Eat Your Spiritual Oatmeal — Experiencing Centering

by | Jan 12, 2024 | Christine Hall's Blog, Front Page Featured

EATING OATMEAL EVERY MORNING,  slipping into a hot tub, or rediscovering comfy old shoes in the back of your closet… It’s intriguing how people describe their varied experiences with quiet, spiritual centering.

Regardless of our differences, we agree that centering isn’t about spiritual ecstasy. It’s more mundane—a healthy but not flashy, soothing, floaty, lower energy. Like eating oatmeal, spiritual centering is best done regularly for long term spiritual vitality. Many of us recognize its greatest impact outside of prayer time, during ordinary situations and interactions.

I teach and do my own daily, 20 minute spiritual centering using the simple process developed by Thomas Keating and friends, Centering Prayer. It’s a contemplative practice—broadly defined as mostly wordless trusting and opening of the self to divine Presence. There are other contemplative forms that are noisier, involve reading, singing, movement, or other people, but silent individual Centering Prayer is the core of my spiritual life and relationship with the Holy. It aligns gracefully with my Quaker faith.

bicycle wheel hub

Upcoming Spiritual Centering Workshop

  • Two online Saturday sessions: February 10th and March 9th, 9:00am-12pm Pacific Time. Attend in February as a stand alone workshop or followup in March to share experiences and encouragement for integration in daily life.
  • Fees, $50 per session. This workshop is offered with minimal fees as a gift for the new year. The topic is so central and so needed, that planners want cost to be no barrier.
  • Facilitated by Christine Betz Hall, founder of Way of the Spirit retreat and contemplative learning program.
  • Apply online by February 3rd
  • Details here.

Why Centering?

The word centering sounds admirable, but what does it mean for our spiritual lives? Notice first that centering is an action, a verb. Silent, still practices like Centering Prayer may look passive, but we are doing something. Dictionaries define centering as “giving a central focus,” or “placing or fixing around a central area.”

So imagine a bicycle wheel. Our lives and awareness are like separate spokes spinning around the outside of a circle. Most of our attention and sense of the world happens on the fast rotating rim. That’s where our lives meet the roads of our cultures, circumstances, relationships, and necessary tasks. We might even imagine that there’s no more to existence.

But at the center of our bicycle wheel of life is a hub, a core that holds and integrates all the separate facets of who we are and what we do. It’s a soul connection to the Divine, offering a sense of God’s presence and guidance within us. Centering Prayer helps us intentionally reorient our thoughts, feelings, and actions to that central reality and foundational relationship. That’s the concept, anyway. But what does it matter how we connect to the Holy within?

Getting practical for the coming year, here are some potent reasons to eat your spiritual oatmeal:

  • For less reactive, less anxious responses to contemporary turmoil.
  • For tending anger, discouragement and despair.
  • For clearing mental and emotional space to better receive Spirit’s guidance in the Law of Love, Jesus’ central teaching or greatest commandment (Matthew 22: 36-40).
  • For strength and courage to do hard, caring things.

These reasons seem especially important in 2024, as the U.S. election cycle may fuel numerous societal “flash points.” Events around us will affect our lives in unknown ways, and we it’ll really help to be spiritually prepared. Centering Prayer reflects my best hopes for our inner preparations for the new year.


What is Centering Prayer?

Centering Prayer is a straightforward process, though not necessarily easy. The basic intention is “consent to the presence and action of God within.” We choose a “sacred word” to help remember that core orientation. The sacred word need only be a syllable or two—peace, grace, mercy, Spirit, trust, Jesus… Then we sit still for 10 or 20 minutes, noticing the thoughts, feelings, sensations, or impulses that rise within us. We allow our awareness to come and go without judgment, analysis or engaging what comes in any way. For this prayer time, we practice releasing it all into the Spirit. We repeat the sacred word as needed to remind us of our intention.

Centering Prayer is not about concentrating or emptying the mind. It’s human to have a cluttered mental life or roiling heart. But what do we do with it all? Centering Prayer offers a thousand opportunities to practice opening it to the Spirit and letting go. The only way to “fail” is to not show up, sit down, and practice. Even if all you can manage is five minutes, it makes a difference.


Turning Inward—My Story

Usually I practice Centering Prayer before I get out of bed in the morning. I sit up, start a timer, and try to be present with the Spirit for 20 minutes. I’m noticing my own thoughts, feelings, and sensations: “Wow! I kept coming back to that edgy conversation.” Or “Oh, my neck hurts again…must’ve slept funny.” Or “Don’t forget to do that!” And sometimes, “That dream left me feeling bereft.”

If I’ve awakened full of “to-do’s” or big questions, I settle down and release them one by one. Sometimes a new idea will slide through, and I think, “Thank you, Spirit! Hope I remember that when I’m done.” And I let it go too. Mostly I do remember, because the important stuff has a certain spiritual vividness.

There are no fireworks in my Centering Prayer. It’s pretty mellow and peaceful for me. I do feel connected to God, but with an ordinary familiarity rather than an emotional high or retreat buzz. It’s like turning toward something or Someone I love and who loves me. I sense a lift, an inner smile. I often begin to breathe deeper. That alone is healthy and good.

My sacred word reminds me to let go whenever my attention is captured by a thought, feeling, or sensation. Thomas Keating used the image of sitting on the bottom of a river watching boats float by above. When something “captures my attention”, it’s like I’ve climbed up onto a boat and sailed away.

The sacred word loosens things up within; it gently suggests that I don’t need to be so attached to an experience or the stories I tell myself about it. It’s a subtle inner shift, a little exercise in spiritual surrender that resets my inner life to “let go and trust.” Centering prayer roots me in a solid spiritual ground and right relationship with the Lover of Souls. It’s humbling in the best ways.


And More

Next week, I’ll reflect on turning outward with Centering Prayer. I’ll address the reasons this kind of spiritual practice matters for faithful action. If you’ve got your own stories, please write to me!

If you’d like to learn more about Centering Prayer to deepen your spiritual life, you’re invited to an online workshop I’m offering in two Saturday sessions, February 10th and March 9th. Details here.