I was asked in a comment to a recent blog post: “Is there a way that you could suggest to begin teaching children this ‘centering’ form of prayer, instead of the usual reciting of prescribed prayers?”

My answer is a qualified “Yes.”

The qualification is that no one should ever be told to practice any form of prayer simply because someone else thinks it is a good idea.

We pray because we feel stirred by the Spirit. This call may exist inherently in every child, but the prayer of silence should never be put on them until something seems to indicate some openness and desire in the child.

Centering Prayer is a simple, but profound form of prayer. The theology behind Centering Prayer is rooted in the practice of surrender. Centering Prayer instructs the practitioner to return again and again to that foundational act of letting go of control, surrendering autonomy, and opening to the presence, action, and power of God at work in all of life.

This surrender does not turn us into passive victims, unable to make decisions or to take action in the world. On the contrary, surrender to the power of Love we call God is the means by which we connect with the true source of our strength and find the wisdom and courage to act decisively in the world.

In meditation we connect with our true identity after all other means of establishing a steady sense of identity have let us down.

It is only after we discover the hopelessness of trying to control life or forging a secure identity in the external realm that we are likely to begin considering giving up control and surrendering to God. Not until we face the futility of our attempts to force life to conform to our desires will our hearts begin to open to the hidden mystery of Spirit to whom we may then choose to surrender in Centering Prayer.

Richard Rohr says we spend the first half of our lives building our kingdoms and the second half watching them crumble. It is in the second half of life that we begin to discover that navigating life requires skills, resources and power that come from a source greater than our own psychological and intellectual abilities.

There comes a time, ideally sooner than the second half of life, when we find ourselves driven to face the challenge to let go of our power, give up the illusion of our control, and surrender our ability to dominate people and manipulate circumstances.

Much of this is terrain children have yet to traverse. They are therefore less likely to hear the call of the Spirit to practice the prayer of surrender.

So, one of the keys is to be present to children, paying attention to their interests and taking time to be responsive whenever they seem open.

Until they start to express an interest, there are things we can do that will help prepare children for a time in their lives when their hearts may call them to explore the discipline of surrender.

Here is one thing (more will follow tomorrow and Wednesday) we can do that will help till the soil of a child’s life to prepare them to become an adult who may hear the call of silent prayer when the time is right.

  1. As with all skills, disciplines, and practices we hope to instill in children, the first and most important thing we can do is to model the behaviour we hope they will eventually adopt. Children learn by what they see. They will grow to respect those practices, attitudes and values they observe are important to the adults in their lives.