“Why Silence?” My Silence

The Rev. Lowell Grisham


When I was in my 20’s, an Episcopalian nun taught me an ancient form of Christian contemplative practice, Centering Prayer. But my mind was too wired and distracted. I couldn’t focus or be calm. It just made me itchy.

Somewhere around mid-life, my spiritual director, Roman Catholic nun Sr. Macrina Weiderkehr, suggested I give it another try. In the second half of life, our spiritual energy often comes out of our non-dominant energy. So this extrovert tried contemplation again. About six weeks later, my wife, Kathy, asked me, “Are you still doing that prayer Macrina suggested?” “Yes,” I answered, puzzled. “Good,” she said. “Keep it up. You seem a little easier to live with.”

Centering Prayer is a 20th century version of the 14th century teaching of the anonymous author of “The Cloud of Unknowing.” Its roots lie even deeper in ancient Christian mystical tradition.

Photo: Amy Carper

Photo: Amy Carper

For my practice, I sit in an alert, relaxed position. I focus on my breath briefly, letting go of the day’s distractions. I cast an inner glance of love toward God, and then I allow a simple word to symbolize the intention of my prayer. My intention is to consent to God’s presence and activity within. I introduce the sacred word very gently—as gently as placing a feather on a cotton ball.

Whenever I discover myself engaged in “thoughts”— mental narratives, feelings, bodily sensations, images—I gently reintroduce the sacred word. Otherwise, there is no need to repeat it. There is only the silence beneath the thoughts and feelings that keep on running out of my attention. 20 minutes will often bring me into silence. But I never judge the prayer. Just practice. Twice a day is my goal. I’m forgiving about that.

Centering Prayer is like the ballast of the infinite that grounds me in a busy, too busy life. I experience a precious bit of space between stimulus and my response. It helps me be less reactive, less driven, less judgmental, less anxious.

I’m still all of those things. It’s just that I sense a tether to something in nite and loving holding me in place, grounding me enough that I discover a bit more freedom than I might otherwise be aware of in the buffeting winds of everyday challenge.

In Centering Prayer I come home: home to myself opening to the ultimate home of in nite love where all things hold together in completeness. Below thoughts and feelings, the Divine works in silent benevolence. Sometimes I sense that. But whether I do or don’t, when I practice Centering Prayer, I am a little easier to live with.

For more information about Centering Prayer, visit contemplativeoutreach.org; a helpful Centering Prayer app is also available.

The Rev. Lowell Grisham is Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Fayetteville, AR and has co-facilitated Centering Prayer workshops at Arkansas House of Prayer. You can order your copy of his new book on Centering Prayer, Practicing Prayer: A Handbook, here.