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Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening

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Practitioners of Centering Prayer are known for the great enthusiasm they bring to the practice of this ancient discipline. Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening is a complete guidebook for all who wish to know the practice of Centering Prayer. Cynthia Bourgeault goes further than offering an introduction, however. She examines how the practice is related to the classic tradition of Christian contemplation, looks at the distinct nuances of its method, and explores its revolutionary potential to transform Christian life. The book encourages dialogue between Centering Prayer enthusiasts and those classic institutions of Christian nurture-churches, seminaries, and schools of theology-that have yet to accept real ownership of the practice and its potential.

192 pages, Paperback

First published June 25, 2004

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About the author

Cynthia Bourgeault

34 books256 followers
Modern day mystic, Episcopal priest, writer, and internationally known retreat leader, Cynthia Bourgeault divides her time between solitude at her seaside hermitage in Maine, and a demanding schedule traveling globally to teach and spread the recovery of the Christian contemplative and Wisdom path.

She has been a long-time advocate of the meditative practice of Centering Prayer and has worked closely with fellow teachers and colleagues including Thomas Keating, Bruno Barnhart, and Richard Rohr. Cynthia has actively participated in numerous inter-spiritual dialogues and events with luminaries and leaders such as A.H. Almaas, Kabir Helminski, Swami Atmarupananda, and Rami Shapiro.

Cynthia is a member of the GPIW (Global Peace Initiative for Women) Contemplative Council and recipient of the 2014 Contemplative Voices award from Shalem Institute. She is a founding Director of both The Contemplative Society and the Aspen Wisdom School. She continues to contribute to The Contemplative Society in her role as Principal Teacher and advisor.

Cynthia is the author of eight books: The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, The Wisdom Jesus, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, Mystical Hope, The Wisdom Way of Knowing, Chanting the Psalms, and Love is Stronger than Death. She has also authored or contributed to numerous articles on the Christian Wisdom path in publications such as Parabola Magazine, Gnosis Magazine, and Sewanee Theological Review.

Cynthia Bourgeault is currently one of the core faculty members at The Living School for Action and Contemplation.

from http://www.contemplative.org/cynthia-...

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 126 reviews
Profile Image for Leah.
7 reviews1 follower
February 12, 2012
I feel like reading this book opened a door and I am standing on the threshold of an amazing opportunity for transformation. Bourgeault's explanations of cataphatic prayer and apophatic prayer allowed me to see and understand what was not working in my meditative experiences. I have started making Centering Prayer part of my daily life practice, and can already see subtle shifts occuring. Bourgeault's clearly written descriptions for the methods of Centering Prayer and Welcoming Prayer provide wonderful approaches for nurturing the heart through awareness and deepening surrender.
Profile Image for Rod White.
Author 2 books15 followers
September 16, 2010
I love how succinct and personal Cynthia Bourgeault writes as she opens up what can often be an arcane and overly-mysterious topic. I appreciate how she stays firmly in Christ. I appreciate the good summary of the historical background and basic elements of a crucial practice for everyone desiring to know the love of God that is beyond understanding.
Profile Image for Sheryl Valentine.
Author 2 books45 followers
January 19, 2014
I have been practicing 'centering prayer' daily since about june of last year. I have mainly read the books by Father Thomas Keating, but I really enjoyed this one as well. I learned some new things about this type of prayer and meditation in the christian tradition. And written from a feminine perspective was enlightening as well

I didn't really do justice to this book as I had not totally finished it when I reviewed it. Again, it is an excellent book on centering prayer in meditation. HIGHLY recommended!
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,458 reviews369 followers
February 20, 2023
Cynthia Bourgeault writes wonderfully of spiritual matters. This book, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, is no exception. I wanted to drop everything and follow the form of meditation described in this book.

The book outlines how Centering Prayer was developed, its location within the Catholic tradition, as well as how to follow the practice. It is honest about the potential drawbacks: not the more immediate benefits of other kinds of meditation; in fact, sometimes, apparently, things get much worse before they get better.

So the book left me torn between wanting to follow what appears to be a very pure and purifying practice (poetically and moving described by Bourgeault) and hesitating to potentially destabilize my life. It's to Bourgeault's credit that while clearly weighing in on the overall benefits of the practice, she doesn't blink from what may be at stake.

So I am unclear about my personal decision but very glad to have read this book.
Profile Image for Jessie.
Author 7 books46 followers
April 26, 2010
Another thing to add about 'teaching' or 'using' this book: Bourgeault distinguishes between the cataphatic self (the ego, the personality, the uniqueness in us) and the apophatic self (the Something Deeper in us), and stresses the importance of bringing these selves into harmony; it occurred to me that this could be helpful in the artist's life. What is individual and unique about our art -- its aesthetic -- seems often to come out of the cataphatic self, and maybe it is the artist's true task to bring the cataphatic self in alignment with the apophatic self, or in service to it... The C. self is more sensitive, esp., to the opinions of others; grounding the artist in her A. self might help her weather the storms of critique of, and even indifference toward, her work.

One of the better books on prayer that I’ve read; she’s careful and clear; very helpful on the distinctions between cataphatic prayer (using human faculties of imagination, language, etc) and apophatic prayer (bypassing the faculties), which is the category for Centering Prayer; great stuff on silence in the apophatic: silence as more than a backdrop or a precondition for receiving a message—silence as its own kind of perceptivity, its own kind of communion” (34); also wonderful nuancing of other tricky terms: sacred word and mantra, attention and intention, concentrative practice and surrender practice; lots of work in this book defining the “false self,” pulling from Thomas Keating and Thomas Merton.

Most significant for me was her discussion on how Centering Prayer can strengthen an attitude of spiritual non-possessiveness—really beautiful.

I found the first section the freshest and most illuminating, “The Method of Centering Prayer” (5 big stars for this section). In the other three sections, Bourgeault reads a bit more like a church person (sermonizes—but then she is an Episcopal priest) and deals with Centering Prayer’s theological/traditional underpinnings, its psychological effects, and some fine-tuning stuff that felt beyond me [except some helpful explanations of the “inner observer” and the “welcoming prayer”:]; still, all of it is clear and accessible.
Profile Image for Glen Grunau.
245 reviews13 followers
February 15, 2015
When I first read this book almost 4 years ago, I was just beginning to explore centering prayer as a contemplative practice. I still remember those early fears of descending into silence, facing the prospect of “wasting time” with no other agenda than to be silent. This was so far removed from my Christian upbringing that focused exclusively on cataphatic prayer (engaging our intellect, reason and emotions) – which covered virtually all aspects of my traditional worship experience that engaged my mind and emotions directly. Yet I was drawn to this prospect of engaging with apophatic prayer - a formless and empty prayer that bypasses our capacity for reason, imagination, and emotion. The Christian contemplative tradition teaches that apophatic prayer is much closer to the “abiding in the vine” union to which Jesus invites us. A prayer which focuses not on our agendas for God (such as having God provide us with a certain feeling state or with answers to our intercessory prayers) but on God’s agenda for us (our inner transformation).

After several years of making centering prayer a core spiritual practice in my life, the profound wisdom of this book is even more alive and accessible to me now than it was the first time I encountered it. This book is probably one of the most practical books on contemplative spirituality that I have read with its specific instruction on how to practice centering prayer and its companion practice, the welcoming prayer. It also places centering prayer solidly in the Christian tradition and in the life of Jesus by emphasizing “kenosis” (self-emptying, or “death to self”) as the central focus and activity of this prayer.

I just finished an eight week program of engaging with a variety of mindfulness practices following my reading of The Mindful Way through Depression. Although grateful for these practices of learning to live more fully aware in the present moment, I found myself longing for a return “home” to a mindful practice more grounded in the Christian tradition and purposefully open to the inner transforming grace of the Spirit of God. This book offered a strong reminder that centering prayer is this home for me.
Profile Image for Tom.
3 reviews
February 6, 2014
I loved this book! Rarely do I find a book which has such a profound impact on me and my approach on daily life. I have added Centering Prayer to my daily routine, and it has improved my stress management beyond my expectations. I find myself more balanced and with more energy after approximately 90 days of practice. A wonderful practice to add to your morning routine. Cynthia's approach is very straightforward and her encouragement is apparent on every page. I like the way she divided the book into four parts: Method, Tradition (History), Psychology, and Inner Awakening. The Psychology section was extremely interesting and would have loved for her to have expanded this section since I saw some real benefit in this area for me. Make time for Centering Prayer.
Profile Image for Jenny.
205 reviews1 follower
May 20, 2009
This book was very helpful to read after finishing Thomas Keating's "Open Mind, Open Heart". It expands on the basic method of centering prayer, which is covered in Keating's book, and also delves into the theology and psychology of this type of meditation. I would highly recommend this to anyone starting a centering prayer practice, especially if you are beginning to experience the psychological effects it engenders. The information on that is very helpful in navigating those waters and definitely helped keep me from "going over the waterfall".
Profile Image for Nick.
678 reviews29 followers
February 18, 2013
Why did it take me so long to find this book? Bourgeault's primer of Centering Prayer is thorough, readable and quite practical. I find it has changed my prayer, and I have been practicing Centering Prayer for many years--her insights and clear expositions cleared up questions I had been pondering for a long time, and revealed new aspects of my practice to me.
Profile Image for Sandra.
625 reviews15 followers
August 27, 2013
This is the second time I've read Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, and I got much more out of it this reading, perhaps because my own C.P. practice is far more consistent. For those who worry that Centering Prayer is some dangerous fringe practice gleaned from completely non-Christian sources, consider this:

"When I talk about ttransformation' and 'awakening,' incidentally, I should make clear that I am not using New Age terminology. I am speaking of 'You must be born from above' (John 3:7 NRSV) . . . 'For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for me will find it' (Matthew 16:24-25)."
p. 9

or this:

"The intent is not to escape into some private holiness-trip, but to allow the gospel to become more and more alive in us, more and more firmly rooted." p. 18

I could include many quotes, but here's a great one where she's comparing Centering Prayer (a process of constant surrender) with other forms of meditation:

" . . . in Centering Prayer, one aims to attain nothing: not clear mind, steady-state consciousness, or unitive seeing. It is a prayer that simpy exercises the kenotic path: love made full in the act of giving itself away. . . . a willing divestment of all possessions, even up to and including personal consciousness . . . . Slowly, steadily, Centering Prayer patterns into its practitioners what I would call the quintessential Jesus response: the meeting of any and all life situations (including the final one, where a concentrative method is no longer possible) by the complete, free giving of oneself." p. 88

Finally, the sections on the Inner Witness and on Welcoming Practice are really, really good, and make the leap from the value of sitting twice daily to carrying the posture of surrender so central to C.P. into every area of our lives.: I had never really "gotten" Welcoming Prayer/Welcoming Practice before, although I had tried it out. Somehow, this time, the chapter on "Welcoming Prayer" made perfect sense, and I was able to immediately start trying it out. These
570 reviews24 followers
February 9, 2016
This is a really good book. Ms. Bourgeault's intelligence is obvious. She expresses herself well. She follows up logically. Obviously, she has given a lot of thought, study, and practice to Centering Prayer.

I am convinced that Centering Prayer requires practice and not book-learning. At one point, Ms. B. refers to something like "doing it instead of talking about it". Nonetheless, her book is very valuable --- as is the Cloud of Unknowing and the book on Centering Prayer by M. Basil Pennington. (And now I have read exactly three books on Centering Prayer! Yay!) I liked very much her discussion of "divine therapy", attention of the heart, and the welcoming prayer. I am a little scared, however, that the welcoming prayer seems a little narcissistic, but we shall see. I also liked sensing in the book that the intellect is good (and Ms. B's is very fine), but is not all.

What I actually love about all the books I've read on Centering Prayer is how encouraging they are to a regular guy who feels drawn to this practice. Ms. B. adds a depth to the discussion --- theology, tradition and psychology. Very nice.

Profile Image for Alan.
157 reviews
May 10, 2016
This is a great introduction to Centering Prayer. Bourgeault explains the practice, placing it in its context of Christian prayer. In the Forward, Bourgeault says, "I hope [this book] will get you up and running in the practice [of Centering Prayer]," and it does just that. In the first chapter, she tells us, "It's very, very simple. You sit . . . and allow your heart to open toward that invisible but always present Origin of all that exists. Whenever a thought comes into your mind, you simply let the thought go and return to that open, silent attending upon the depths." The rest of the book explains why you do this and how it helps, and gives the reader strategies for doing it.

My favorite quote, however, is her acknowledgment that "intentional silence almost always feels like work." Bourgeault does a great job of explaining why it's work well worth doing!
Profile Image for Mary Helene.
671 reviews39 followers
January 9, 2013
I've been practicing, of sorts, for years and I have attended several workshops, one by Thomas Keating himself. Nonetheless, some how it all fell together in these pages. The back cover of my copy has critical pages noted: pg 122,156, 170-171. I note that President Obama's speech at the Newton school massacre interfaith service was parallel to p.123, where Cynthia Bourgeault talks of how the magnetic center will bring us home, true. President Obama said it is the love of our children which will do that. It is love.
The last chapter - or epilogue - is worth reading on its own.
Profile Image for Circle of Hope Pastors.
121 reviews22 followers
March 31, 2018
A lucidly written book about how to practice centering prayer from a well-known teacher on the sunbject.

I love how succinct and personal Cynthia Bourgeault writes as she opens up what can often be an arcane and overly-mysterious topic. I appreciate how she stays firmly in Christ. I appreciate the good summary of the historical background and basic elements of a crucial practice for everyone desiring to know the love of God that is beyond understanding. - Rod
Profile Image for Tracy.
217 reviews
November 10, 2013
The first time I read this book, I couldn't stand it. It felt way to intellectual and opaque. I had no idea what Bourgeault was even talking about. Luckily this was on my class syllabus this fall and I had no choice but to tackle it again. This time it found fertile ground. The practice of Centering Prayer is just what I needed and the fruits have been unfolding for some weeks now. Proof that sometimes your experience of a book is its appearance in the geography of your life.
Profile Image for Nhien Vuong.
9 reviews5 followers
September 9, 2017
A very important book on the role and practice of self emptying as instrumental in transforming consciousness. Too rarely, it seems, is this kind of work found (or, at least, dealt with so clearly, powerfully, and in such a modern-relevant way) in the Christian tradition. I am inspired and empowered to deepen my practice of Centering Prayer as a means to find true spiritual freedom. I can also see myself facilitating book studies based on this book. A very worthwhile read!
Profile Image for Sarah.
129 reviews16 followers
January 8, 2015
This book is one of the best guides to surrender through meditation that I have ever come across. Within a few chapters I found myself addicted to centering prayer. However, the constant need to prove that this meditation is Christian, not Buddhist or Hindu was tiring. Yes, some Christians are terrified of experimenting outside of their faith, but a faith built on fear of loss is no faith of all.
Profile Image for Dan Brunner.
64 reviews10 followers
February 5, 2017
I will be using this as a textbook in a spiritual formation class this fall. Lots to recommend, but mostly I liked its straightforwardness and accessibility in dealing with a mysterious and often unapproachable practice.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Andrew.
Author 6 books121 followers
July 7, 2015
I just reread this excellent introduction to centering prayer. Give me another decade of practicing this contemplative practice and maybe I'll fully appreciate Cynthia Bourgeault's insights.
Profile Image for Alisa Wilhelm.
1,086 reviews43 followers
February 12, 2021
When I said to myself, "This is the year that I'm going to get really good at praying," I certainly didn't have this response in mind. This book came at the perfect moment for me and helped distill and clarify several other spiritual books I am in the middle of.

Centering prayer is a Christian form of meditation developed by Benedictine monks in the 1970s as a direct response to the hoards of young people who were flocking to the new-to-the-West zen Buddhism. These monks knew that Christianity had a very old tradition of meditation, but the teachings on it were obscure, underexplored, and certainly not taught to parishioners. Teresa de Avila, The Cloud of Unknowing, Symeon the New Theologian, and the Desert Fathers and Mothers (who in turn influenced Sufi mystics), as well as the Benedictine practice of lectio divina all describe experiencing this type of prayer—but no one in modern times had synthesized these ancient writings and taught them to the spiritually hungry.

Centering prayer, then, recovers these ancient roots and incorporates vocabulary borrowed from modern psychoanalysis to sculpt and define what it is and what it is not. Most types of meditation that we see today (in apps, podcasts, psychology tools, mindfulness seminars) are variations on taming and controlling the ego/superego/id trifecta through focusing our attention, "noticing," visualizing, etc. So they are inherently about the physical body. Centering prayer aims to drop completely beneath those layers and work directly with the divine spirit "with groans too deep for words." The fruit of this work is not increased attention span, productivity, decreased anxiety, or mental clarity; the purpose is to strengthen the internal connection we have with God that we can draw from as we go about our normal day, interrupting the pattern of falling into old cycles of protecting the false self/ego/flesh (it has many names depending on the tradition), not to control it (with an overbearing superego) but to surrender use of the body as a conduit for the fruit of the spirit, the mind of Christ, and the Kingdom of God in our physical lives. At least, that's how I understand it right now.

Practicing the centering prayer doesn't really have a downside, and it's not possible to have a "bad day." It's very freeing in that sense—have you ever sat down to meditate and afterwards realized that your mind was wandering and then felt bad that you wasted your time? There's no such thing as wasted time with this practice: God is a god who wastes nothing. And it obviously doesn't exclude other types of prayer, if you enjoy doing that.

I am motivated to incorporate this practice into my daily life and excited to see where it takes me. I believe that the future of North American Christianity is in this direction. Teachers as diverse as Chögyam Trungpa, bell hooks, and Steven Hassan (all of whom I've been reading recently) recognize that Americans are incredibly spiritually hungry; I would even venture to say that is one of the defining characteristics of American culture. Why else are cults [religious and otherwise *cough* Apple *cough*] so - freaking - successful in the US? I don't believe for a second, and I never have, that millennials are spiritually dead and this is why we are leaving the church. I believe millennials are so spiritually starving that we are going literally anywhere else to try to find food of substance. Myopic leadership in the evangelical church has failed to recognize, for several decades now, that practices they have held up as "universally true Christianity" have never been anything close to universal. While those practices may have been helpful and good for some people at some time, it is time for the American church to humble itself and recognize that different cultural expressions are 100% valid in God's sight. Indeed, it is necessary to recognize them as valid in our human sight as well if we want to live out this universal siblinghood on earth.
16 reviews
February 22, 2021
A solid read. Primarily a case for Centering Prayer within the Christian community. As one who finds value in meditation, many aspects of this book are practical and insightful. For instance, Bourgeaults description of self emptying was a welcome reminder for deepening an early practice. The theological context and persuasive biblical arguments were informative and interesting. However, I did find myself somewhat wading through the middle of the book only to be welcomed by a great final third. Although meant for a target audience, many nice surprises lie within.
364 reviews
February 28, 2021
This book is excellent in helping one to understand the differences between the different forms of meditation. Contemplative prayer is different from Christian Zen and also Christian meditation and has a different goal. "The goal of the contemplative life is unitive seeing...gradually coming to realize that really, there is nothing that is not God." p.158. Having practiced many forms of meditation this has been very helpful for me and having found the Contemplative Prayer app for my phone have begun on the journey into this form of meditation.
Profile Image for Joshua Lawson.
Author 3 books16 followers
December 10, 2022
Maybe the timing was just right, or maybe I waited so long to read it that its value compounded like interest in a spiritual brokerage account, but Cynthia Bourgeault's Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening has renewed my excitement for contemplative practice in a way that I wasn't expecting. There are very few books that I've ever bothered to read twice, and none that moved me so deeply as to warrant an immediate re-reading until now. So, if you'll excuse me...
Profile Image for Reid Belew.
152 reviews6 followers
February 16, 2020
Very conflicted over this book. The first few chapters are a very strong and compelling introduction to centering prayer, but the following theological/philosophical discussions were seriously lacking. At times, this book felt like a college student writing to just barely meet a length minimum for a term paper. That’s a bit saddening, as I’m a fan of Cynthia Bourgeault, and Christian mysticism in general. When the book speaks practically, it shines. When it speaks emotionally or theoretically, it leaves much to be desired—which isn’t because there’s not a compelling way to speak on this topic, it seems like it’s more on the author than the subject matter.
Profile Image for Nick Richtsmeier.
197 reviews7 followers
October 25, 2016
Inside this book lies a hidden resource and wisdom that it's title and apparent topic mask. Advice on how to begin the practice of Centering Prayer does not require a 150-page book. In fact, Bourgeault covers the topic quite accessibly in about 15 pages at the front of the book. From there she goes on to in her words "defend" the practice from those who would say it lies outside the realm of classical Christian theology and praxis (which she does quite skillfully). I do not know the inner politics of the Christian meditative world, but it appears that Centering prayer is assulted on both fronts - not meditative enough to be embraced by the mystical purists and too contemplative for the fundamentalists who rule the Christian West. If the rock and hard place of these forces is what led Bourgeault to write the book, then they are blessings in disguise.
What comes from her defense is a rich, deep and multifaceted explanation of the goal of Christian formation and grounded psychotherapy while unwinding the idolatries and distractions of both, she merges complex and otherwise competing thoughts into a full-throated vision of deep level heart transformation made possible not by Fruedian technique or Eastern mysticism (though these both are given their place), but rather by the undemanding and unmitigated gazing into the eye of Love which sits at the center of every human life: the Presence of God.
I've never dog-eared such a high percentage of pages for later review in my life. Grab this book, drink from it slowly, realize you probably missed the point, and then do it again.
Profile Image for Lucy.
25 reviews
July 3, 2021
I read this book to acquaint myself further with the concept of centering prayer. Thanks to this book I think I finally understand the depth of that undertaking. I decided to wait on trying it until I am at a different place in my life. There are a few "new agey" and "psychological" terms used in this book which may turn off more orthodox readers. However I think this is an avenue of prayer which is useful to Christian seekers who aren't hampered by orthodoxy and who are ready to divulge into a deeper kind of prayer. This book is a good introduction and I will be sure to return to it once more when I am ready to proceed with Centering Prayer.
Profile Image for Jill Renison.
1 review
February 4, 2015
This is a densely written book, quite challenging, and one which pays rereading several times. I'm finding it really helpful in helping me to move beyond where I have been in prayer. The author has a knack of explaining difficult concepts in simple terms but the density of the writing means that progress is slow; no matter, because slow reading of this subject matter is appropriate.

I found Chapter 10 From Healing to Holiness most helpful in appreciating that this deep inner work results in a new creation, not simply a repair of the existing creation.

I look forward to discovering more as I reread it....
15 reviews6 followers
February 8, 2012
I will be pulling extensively from this book with regards to centering prayer. She has a fresh and vitally needed feminine perspective not just on prayer but on why its important and how we move through it. She has a really wonderful no nonsense style that is both gentle and patient. I find myself relaxing under her methodical approach to spirituality, the practice of surrender and finding God at the center of my life. If you are interested in the practice of centering prayer and meditation then this is a great book.
Profile Image for Tim Torres.
14 reviews1 follower
April 21, 2015
Written by an Episcopal who learned from Catholics, this is an eminently practical and contemporary how to guide on centering or contemplative prayer. The material on what is described as welcoming prayer was new to me, at least in the way it is presented, and a great enhancement for people who've been engaged in a practice for some time and looking for that next plateau-breaking step.
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