Contemplative Outreach of Portland

Centering Prayer – The Prayer of Consent
 

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Facilitator’s Corner

Welcome to the Facilitator’s Corner!  We hope these tips and resources will help you serve your Centering Prayer Group.

 

Why are you Facilitating?

Positioning the chairs, setting up a reflective focal point, and arranging for the reading at a centering prayer meeting are all part of a facilitator’s responsibility, but the Facilitator Handbook counsels that more important is the attitude of the facilitator toward service. Prior to the meeting, it suggests that the facilitator consider a list of questions (see page 20). One of the questions is, “What motivates me to offer contemplative service as a facilitator?”

Each one’s answer will be a little different. One answer might be, “The ‘God in me’ is  serving the ‘God in others’.” A way to be conscious of your personal response might be to pick one of those actions, as positioning the chairs, that you do every time before the meeting and use it to remind yourself of the motive for your service.

 

Encouraging Service

The Facilitator Handbook recommends that facilitators should give control of the prayer group to the group by encouraging members to share the duties and roles. While it is sometimes easier for a facilitator to do the tasks alone, encouraging people to volunteer allows others to develop the habit of service.

Some tasks that could be shared, depending on the format used by the group, are: preparing the opening prayer/reading before meditation, serving as time keeper, reviewing books or videos to be used for discussion, ordering books or videos, leading the discussion, leading lectio divina, and maintaining the membership list.
The Purpose of Prayer Groups

The Facilitator Handbook states that the purpose of Centering Prayer groups is to help sustain the commitment to a regular practice of Centering Prayer. This is done in the context of a small community that prays together and shares the experiences of Centering Prayer and its effects on daily life.

While most groups are aware of this purpose in a general way, now and then it might be  good to make it explicit by reading together and discussing the “Purpose” and “The group agrees” list given on page 15 of the Facilitator Handbook. You could make a copy of the material for each member and take turns reading through the list. After reflecting on the material in silence for a few minutes, a brief discussion would solidify the points.

 

Respecting Individuals

In the guidelines for sharing in Centering Prayer Groups (page 16 of the Facilitator Handbook) you will notice a theme that runs through the various points—respect for each member and the uniqueness of their spiritual journeys.  The guidelines tell us that: we accept one another as we are; we do not give advice; we do not criticize what others share; we listen attentively without interruption; we keep what is shared absolutely confidential; we gather to care, not to remove the crisis or pain—we let God do the healing; we respect the desire of others to remain silent if they wish.

As a facilitator you can help your group follow these guidelines by modeling them in your own actions during the meeting. You could also make copies of the guidelines for the group to read together and discuss.

 

The End of the Prayer Period

The fourth guideline for centering prayer says, “At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.”  In a group setting, once the timer has chimed, it is important to follow this guideline so that the transition between prayer and everyday life is modeled for the members’ private meditation periods.

David Frenette in his recent book, The Path of Centering Prayer, pp. 18-21, suggests some ways to use this time: simply resting in God without the sacred word, focusing on the body and any tension or anxiety and releasing it to God, offering the silent prayer for the needs of others, visualizing the coming day and blessing it with the sacred word, and saying or listening to the Lord’s Prayer. Consider whether it would be helpful to discuss this topic in your prayer group.

 

Encouraging the Use of Resources

The purpose of Centering Prayer groups is to support the commitment of its members to the daily practice of contemplation. Besides the assistance offered by the regular agenda of the group’s meetings, the facilitator might do a few additional things that would take only a few minutes and prove helpful for an individual’s practice.

The facilitator could encourage all of the members to sign up for the national and the local newsletters of Contemplative Outreach by providing them with the links to their home pages:www.contemplativeoutreach.org  and  www.ContemplativeOutreachPortland.com.

The group could be invited to share information about local events—talks, retreats, movies, etc.—sponsored by Contemplative Outreach or other groups that are relevant to the practice of contemplative prayer. Other things that could be shared are the titles of books and websites that members have found helpful.
The Facilitator’s Practice

The Facilitator Handbook when addressing the topic of the spiritual preparation of the facilitator asks the question, “Am I personally willing to grow closer to God through the practice of Centering Prayer?”

While scheduling meetings, setting up the space, providing for a timer, selecting readings, and preparing discussions are all important, none of this is as valuable as a positive response to the question above. The primary commitment of the Facilitator is to a personal consistent practice of Centering Prayer.

The twice-daily practice of placing oneself in the presence of God and consenting to his action within will allow the Spirit to provide the Facilitator with the patience, flexibility, humility, openness, and love needed to share the practice.

Timers

Facilitators who puzzle over what to use for a timer for their prayer group meetings and have hesitated to invest in a prayerful sounding Tibetan bowl now have a simple, inexpensive alternative.  Several suitable timers are available as apps for your smart device.

One such app is Insight Timer for iPhone, iPod, Android, iPad and Kindle Fire. This timer allows you to choose from nine different “bells,” seven of which are Tibetan bowls. You can set the number of strikes of the bowl and the interval between the strikes at the beginning of the prayer period, the length of the prayer period, and the number of strikes at the end.

If this is the only way you use the timer it is well worth the minimal cost, but there are several other uses.The timer has a journal feature, it keeps a record of the length and frequency of prayer periods, it allows you to see listings of all the people all over the world who are using the timer at a given moment, and provides for various ways to communicate with them if you desire.

So if your group, or individuals in your group, are looking for a timer, go to the app store for your device and search for a “meditation timer.”

 

Is Your Group “Open” or “Closed”?

The Facilitator Handbook states that it is always up to the Centering Prayer group members to decide whether to be “open” or “closed,” that is, whether to accept new members or not. Have you had this discussion with your group recently? Circumstances may have changed since the last time your group decided.

Some possible changes in an “open” group that might lead it to become “closed” are: reaching the maximum size that seems best for discussion or the meeting space; achieving a level of sharing that would be uncomfortable for a new member; focusing on a topic which may not be appropriate or interesting for a person new to Centering Prayer. A group which has been “closed” may have lost so many participants that it would benefit from being “open,” or it might decide that some new insights would be helpful.

 

What Do You Do If No One Talks?

A Centering Prayer Group is made up of people who come together to share their contemplative journey and the transformation it engenders. Usually they are not reluctant to speak, but occasionally an uncomfortable silence will be experienced during the discussion period. What should you, as the facilitator, do in this case?

First, remember that the silence is not bad. People need time to organize their thoughts and find their way to speak. So in most cases, you do not need to do anything except to wait. If you feel that the pause is getting too long, you can ask an open-ended question; as, “What connection is there between the material and your life?” or “How did you feel when you read this chapter?”

If you do ask a question, address it to the whole group. Since members are always free to remain silent if they wish, never put anyone on the spot by directing a general question to an individual.

 

Selecting Material for Discussion

There are several places your prayer group can look for material to stimulate the discussion part of your meeting. You might consider the listings in the “Recommended Reading” section of the Facilitator Handbook. The COPDX library has many appropriate books and DVDs. The “Resources” link on the Contemplative Outreach national website has numerous suggestions. Often the members of your group will have recommendations, or you might get ideas from members of other CO prayer groups. If you have used a book that your group liked, you may find further suitable readings in the bibliography of that book.

It is important that whatever material you use is selected by group consensus. The subject of the material should be relevant to centering prayer or spiritual transformation and practice. Avoid overly abstract theological works and books that have little connection with the experience of the contemplative journey.

 

Facilitating Dialogue

What does it mean to “facilitate” a Centering Prayer Group? It means more than providing a place to gather and a structure to the meeting. Above all, a facilitator helps the group todialogue about their experience of Centering Prayer and its effect on their everyday life. Dialoguing deepens the relationships among the members of the group and creates a spiritual community. True dialogue calls for a deep level of receptivity and listening. It leads to an opening of the heart.

The facilitator can promote dialogue by modeling an open and accepting attitude. Periodically reflecting on or summarizing what someone has said leads members to know that their contributions are valued. You might hold off sharing your own experiences and reflections until at least some others have shared. Most of all, don’t fret. The Holy Spirit is present and moving your group forward.

 

Supporting Daily Practice

The purpose of a Centering Prayer Group is to support the daily prayer practice of its members. How is this done while respecting the individuality and privacy of each person? You might try using the following question-and-answer approach occasionally.

Ask each member to anonymously write a question regarding Centering Prayer on a piece of paper. Put the papers in a container and draw out one question. Read it aloud and ask the group to answer the question and discuss the issue. This approach respects the privacy of the individual and makes use of the wisdom of the group. Depending on the format of your meetings, one or more questions can be tackled.

 

Meeting Reminders

Maybe everyone in your group always remembers when and where you are meeting and what they should do to prepare for the meeting––but it wouldn’t be surprising if that wasn’t the case. A simple email message to the group a few days prior to the meeting can improve the situation.

Be sure to include the day of the week, date, time, place, and what to read if the group is going to discuss something that is read before the meeting. Ask the recipients to respond to your email to let you know if they plan to attend. Adding your telephone number after your name could be helpful to a member who wants to contact you that way.

 

RESOURCES:

Facilitator Handbook

 

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