From God's fullness we have all received, grace upon grace
“Centring Prayer and the Sacred Word”

“Centring Prayer and the Sacred Word”

Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you (James 4.8). Our God who is closer to us than we are to our very selves. In prayer, we both focus our attention and we let go. We place our attention at the edge of our finiteness and allow ourselves to be drawn beyond into encounter with God. We often find our attention wandering in prayer, but over the centuries, people well-versed in the practice have developed techniques that can help us approach this threshold.

One such technique is Centring Prayer, which was developed by the Trappist monk Fr Thomas Keating and others. First you choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within you during your time of prayer. Whenever you pray, you silently introduce the sacred word once as the symbol of your consent, and continue in silent loving attention for about 20 minutes. If you are distracted by your thoughts, you return gently to the sacred word.

Keating suggests your word be simple: just one word, preferably of one syllable, such as Grace or Love. You are not meditating on the meaning of the word, or repeating it over and over as a mantra, but using it to bring your attention back when you realise it has wandered. It’s a word that you could remember during the rest of your day, when you might have a minute or two available for recollection.

Some of you may have been playing Wordle, the simple game in which you have six attempts to guess a five-letter word. After each guess, you are shown whether the letters in your guess were in the right place, or in the word but in the wrong place, or not in the word. Many versions have been created, so you may have also been playing Byrdle, in which the words all related to choral music.

On a whim this week, I created Prayerdle, in which the words relate to prayer or the Bible. But then it occurred to me that it has elements of Centring Prayer. If you let the puzzle sink into your deep mind, you find that the solution comes more readily. Treat this time as a bridge into prayer. Then you might use the solution as your sacred word. If you play the game on your phone, let it bring you back to prayer whenever you use it. (Note that this is absolutely not for all, as technology and its notifications are engineered to distract.) Then the next day, start your guessing with the previous day’s word. Let it remind you of the things you can give thanks for and the day’s challenges, and draw the thread through into your prayer going forward.

See Thomas Keating’s books “Open Mind, Open Heart” or “Intimacy with God” and


This is one of a series of articles appearing in Exeter Cathedral’s monthly news, complementing the material I contributed to the “Explore Prayer” section of the Cathedral website. I hope you find them helpful.