meditation and Centering Prayer. This is an explanation of the dual title.

I recently started a group that I called Christian Meditation and Centering Prayer.  This is an explanation of the dual title. At another level it requires no explanation, as I felt led by God to do it this way.  In God’s world, it is both/and rather than the dualistic thinking of either /or.  In God’s world, both are right. It is still possible to go a bit deeper than that however.

So what are the main differences in these approaches?  Well the first thing to state is that at an underlying level they are virtually the same, and even at a surface level they are probably 90% or more the same.

The main obvious difference is in the use of the sacred word.  In Christian Meditation we use the sacred word throughout, from start to finish, on every breath.  In Centering Prayer we use it, apart from our intent to remain open to God, to help us into the depths, but then we lose it in the depths.  The first is termed a concentrative approach, the second receptive.  The useful analogy for me is of resting on the bed of the river, looking up at the passing boats.  In Christian Meditation we throw out an anchor to try and keep us from being whisked away by our thoughts.  In Centering Prayer we are more likely to be whisked away, but we are also freer to move around the bed of the river as God wills.

Each suits different personality types.  The concentrative type suits those who like to feel a sense of control, whereas the other suits those who like to be able to let go.  In general, because of the culture of our society, more men feel comfortable with the concentrative approach.  I would guess there is a greater ratio of men doing Christian Meditation than there are doing Centering Prayer.  The concentrative approach is also good for those who have a fear of silence, or who cannot cope with prolonged silences.  This may be why these latter may prefer a guided meditation.

Meditation is already the antithesis of so much of what is seen to be male in our society.  Words like surrender, humility and letting go do not fit well with achieving, control, success and outcomes.  Males already have a more strongly defended ego, so that many males have real difficulties in integrating their female side in a constructive and harmonious way.

These difficulties are further enhanced by slight cultural difference in the two approaches.  Centering Prayer has its origins in the marriage of spirituality and human developmental psychology.  There is more emphasis on the heart centre, feelings and the unconscious. Christian meditation has its origins in the marriage of spirituality and Eastern religions, especially Buddhism.  This gave it more of an emphasis on knowledge and understanding.  These are early cultural differences, and both approaches now combine both these areas as central.

It does mean though that Centering Prayer has more of a female inward looking approach, whereas Christian Meditation has more of a male outward looking approach.  At the end of the day, it is great to draw on insights from both, and to do whichever suits you at this moment in time, bearing in mind that this may change over time.

Since writing the above I came across Richard Rohr on YouTube saying that whilst he mostly practices Centering Prayer, there are times when he uses Christian Meditation, especially when his mind is buzzing with thoughts.  Then I came across Cynthia Bourgeault saying that when she formed the Canadian Contemplative Society, it included people from both approaches.

Richard Eddleston       30-01-2015


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