Be Still and Know: Eucharistic Adoration vs. Centering “Prayer”

Birgit - cathedral tabernacle

What does it mean to be still and know? A few years back, a dear friend of mine was dying of pancreatic cancer. She was Catholic, knew of my return to the Church, and had discovered what she felt was a prayer method that was helping her get through her last painful months of life.

After several invitations, I attended a session at her parish, primarily to support her and of course to pray. The technique, centering prayer, is a way of learning to empty one’s mind from everything, good and bad, and just “be still and know that I am God.” It sounds positive on the surface, and clearly, there are times we need a certain amount of emptying to keep sanity and serenity. On that level, it would be difficult to object to, and this writing is not meant to suggest that those moments do not exist. But is resting the mind in such a way a form of prayer? I am not so sure.

Jesus Across the Room

I noticed something, that evening, which disturbed me then and still does. That same evening, in a different part of the parish sanctuary/nave area, another group was meeting simultaneously for the purpose of Eucharistic Adoration. The two groups arguably had some similarities. Both were there to aid in freeing the mind from this sometimes-horrific world around us. Both were meant to draw one’s soul to God. Each was meant to produce healing. Similar processes, and comparable results. At least hopefully. However, the differences were not to be ignored either.

The facilitator of the centering group opened by explaining the process. The biggest rule, as it were, was to empty one’s mind. Letting go and letting God, right? Not quite. He told us that any thoughts, good and bad, even if we believed they were from God, could distract from the process. He then suggested we choose a word or short phrase to bring us back to serenity in case we struggled with this. The word could be “Jesus,” “Blessed Mother,” or anything of our own choosing. It, in fact, could be nonsensical or worship of another god. The word simply had to mean something to us.

Ironically, after opening the meeting, and to bring us into the proper frame of mind for this emptying, the leader read a short passage from Rumi. I had no idea who Rumi was until later, but as it turns out he was a Muslim poet from the Middle Ages, considered heretical by many of his own, and certainly to Catholics, who wrote extensively on sensual themes among other things. We then spent 20 minutes in silence and afterward shared feelings or thoughts we had. Meeting adjourned.

I could not deny the urge to get up and walk to the other end of the holy space I was sitting in and go kneel before the Lord in the exposed Eucharist. I did not do so, however, primarily out of respect for my friend, who I would never again see on this earth after that night. I knew that we were missing something essential in this way of prayer and that the answer was only steps away. Jesus, fully present in the Holy Eucharist, was already silently and serenely in the room. That reality, sadly, was not in our minds during those timed moments. While Jesus sat quietly waiting, we instead tried to be our own gods. Be still and know who?

When Prayer Isn’t Prayer

All prayer is not equal, either in quality or effect. Adoration, for example, can outpour graces that come from a vastly different habitat, as it is a visual as well as a spiritual encounter with the living Christ. This is not to suggest that centering prayer has no superficial seeming benefit. It is to state, though, that very often the surface good is the enemy of the best.

My first discovery of Eucharistic Adoration came two days after returning to the Church in 2005. It was the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, nearly 10 PM, and I was sitting at home when suddenly sensing the overpowering urge to get into my car and drive to the Cathedral/National Shrine of St Paul, where an all-night session before the Monstrance was going on. I was not even yet sure of the real or substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But I had to be there. Something happened that evening so profoundly that I knew, in some tangible form, Christ was so fully present there and I became utterly transfixed in His very essence. Some might say it was psychological, and some of it certainly affected my mind and thought processes. But it was more. Be still and know!

Although I come from a strongly charismatic background, I had absolutely no need to seek out spiritual manifestations of any kind other than Jesus Himself. 35 years of powerful experiences with the Holy Spirit, many of which I believe were valid and true, paled in comparison to the simple profundity of that amazing evening. I cannot explain it other than suggesting that I was experiencing the presence of God, not the absence of self, as centering prayer attempts.

Outward Not Inward

I have occasionally had similar experiences since then during Eucharistic Adoration. Unlike centering prayer, where I had to have a systematic set of human rules and procedures to follow for, at best, dubious results, I have found that I can sit in the Chapel, gaze at the Monstrance or even the ceiling, and, as long as my heart has been open, found tranquillity I did not carry in with me when walking in. I have, too, sometimes filled pages of my prayer notebook with thoughts and ideas which might easily have been lost to me had I deliberately pushed them out of my mind. Those beauteous moments of God-based meditation helped me look beyond myself instead of inside only. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Christian meditation reaches out to our Lord and uses, not buries, our facilities of reasoning:

Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. This mobilization of faculties is necessary in order to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt the conversion of our heart, and strengthen our will to follow Christ (CCC, 2708).

One of the things the leader said was that the old traditions had much to teach us. The sadly amazing thing was that he chose traditions based upon false religions and earthly philosophies for something which could have, through Eucharistic Adoration, given far more peace to my dying friend and so many others, as well as himself. And, ironically, my friend asked me for aid in praying the Rosary, another form of authentic Christian meditation when prayed devoutly, once the meeting ended that night. Clearly centering prayer was not enough for her and she realized it. We reject the best gifts of God for the self-invented good. And we pay for it by missing the presence of both God and us.

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29 thoughts on “Be Still and Know: Eucharistic Adoration vs. Centering “Prayer””

  1. Mindfulness can be “baptized”. It is a tool, not an end in itself. It can be Christianized by using it as a way to clear barriers, sweep away the countless insects of distraction that plague some of us. Mindfulness is then transcended and attention to God is made clearer. Some may disagree – fair enough – but it has worked for me.

    1. First of all, great last name:). Second, since this article is not about mindfulness but rather the emptying of the mind, I will not deal with this at length here. I will suggest listening to the seven-minute video, by Dan Burke of EWTN, linked here if you have questions about the topic. Rather than attempting to baptize a non-Christian or Catholic practice, the video suggests ways to be mindful already within Catholicism, such as St Ignatius of Loyola and his teaching on the discernment of spirits, just for one. I believe this is a far safer approach and will bring the same effects, but in fact more completely and based upon the fullness of Truth without any hidden connections to Eastern religion or philosophy.
      Thanks, Virgil!

      https://spiritualdirection.com/2017/02/05/mindfulness-catholic-mystical-tradition

  2. Pingback: MONDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  3. Richard – it has been a number of years since Catechetical Institute classes, but I am DELIGHTED to see your tremendous insights and careful presentation of an important truth of our Faith. Christ is the center and cause of all our life as Christian, and emptying our minds is opening the door for the entrance of unwanted beings – Jesus tells of sweeping clean and how the unfilled room was filled with new demons. I prefer the emptying of self and focusing on some aspect of the Rosary when at Adoration. There is so much I don’t understand, and sometimes I take a devotional study into Adoration with me – it helps me focus my thoughts and prayers when I don’t know what to pray about at a given moment. Blessings to you and your ministry. I too held Assembly of God credentials many years ago, and 30 years ago, September 9, 1989, I was confirmed Catholic.

  4. As clearly communicated by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:1-6,

    Instructions concerning Prayer
    2 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
    Christ Jesus, himself human,

    1. Robert, no Catholic disagrees with this. The post was about the practice of centering “prayer.” It does not, nor does the Sacred Scripture text you quote, preclude praying to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Nor is that the only way to pray to Him. I am not sure why you, as a Catholic, would think otherwise.

  5. Thanks for the article, Richard. Your instincts about Centering Prayer were right. St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, the Church-designated doctors of prayer and the mystical life, both teach that we should not try to turn away from all thoughts in prayer, unless God is granting the gift of infused contemplation. Trying not to think through your own power is “foolishness” according to Teresa, and according to John it will make you stagnate or regress in your relationship with God. Unfortunately, some of their writing can be taken out of context to sound like Centering Prayer. But what they are talking about (contemplation) is a pure gift that can only be received. And it requires deep conversion as a preparation. Readers may be interested in my blog and book on the subject, which ironically has the same name as Tim Staples’ article. http://www.iscenteringprayercatholic.com/

    1. Thanks so much, Connie! In checking your website I note that your book on this topic is forwarded by Anthony Lilles, who was just last week on EWTN’s “Women of Grace.” Your information looks well-organized and trustworthy. Beautiful and, again, thanks for reading!

    2. Thank you Connie and Richard for your great input into maintaining purity of the beautiful Catholic teaching where Jesus is in the centre! Everything has been already said in the Bible and lived by by great Saints (Catholic church doctors, Fathers, Martyrs etc…)
      – why do Catholics still think they need new approaches or practices? Why cannot they simply grab any book by Catholic saints????? Isn`t some pride that lead so many Catholics to desire “higher levels” of meditation and look for new age practices because it has a name attached to it? Because appearances always attract, sadly…. What happened to Eucharistic adoration and Marian devotions?????? What does centering prayer offer? Selfishness, self-power etc… rather than self-denial !
      Also centering prayer seems to falsely calm people down so that they do not go to Confession, the second greatest Sacrament! If that`s the fruit of it- you can tell how demonic it is. Because the sin against Holy Spirit is when you do not see your own sin.

      It is a great shame that so many Catholics neglect the Rosary/ Divine Mercy chaplet and other devotions (e.g. beautiful Litanies!) and seek easy- yet deceiving strategies ( I would never risk calling centering prayer a prayer, from what I already know (and have right to my view, in the best case it`a a deluding psychological practice. And who is the biggest liar? So what are the roots of it?
      The co called contemplative outreach have now started their job in the diocesan cathedral here (UK) here making me shake. My instinct for centering prayer is that it is a very deceiving tool – so would one call it a prayer at all? – child of neo-hinduism , therefore it`s better to avoid it.
      This will suffice for ever and ever:
      Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
      Holy Mass
      Liturgy
      Marian devotions
      Rosary
      etc…

    1. “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18

    2. Please guide me to the passage of Scripture that says the RCC must NOT declare Saints. Which is funny because Israel had Saints, so there must be a documented change in protocol, correct?

    3. Robert, we affirm that a person is worthy of veneration and that their life shows heroic sanctity. We also acknowledge miracles attributed to their direct intercession on someone’s behalf with Jesus Christ. That gives the rest of us the hope of supernatural intervention if we choose to venerate the Saint and ask for his or her aid with Jesus in our lives. It also makes us confident that if we choose to adopt any of their spiritual way of becoming holy, that is following their teaching or preaching or example, we will also benefit in a spiritual way. For instance the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola are a tried and true method for spiritual growth and maturity as Christians. The Little Flower, St Terese also has spiritual advise in her Story of a Soul worht adopting. There are many, many saints. To help you see the picture better, do you think adopting the spiritual life of Elton John or Dolly Parton will gain you Heaven? I didn’t think so. That’s why we look to the Saints. It is God alone who give true sanctity, but we are all called to try for it. Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect. Hello? Take up your cross daily and follow Me. There’s plenty more. I’m sure you’ve heard some. The Saints show us how they did it, so it won’t look so hard to the rest of us. God bless.

  6. To Christopher:
    So you are suggest that Jesus was giving us a warning about something that occurred about 500 years before his birth?
    Jesus was giving us a warning about future events.
    As far as the Catholic Church doing fine, read Revelation 17 and 18.
    Then please give me your explanation.

  7. With respect to Eucharist Adoration, doesn’t Jesus warn us in Matthew 24:24-26 that we should not believe that the Messiah is in the innermost room? Or his warning in Luke 17:22-27.
    During mass, we Catholics proclaim that Jesus is seated at the right-hand of God in heaven. As Stephen was martyred, he was given a vision of Jesus standing next to the Glory of God; Acts 7:55-56.

    1. With respect to Eucharist Adoration:
      “Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats[s] my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”” John 6:53-58

    2. To Christopher:
      Does John 6:53-58 say anything about Eucharistic Adoration?
      Do these verses say anything about Jesus being in the “innermost room”, i.e. Catholic tabernacle?
      When Jesus told his disciples to partake of his body and blood in remembrance of him, it was done on the Feast of Passover. Jesus was a devote Jew and observed the feasts as prescribed by God in the Old Testament. Yet, the Catholic Church does not follow those instructions.

    3. Robert, Jesus was referring to the Holy of Holies which is the innermost room of the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept (up until the time of Jeremiah). It was a room that Israel could enter the presence of the Lord only by its representation by the High Priest and only one day per year – the day of atonement. When Jesus was crucified, the veil to this room was torn in two allowing us all to have access to the Lord’s presence and allowing the Lord to make his Temple within our hearts. Jesus – you know that one who walked on water, gave sight to the blind, and raised the dead – also makes his presence known in the Eucharist. The Eucharist which I adore. The Catholic Church is doing just fine.

    4. Thanks, Christopher, for answering eloquently what should not be an issue if we state that we believe all the Church claims and asks us to claim. Catholicism is either true or not. I believe it is. The bigger question here, at least to me, is why we would empty our minds instead of allowing them to be filled with Christ. If not Adoration, then the Rosary or some other meditative devotion. But filled we must be.

  8. Well, there is a part of the essay that truly chimed with me. Never tried “centering prayer,” myself. Seems Buddhist to me. Getting recollected before prayer, that seems much more to my liking. Now the part that chimed: “I cannot explain it other than suggesting that I was experiencing the presence of God, not the absence of self, as centering prayer attempts.” Reading those words, I thought of this Scripture passage, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life, was cast into the pool of fire.” Rev. 20:15. If the goal of learning how to be centered that is to eliminate all vestiges of one’s self, then it is nihilistic. I am made in the image and likeness of God who made me. Elimination of all traces of me inside me is not of God, nor God’s will for anyone. I frequent Adoration. Have since discovering it as a new Catholic 20 plus years ago. In His sight I am who I am with His gaze upon me. Why would I even think about eliminating who I am to Him so as to fit in with a group of persons whose goal is to eliminate one’s self from the inside out, to cease to exist? This cessation of existence is Hell, for those who go there are no longer in the mind of God nor in His Presence anywhere at all for all eternity. Their names are no longer found in the book of Life for it is God who is the Author of all life and those who are not His are not found there. I hope I’ve made myself clear, so that my point can be seen. The other thing I will say about all these foreign religious practices given space in our places of worship as is recounted in the essay, I am consecrated to Jesus thru Mary according to the Montfort formula and have been since my first year as a Catholic. It just fit me perfectly as I discerned where I fit in in the Church, a task I was given during RCIA classes, that is to discover where I felt “called to.” After I completed my first 33 day cycle and signed my little slip of paper, I tried to make contact with the rest of those in the Montfort family, namely the Daughters of Wisdom and found there weren’t many left here. When I did find some, they were busy with centering prayer and laybrinth walking and God knows what else. I wanted no parts in any of it, so I stopped myself from making further contact with them. Every so often, I check back in with them thru their website and well, last I checked it was yoga, visits from a Rabbi and poetry and modern art that looked paint splashed on paper with a whole lot of nothing to look at with one purpose – to continue to remove the mind from Christianity for whatever you mind might imagine the splotches on the canvas to be. Art? No. Of the devil is more like it. Sad. Very sad. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. Thanks for the essay. It is a good subject. Jesus, I choose You, still. I pray that what remains of the Daughters of Wisdom find themselves longing to return to Christ soon. God bless.

  9. I’m sorry for your loss. I look forward to tonight’s adoration, and I will pray for your friend. Thank you for sharing this disturbing story and the proper definition of meditation. I am not surprise d to hear that tolerance of yoga is now expected in our church. Please relay my outrage to the Pastor.

    1. Everyone please take another good long look at that definition of meditation. Notice it does NOT say “focus on your breathing”, “focus on your posture”…or “just plain focus on ignoring your God” … and other top-selling secular “mindfulness” baloney.

      I will pray for the Daughters of Wisdom.

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