Centering Prayer functions for many as Divine Psychotherapy. In healthy therapeutic relationships the therapist acts with great empathy, unconditional positive regard, and great care. They act as a non-judgmental presence with the client. As such, the therapist acts contrary to the way many of the people in our lives acted as we were growing up, and by doing so, they help us integrate and resolve the trauma associated with past experiences. In the therapeutic relationship, healing comes from the telling and retelling of our stories. It also comes from the experience of a high degree of acceptance and care. In Centering Prayer, we enter into a holy space and through our profound communion with God we begin to discern the many ways in which God loves us, seeks to have a relationship with us, and has always been present in our lives. We experience divine forgiveness, acceptance, and love. And through this experience of overwhelming love and acceptance, we heal from the profound sense of alienation from God with which many of us have struggled and, perhaps, continue to struggle. We gradually begin to hear the voice of a God we now experience as father and friend.
Much of what we do is fueled by internal processes of which we are seldom fully aware. We carry mental libraries filled with visual and audio files we have accumulated throughout our lives. These are the voices that seek to shame us, produce guilt and anxiety, and act like evil Jiminy Crickets always reminding us of what we have done wrong, of our failures, our weaknesses, and our deepest insecurities. These are the voices, and sometimes images, that cause our performance anxiety dreams, make us feel as though we do not belong, and convince us we do not deserve happiness, wealth, or security because we are phony charlatans. Many of these voices have names we remember. These are teachers, parents, stepparents, family members, friends, and anyone else who ever put us down, failed to appreciate us, used us as emotional punching bags, and bullied us. Some of these voices are incorporeal. They may have belonged to people we once knew, but now they only live in our minds, always ready to put us in our place and cut us down to size. They convince us that we deserve our pain, we must accept unhappiness as the will of God, and we are totally depraved in every fiber of our being.
The sad reality is that we are more prone to believe these voices than the voices of brothers and sisters who seek to affirm us. A sadder really still is that the Church has so fallen for dualistic thinking and preaching that it has done a great job convincing us of our complete and total depravity. From this belief, the church has moved not to an offer of Christ’s free, overwhelming, and radical grace, but to an emphasis on human effort which they believe aids the act of salvation. On the one hand, we have the multiple voices and images in our brain that tell us we are forever broken and unable to produce anything good. On the other hand, we have some churches saying, “You must earn your way there somehow. Without your efforts you will not be saved.” This is an excellent recipe for shame and anxiety.
In Centering Prayer, we enter God’s space as broken and imperfect humans, but soon we discover that God loves us as we are, that he is not appalled or repelled by our weaknesses, that he is love eternal, love crucified, and love who redeems the world. We find in prayer a reality many churches have hidden from us: Salvation is not up to us but up to the one who died to reconcile us to our God and Father. We have not lost the image of God in us, no matter how many layers of dust may cover it. God is alive and real, and he seeks a relationship based on love and gratitude, not based on fear and anxiety. It is indescribably beautiful to believe that the God who is Creator of all that is and Almighty source of all life, has a personal stake in my happiness and my salvation. He is the true antidote to all those voices that seek to keep us chained in the darkness of our shame and slaves to the same patterns of behaviors and the same self-defeating relationships. God wants my happiness and God wants my healing because he is a God of restoration and new life.
As we enter into Eastertide and celebrate the resurrection of the Son of God, let us vow to confront our shame and guilt. God’s love for you led his Son to the cross this last week, and since he has already paid the price for your sins, there is no sense or value in wasting your precious time feeling shame and exaggerated guilt. You are forgiven. Choose to say goodbye to toxic emotions this season. Nothing can separate you from God’s love in Christ Jesus. Nothing! Your salvation is a free gift you receive by faith. So, give yourself a break. Breathe the air of freedom God wants you to experience. Turn some of those voices off and, as Luther used to do, remember that you too have been baptized. You are a new creation. You are Christ’s and he loves you in indescribable ways!
May God continue to bless you,