Spiritual Contagion — Centering in Action
HUNKER DOWN! The world is dangerous, so protect yourself!” the culture seems to shout around us. It’s a frightening spiritual contagion of our times. But when we’re centered in the Spirit, we don’t brace ourselves against life. We can welcome whatever comes with a warm, open heart, even the scary stuff. We learn to trust that our smallest loving responses will ripple outward to touch wider shores. We participate in the best kind of contagion.
I’ve reflected elsewhere on the inner experience of spiritual centering. Today, I wonder how could something like Centering Prayer make a difference in our actions—in how we help others, advocate for people on the margins, protest violence and injustice, or simply dialogue with a challenging neighbor?
A good part of the outward influence of Centering Prayer is invisible. For me, the possibilities begin the moment the timer chimes to end my morning “sit.” I usually remain in silence a while, consciously upholding in the Spirit the individuals or situations that come to mind. With renewed inner freedom, I have more confidence that my little helpful intention is joining all the good influences in challenging situations. With quiet centering, I am even able to pray for “enemies.” Prayer for others is not a gift of mine, but I do trust intercession can have a powerful impact.
Centering Prayer also makes a difference in the very nature of what we do for others. There’s no way to prove a cause and effect relationship between contemplative centering and more loving actions. But for myself I claim Centering Prayer helps make possible efforts beyond my limited vision and natural timidity—like my best work shaping the Way of the Spirit program, writing for publication, or spiritually accompanying individuals and groups.
Without spiritual centering, all of us are more prone to self-centered motivations and the illusions of the surrounding culture. Thomas Merton describes the problem:
What is the relation of prayer to action? Simply this. One who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening their own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love will not have anything to give others. They will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of their own obsessions, their aggressiveness, their ego-centered ambitions, their delusions about ends and means, their doctrinaire prejudices and ideas. —Thomas Merton (20th century), language modified for inclusivity (1)
It’s a potent warning. Our obsessions, aggressions, ambitions, and delusions are contagious. Our fears and self-satisfied ideologies are catching too. Our inner lives “communicate” to others in destructive ways we don’t often recognize. Merton could be describing the spiritual pandemic of our times.
Centered, we can see with spiritual eyes. We are able to distinguish when our efforts satisfy our own ego-needs more than respond to Holy leadings in love. We can sense the quality of others’ motivations as well—the spirit from which they rise.
Centered people are also contagious. They spread generous kindness and healing wherever they go, in efforts large and small. The rest of us may simply appreciate their non-anxious presence in a crisis. We lean on their gratitude and trust in the Spirit beyond perceived limitations. Centered people offer spacious patience as antidote to an urgent or angry push to retaliate or force change.
Richard Rohr suggests how we can more intentionally carry the influence of spiritual centering into our days:
As you practice contemplation—in whatever form you choose—intentionally say yes to God’s presence and leading. Outside your times of contemplation, stay in this posture of willingness and openness. Let the hard, consequential questions of our world’s suffering stir your love into action. Discover and say yes to your unique way of participating in God’s love and healing, which is already working in every life, in every place, and simply asks for you to join.—Richard Rohr OFM, contemporary (2)
Over time with Centering Prayer, I’ve watched the influence of quiet, open trust in the Spirit soak into all facets of my life. Sometimes in the midst of a tense situation, the “sacred word” that I use in centering comes to mind. It helps me hit an inner pause button, prompts me to take a deep breath and seek Guidance. Then I’m less prone to jump to conclusions, to believe the stories I tell myself about myself or others. I’m more accepting, slower to judge. I’m less likely to leap into action for unhealthy reasons, without a life-giving inner connection to the Holy.
Centering Prayer has become a highly effective training ground for my spiritual discernment. It helps me recognize the particular shape of Divine calling on my life, what Rohr calls my “unique way of participating in God’s love and healing.” As I rest daily in the Spirit, I am reassured that I don’t have to be an activist. Other people carry those gifts. However, I also notice there are specific types of suffering in the world that touch me deeply. That’s where the Spirit guides me to respond in love.
So I’ve joined a local group seeking healthy, healing relationships with indigenous peoples in my area. I’m singing for peace in a monthly contemplative prayer gathering. I’m standing in street corner prayer vigils for the end of violent conflict in Ukraine and Israel-Palestine. My part in an early vigil turned into a sweet surprise. On that cold, rainy afternoon, cars zoomed past our quiet, solemn gathering. But I didn’t feel prompted to wave a sign proclaiming any “side.” Instead I recognized a desire to bless every person going by. Whether they honked or not, whether they noticed us at all, I imagined I was helping to hold a great bubble of Divine grace over that intersection. I could almost visualize vehicles driving away trailing invisible streamers of care, connection, and hope.
Early Quaker Isaac Penington wrote about spiritual “doing” in seventeenth century terms:
“It is not the great and main thing to be found doing, but to be found doing aright, from the teachings and from the right spirit …” (3)
Spiritual centering helps us discern the “right spirit.” Centering reveals subtle personal cues to guide each of us. Then our actions rise from humble listening for the voice of the Inward Teacher. No one person can do everything that needs doing. Centering can help us learn what is uniquely mine, yours, and ours to do.
A Holy Ecology
Centered people are participating in a Holy ecology of Love—a commonwealth, a peaceable realm, or kingdom of God. Look for them scattering seeds, tending seedlings, and sharing the fruits of the Holy. Please join them. Choose to add to the spiritual contagion of patience, kindness, gentleness, true peace, and even joy, no matter the circumstances. We need each other’s encouragement. We need groups of deeply centered and faithful people to face whatever is coming.
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.
- Introducing the practice of Centering Prayer—a silent time of rest in the Divine Presence. Sessions include teaching and guided experiences. Centering Prayer builds trust and inner freedom for Spirit-led action
- 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. Past Way of the Spirit participants, simply email: Chris Hall.
- Workshop details here.
- Merton, Thomas. Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master: The Essential Writings. Paulist Press, 1992.
- Rohr, Richard, OFM. “Both: Praying and Doing.” Web log post. Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation. Center for Action and Contemplation, 20 May 2016. Web. 16 Aug. 2016.
- Penington, Isaac, in McBee, Patricia. “Quaker Spiritual Disciplines for Hard Times.” Friends Journal: Quaker Thought and Life Today Aug. 2003: 6-8, 34.