Judy Huntley

Sitting upright in a plush recliner in the front room of her Washington home, Judy Huntley placed her upturned hands on her knees and closed her eyes. Silently to herself, she began repeating a single word: Jesus.

As pressures and thoughts from the outside world tried to creep in, she repeated the name “Jesus” silently to herself to stay focused, centered.

Huntley’s daily practice of this “centering prayer” over the last 20-plus years has brought her a sense of peace and helped her to get in touch with her true self.

Now she wants to share that experience with others, in the hope that they too can find wisdom and peace in discovering their true self.

Huntley, who many people know as a jewelry vendor at the Washington Farmers’ Market and author of a book based on her years living in Alaska, “Northbound Into the Wilderness,” has written a new book about her spiritual journey.

“God’s Intimate Love” is a slim, 102-page paperback book but it’s not at all meant to be a quick read, said Huntley. Its dense subject matter leads people to reflect on their own lives and spiritual journeys.

“It’s so deep. You have to chew on it,” said Huntley.

“ ‘God’s Intimate Love’ will guide you into a deep relationship with God as you discover the characteristics of your inner false self,” she writes in the book.

Christian Meditation

Centering prayer is at the heart of “God’s Intimate Love,” and everyone who buys a copy of the book gets a bookmark-size brochure from Contemplative Outreach explaining what it is and offering guidelines on how to do it.

Huntley who grew up Catholic in St. Louis and has strong Catholic roots, but is now a member of Peace Lutheran Church in Washington, said she was introduced to centering prayer in 1989.

In the book, she explains it as coming out of the practice of Lectio Divina, which “allows one to cultivate an intimate relationship with God.

“A person is encouraged to read the Scriptures and to listen or meditate on God’s Word leading him or her into a conversation with God, through which God speaks gently through one’s heart with His message,” she writes.

“It has encouraged contemplative approaches that can help a person reduce the ongoing chatter in one’s mind.”

In simpler terms, Huntley likened centering prayer to Christian meditation.

“You close your eyes, and repeat a sacred word to yourself,” Huntley explained. “The word can be anything — Holy Spirit, Abba, Father. And any time thoughts start coming into your head, you say your word, and that grounds you, so you are going deeper, down to your true self. That’s a journey.”

Huntley likes to do her daily centering prayer in the early morning, and she only does it once a day, although it can be done any time and as often as someone likes.

It also can be done as a group, which Huntley used to do when she lived in Northern California working as a Christian counselor.

“Doing as a group is wonderful, really wonderful,” said Huntley, who has a master’s degree in social work from Washington University. “When you do it as a group, you pick up that energy, and you go deeper. It is a spiritual energy, and it really makes a difference in the group.”

People can choose to sit in chairs or on the ground, wherever they feel the most focused and comfortable.

“They choose a word that’s right for them, take a couple of deep breaths, and then close their eyes and let go of all their thoughts — the air conditioning needs to be turned on, stuff about work or family, I forgot to feed the dog . . . you just push it out. And saying your word helps remind you to push out those thoughts,” Huntley explained.

‘A Spiritual Discipline’

The benefit of centering prayer is the peace that it will bring, but it may not be noticeable after one session, or even several months or maybe years.

“It’s over time,” said Huntley.

“The sacred word that you say is about pushing your thoughts out. Everything is about pushing the world out and going deeper to where the true self is, where I believe the Holy Spirit dwells,” she said, “That changes you. It really does.”

People should not expect to feel transformed after their first experience.

“It’s a spiritual discipline. Some people will be ready for that. Others won’t,” said Huntley.

“I think when you take that journey inward to the true self, the false self, our egos, will begin to fall apart. That is hard.

“The ego is all of the me, me, me things, beliefs we hold on to that don’t serve us, our judgments. It helps you to look at things through God’s eyes rather than your eyes,” Huntley said.

Group Sessions to Be Offered in Washington

Huntley has plans to offer weekly centering prayer groups at her house in Washington. Although she doesn’t have a start date set, plans are to hold the sessions Sundays at 8 a.m.

Each session will last around 20 minutes, and Huntley will offer a small snack afterward so that people can be on their way by 9 a.m. She has enough space in the lower level of her house to accommodate as many as 30 to 35.

“It will be very simple. We are not there to talk,” said Huntley, noting that the start time will be strictly enforced and people who arrive after the group has begun will not be allowed in.

Huntley initially had the idea to hold the group centering prayer sessions at Peace Lutheran Church and later in the day, not so early, but then felt led to offer them in her own home.

“There are so many people who don’t want to walk inside a church,” she said.

She can relate to that feeling well. As the child of a Catholic father and Lutheran mother, there was often friction in their home about church.

“As a little kid, I didn’t know what all was going on, so I struggled with churches my whole life,” said Huntley. “There also are so many people who don’t want to go to church, but who want to know God.”

Book Cover Draws People In

The cover of “God’s Intimate Love” features the stained-glass window of Peace Lutheran Church that is visible from Highway 47 at 14th Street.

It’s a personal favorite for her, and she’s finding that readers too are drawn to it. They comment on it as they pick up the book from her booth at the Washington Farmers’ Market.

The image features a cross, which represents Jesus, a dove, which represents the Holy Spirit, all enclosed in a circle that represents God, the Father and Creator. There also is a spiral motion included in the image that, for Huntley, symbolizes the work of centering prayer, getting down to a person’s true self, “taking you inward to where you find God.”

Huntley was inspired to write “God’s Intimate Love” one day while she was sitting in a church council meeting. She was working on the sequel to “Northbound” at the time and had to set it aside.

“It was like a little bolt of lightning . . . It just hit, and I thought, ‘Boy, wouldn’t it be nice if everybody could just listen to each other and really understand who we all are.’ . . . I believe that came from God. It just turned my world right upside down,” Huntley recalled. “Things shift in your life, for the better, but it is a journey, and it isn’t always easy.”

In addition to her daily centering prayer sessions, Huntley found she needed “something deeper,” and was led to Windridge Solitude in Lonedell, a retreat facility where the emphasis is on solitude.

“The calling was to be alone with God, so I went to Windridge two days a month for a year and a half,” said Huntley.

Solitude is necessary to get deeper, “down to where the true self is and where the Holy Spirit dwells,” Huntley said. “You let go of all of this stuff that really isn’t important. It seems like it is, but it is not.

“It’s quite a journey. It really transforms you.”

Encourages Stewardship

Huntley is quick to point out that although her name is on the cover of “God’s Intimate Love,” she truly feels that she was guided in her writing by the Holy Spirit.

She also received quite a bit of help in bringing the finished manuscript to print.

Peace Lutheran Pastor the Rev. Aimee Appell edited the book, Nelson Appell and Lisa Hogenmiller helped with graphic design and layout, and other friends at Peace Lutheran provided Huntley with “the love, encouragement and devotion” she needed to complete the book.

Huntley sees “God’s Intimate Love” as part of her stewardship. She had 150 copies of the book printed, and she is selling them for $10. Of that, $7 from each sale goes to Peace Lutheran Church to support the community, doing things like helping people in need with rent or utility payments, for example.

While “God’s Intimate Love” is about Huntley’s spiritual journey, she hopes her story will inspire other people to look inside themselves to figure out their own spiritual journey.

To Buy a Copy . . .

The book is being sold at the Washington Farmers’ Market Saturdays through the end of October. Hours are 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

It’s also sold at Neighborhood Reads bookstore, 401 Lafayette St., in Downtown Washington.

Or people can contact Huntley at 636-253-1547.

For more information on the group sessions, contact Huntley at 636-253-1547.