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Contemplative Prayer
Globalism - Ecumenism
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Wendy Wippel

Two weeks ago today was an historic moment in American Christianity. You may have  missed it, but two weeks ago today “America’s Pastor” came out of the closet.  No, he’s not gay.  That's just flesh and blood.  He’s an advocate of contemplative prayer.

The tweet in question went out October 5th from Rick Warren, and included a link to an article on his pastors.com website.  The article, by one Stacy Smith, recommended the practice of contemplative prayer as a way to go deeper with God.

Contemplative prayer, also known as centering prayer, came into the evangelical church through Catholic mystics.  Smith's article specifically recommends Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington.  Both were Trappist monks from a monastery in Massachusetts, who were disciples of another Trappist Monk named Thomas Merton.  So contemplative prayer (CP) really came into the church through Merton.

Merton, who stated that he "quaffed eagerly from the Buddhist cup" and saw "no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity". (D. Steindl-Rast, Recollections of Thomas Merton's last days in the West. Monastic Studies, 7:10, 1969) 

Merton, who stated that his goal was to "become as good a Buddhist as I can".  (D. Steindl-Rast, Recollections of Thomas Merton's last days in the West. Monastic Studies, 7:10, 1969) 

Merton, who stated that he was "deeply impregnated with sufism." (R.Baker and G. Henry, Merton and Sufisim, 1999)

Merton, who said that he "couldn't understand Christian teaching the way I do if it were not in the light of Buddhism." (F. Tuoti, Dawn of the Mystical Age 1997)

Houston, we have a problem.  

So what is contemplative prayer, exactly?  Some also call it meditation.

According to the mystics, it is a special form of prayer that most of us are missing out on.

Brennan Manning tells evangelicals that they don't expereince God's love if they don't learn to do contemplative prayer because it's the only way to "grab aholt of God."

How do you do it, if it's some special practice all us evangelicals are missing out on?

Keating and numerous others lay out the guidelines: (The article on pastors.com summarized these in a helpful little guide as well.)

  • Settle into a comfortable position.
  • Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
  • Repeat the sacred word as you empty your mind of thought.

The goal is to empty your mind completely so that God can speak.  Barry Long's how-to manual on CP says that "the enemy of this kind of meditation is the mind".  (Barry Long, Mediation, a Foundation Course 1995)

Anthony de Mello, a Catholic priest, says that you must bind the mind with one thought:

"Our Hindu masters in India have a saying: one thorn is removed by another. By this they mean that you will be wise to use one thought to rid yourself of all others that want to crowd into your mind. One thought, one phrase or word that your mind can be made to fasten on. (S. de Mello, Sadhana way to God. 1978)

  • When thoughts intrude, return ever-so gently to the sacred word.
  • Wait for God to speak to you or to experience a sense of complete union with God.

Merton achieved this sense of union by contemplative prayer.  His biographer recorded that, "The God Merton knew in prayer was the same experience that Buddhists describe in their enlightenment.” (B. Taylor, Setting the Gospel Free 1996)

De Mello also instructs readers to focus on their breathing: "the air you breath is God. You are breathing God in an out. Be aware of that, and hold to that awareness."  (Catholic Priest Anthony de Mello', Sadhana: A Way to God)

You may see some biblical issues with this practice, often taught as a form of meditation, right off the bat.

First of all, Jesus said not to pray with "Vain repetitions."  (Matthew 6:7)

Jesus taught us to pray, and he used a variety of words. "Our Father, who art in heaven…."

The goal of prayer is not to rid the mind of thought, nor to attempt to bind it by vain repetitions.  We are told to worship God with our minds -- use our mind to appreciate and affirm his holiness and glory and majesty.

We are told to use God's word to meditate on-- in fact, to meditate on it "day and night". Joshua 1:8

Paul tells us in Acts 20:27 that he taught the early church the "whole counsel of God" .

Where is "going into the silence"?  Where are "repeated words"?  Where are "breathing exercises"?

There is no indication in Scripture that there is some special prayer (beyond the Lord's prayer, which should be our highest standard) that will give us some special relationship  with God.

There's another problem that isn't so obvious from Scripture.

Contemplative prayer (CP) boils down to mantra and breathing exercises and a google search on how to contact a spirit guide will give you numerous how-to lists that look an awful lot like the list above.

Mantra is actually a sanskrit word that means "to be liberated from thinking" and is the key to a trick of brain function.  By repeating a mantra, the phrase begins to lose meaning. (I think most of us had this experience where you think about a word intensely and it suddenly doesn't seem familiar.)

By repeating a mantra with the goal of making your consciousness empty and void of thought, conscious thinking is gradually tuned out and an altered state of consciousness is achieved-- a change demonstrable by measuring brain waves.

This change in brave waves is accompanied by a rush of intense feelings. … "you will start experience a sort of "click" in your consciousness, you may even experience a lot of energy flowing through you or a warm radiant glow in your body." (Shakti Gawain, Creative Visualization)

But that glow becomes something more.  "There is a profound sense of merging… there is in essence a feeling that all of this is God and I Am a part of all of this, so I too, AM GOD." (Joy Gardner-Gordon A Pocket Guide to the Chakras.)

Thomas Merton said that "The contemplative experience is neither a union of separate identities nor a fusion of them: on the contrary, separate identities disappear."  (All Who is god. Fr. B. Hart, Message of Thomas Merton, 1981)  (i.e, everybody is God)

Tilden Edwards, who wrote one of the first how-to manuals on contemplative prayer, said that "meditation brings with it a curious kind of knowing that there is somebody else there with you, you are not alone."  (Tilden Edwards, Living in the presence, 1987)

Christian Author M. Scott Peck said that; "the purpose of emptying the mind is not, ultimately, to have nothing there; rather it is to make room in the mind for something new, something unexpected to come in."

What is this something new? It is the voice of God.

Really? Is it the voice of God?

Maybe we should look to the experience of Sue Monk Kidd.  Kidd, a popular author, is now a huge fan of CP.

Sue Monk Kidd was a 42 year old mom and Baptist Sunday school teacher when another church member handed her Thomas Merton’s book. She became an avid practitioner of CP, devouring everything written by Merton and company and pursuing the mystical experiences promised. 

She found the revelations promised too.

Recognizing the hidden truth that we are one with all people. …when we encounter another person…we should walk as if we were on holy ground. "

She now worships the Goddess Sophia instead of Christ:

"We also need Goddess consciousness to reveal earth’s holiness… matter becomes inspirited; it breathes divinity. Earth becomes alive and sacred… Goddess offers us the holiness of everything."  (R. Yungen, a Time of Departing.)

She explains the transformation more clearly in "The Dance of the Dissident Daughter" :

"The minster was preaching.. holding up a bible…He was saying that the Bible was the sole and ultimate authority of the christian’s life… I remember a feeling rising up…a passionate, determined feeling, and it spread out from the core of me like a current so that my skin vibrated with it. If feelings could be translated with it. If feelings could be translated into English, this feeling would have roughly the word No!

It was the purest inner knowing I had experienced, and it was shouting in me no, no, no! The ultimate authority of my life is not the bible… my ultimate authority I the divine voice in my own soul Period."

I'm pretty sure that was not the voice of God she heard when she went into the silence.

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.  (1 Corinthians 1:21)

Jesus observed (shortly after he taught the disciples the Lord's prayer): "take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness." (Luke 11:35)

That's a handy admonition for us all as we dwell where Satan currently has his throne.

Are you out there, Rick Warren?

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: Joshua and the Harvest Moon



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