A Journey to Your True Self Through Centering Prayer — A Book Review
If you are interested in reading a good, heart-felt introduction to the daily practice of silent, centering or contemplative prayer and the benefits thereof, this is a good place to start.
There are many books on this subject written by “monks and cloistered folk,” writes Amos Smith, a fellow Christian mystic in the Introduction, but author Rich Lewis shares his thoughts and experiences in a down-to-earth-people language, as a middle class working family man who has incorporated this practice into his daily life over the last seven years.
Rich begins his explanation of the somewhat intimidating practice of silent meditation with a simple invitation for readers to start with just one-minute of silence. Which, for most people sounds doable.
“I sit in silence to enter a journey that God and I travel together,” writes Lewis. Gradually his practice increased to 3-minutes, then 5-minutes, and ultimately to 20-minutes twice a day.
I like that Rich offers his practice as a recommendation, not a requirement. By the end of the book readers will become well versed in how this practice has transformed his personal, family, work and spiritual life.
“As our bodies need rest, our minds need solitude and stillness…It is a pilgrimage from our mind to heart,” says Rich. This is especially true during rapidly changing times such as we’ve all faced during the Covid pandemic.
“Scientists and meditation advocates see silence as a way to promote physical and mental health,” reports Wall Street Journal. “People are desperate for silence,” says a leading Wellness Institute research director.
So if we desperately need silence, why is it so hard to carve out at least a tiny bit of time each day to make space for grace? Good question!
As Rich explains, detaching from our thoughts, emotions, worries, etc. is not as easy as it may sound. “Centering prayer teaches us to let go…to allow God to work in us…Letting go during silent prayer is merely practice for letting go that must continue during our daily lives,” he says.
Rich makes the important connection between our times of silence and the other 99% of our lives, during which we often unconsciously tell ourselves to “hold tight” rather than “let go” of our worries.
Another important connection Rich points out is that centering prayer connects our humanity with our divinity. Almost all spiritual traditions, including Christianity, affirm that we are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27).
Therefore, he writes “We possess an inner divinity at our core and we are most human when we let go and act from our inner divinity…During centering prayer we let go of our humanity…we enter Divine Union.”
To help grasp this truth, Rich paints a picture of walking through a doorway which he had searched for over the last 30 years…“Centering prayer is the door I open to come in and experience oneness with God…I am invited to sit and rest in pure love in God’s living room.”
Rich make this inner living room world sound very inviting, especially given the the harshness we have grown accustomed to in our rather angry and very often narcissistic outer world.
However, those who choose to live by faith should be prepared to face some obstacles and paradoxes.
For example he believes, “We are hardwired for intimacy with God,” yet we are left to our free will as to whether or not we will take the time to make a connection. Like a home prewired for sound, it is still up to us to make the connection and install the speakers.
Perhaps the biggest payoff for carving out a daily silent meditation practice: “Silence teaches us who we are,” writes Lewis. Think on that for a moment.
While the vast majority of humanity rushes to-and-fro in search of meaning in their life — through entertainment, education, and even religion—those willing to take time to patiently rest in the silence of God are often much closer to discovering their higher purpose.
“God waits for us in silence, so we don’t need to fear it,” says Rich.
Am I willing to wait on the Lord? If not, perhaps I am just plain too busy.
The fruit and benefits of centering prayer are very diverse, says Lewis, offering an very practical example, “We are better able to recognize when our spouse does not want our opinion, but instead needs a hug and listening ear.”
As we are more “present” our family, friends, workmates and even strangers seem to be able to notice that we are more open and available to discuss their lives. “On my good days, I have the gift of inviting presence,” he says. This inviting presence then plants seeds in others and becomes reproducible.
Another benefit is the enhanced ability to discern the best course of action. “Silence helps me make wise decisions.” For example, when facing potential church over-involvement he decided to attend Sunday services bi-weekly rather than weekly.
In his chapter on “Dimensions of Prayer” he explains how he moved from one-dimensional to four-dimensional prayer. Instead of just “speaking” to God he now thinks of prayer as “speaking, listening, being in community with others and resting in God.”
He tells the story of how a visit to his local Buddhist temple showed him new dimensions of prayer as he discovered, “Contemplative prayer, the pure presence of God, can be found in chanting, silent meditation and walking.”
Barbara Brown Taylor, a former pastor and seminary teacher explains the value in visiting houses of worship of other major faiths in her book Holy Envy. “When we look for truth in others, we can understand our own truth better,” she writes.
In Part II of the book, “Intertwined With God” Rich discusses the evolution of his own personal spiritual journey and how starting a centering prayer practice has helped his relationship with God to make a “huge shift from distant to intimate, from abstract to experiential.”
“Each day centering prayer helps me put on the Mind of Christ…I, like Jesus, recognize that I am intertwined with God,” says Rich, as an example of how to progress from dualistic to non-dualistic thinking patterns. That is, viewing God as within each of us, rather than somewhere out there in the vast universe.
“We are not all human. We are not all divine. We are both…Centering prayer brings the two together for beautiful action,” Lewis explains.
For those seeking to shed their ego-constructed “false” self and live in their divinely-inspired “True” self, Chapter eight offers some great pointers.
For example, depression is a growing problem in our culture today, but according to Alice Miller, author of Your Your Own Good, “Depression is the result of being separated from one’s True self.”
So rather than blaming others or adverse circumstances we are likely better offer looking within to discover how to reconnect with our divine essence.
Who is your True self?
According to Lewis, “I sit in silence to reconnect with my True self…I feel God’s exquisite love for me…my True self is the God within who waits to be expressed.”
He continues, “During centering prayer I empty myself of my false (or small) self…loneliness, worry, anger, frustration, insecurity, none of these are who I am. When I let go of them, I am at peace.”
“Our True self has been given to us by God, writes Lewis, it is our essence that will shine through outer layers of disease, old age and death.”
I would add that once we are in touch with our True self we are suddenly able to look into the eyes of others and see beyond the outer facade of an often heavily-guarded false self to see the God within them more clearly.
“Surprisingly, when I express my True self, my gifts meet the world’s needs,” says Rich. So true. Conversely, if I only express my false self, I am at risk of never allowing my gifts to come to fruition.
I liked his reflections on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as “beautiful descriptions of how to be fully human,” in his chapter ‘Jesus Transformed Humanity’…the Beatitudes present a challenge…they illustrate how we are to live here and now.”
In his concluding chapters Rich reveals the mystery and paradox of Jesus as the incarnation of God, yet fully human; “A consistent, daily centering prayer practice will help birth human actions that Jesus the human being would do…Our actions over time will reflect the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
“I sit with Jesus so I can walk with Jesus…I hope to share this journey with you,” are his closing words to the book.
Rich has authored a very user-friendly introduction to help a rising wave of believers looking for a fresh source of spiritual renewal via centering or contemplative prayer — a practice that offers a special blessing for both humanity and a loving Creator who seeks relationship and intimacy with billions of spiritually thirsty souls.
For more information or to order the book visit silenceteaches.com