When you try to pray, do you fidget? Do you keep starting a grocery list in your head? Don’t worry. Just give God 20 minutes. For the next two weeks At Home with Our Faith presents a U.S. Catholic interview with Trappist Father William Meninger on the practice of contemplative prayer. If you think you can’t do contemplative prayer because you’re too busy, or you can’t focus, Father Meninger says stoutly that such prayer is “not just for monks and priests, but for everybody.”
When Father William Meninger left his post in the Diocese of Yakima, Washington in 1963 to join the Trappists at St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, he told his mother, “That’s it, Mom. I’ll never be outside again.”
It didn’t quite turn out that way. One day in 1974 Meninger dusted off an old book in the monastery library, a book that would set him and some of his fellow monks on a whole new path. The book was The Cloud of Unknowing, an anonymous 14th-century manual on contemplative meditation. Meninger says, “I was amazed at the practicality of it.”
He began teaching the method to priests on retreat at the abbey. “I have to confess,” Meninger says, “that when I first started teaching it, because of my training, I did not think it could be taught to laypeople. When I say that now, I’m so embarrassed. I can’t believe I was that ignorant and stupid. It didn’t take long before I began to realize that this was not just for monks and priests, but for everybody.”
His abbot, Father Thomas Keating, has spread the method widely; through him it came to be known as “centering prayer.”
Now at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, Meninger takes four months a year from his monastic life to travel the world teaching contemplative prayer as presented in The Cloud of Unknowing.
He also had the bright idea to teach it to his mom once, while she was on her sickbed. But that’s another story.
How did you end up becoming a Trappist monk after being a diocesan priest?
I was very active and successful as a parish priest. I had worked in the Diocese of Yakima with Mexican migrants and Native Americans. I was vocation director for the diocese, in charge of the Catholic Youth Organization, and I somehow felt I wasn’t doing enough. It was quite difficult, but I loved it. I was not at all dissatisfied, but I felt that I had to do more and I didn’t know where I could do it.
Finally it came to me: I could do more by doing nothing, so I became a Trappist. Continue reading
Filed under: Family spirituality, Handing on the faith | Tagged: centering prayer, contemplative prayer, Father William Meninger, The Cloud of Unknowing | Leave a comment »