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Essential Practice

Of all the spiritual practices available to us, the one essential, fundamental practice that should precede all our spiritual activities is that of centering. I am not referring to centering prayer, which is really only an extension of the centering practice. In fact, centering prayer has become the tail wagging the dog. Ask anyone about centering, and they will identify it with centering prayer. By contrast, I am stating that centering is the essential practice of the spiritual life. Why?

Our concept of God has shifted dramatically in the 20th Century, although very quietly. No major announcements have been made. No sermons preached on the subject. However, in his book, Man Becoming, theologian Gregory Baum has stated that our concept of God has moved from an outsider God, a divine being facing us from beyond history, to an insider God who dwells within us.

At the core of our being, God reveals us to ourselves, calls us to growth and gives of himself to us. God’s revelatory presence, self-gift and call operate within each situation and experience of our daily life. This theological shift changes everything. To encounter deeply this insider God, we must center down to the core of our personhood where God’s Spirit dwells. We must connect with our Center!

Another term for the spiritual life is the “interior life,” and rightly so. If we are committed to living the spiritual life, we will practice centering many times during our day to prepare ourselves for spiritual activities—before spiritual reading, before we pray, before we celebrate Mass, before we attempt to encounter God’s presence in the divine gift of creation, before we encounter people. And on and on.

If we are not practicing centering, we may be living pious, faithful, church-going lives, but we are not living the spiritual life—a life of union with our insider God. We must connect with our Center!

Centering. What is centering? Centering is the conscious gathering of our mind, heart and will to surrender our self to the Divine Center within us and within all created reality.

Why is this psychological gathering so necessary? We are wounded people—alienated from God, ourselves, others and creation. Ordinarily, we get stuck in our heads or our hearts. Or we act as automatons, being controlled by habit. Despite even good intentions, there will be times when we will not succeed in pulling ourselves together. Only with the Spirit’s help do we experience our own spiritual unity—if we intentionally collect our faculties to create inner unity.

Centering is the way we form our intention that drives our spiritual activities. It helps us to achieve wholeness, inner spiritual union within ourselves. It is by first experiencing this inner spiritual union that we prepare ourselves to experience union with our inner God. Centering, as the term is used here, is not just a technique for concentrating the full energies of our mind and heart. It does that, but it does more than that. It is the way to spiritual union—first with ourselves and then with God.

Centering and Compassion. I have shared with you my discovery of the practice of compassion at the Louvre Museum in Paris. That is the practice of being fully present to the object of our encounter with a caring heart and attentive mind. In other words, we must make a self-gift of ourselves to receive the gift of the other, whether it is the arts, the beauty of creation, other persons or our insider God.

What I now realize is that this practice of compassion is actually the practice of centering, helping us to form our intention for spiritual union. For example, to                                  prepare ourselves for union with God, we must be fully present to the Divine Presence within us with a caring heart and attentive mind. We must gift ourselves, we must surrender ourselves to our insider God. That is the practice of compassion and the practice of centering.

Centering and Perceiving. Spiritual writers and poets voice the human problem of perceiving the depths of things—God, creation, people. We tend to perceive without perceiving. They say we must see with the eyes of our hearts. Or they say we must see with the eyes of love. E.e.cummings writes of revelation: “The eyes of my eyes are opened.” Teihard Chardin prayed, “Lord, grant that I may see, that I may see You, that I may see and feel You present in all things and animating all things.” Our powers of perception are at their best when we are centered and compassionately united with ourselves and with the object or person or God we are attempting to encounter.

Centering Method. Whatever helps you to fire up your heart, focus your attention and bring you fully present into the present moment is your best method for centering. Remember too that your heart’s desire is your most creative force. No matter what method you use, you must experience ardent desire for spiritual union. Here is how the practice of compassion works for centering:

  1. Become fully present. Enter the present moment—the entrance to inner spiritual unity. As bodied persons, you need to use your body to become fully present to yourself. Our minds may be in the past or future, but our bodies are in the present moment. Take time to become conscious of your breathing. Breathe deeply from the gut, inhaling and exhaling rhythmically for a period of time. Make your body attentive by the way you hold yourself. If that fails, use Sadhana prayer. Fr. Anthony DeMello, SJ popularized this method which uses the body to awaken the mind and heart to being fully present in an energized way. It consists of becoming conscious of your body through the body awareness exercise of ritually experiencing your body parts from head to foot for a period of time. Note: Doing both the breathing exercise described above and the body awareness exercise at the same time enhances the experience.
  2. Seek a caring heart and an attentive mind. Lead with your emotional center to achieve a caring heart and an attentive mind. When you experience strong feelings, they register themselves in your body, either in your stomach or chest.  If you want to enter into total centeredness to encounter God or created reality compassionately, mind and heart, you must consciously enlist your body’s emotional center to generate a caring, attentive attitude. And you will deepen your sense of being fully present in the present moment.
  3. Attempt to experience union. Arouse desire for union with God. Pray that the Risen Christ will pour Jesus’ life energies, present and available here and now, into your heart that you might encounter the Divine Presence within you, as he experienced when he went into the mountains to pray. Express acts of will to encounter God while admitting that your will is powerless to command love, relationship, encounter. For spiritual union is the Spirit’s gift to give or not to give. Give yourself as self-gift to God. Ask the Holy Spirit to connect you with your Divine Love Center. Then begin your spiritual exercise.

Also, it should be noted that centering is essential to the practice of discernment, as described in the article, Divine Dialogue in this Program. The practice of discernment should be viewed as another essential spiritual practice that flows, like the centering practice, from the theology of the insider God. For our insider God carries on dialogue with us through his Spirit taking initiatives within our hearts’ movements, inviting and inspiring us. But why is centering essential for discernment? Because we want to center our mind and heart and will on the issue under discernment for our deepest perceptions and spiritual insights, and that in the presence of our Divine Center.

Further, the practice of centering as described here is valuable for those who practice centering prayer. It could precede centering prayer to prepare oneself psychologically and spiritually for this rich form of prayer.

Learning the practice of centering should be the first step toward a deeper spiritual life. The French have a phrase for it—the point of departure. If you have your right departure point, you will have a good journey and arrive at your destination. Generally, it happens that when people have decided to take their spiritual journey more seriously, they are directed to Bible study. Most likely, that departure point will not bring them to their destination—a deep relationship with their insider God. However, after they have made the practice of centering a habit, Bible study will contribute to their growth in the spiritual life by deepening their relationship with their insider God.

For centering is the essential, fundamental practice of our spiritual lives. And it is the essential, fundamental practice of living the fully human life. It should be the act that precedes all our spiritual and deeply human acts. Let us connect with our own center and our Divine Center!