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The Four "R's" of Centering Prayer

The four "R's" are the classic advice to practitioners of centering prayer on how to think about and surrender our thoughts while in silent prayer.

The Four Rs go back to Thomas Keating who was one of the leading voices of the resurgence of centering prayer as a practice in the 1970s. The four Rs are reminders of what to do when we recognize that we are in a stream or loop of thought.

Resist no thought. Retain no thought. React to no thought. Return ever so gently to the sacred word.

These “Four Rs” are full of wisdom. They assist us in operationalizing the core principles of centering prayer—the surrender of our thoughts and our return to the intention to sit in silence before God. We cannot control our thoughts. They may be beautiful; they may be embarrassing; they may be random. Regardless, when we recognize that they’ve grabbed our attention, we release them and return to the silence with our sacred word.

Resist no thought. Recognize that we spend most of our days lost in loops of thought. Our minds bounce endlessly from one thought to another. Buddhists call this the “monkey mind.” To practice centering prayer does not mean fighting against thinking. The goal is not to erase our minds. This is impossible. You will likely have hundreds of thoughts during a centering prayer session. The key is recognizing when this happens and then surrendering anew. This leads to the next “R.”

Retain no thought. During centering prayer, we release our thoughts whenever we find ourselves paying attention to one. This is easy if it’s a random thought about dinner or about a bug buzzing in our ear. However, if we generate a helpful solution to a problem we’ve struggled with, it is harder to let go. But let go we must. Good or bad or neutral, we surrender each thought and return to the silence.

React to no thought. Thoughts are just thoughts. We have little control of what moves into our conscious mind. We may encounter beautiful thoughts or disturbing ones. A painful memory may emerge from the depths of our soul. We may get caught up in a fantasy. Regardless, the practice of centering prayer involves our commitment to make no judgments regarding our thoughts. Instead, we release them to God.

Return ever so gently to the sacred word. The elegance of centering prayer is its simplicity. It’s all about our intention to spend time with God in silence. The sacred word serves as a means of breaking our attention to thoughts, words, images, and feelings so that we can return to the silence.

Why not stop right now and put the 4 Rs into practice by entering a time of silence before God?

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