Facilitator’s Corner

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

Click on the links below to read more about these topics.  All of these articles originally appeared in COSTL newsletters.

 

Detachment
Facilitators are Servant Leaders
Listening
Preparation for Centering Prayer
Book Recommendation
The Check-in Is Sacred
Why are You Facilitating?
Encouraging Service
The Purpose of Prayer Groups
Respecting Individuals
The End of the Prayer Period
Encouraging the Use of Resources
The Facilitator’s Practice
Timers
Is Your Group “Open” or “Closed?”
What Do You Do if No One Talks?
Selecting Material for Discussion
Facilitating Dialogue
Supporting Daily Practice
Meeting Reminders

 

Detachment

Twice a day we sit and consent to God’s presence and action within us. Gently, we let go of our desire to control and to succeed in the prayer. Instead, we simply open ourselves and let God do the work. Father Keating tells us that this practice of detachment in prayer is preparation for our daily lives where there should be a similar attitude.

As a facilitator, you might be irritated because a meeting did not go well: one person talked too much, another did not contribute at all, and a third person got the discussion totally off track; you yourself were at a loss for words when some topic that was crying for comment came up; or maybe only three of the ten members were there. It is natural to feel disappointment in these circumstances, but here, too, we should be willing to let God do the work. Facilitating a prayer group is not about control and success. Once we have done our best to prepare, we place it in God’s hands. Whatever happened was just as it should be. In God’s mysterious way, it will be used to draw each of the members of the group along the path to the Kingdom.
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Facilitators are Servant Leaders

We are fortunate in our time to have the example of Pope Francis who makes it clear by his actions that he regards his role as that of a servant. Facilitators, too, are servant leaders. What does this mean? Obviously, it is not to be involved in any of the projects of the false self, such as seeking status or prestige. Servant leadership means furthering the message of Centering Prayer as a basis for direct communication with the Divine within us and within everyone else.

One way that facilitators do this is by being a genuine member of the prayer group, one who serves, not one who is in charge. Tasks are shared and all roles have equal status. All members are equal. Decisions are made by group discernment and consensus. The facilitator is friendly, respectful, trusting, and humble as the group grows in its openness and mutual support.
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Listening

In Centering Prayer when our minds begin to roam we gently bring ourselves back to an openness to the Divine within us, to the development of a relationship with God. This practice can prepare us to become good listeners in our Centering Prayer Group.

Someone is speaking, but we may be lost in our own thoughts about what to say next, or maybe even where we are going after the meeting. It is our time to speak and we do not even consider whether we have something to say that is connected with the last speaker and we go off on an entirely different track. In this case we are acting as an individual; we have not even tried to fostered a relationship with another member.

As in Centering Prayer, when we catch ourselves focused on our own thoughts we can gently bring ourselves back to the person who is speaking and become present to who they are and what they are saying. This kind of listening transforms a collection of individuals into an organic whole. Facilitators can help this happen by modeling good listening in their own behavior and remembering that the way we listen may be more important than what we say.
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Preparation for Centering Prayer

The Guidelines for Centering Prayer say nothing about what to do before the silent prayer. In prayer groups it is customary to preface the meditation period with a short reading—scripture, some piece of writing, or a short prayer. What is the purpose of these words before the silence?

Someone has called this reading the “vestibule,” that is, the transition area between our busy lives and the period of silence. Most practitioners of Centering Prayer find that without some deliberate shift, a reading or some other ritual, it is hard to move into the quiet. While individuals should discern what is the best preparation for them, prayer groups often use something as a psalm from Psalms for Praying by Nan C. Merrill or a prayer like the “Byzantine Prayer” quoted in one of Father Meninger’s books:

Serene Light, shining in the ground of my being, draw me to yourself,
Draw me past the snares of the senses, out of the mazes of the mind,
Free me from symbols, from words, that I may discover the Signified,
The Word Unspoken in the darkness that veils the ground of my being.
Amen

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Book Recommendation

If your prayer group is looking for an appropriate book to use as the basis of your discussion period and you haven’t already found The Path of Centering Prayer by David Frenette, this is a book you should consider. Father Thomas Keating says, “This book in my view is the best, most comprehensive and most practical book on centering prayer.”

Beginning and experienced practitioners will both find this book helpful. David discusses in depth areas rarely covered by other writers; for example, he writes not only about the sacred word, but also the sacred breath, sacred glance, and sacred nothingness. He also deals with several attitudes we should bring to centering prayer, all of which emerge from the lived experience of centering prayer.

Groups that have used David’s book to simulate their discussion find that their level of sharing deepens as they discuss his insights. It is a book well worth your consideration.
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The Check-in Is Sacred

Centering Prayer groups usually spend some meeting time sharing what is going on in the lives of the members. It is easy to think of this as just chit-chat and not an integral part of the meeting. If however we remember that God is everywhere and in us at all times, then the Divine is in the check-in conversation just as much as in silent prayer.

God is fully present in every part of every member’s life. What they share with the group is a point on their personal spiritual journey even if on the surface it is about some everyday occurrence—as a decision they face, some fact about their health, or some concern for a loved one. Theilhard de Chardin tells us, “…nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.”

The check-in part of the meeting is just as important as the time spent in prayer or the discussion of spiritual matters. Facilitators should provide for a check-in period and encourage the sharing of everyday concerns.
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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 FacilitatorHandbook 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.centeringprayerstl.org.

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.
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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.
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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.”
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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.
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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.
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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 COSTL 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.
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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 to dialogue 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.
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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.
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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.

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