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Oct 27, 2016 12:38PM

Centering prayer: Upcoming retreat to provide the tools for the practice

By Ann Ring
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Retreatants at Benet House Retreat Center gather in the chapel for group centering prayer. A group meets there weekly on Wednesdays at 1 p.m.
When two curious people attended a workshop on centering prayer 25 years ago, it changed the course of their history.

"Centering prayer literally changed my life from top to bottom," says Dick Jensen, of Bettendorf. "Today, I feel I have a direct relationship with God."

Centering prayer is based on classic contemplative traditions in Christianity that can be traced back as far as St. Gregory the Great, pope of the Catholic Church from 590 until his death in 604. Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk, is known as one of the founders who formed the modern centering-prayer movement in the 1970s. In 1983, he presented a two-week intensive centering prayer retreat at the Lama Foundation in San Cristabol, N.M., which proved to be a watershed event.

Sister Bobbi Bussan, director of the Benet House Retreat Center at St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island, says centering prayer "is a method of prayer using silence to reach an interior oneness with God.

"It is in the quiet of this presence where we know the Lord at the greatest depth."

Bussan says centering prayer emphasizes reaching the "'inner room' Jesus calls us to in the Gospels through the use of breathing, silence and a mantra. The breathing and mantra are tools for deepening our inner quiet and taking the focus away from our daily distractions. Centering prayer leads one to 'resting in God.'"

Jensen says centering prayer "helps with your relationship with God, although the connection is not apparent at first." He also says centering prayer "unloads the unconscious" and can promote emotional healing.

"It's extremely freeing," he says.

Today, he and his wife, Marcia, are part of a service team for Eastern Iowa Contemplative Outreach, a branch of the national Contemplative Outreach Ltd., founded by Keating and others to teach centering prayer and support those who use it.

Jensen encourages two 20-minute meditation sessions a day. While the prayer's intent is to foster communion in Christ, he says for an agnostic, centering prayer would be beneficial "as long as a person is willing to have an open mind."

For the atheist, Jensen suggests mindfulness meditation, which is not God-centered.

Jensen says Marie Howard brought an introduction course on centering prayer to the Diocese of Davenport about 25 years ago. Howard, now in her 70s, can rattle off the dates in a heartbeat.

"It was actually 28 years ago" that she brought centering prayer to the QC, she says with a laugh. "My journey with centering prayer began in the fall of 1985 when I was the family life director for the Diocese of Davenport, and attending a national conference for this group.

"I was now 48 years old, married, mother of five, working in ministry in a diocese, and yet my relationship with God was stuck in the busy life. I was living with no time for prayer," she says.

"At the time, I was pretty burned out with my job and needed a 'booster shot' for my prayer life, which I received from a workshop presented by Father (Carl) Arico, where he provided a taste of this new and yet very old contemplative prayer practice. It was like coming home, and I knew that God was providing what I had been looking for."

Howard now lives in New Jersey and is a Contemplative Outreach chapter consultant around the country. "It's a gift you just pass on," she says. "That's how we look at it."

The Benet House Retreat Center at St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island will offer a centering prayer retreat weekend on Friday, Nov. 18, through Sunday, Nov. 20. The cost is $230.

Jensen says he's willing to provide a prerequisite on centering prayer prior to the weekend. Eastern Iowa Contemplative Outreach also offers several locations for centering prayer throughout the Quad-Cities, Iowa City and more.

Benet House, which cooperates with Eastern Iowa Contemplative Outreach and Central Illinois Contemplative Outreach, offers a yearly, one-day Introduction to Centering Prayer, plus a four-day Centering Prayer Retreat. It also sponsors a weekly centering prayer group every Wednesday, from 1 to 2 p.m.

For more information on centering prayer opportunities, visit smmsisters.org/retreat, or call 309-283-2108. For more about Eastern Iowa Contemplative Outreach, visit sites.google.com/site/easterniowaco1/.
Ann Ring is a frequent Radish contributor.


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