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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Winfrey

Reflection: To Live Without Care

"Centering Prayer reveals to us gifts right in front of us. We begin to see Jesus and the divine in the midst of ordinary things like bread. By seeing the sacred all around us, we become alive as our true selves."

Thomas Merton has been my cooking companion while I chop, sauté, and stir. His recorded talks to the novices at Gethsemani Monastery give me irreplaceable guidance. My favorite is his last instruction before he enters his hermitage: he tells us that we are to live without care like a hermit does.[1]

What does he mean?

He does not mean that we are not to care about violence perpetrated against our fellow humans. Living without care means existing in the freedom that Jesus lived and taught us. Basically, we are not to care about the wrong things. Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating use desert hermits and resurrection stories to show us how. We do not have to be hermits or live 2,000 years ago. Centering Prayer gives us the best means.

First, Centering Prayer heals the wounds that created our repressed biases. When we consent to God’s presence and action within our inmost unconscious, divine therapy releases our deepest traumas that secretly influence our judgment. Scales of cultural conditioning that we were unaware of fall from our eyes. [2] Our clearer vision sees through the world’s programs of power, prestige, possessions, and pleasure as a waste of our time. We are freed from the care of unimportant worries.

Second, Centering Prayer teaches us how to be poor in spirit. [3] As we let go of thoughts, we learn how not to worry about or set our sights on things beyond our control, like what others think of us. [4] Gifts from Centering Prayer give us the courage to do what we can and let go of what we can’t. Like David in Psalm 31, we learn to stop thinking the worst or panicking in terror. Instead, we begin to realize and trust in God’s goodness.

"In my alarm I had said, ‘I am cut off from your sight.’ But You heard my plea for mercy when I called to you for help. How great is Your goodness which You have laid up for those who are amazed by You.” [5]

Third, Centering Prayer reveals to us gifts right in front of us. We begin to see Jesus and the divine in the midst of ordinary things like bread. By seeing the sacred all around us, we become alive as our true selves.

“The bread that Jesus handed to you, to us, is real bread [not words or ideas of bread] … If you come back to the present moment, fully alive, you will realize this is real bread, this piece of bread is the body of the whole cosmos….If Christ is the body of God, which he is, then the bread he offers is also the body of the cosmos…Look deeply and you notice the blue sky in the bread, the cloud and the great earth in the bread…The whole cosmos has come together in order to bring to you this piece of bread. You eat it in such a way that you become alive, truly alive…Eat in such a way that the Holy Spirit becomes an energy within you.” [6]

Fourth, Centering Prayer opens our ears to hear Jesus saying our name like he did to Mary Magdalen in the garden. We answer Christ’s call by not clinging to old ways, like Mary released Jesus on his way to the Father. [7] We embrace the new because God is coming every instant. We welcome the sacrament of the present moment like Jean Pierre de Caussade [8] and Mary Mrozowski [9].

Fifth, Centering Prayer opens our hearts to receive Love poured out to us, streaming to us in the sacredness of our place in the cosmos, so we can spread it too. The disciples traveling to Emmaus ran back to Jerusalem overjoyed because they had seen the Lord. “Were not our hearts burning within us as he talked with us on the road?” [10] They suddenly knew, “The Lord is alive, here!” We are not abandoned. The Lord is Love with us, filling us, igniting our hearts on fire.

May we live without unnecessary care as Love enflames our hearts.


Picture by Hester Qiang

[1] Thomas Merton, “Thomas Merton on Contemplation,” Louisville: Bellarmine University, , 2014, Disc 4.

[2] Peter C. Jones, “A Rising Tide of Silence,” Amazon Prime Video, 2015

[3] Matthew 5:3

[4] Ps 131:1

[5] Psalm 31:19-20

[6] Thich Nhat Han, Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, New York: Riverhead Books, 1999, 106-107

[7] John 20:16

[8] Jean-Pierre De Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence, New York: Image Books, 1993.

[9] Judith Halbreich, The Audacity to Be Divine, New York: Austin Macauley Publishers, 2020

[10] Luke 24:32

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