Enough Centering

Learning to sense “enough” is the key to healing for people with bulimia. For weeks, as the eating issues ministry I co-led in Boston wound down, I told myself, “When I find a spiritual director in Minneapolis, I’d like to work through my own issues of enough-ness more deeply.”

Last week, Rhodes had me reading the Still Small Voice story (1 Kings 19:9–14) for some other reason, but “enough” arrested my attention.

Scripture

Elijah, the prophet of Yahweh, had executed a power-encounter with the prophets of Baal and had won (1 Kings 18:20–40). Yahweh’s fire from the sky consumed (18:38). Baal, the sky-god, couldn’t even make it rain, much less rain down fire (18:29).

Acknowledging Yahweh as the Only, the One, and the True, Yahweh’s Israelites repent (18:39). They tear down the trappings of false-god worship, beginning with the idol’s prophets (18:40; Deut 18:20). God keeps his promise and sends the long-held rain (Deut 11:13–17; 1 Kings 16:33–17:1; 18:41–46).

Queen Jezebel has always supported Baal-religion because, as any Civilization aficionado knows, if you control religion, you control the masses. The mass exodus from Baal-worship destabilizes her power center and she threatens revenge (1 Kings 19:1–2).

Exhausted by the power-encounter (and by running as far as King Ahab rides in his chariot; 1 Kings 18:46), Elijah flees into the wilderness and collapses (1 Kings 19:4). His life-work is done. His spiritual power is sapped. His physical body is spent.

Word

Accurately assessing the situation, he tells Yahweh, “It is enough. My life force (nefesh) is depleted to the point of death. It’s time for me to go the way of my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4).

Word for Me

I paused.

Here was an opportunity to go deeper with God, spiritual director or not. I took the concept of “fulfillment” or “fullness” from the passage and applied it in centering prayer.

Centering Prayer

Scripture-reading is one way to discover the “word at the heart of you” for centering prayer.

  1. As I read Scripture, I keep one ear cocked for God’s gentle nudge.
  2. When he prods, I pause and listen. Sometimes he brings the concept at the center of our conversation into focus.
  3. A word or phrase, in this case “enough,” encapsulates both the God to whom I pray and the driving issue buried deep inside me.

At other times, I enter centering prayer first and wait for that word or phrase to emerge.

  1. I sit comfortably with my feet parallel and planted on the floor or with my legs crossed. My back is straight. My hands are often open on my knees to remind the rest of me that I am in a posture of reception. I breathe in my natural rhythm.
  2. I choose a word, usually “Jesus,” and allow him to bring up something more specific or nuanced.
  3. I focus on that word. When my attention slides away to a noise in the room or another idea, I notice the other thing and then let it go, returning to the God I want to know and hear deeply.
  4. I discipline myself to return until another word or phrase emerges or until he nuances it.
  5. Then, we dwell together in that thought space until the time is full.

Centering prayer is not unlike the discipline I impose on my daughter 15 times if I say it once, “Please come here so I can put on your shoes.” For the two-year-old mind, there are many distractions to navigate between the toy in her hand and shoes.

Conclusion

Elijah’s time was fulfilled. He had obeyed. It was enough. The Israelites were turning away from Baal and back to Yahweh.

In their conversation, Yahweh expressed the crushing lament that Elijah also felt (1 Kings 19:13). Yahweh and Elijah agreed: it was the beginning of Elijah’s end. For his next task God told him to anoint a successor prophet (1 Kings 19:16).

But Elijah would not go the way of his fathers. Like Enoch alone, he passed directly into God’s presence (2 Kings 2:11). The fire and the wind of Elijah’s last chariot-ride consumed his devotion and he was forever joined to his God.

Such unity is the goal of centering prayer. Sounds a little dangerous.

For a summary of the centering prayer method, I’d recommend:

Keating, Thomas. “Summary of the Centering Prayer Method.” Pages 120–28. Open Mind, Open Heart. 20th Anniversary Edition. New York: Continuum, 2006.

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