Spiritual Practice

40 Days of Centering Prayer

Ciona D. Rouse

devozine Early morning walk TS 142397968I don’t like to rise before the sun. But for Lent one year, I decided to start every morning at 5:30 so I could walk to my church and arrive when the doors opened. I had read about the contemplative practice of centering prayer, and I wanted to try it.


Centering Prayer

Centering prayer is a way of silencing the soul, resting in God’s love, and listening for God’s still, small voice. I have always loved the story in 1 Kings 19:11–13. Elijah stood on the mountain, waiting for God to pass. God was not in the powerful wind, the terrible earthquake, or the fire. Instead, after the chaos, silence fell; and God spoke to Elijah in a gentle whisper. I wanted to hear God’s gentle whisper; and with my busy schedule, I needed to hear God’s whisper at the crack of dawn. So I dubbed myself an early riser for forty days.

Centering prayer involves releasing other thoughts and distractions and focusing all your attention and desire on God. If your mind wanders, you are encouraged to say a simple word to help you center again. I selected the word hope.


The first morning, I found a room where I could sit still and pray for an hour. I did not sit still. I fidgeted. I opened my Bible. I pulled my coat over my legs because I was cold. I thought about what I would eat for breakfast. I stared at an angel figurine in the room. I took my coat off because I was warm. I rambled to God about why I couldn’t be still. I picked up the Bible again and memorized scripture but got frustrated because I was not being quiet. I said “hope” a lot. I glared at the angel figurine, jealous because it was resting, smiling, being still before God. I gathered my things and left after what seemed like an hour but turned out to be not quite thirty minutes.

This was going to be a long Lent.

devozine Centering prayer TS 137899782After a while, I learned to accept my distractions. In such a fast-paced world, they were a part of me that I could not hide from God. Once I grew less frustrated with the distractions, they began to disappear. My thirty minutes of prayer became forty-five minutes and then an hour. I started saying the word hope less often and feeling at peace more often.

Some days were better than others. Sometimes I slept, and other times I read. But each morning held the joy of sitting before God. And those rare, special days when God gently whispered to me stay with me still.


One Saturday morning, I needed to get away from my house. Before I knew it, I had put on my walking shoes, grabbed my sack of books, and made my pilgrimage to the church. My spirit craved centering. Only a month before, my need to escape would have taken me to a bookstore or a coffee shop. My morning practice, however, had trained my spirit to seek holy ground. The place where I once sat restless was now a place where I could rest in God’s presence for most of the day.


We’re constantly told that doing more and moving faster can make us better people, but being still for a time every day does make our souls better.

  1. Find a restful spot. Leave your watch and cell phone behind.
  2. Choose a simple word to help you focus when your mind wanders: peace or God or even a word that seems unrelated, such as zap or swish. Don’t meditate on the word; simply let it remind you to be still.
  3. Go easy on yourself. Focusing on God takes practice, just like anything else you want to learn to do. You may practice for weeks before centering feels remotely comfortable. You may never hear God’s voice the way you want to hear it. The beauty of centering prayer lies in setting aside time each day to focus only on God.
Ciona D. Rouse is a writer in Nashville, Tennessee, who daily seeks centering moments.

—from devozine (March/April 2008). Copyright © 2008 by The Upper Room. All rights reserved.

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