The workshop had been about two years in the planning, and we were very excited that Cynthia was coming all the way from North America to visit (see biography at bottom of page). She also did an evening in London with Silence in the City
. 150 people attended, 75% of whom came from Norwich and Norfolk, and 25% were from different parts of the country, including Glasgow and Yorkshire.
Cynthia covered the nuts and bolts of how to meditate, and why, using the method pioneered by Thomas Keating and Contemplative Outreach and with reference to her book ‘Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening’.
Cynthia described the uniqueness of Centering Prayer as a surrender practice based on the principle of intention. She explained the difference between Centering Prayer and other practices such as the John Main/Christian Meditation method and Transcendental Meditation, which could both be described as mantric/concentrative methods, and awareness meditation practices such as Vipassana.
Cynthia was clear to emphasise that no single method is better than any other and that they are all essentially heading in the same direction - transformative union with the divine. Moreover, it’s crucial that the different schools and communities of meditation, especially those within the Christian tradition, all work together as partners in a common purpose.
Cynthia suggested that each practice has its blind spots and that, with awareness, these can be compensated for. For example, Centering Prayer practitioners might want to explore and develop a complementary mindfulness practice in order to strengthen the mind’s capacity for attention, and an awareness practice to help orientate the meditator physically and spatially. Christian Meditation practitioners might conversely want to adopt a practice that develops the capacity for surrender.
Cynthia emphasised the ‘kenotic’ nature of Centering Prayer, and talked eloquently about how the movement of consent in CP - letting go of thoughts and yielding to God's presence and action within - is an embodiment of the Christ-like gesture of surrender.
She was able to provide a fascinating overview of the development of the Centering Prayer movement over the last thirty years or so and its place within the wider context of contemplative renewal. Cynthia’s view is that, on the whole, the first stage of the movement was more concerned with Centering Prayer as a practice for personal development and healing. In subsequent years the emphasis has been increasingly on the prophetic dimension of Centering Prayer – its significance for the healing and transformation of our politics and society.
Following the workshop, we had a contemplative Eucharist at St Augustine's, our original 13th century parish church, led by Cynthia. The service was based on the traditional Anglican liturgy but unmapped (no pieces of paper) and spontaneous. It was Trinity Sunday, and Cynthia spoke eloquently about the dance of the divine that we are all invited to participate in. She led us with beautiful chants, encouraging the congregation to improvise around a simple melody line and she even got some of us dancing as we approached the altar to receive the sacrament. In Cynthia's own words, 'our service at St Augustine's definitely rocked!'.
She was an incredibly articulate, knowledgeable, inspiring and joyful teacher. We gave out feedback sheets and the response was overwhelmingly positive. 'The best speaker I've ever heard on spirituality and meditation' said one person. Others described Cynthia as ‘outstanding’, ‘first class’, ‘embodied’ and even ‘heavenly!’ The workshop clearly had a major impact on a great many people.
The Meditation Centre has subsequently set up an ongoing Centering Prayer group where we explore the teachings of Thomas Keating (Cynthia's teacher and the founder of the Centering Prayer movement) and come together to develop our practice in the context of community.
Click here to read a personal account of Cynthia's Norwich visit and her subsequent European tour
Click here for some audio extracts from the workshop
Click here for more information about Centering Prayer at the Meditation Centre
See www.contemplative.org for more about Cynthia's work with the Contemplative Society
Cynthia Bourgeault studied with Thomas Keating, the Cistercian Abbot who is one of the key architects of the Centering Prayer movement. Cynthia is an Episcopal priest, writer and retreat leader, presently resident in Canada where she serves as director of the Contemplative Society in British Columbia, and teaches regularly at the Vancouver School of Theology.
Cynthia is the author of a number of books including: Love Is Stronger than Death, Mystical Hope, The Wisdom Way of Knowing, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, Chanting the Psalms, and The Wisdom Jesus as well as many audiotapes and articles on the Christian contemplative tradition.
'It is amazing how confirming, clarifying, and encouraging your teaching is. Probably the best on practical prayer I have ever read. I am finding myself quoting you more and more, and cannot thank you enough for your using of God's clear gift.'