Friday, November 29, 2013

Increasing numbers turning to centering prayer groups

Fr Thomas KeatingPeople suffering from addictions in Ireland are increasingly turning to centering prayer to help them in their journey towards recovery.
A ‘gentle’ spreading of a method of prayer developed by Trappist priest, Fr Thomas Keating, has resulted in more people becoming aware of the prayer method and praising it as a powerful “fuel” in recovery.

According to the Co-Ordinator of Contemplative Outreach Ireland, hundreds of people are practising this form of prayer every day, and more and more prayer groups are springing up the length and breadth of the country.

Eileen Foley is part of the core team of Contemplative Outreach Ireland which teaches Thomas Keating’s method and supports those who pray in this way.

It also offers a 12 step outreach programme to people suffering from addictions and many who live by the 12 steps found in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), Al-Anon, SCA (Sexual Compulsives Anonymous), NA (Narcotics Anonymous), GA (Gamblers Anonymous), and other programmes, find the prayer a great support in the process of recovery.

One centering prayer group for individuals working the AA programme takes place each week in a community centre in Coolock.

Eileen Foley, who supports the group, says there is a lovely atmosphere at the small prayer gathering. “It is absolutely beautiful.”

The root of centering prayer is Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:6. “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.”

The first step in this method of contemplation is to choose a sacred word as a symbol of your openness and consent to God’s presence and action within.

Fr Thomas Keating advises that it should be a simple word like Jesus, Mother, Father or Peace.

You sit comfortably but should avoid being so comfortable that you fall asleep. Then you close your eyes. If thoughts come into your mind, you should gently introduce your sacred word, and let the thoughts go. Generally the prayer lasts twenty minutes, and ends with the recital of the Our Father.

Eileen Foley got involved with Contemplative Outreach five years ago. The former ophthalmologist had been searching for something more in her spiritual life as a student, but with work and family pressures, “life took over” and she forgot about it.

In 2002 she got involved in the Dublin Samaritans. “I gained a huge realisation of the bigger picture of life,” she told “It tunnelled me into a desire to deepen my relationship with God.”

Sometime later, a friend showed her a brochure for centering prayer. She immediately took to it. “It has become a way of life and made a huge change in my life.”

Now, each morning and evening, she sits in a room overlooking her garden, reads part of a psalm and has her moments of centering prayer, finishing with the  Our Father and a Glory Be. “Silence is God’s first language,” she says, quoting Thomas Keating.

The American Trappist monk, devised this method of prayer back in the 1960s. At the time he was dismayed to see young people searching for an experience of God in the Eastern tradition.

Inspired by the decree of Vatican II, Fr Keating and two other monks, Fr William Meninger, and Fr Basil Pennington, developed a method of Christian contemplative prayer that was accessible to laypeople which became known as centering prayer. Later, Fr Thomas co-founded Contemplative Outreach.

His ‘method’ reached Ireland in the early 1990s, but in recent years has been growing in popularity.

There are now centering prayer groups in almost every county of Ireland. Close to where Eileen lives in South Dublin are three groups.

During the year Contemplative Outreach Ireland offers weekend and eight day long retreats, and introductory presentations on the method, and while the method came from a Trappist priest, Christians of all denominations are drawn to it.

For Eileen it has enriched her faith and brought a greater love of the Eucharist. “Your trust and surrender to God becomes much deeper,” she explains.

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