IS CENTERING PRAYER GENUINE CATHOLIC CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER OR IS IT ‘NEW AGE’



NEW WEBSITE:
www.ephesians-511.net JULY 4, 2009, MAY/NOVEMBER 2012/JULY 2013

 


IS CENTERING PRAYER GENUINE CATHOLIC CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER

OR IS IT ‘NEW AGE’

[NOTE: THE REASON FOR MY PREPARING THIS ARTICLE MAY BE READ ON PAGE 45]

 

Centering prayer From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centering_prayer

Centering prayer is a popular method of contemplative prayer or Christian meditation, placing a strong emphasis on interior silence.

Though most authors trace its roots to the contemplative prayer of the Desert Fathers of early Christian monasticism, to the Lectio Divina tradition of Benedictine monasticism, and to works like The Cloud of Unknowing and the writings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, its origins as part of the “Centering Prayer” movement in modern Catholicism and Christianity can be traced to several books published by three Trappist monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts in the 1970s: Fr. William Meninger, Fr. M. Basil Pennington and Abbot Thomas Keating.[1]

History:

Seeds of what would become known as contemplation were sown early in the Christian era. The first appearance of something approximating contemplative prayer arises in the 4th century writings of the monk St. John Cassian, who wrote of a practice he learned from the Desert Fathers (specifically from Isaac). Cassian’s writings remained influential until the medieval era, when monastic practice shifted from a mystical orientation to Scholasticism. Thus it can be plausibly argued that contemplation was (one of) the earliest meditational and/or devotional practice of Christian monasticism, being later supplanted in dominance by the scholastic theologians, with only a minimal interest in contemplation.

The Trappist monk and influential writer Thomas Merton was strongly influenced by Buddhist meditation, particularly as found in Zen — he was a lifetime friend of Buddhist meditation master and Vietnamese monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, and was also an acquaintance of the current Dalai Lama. His theology attempted to unify existentialism with the tenets of the Roman Catholic faith, a unique undertaking — Christian existentialism is usually regarded as a feature of Protestant theology.[according to whom?] As such he was also an advocate of the non-rational meditation of contemplative prayer, which he saw as a direct confrontation of finite and irrational man with his ground of being.

Cistercian monk Father Thomas Keating, a founder of Centering Prayer, was abbot all through the 60s and 70s at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. This area is thick with religious retreat centers, including the well-known Theravadan Buddhist center, Insight Meditation Society. Fr. Keating tells of meeting many young people, some who stumbled on St. Joseph’s by accident, many of them born Catholic, who had turned to Eastern practices for contemplative work. He found many of them had no knowledge of the contemplative traditions within Christianity and set out to present those practices in a more accessible way. The result was the practice now called Centering Prayer.[2]

Practice:

The actual practice of centering prayer is not entirely alien to Catholics, who are advised to meditate in some form daily — such as on the rosary, or on Scripture through the practice of lectio divina; also similar is the practice of hesychasm as understood in the Eastern Orthodox Church. While these other practices similarly use focus on short repetitive phrases, the purpose of centering prayer is to clear the mind of rational thought in order to focus on the indwelling presence of God, whereas these other methods have some contemplative goal in mind: with the rosary, the Mysteries of the Rosary are contemplated; with lectio divina, the practitioner thinks about the Scripture reading, sometimes even visualizing it; and with hesychasm, the practitioner seeks to “see” the energies of God which appear as “uncreated light”.

Basil Pennington, one of the best known proponents of the centering prayer technique, has delineated the guidelines for centering prayer:[3]

Sit comfortably with your eyes closed, relax, and quiet yourself. Be in love and faith to God.

Choose a sacred word that best supports your sincere intention to be in the Lord’s presence and open to His divine action within you (i.e. “Jesus”, “Lord,” “God,” “Savior,” “Abba,” “Divine,” “Shalom,” “Spirit,” “Love,” etc.).

Let that word be gently present as your symbol of your sincere intention to be in the Lord’s presence and open to His divine action within you.

Whenever you become aware of anything (thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, associations, etc.), simply return to your sacred word, your anchor.

Ideally, the prayer will reach the point where the person is not engaged in their thoughts as they arrive on their stream of consciousness. This is the “unknowing” referenced in the 14th century book.

 

 

Footnotes:

1. “Centering Prayer Overview”. Contemplative Outreach Ltd. Contemplative Outreach Dublin, Ireland, opened in October 2007. Sr. Fionnuala Quinn is Coordinator for Dublin. It is located at the Dominican Resource Centre in Cabra, Dublin. http://www.centeringprayer.com/cntrgpryr.htm. Retrieved on 16 November 2006. 

2. Rose, Phil Fox. “Meditation, It isn’t boring, it isn’t non-Christian and you do have the time for it”. Busted Halo. http://www.bustedhalo.com/features/what-works-2-meditation. Retrieved on 26 April 2009. 

3. M. Basil Pennington (1986), “Centering Prayer: Refining the Rules,” “Review for Religious,” 46:3, 386-393.

 

CATHOLIC EXPLANATIONS: CENTERING PRAYER IS NOT CHRISTIAN; IT IS ‘NEW AGE’

1. From “The Cross and the Veil”
http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/dissent/centerprayer.htm

1A.
Centering Prayer: Catholic Meditation or Occult Meditation?

A Critique of M. Basil Pennington O.C.S.O.’s article Centering Prayer

taken from The Contemplative Prayer Online Magazine
http://www.lectiodivina.org/

The following quotes are taken from the above on-line magazine and illustrate the typical errors that have entered the Catholic contemplative tradition through various techniques derived, however innocently, from a mixture of Buddhist meditative practice (which ensures dissociation of the spirit from the body in order to achieved enlightenment) and kundalini yogic practice (which unleashes the occult magic of Kali, the destroyer goddess). This technique, known as Centering Prayer (CP), has been in vogue since
the 1970’s. 

Thomas Keating, a Cistercian priest, monk, and abbot in Colorado, is the founder of the Centering Prayer Movement.  Fr.
Basil

Pennington
, another teacher of this technique, is called a “master of centering prayer” on the web site.

CP devotees claim it to be a revival of ancient meditative practice, referring to it as a new version of the practice of ejaculatory mental prayer wherein contemplatives practiced the presence of God by repeating simple sacred words or sentences such as “Jesus, I love you”. Far from simple or sacred, CP is a codified technique which constructs a psychological and spiritual state of awareness designed to unleash unconscious forces and which typically encourages a narcissistic turning-inward and pre-occupation with self awareness, consciousness-raising and the achieving of preternatural experiences.

Following are Father Pennington‘s statements. Parenthetical comments are mine or attributed:

“Centering Prayer is a simple method of prayer that sets up the ideal conditions to rest in quite awareness of God’s presence. This way of prayer is alluded to in many passages in the Old and New Testaments and probably dates from then.”

(vague references citing legitimacy of technique from ancient origins is typical). 

“The Greek Fathers referred to it as monologion, “one-word” prayer. The desert father, Abba Isaac taught a similar form of prayer to John Cassian who later wrote of it in France, transmitting it to Benedict of Nursia. Unfortunately, by the time of the 16th century, the prayer form largely went out of use in favor of more discursive modes of prayer.” 

(“he (Cassian) is in fact regarded as the originator of what, since the Middle Ages, has been known as Semipelagianism…Preoccupied as he was with moral questions he exaggerated the rôle of free will by claiming that the initial steps to salvation were in the power of each individual, unaided by grace… Semipelagianism was finally condemned by the Council of Orange in 529.” – taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia

In the following quote taken from a new article posted to the web site, the bolded phrases are mine, and are typical buzz words revealing the New Age origins of “Centering Prayer”: “Love is God’s Being” – by M. Basil Pennington, 03/09/00 

“When we go to the center of our being and pass through that center into the very center of God we get in immediate touch with this divine creating energy. This is not a new idea. It is the common teaching of the Christian Fathers of the Greek tradition. When we dare with the full assent of love to unleash these energies within us not surprisingly he initial experience is of a flood of chaotic thoughts, memories, emotions and feelings. This is why wise spiritual Fathers and mothers counsel a gentle entering into this experience. Not too much too fast. But it is this release that allows all of this chaos within us with all its imprisoning stress to be brought into harmony so that not only their might be peace and harmony within but that the divine energy may have the freedom to forward the evolution of consciousness in us and through us, as a part of the whole, in the whole of the creation.”

Typical of New Age meditative practice, the soul becomes the “center”, energy replaces grace, God actually becomes a pantheistic energy, and the unleashing of this “energy” leads to chaos and then, mysteriously, an evolution of consciousness (refer to article on this web site on the dangers of unleashing occult power through kundalini yoga).  Legitimacy of this occult technique is sought in pop-psychology, comparing it to seeking insight through bio-feedback or self-hypnosis.

The following excerpt from the web site details the technique-driven method of withdrawal and dissociation derived from Buddhic meditative practice, which posits ultimate withdrawal from all attachments and this “world of illusion” as the means of achieving oneness with and absorption into the primal void, as one’s evolution of consciousness leads to the awakening of the “Self” as God:

As you sit comfortably with eyes closed:

1. Let yourself settle down. Let go of all the thoughts, tensions, and sensations you may feel and begin to rest in love of God who dwells within.

2.

 

(In Catholic contemplative practice, we bring all of ourselves to God and enter into conversation or communion, bringing everything with us to lay at His Feet.  All manner of worries, concerns and thoughts are stepping stones to sanctity as we enter into conversation about them with Him.  “Letting go” in this particular technique does not simply involve a discipline of the will, which is a typical counsel in meditative practice, but a profound distortion of the use of the will to achieve a practiced  dissociation from ourselves and a mentalization of prayer that can foster habitual disassociation, fantasies and ego flight.)

2. Effortlessly, take up a word, the symbol of your intention to surrender to God’s presence, and let the word be gently present. 

(Using any word to “conjure up” the divine opens one to self-hypnosis and the possibility of perseverating on the object of meditation, not on the contemplation of Our Lord or the meditation of the virtues or events of His Life.)  An extreme example of the occult power of visualization and mentalization occurred several years ago.  At one New Age workshop given by Robert Munroe where participants were trained to go out of their bodies while they slept, eager students were encouraged to first visualize placing all their distractions and cares into a trunk and then lock the trunk.  This way they would be freed from earthly bonds. Unfortunately, a very beautiful woman also attending the workshop, (then located in a closed sleeping room nearby), reported that during repeated nightmarish attempts to go “out-of-body”, she found herself being locked in a trunk and unable to get out.) 

CONCLUSION St. Theresa of Avila found herself at a time of increased spiritualism and all kinds of exaggerations of mysticism.  Well aware of the tendency to get far off course, she insisted that meditation always be directed to and with Christ.  Lectio Divina, or DIVINE READING, is a tried and true way to union with Christ.  As we read holy scripture, the Holy Spirit inspires us to pause and meditate on certain words or passages. Unfortunately, the web site here critiqued blends the New Age Centering Prayer with Lectio Divina, further confusing the issue and lending credence to occult techniques by combining them with the holy.

 

1B.
A Closer Look at Centering Prayer
by Margaret Anne Feaster © Ignatius Press

http://www.catholicculture.org/library/view.cfm?recnum=6337, http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/dissent/centerprayer.htm

Mrs. Margaret A. Feaster is a housewife and mother of three children. She and her husband live in Lilburn, Ga. She is on the leadership committee for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Atlanta, and is in formation for the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order. She belongs to a Rosary Cenacle, and heads up the parish telephone prayer line. She is also a writer for her parish newsletter. This is her first article for HPR.

The Centering Prayer Movement has become very popular in Catholic circles today. People sign up for it in retreat centers, in workshops, and sometimes in their own parish. These people believe it to be authentic Christian contemplative prayer practiced by the saints.

Is it really Christian contemplation?

In my research on the New Age which I did for the past ten years, I found that it is not Christian contemplation and that this type of prayer is not recommended by Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, or St. Teresa of Avila. There have also been warnings from Johnnette Benkovic on EWTN (Mother Angelica’s Network). Johnnette has a program called “Living His Life Abundantly”, and has had a series on the New Age. She has also written a book called, The New Age Counterfeit, and devotes one chapter to the problems of Centering Prayer (CP). She identifies it as being the same as Transcendental Meditation (TM) which is tied to Hinduism.

What is Centering Prayer?

Centering prayer, as taught by Fr. Basil Pennington and Fr. Thomas Keating, is a method of prayer that is supposed to lead a person into contemplation. It is supposed to be done for twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes in the evening. The person chooses a sacred word. He tries to ignore all thoughts and feelings, letting them go by as boats going down a stream. When the thoughts keep coming back, the person returns to the sacred word. The goal is to keep practicing until ALL THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS DISAPPEAR. Fr. Keating says in Open Mind, Open Heart, “All thoughts pass if you wait long enough.”1 A person then reaches a state of pure consciousness or a mental void. The thinking process is suspended. This technique is supposed to put them into direct contact with God. The idea is to go to the center of your being to find the True Self. This process is supposed to dismantle the False Self, which is supposedly the result of the emotional baggage we carry.

Fr. Thomas Keating is a monk, priest, and abbot of St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Col. and is the founder of the Centering Prayer movement. He has written four books. Fr. Basil Pennington is a Trappist monk at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Mass. He has written over thirty books, some of which are on Centering Prayer. Some of the concepts in their books are similar to New Age beliefs and practices.

What are New Age beliefs?

New Agers borrow many of their beliefs from Hinduism. They believe that we are all connected to an impersonal energy force, which is god, and we are part of this god. This god-energy flows into each one of us; so we too are god. (This is the heresy of pantheism, condemned by the Church at the First Vatican Council). They think because we are god, we can create our own reality, experience our own god-power. This awareness of our godselves is called god-consciousness, super-consciousness, Christ-consciousness, pure-consciousness, unity consciousness, or self-realization. To reach this awareness, New Agers use mantras or yoga to go into altered levels of consciousness to discover their own divinity. 3.

 

 

 

They look inside to find their True Self or Higher Self ã to find wisdom and knowledge since the True Self or Higher Self is god. They address god as the Source, the Divine Energy, the Divine Love Energy, or the Great Universal Intelligence. The goal of New Agers is to usher in a new age of peace, harmony and unity. They hope that all mankind will come to “god

consciousness,” which is the awareness that they are god. The complete definition on the New Age by Fr. Mitch Pacwa is as follows: “The New Age Movement is highly eclectic, borrowing ideas and practices from many sources.

Meditation techniques from Hinduism, Zen, Sufism, and Native American religions are mixed with humanistic psychology, occultism, and modern physics.”2 There is a scripture in Colossians 2:4-8 that warns us against this pitfall. It states, “I tell you this so that no one may delude you with specious arguments . . . See to it that no one deceives you through any empty philosophy that follows mere human traditions, a philosophy based on cosmic powers rather than on Christ.”

How do New Age beliefs compare to Centering Prayer?

In CP, people are taught to use a prayer word or sacred word to empty the mind.

(Fr. Keating says it is not a mantra; but if it is used to rid the mind of all thoughts and feelings, then it does the same thing as a mantra). The goal is to reach a mental void or pure consciousness in order to find God at the center.

Pure consciousness is an altered level of consciousness. This is exactly what the Hindus and Buddhists do to reach god-consciousness or pure consciousness.

This is also similar to what actress Shirley MacLaine does to go into an altered level of consciousness and discover her Divine Center or Higher Self, which is her divinity.

What are the similarities between CP and TM?

Johnnette Benkovic has interviewed people on her show and in her book who have done both CP and TM. They claim it is basically the same. The only difference would be that in TM the mantras are names of Hindu gods, and in CP the sacred word is usually Jesus, God, peace, or love. Fr. Finbarr Flanagan, who was involved in both CP and TM says CP is TM in a Christian dress. He says Fr. Pennington has endorsed TM “. . .without hesitation.”3 Lets look at the similarities:

1) Both CP and TM use a 20-minute meditation.

2) Both CP and TM use a mantra to erase all thoughts and feelings.

3) Both CP and TM teach that in this meditation you pick up vibrations.

4) Both CP and TM claim that this meditation will give you more peace and less tension.

5) Both CP and TM teach you how to reach a mental void or altered level of consciousness.

6) Both CP and TM have the common goal of finding your god-center.

In regard to vibrations, Fr. Keating says, “As you go to a deeper level of reality, you begin to pick up vibrations that were there all the time but not perceived.”4 Fr. Pennington also speaks of “. . . physical vibrations that are helpful”5 (Vibrations are common TM, New Age language.) Using mantras and reaching a mental void are also New Age, not Catholic. In fact, reaching a mental void is described in the Catechism as an erroneous notion of prayer (#2726).

When does the one who prays cross the line into Hindu/Buddhist/New Age prayer?

In the beginning stages of CP, the one who prays is still ignoring thoughts as they float by. If they are still thinking of Jesus or heavenly things, they are still in Christian prayer. They cross the line when they get to the point where they bypass all thoughts and feelings. In other words, there are no thoughts at all. Fr. Thomas Keating says in his book, Open Mind, Open Heart, “As you go down deeper, you may reach a place where the sacred word disappears altogether and there are no thoughts. This is often experienced as a suspension of consciousness, a space.”6 When a person is able to do this, they have crossed the line into Hindu/Buddhist/New Age prayer.

HE IS NO LONGER PRACTICING CHRISTIAN PRAYER. Fr. Keating wants his followers to let go of even devout thoughts. He says, “The method consists of letting go of every thought during the time of prayer, even the most devout thoughts.”7 (In Christian prayer, devout thoughts are important and desirable.) He also tells his followers to let all feelings go. To do this, one would have to let go of any sentiments of love toward Jesus, the Heavenly Father, or the Holy Spirit.

What does Pope John Paul II say about this type of prayer?

In Cardinal Ratzinger’s booklet, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, he quotes the Pope. On p. 34, footnote 12, he writes “Pope John Paul II has pointed out to the whole Church the example and doctrine of St. Teresa of Avila who in her life had to reject the temptation of certain methods which proposed a leaving aside of the humanity of Christ in favor of a vague self-immersion in the abyss of divinity. In a homily given on

November 1, 1982, he said that the call of St. Teresa of Jesus advocating a prayer completely centered on Christ “is valid even in our day, against some methods of prayer which are not inspired by the gospel and which in practice tend to set Christ aside in preference for a mental void which makes no sense in Christianity. Any method of prayer is valid insofar as it is inspired by Christ and leads to Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life” [(cf. John 14:6). See Homilia Abulae habita in honorem Sanctae Teresiae: AAS 75 (1983) 256-257].

What does St. Teresa of Avila say about contemplation?

Throughout their books, Fr. Keating and Fr. Pennington mention St. Teresa of Avila, implying that she is an advocate of their prayer techniques. However, after reading her books, I have found that her teachings on prayer are the opposite of what Keating and Pennington are teaching. First of all, she says that contemplation is a gift from God, and no technique can make it happen. She says it is usually given to people who have a deep prayer life and are practicing many virtues, although God can give it to anyone he chooses. She repeatedly insists that contemplation is divinely produced. She said that entering into the prayer of quiet or that of union whenever she wanted it “was out of the question”8
4.

 

 

She also said in her book, Interior Mansion, “For it to be prayer at all, the mind must take a part in it.”9 Cardinal Ratzinger, in his booklet, also quotes St. Teresa as saying “the very care not to think about anything will arouse the mind to think a great deal”, and that the separation of the mystery of Christ from Christian meditation is always a form of “betrayal”10 St. Teresa advised her nuns to meditate or think about the Passion of Christ as a preparation for contemplation. The Catechism describes contemplation as “a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus” (#2715). The focus is Jesus and the heart is involved.

What are the warnings on mind-emptying prayer from Cardinal Ratzinger?

Christians dabbling in Eastern religions in the 70s and 80s had become such a problem that the Vatican had to respond. In 1989, Cardinal Ratzinger of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, put out a document called “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation.”

The document states, “With the present diffusion of Eastern methods of meditation in the Christian world and in ecclesial communities, we find ourselves faced with a pointed renewal of attempt, which is not free from dangers and errors, to fuse Christian meditation with that which is non-Christian.” He goes on to say, “Still others do not hesitate to place that absolute without image or concepts, which is proper to Buddhist theory on the same level as the majesty of God revealed in Christ.”11 He says they abandon the Triune God, “in favor of an immersion in the indeterminate abyss of the divinity.” Then he says mixing Christian meditation with Eastern techniques can lead to syncretism (the mixing of religions).

Is the Vatican II statement regarding non-Christian religions misunderstood?

Yes. The documents of Vatican II state “the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in non-Christian religions.”12 The Council Fathers however, were not recommending the practice of eastern prayer techniques. The

Hindu view of God is contrary to Christian belief. They do not worship a God who is superior to them. They believe that they become god, like a raindrop into an ocean.

What does Fr. Keating teach about reaching “pure consciousness”?

In his book, Open Mind, Open Heart, Fr. Keating says, “As the Spirit gradually takes more and more charge of your prayer, you may move into pure consciousness, which is an intuition into your True Self.”13 Then, again, speaking of pure consciousness, he says “In that state, there is no consciousness of self. When your ordinary faculties come back again, there may be a sense of peaceful delight.”14

What are Altered Levels of Consciousness (ALC’s) and what are the Dangers?

Let us ask Maharishi Yogi, the guru who introduced TM to America. Fr. Finbarr Flanagan writes in his article “TM’s founder, the Maharishi Yogi, claims that the regular practice of TM leads beyond the ordinary experience of waking, sleeping, and dreaming to a fourth state of consciousness called “simple awareness.” Constant practice leads to cosmic consciousness, then god-consciousness, and finally “unity consciousness.”15 The fourth state in other books is also referred to as pure-consciousness. People who have reached these altered levels of consciousness (ALC’s) describe them as a pleasant trance-like state. Cardinal Ratzinger says, in regard to ALC’s, that these can be pleasant experiences only. He states, “Some physical exercises automatically produce a feeling of quiet and relaxation, pleasing sensations, perhaps even phenomena of light and warmth, which resemble spiritual well-being. To take such feelings for the authentic consolations of the Holy Spirit would be a totally erroneous way of conceiving the spiritual life. Giving them a symbolic

significance typical of the mystical experience, when the moral condition of the person does not correspond to such experience, would represent a kind of mental schizophrenia which could also lead to psychic disturbance and, at times, to moral deviations.”16

Clare Merkle*, a former New Age healer and yoga practitioner, has been appearing on EWTN network (Mother Angelica’s network) on the program, “Living His Life Abundantly” Now converted, it took her five years to be freed from the effects of her involvement in New Age. She gives this warning: “When we open ourselves up to foreign religious practices that have ties to the occult, we open ourselves up to the demonic.” (Hinduism and Buddhism have ties to the occult because they tap into spiritual power that is not from the Holy Spirit.) On her website, The Cross and the Veil, she exposes CP as New Age. (See crossveil.org) She said that going into ALC’s can be dangerous because they can lead to out-of-the body experiences or hallucinations. She said some people cannot come out of them. In Fr. Keating’s book, Open Mind, Open Heart, p. 120, one of his followers commented that he had a hard time coming out of an ALC during Mass and could not concentrate. Fr. Keating told him, “That is a nice problem to have.” Fr. Amorth, who is the Vatican exorcist, says “Yoga, Zen, and TM are unacceptable to Christians. Often these apparently innocent practices can bring about hallucinations and schizophrenic conditions.”17
*see page 51

Can Centering Prayer Lead to a Hindu View of God?

Yes, it can. For example, Fr. Keating studied the eastern religions, and wanted to “devise an approach to Christian spirituality that would be comparable to the methods of the East.”18 However, somewhere in his studies, he appears to have succumbed to the Hindu view of God. Throughout his book, Open Mind, Open Heart, he refers to God as the Ultimate Mystery, the Ultimate Presence, and the Source. (This is the way God is addressed by New Agers) Shirley MacLaine calls God the Source and the Divine Energy in her book, Going Within. In Keating’s new book, Invitation to Love, he says “the divine energy in itself is infinite potentiality and actuality.”19 Fr. Pennington makes similar statements in his book, True Self, False Self speaking of God as the Divine Love Energy in many places. As Catholics, we believe in a personal God whom we call our Heavenly Father. Keating also says, “When you sit down for prayer, your whole psyche gathers itself and melts into God.”20 (Melting into god is Hindu /Buddhist/New Age belief.) Catholic dogma refutes this pantheistic concept. “In the Mass, it is said that we are partakers of His divinity. Yet this must not be conceived

in the pantheistic sense of the transition of the soul into the Divinity. The infinite distance between Creator and the created remains.” (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Ludwig Ott, p. 256) 5.

 

 

What Other Statements do Keating and Pennington Make that Reflect New Age Beliefs?

In his book, Open Mind, Open Heart, p. 37, Fr. Keating recommends yoga and jogging for relaxation. The truth is that yoga (the type that includes meditations) is a form of Hinduism, and is the most common way that New Agers enter into ALC’s. In fact, Webster’s Dictionary Library gives this definition:

Yoga is a system of Hindu philosophy, strict spiritual discipline, practiced to gain control over the forces of one’s own being to gain OCCULT POWERS, but chiefly to attain union with the Deity or the Universal Spirit.

In Keating’s book, Invitation to Love, p 125 he speaks of “Energy Centers,” common New Age language. New Agers believe that the body has seven energy centers called Chakras. Fr. Pennington refers to energies flowing up and down

the spinal system in his book, Awake in the Spirit, p.97. Actress Shirley MacLaine makes a similar statement in her book, Going Within, p.64. She also describes the energy in the spinal column when she sits with her back straight.

Benkovic says, “Hinduism teaches at the base of the spine is a triangle which lies in the “Kundalini Shakti” (Serpent Power). It is usually dormant, but when it is awakened, it travels up the spine to the top of the head, passing through six psychic centers called ‘chakras’. As it passes through a chakra, one receives psychic experiences and powers. When it reaches the top chakra, supposedly, the power to perform miracles and liberation is realized.”21

Ralph Rath says in his book, Mantras, “In a forward to the book, Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality by Philip St. Romain, Keating calls kundalini “an enormous energy for good” and does not point out that uncontrolled kundalini can kill or drive a person mad or that some cults use kundalini in a extremely debased way.”22 He does not show discernment here, since all spiritual power comes from the Holy Spirit or the Evil One.

Keating and Pennington have also enthusiastically endorsed the book, Meditations on the Tarot, a Journey into Christian Hermeticism*, on the jacket cover. (The tarot is a form of divination, which is forbidden in Deut. 18.) Ac-cording to Fr. Finbarr Flanagan, “Meditations on the Tarot is a mix of occult, theosophical, alchemical, esoteric, astrological and reincarnational ideas stirred together with Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Sufism in a manner reminiscent of the works of C.G. Jung.”23
*see page 36 ff

Is the Goal of CP to Find the True Self?

Yes. All through their books, Keating and Pennington talk about finding the True Self, finding out who we really are. What exactly is the True Self? Fr. Keating states, “God and our true Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing.”24 Since the True Self is described by them as the human soul, how can it be the same as God Almighty? The soul is created by God. Fr. Pennington presents the same idea in his book, Awake in the Spirit, where he speaks of our “process of deification” on p. 81. The concept of the True Self originates in Hinduism. According to Benkovic, the Hindus believe the following: “The self is none other than Braham or god . . . The true self is God. The “I” which I consider myself to be is in reality the not-self. This “not-self” is caught in a world of illusion, ignorance and bondage. You must lose your personal ego-consciousness into god. You must say I am Braham.’25

MacLaine presents the same idea in her book Going Within, p.83, calling it the Higher Self. She also claims that the soul is God. Therefore, the Hindus, MacLaine and Keating all claim that the True Self (human soul) is god.

As Catholics and Christians, we know that there is no truth in this statement. We know that the soul is created by God, is inferior to God and is tainted with sin. We know it will come before God on Judgment Day.

Did the Vatican Release a Document on the New Age?

Yes. The Vatican recently released the document called “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the New Age.” It specifically identifies the following as New Age: Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Yoga, Enneagram, Wicca, the Higher Self, the True Self, ALC’s, the “god within,” and TM (Transcendental Meditation).

Many of these beliefs or practices have made their way into retreat centers, workshops, or parish programs. Good Catholics attend these events trusting them to be good Catholic programs. However, the Vatican document states that these new age beliefs and practices cannot be accepted by those who are faithful to Christ and his Church. The document also named some of the writers who had the most influence on New Agers. They were Carl Jung, Teilhard de Chardin, and Thomas Merton. 

Does Fr. Keating Misquote some Important Scriptures?

Yes. Keating quotes Jesus as saying in Mark 8:34, “Unless you deny your inmost self and take up the cross, you cannot be my disciple.” He adds a word (inmost) that is not there. Then he says, on p.15 of Open Mind, Open Heart, “Denial of our inmost self includes detachment from the habitual functioning of our intellect and will, which are our inmost faculties.” The meaning of this scripture is to carry our crosses and deny ourselves. It has nothing to do with mind-emptying.

Keating also adds two new sentences to Luke 10:20 in Invitation to Love, p. 129. He quotes Jesus as saying, “Do not get excited about that kind of success. Anybody can work miracles with a little psychic energy and the divine assistance. What you should rejoice over is that your names are written in heaven.” These first two sentences do not exist; and Jesus would never suggest the use of psychic energy.

Does Fr. Keating Give a Strange Definition of the Eucharist?

Yes. In Open Mind, Open Heart, he says, on p.128, “The Eucharist is the celebration of life: the coming together of all the material elements of the cosmos, their emergence to consciousness in human persons and the transformation of human consciousness into Divine consciousness. It is the manifestation of the Divine in and through the Christian community. We receive the Eucharist in order to become the Eucharist.” As we know, the Eucharist in not composed of all of the elements of the universe. The New Agers believe that all is one and all is god. In our Catholic faith, the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the greatest of the sacraments. We need to reflect on Hebrews 13: 9, “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching.” 6.

 

 

Summary

1) Christian prayer always involves the mind and the heart. Even in preparation for contemplation, St. Teresa of Avila advises people to meditate or “think about” the Sorrowful mysteries.

2) Mind-emptying techniques are not Christian prayer, but rather practices of Hindus, Zen Buddhists, and New Agers. The Pope says this type of prayer “makes no sense in Christianity.”

3) There are dangers involved in going into altered levels of consciousness.

4) The True Self is not God. The human soul is inferior to God. It is separate from God because it is stained with sin, and it is created by God himself.

5) Involvement in the occult practices listed in Deuteronomy 18 is grave sin.

6) Hinduism, Zen Buddhism and New Age do not mix with Catholicism. These ancient religions contain grave error, and their beliefs are contrary to the Catholic faith.

In closing, I would like to say that I would not recommend books written by Fr. Thomas Keating or Fr. Basil Pennington. They have demonstrated a lack of discernment, and therefore are not reliable sources of information for spiritual growth. Also, some readers are unaware that they are being exposed to Hinduism through these books. I agree with the Pope when he said this type of prayer “makes no sense in Christianity.” As Christians, we are not to practice non-Christian religions or mix them in with ours (syncretism). When we practice syncretism, the line between truth and error becomes blurred. The pleasant experiences that result from these techniques can gradually start to replace the sacraments, and a person can lose sight of God as Creator and Savior.

The Lord loves the Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and all people. However, he wants us, as Christians, to look for opportunities to bring them to the True Faith. If we want to “center,” we can center our lives on Jesus Christ. If we

want to pray, we can think about him during our prayer time. We can meditate on the Passion, practice virtues, and ask him to take us up into authentic contemplation one day if he so desires. We can remind others that Jesus is the

Way, the Truth, and the Life.

End Notes

1 Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, (Amity, N.Y.: Amity House, 1986), p.97.

2 Mitch Pacwa, Catholics and the New Age, (Ann Arbor, MI: Servants Publication, 1992) p. 14.

3 Finbarr Flanagan, “Centering Prayer: Transcendental Meditation for the Christian Market: (Faith and Renewal, May/June, 1991) p. 2., quoting from Basil Pennington, Daily We Touch Him, (Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1977, p.68.

4 Ibid., p. 2, quoting from Thomas Keating, Finding Grace at the Center, (Mass: St. Bede’s Publications, 1978, p.20.

5 Ibid., p. 2 quoting from Basil Pennington, Centering Prayer, (Garden City, N.Y.:Doubleday Image Books) p.234.

6 Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, p.114.

7 Ibid., p. 35.

8 Johnnette Benkovic, The New Age Counterfeit, p. 23-24, quoting from The Life from the Collected Works of St. Teresa, Vol. 1, Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, p.1976.

9 Peter Thomas Rohrbach, Conversation with Christ, by St. Teresa of Avila (Rockford, IL: Tan Publishing Co.) p.78, quoting St. Teresa of Avila, Interior Mansion, P. I. i.

10 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, Oct. 15, 1989 (Text from English version published by St. Paul Books and Media, 50 St. Paul’s Ave., Boston, MA 02130) p.34.

11 Ibid, p. 16.

12 Austin P. Flannery, Editor, Documents of Vatican II, “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980) p.737.

13 Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, p. 51.

14 Ibid., p. 73-74. 

15 Finbarr Flanagan, “Centering Prayer: Transcendental Meditation for the Christian Market”, p. 2.

16 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Meditation, p. 28-29.

17 Gabriele Amorth, An Exorcist Tells His Story, (San Francisco, CA.: Ignatius Press), 1999.

18 Chris Noble, “Christian Contemplation and Centering Prayer”, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, March 1994, p. 25, quoting, “Contemplative Prayer”, U. S. Catholic, March, 1989, p.10.

19 Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love, (New York, NY: The Continuum Publishing Co., 2002) p.102.

20 Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, p.49. 

21 Johnnette Benkovic, The New Age Counterfeit, p.11.

22 Ralph Rath, Mantras, (South Bend, IN: Peter Publications, 1993) p. 25.

23 Finbarr Flanagan, “Centering Prayer: Transcendental Meditation for the Christian Market”, p. 5.

24 Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, p. 127.

25 Johnnette Benkovic, The New Age Counterfeit, p. 10-11.

Also at: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=6337&cfid=7880407&cftoken=55421544

 
 

1C.
The Danger of Centering Prayer
by Fr. John D. Dreher, Catholic Answers

This Rock, Vol. 8, No. 11, November 1997. P.O. Box 17490, San Diego, CA 92177, 888-291-8000

http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/1997/9711fea1.asp Catholic Answers, 2020 Gillespie Way, El Cajon, CA 92020 USA

Rev. John D. Dreher is the pastor of Our Lady of Czestochowa Church in Coventry, Rhode Island

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In the mid-seventies, Trappist Abbot Thomas Keating asked the monks, “‘Could we put the Christian tradition into a form that would be accessible to people … who have been instructed in an Eastern technique and might be inspired to return to their Christian roots if they knew there was something similar in the Christian tradition?”‘ (Intimacy with God, 15).

Fathers William Menninger and M. Basil Pennington took up the challenge, and centering prayer is the result. In a few short years it has spread all over the world.

Centering prayer originated in St. Joseph’s Abbey, a Trappist monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts. During the twenty years (1961-1981) when Keating was abbot, St. Joseph’s held dialogues with Buddhist and Hindu representatives, and a Zen master gave a week-long retreat to the monks. A former Trappist monk who had become a Transcendental Meditation teacher also gave a session to the monks. 

Many people assume centering prayer is compatible with Catholic tradition, but in fact the techniques of centering prayer are neither Christian nor prayer. They are at the level of human faculties and as such are an operation of man, not of God. The deception and dangers can be grave.

Centering prayer differs from Christian prayer in that the intent of the technique is to bring the practitioner to the center of his own being. There he is, supposedly, to experience the presence of the God who indwells him.

Christian prayer, on the contrary, centers upon God in a relational way, as someone apart from oneself. The Christian knows a God who is personal, yet who, as Creator, infinitely transcends his creature. God is wholly other than man. It

is also crucial to Christian prayer that God engages man’s whole being in response, not just his interior life. In the view of centering prayer, the immanence of God somehow makes the transcendence of God available to human techniques and experience.

Centering prayer is essentially a form of self-hypnosis. It makes use of a “mantra,” a word repeated over and over to focus the mind while striving by one’s will to go deep within oneself. The effects are a hypnotic-like state: concentration upon one thing, disengagement from other stimuli, a high degree of openness to suggestion, a psychological and physiological condition that externally resembles sleep but in which consciousness is interiorized and the mind subject to suggestion. After reading a published description of centering prayer, a psychology professor said, “Your question is, is this hypnosis? Sure it is.” He said the state can be verified physiologically by the drop in blood pressure, respiratory rate, lactic acid level in the blood, and the galvanic conductivity of the skin. Abbot Keating relates that, when they began doing the centering prayer workshops in the guest house, some of the monks and guests “complained that it was spooky seeing people walking around the guest house like ‘zombies.”‘ They recognized the symptoms but could not diagnose the illness.

In order to see clearly that centering prayer departs from Catholic tradition, let us review the differences between Christian spirituality and that of Eastern religions. These differences flow, above all, from their concepts of God, of man, and of their relationship. In light of this contrast, we should be able to see more clearly from which of these centering prayer draws its approach and techniques.

In Catholic teaching, all men are creatures, called out of nothingness to know God. All men are also sinners, cut off from God and destined to death. A Christian is one whose life has been reconstituted in Christ. He is no longer in the place and stance of a sinner, that is, apart from God, acting as if he were the ultimate source, measure, and goal of his own behavior. He is in Christ. Henceforth, his life is supposed to originate in Christ and to be directed to God the Father. I say “supposed to” for it is a possibility that must be acted upon. It is not automatic. The grace of baptism must be incarnated in obedience, and, even after baptism, the Christian can choose to conform to Christ or to his fallen nature, that is, to sin. 

Eastern religions, in contrast, lack revelation of God as a personal Creator who radically transcends his creatures. Though possessing many praiseworthy elements, they nonetheless seek God as if he were part of the universe, rather than its Creator. This is because they are monistic, seeing all reality as one.

Thus, God is a dimension, though hidden, of the same reality of which man is a part. The goal therefore is to peel away the exterior world to get to the spiritual reality beneath it. God is conceived of as an impersonal state of being. In contrast, for Christians, God is the Real, and the whole of the universe exists by God’s free choice; creation is a second, contingent reality-and, in Christian thought, did not need to exist. Moreover, this contingent universe is the result of a God who is vastly more than mere being; he is a loving Father.

These differing conceptions of God issue in different approaches to God. In the East, human means are necessarily relied upon to come to God. The goal is not to seek God as an Other, but to achieve an altered state of consciousness.

Where a Christian seeks dialogue and interaction with God and, with his help, the “restoration of all things in Christ,” by a certain “participation in the divine nature” (2 Peter 4:4), the East seeks God in the self and seeks escape from the distractions of the outer world. The “experience of God” is essentially achieved by psychological and physiological technique rather than by encounter.

The confusion of technique over encounter arises from a misunderstanding of the indwelling of God. The fact that God indwells us does not mean that we can capture him by techniques. Nor does it mean that we are identical with him in our deepest self. Rather, God indwells us by grace which does not blend human and divine natures. On the contrary, it perfects and empowers our limited human faculties, so that we can relate to him. We can no more manipulate this indwelling of grace by psychological techniques than we can manipulate our existence.

Analogously, children do not come to know the parents who gave them existence by going dead inside themselves or back to the moment of their conception. They come to know their parents by interaction with them.

8.

 

As children use the faculties given them at conception to grow and become like their parents, so we use the faculties given us by the indwelling Spirit to interact with God and to put on Jesus Christ. As children speak to their parents, so we speak to God by the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells us.

This is what the Catholic tradition means by the term “sanctifying grace.” Sanctifying grace is the grace of union with God. By it, we are given a share in the very holiness of God. Sanctifying grace is God’s communication of himself to man. As such, it cannot be experienced by human faculties. However, Sanctifying grace gives us the “faculties” to relate to God. By it, we are given a new and additional “divine nature” and are made “sons and daughters” of God. With childlike simplicity, we can say “our Father.” By incarnating this grace through acts of obedience to God (what the Church calls “actual graces”) we are progressively converted from our sinful nature and “put on Jesus Christ,” participating in the life of Jesus Christ as members of his Body. In the religion of Christ, the Incarnate Lord, there is no disengagement from the external, but rather a dedication of one’s life and the world to God. The goal is not merely a deep inner peace but a sanctification of body, mind, and heart-indeed, of the whole world.

Centering prayer claims for itself the experience of God, while setting aside external realities and overcoming the “otherness” of God. It takes these characteristics not from Christian tradition but from Hinduism, through the medium of Transcendental Meditation. TM is Hinduism adapted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a Hindu guru, for use in a Western cultural setting. Fr. Pennington, one of the authors of centering prayer and an ardent supporter of TM, says, “Mahesh Yogi, employing the terminology of the ancient Vedic tradition, speaks of this [practice of TM] ‘to plunge into deep, deep rest for fifteen or twenty minutes twice a day’ as experiencing the Absolute. The Christian knows by faith that this Absolute is our God of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who dwells in us. When he goes to his deepest self, he finds in himself an image and participation of God, and he finds God himself.”

Fr. Pennington approves a Christian’s participation in TM, despite the fact that the introductory ceremony to TM, the Puja, involves worship of a dead Hindu guru and that the mantras given those being initiated are in fact the names of Hindu gods.

For a Christian knowingly to participate in TM is a violation of the Second Commandment against false worship.

What is to be said of this claim? Archimandrite Sophrony of Mount Athos and an authority in Orthodox spirituality speaks from his own personal story. He was for years involved in Eastern religions, before he returned to the Orthodox faith of his youth. I quote him at length, for he speaks with clarity and power:

“In advising against being carried away by artificial practices such as Transcendental Meditation I am but repeating the age-old message of the Church…. The way of the Fathers requires firm faith and long patience, whereas our contemporaries want to seize every spiritual gift, including even direct contemplation of the Absolute God, by force and speedily, and will often draw a parallel between prayer in the Name of Jesus and yoga or Transcendental Meditation and the like. I must stress the danger of such errors…. He is deluded who endeavors to divest himself mentally of all that is transitory and relative in order to cross some invisible threshold, to realize his eternal origin, his identity with the Source of all that exists, in order to return and merge with him, the nameless transpersonal Absolute. Such exercises have enabled many to rise to suprarational contemplation of being, to experience a certain mystical trepidation, to know the state of silence of mind, when mind goes beyond the boundaries of time and space. In such like states man may feel the

peacefulness of being withdrawn from the continually changing phenomena of the visible world, may even have a certain experience of eternity. But the God of Truth, the Living God, is not in all this.

“It is man’s own beauty, created in the image of God, that is contemplated and seen as divinity, whereas he himself still continues within the confines of his creatureliness. This is a vastly important concern. The tragedy of the matter lies in the fact that man sees a mirage which, in his longing for eternal life, he mistakes for a genuine oasis. This impersonal form of ascetics leads finally to an assertion of the divine principle in the very nature of man. Man is then drawn to the idea of self-deification-the cause of the original Fall. The man who is blinded by the imaginary majesty of what he contemplates has in fact set his foot on the path to self-destruction. He has discarded the revelation of a personal God…. The movement into the depths of his own being is nothing else but attraction towards the non-being from which we were called by the will of the Creator” (His Life is Mine, 115-116).

In short, true prayer goes to God from the center of one’s being, not in the center of one’s being. In authentic contemplation, our faculties are brought to God, not disengaged as they are in TM. Christianity seeks to redeem and restore man and the world in Christ. To seek escape from rather than to redeem the world is to set oneself against the mission of Christ. That is why even the Jesus Prayer and the rosary (often cited as Christian “mantras”) are deeply charged with basic Christian theological content; they are used to relate in an interactive and personal way to the Lord and to the Virgin Mary. For a similar reason, Catholic spiritual writers consistently insist a person must have a moral life and spiritual maturity before entering upon a life dedicated to contemplation. A person who seeks contemplation must first steep his mind in the word of God, conform his behavior to the moral law, submit his body to the spirit by asceticism, subjugate his will in humility to the will of God, and take on a heart given over to the love of God and neighbor. These means are incarnational and redemptive.

The book often claimed as a precedent for centering prayer is The Cloud of Unknowing, by an unknown fourteenth-century English author. But the claim is in vain, for The Cloud of Unknowing clearly repudiates the emphasis given in centering prayer to techniques: “I am trying to make clear with words what experience teaches more convincingly, that techniques and methods are ultimately useless for awakening contemplative love.”

The Cloud must be seen in its historic context. Though its emphasis is on the “negative way,” we must remember that it presupposes its reader is well grounded in the “positive way” to God by means of the word of God and sacramental means. When this prerequisite is met, a book like this can help prayer to go beyond creatures to the Uncreated God. 9.

 

But to see The Cloud as pointing us to technique (as centering prayer does) is profoundly to misread the text.

Some of those who promote centering prayer employ questionable practices. For example, I first experienced centering prayer during a retreat whose announced topic and method had nothing to do with it. Without explanation, the director

conducted us into centering prayer. At first I followed the instructions, but, not liking the feel of it, I made the decision to ignore the instructions. The retreat master, even by secular standards, acted unethically in not giving us an understanding and choice in the matter. 

Nor is this uncommon. I know of an incident where several thousand people attending a charismatic conference were brought into centering prayer, again without explanation or choice. This incident was particularly objectionable, because the priest who was leading the session did not even bother with a Christian “mantra” but used an explicit hypnotic technique (e.g., “Imagine you are on an elevator. You begin going down, down inside yourself. The twenty-first floor, the twentieth floor,” etc.). In many Catholic schools, teachers and officials have made centering prayer part of religious exercises without parental notice, understanding, or choice. Equally questionable is the setting aside of traditional safeguards. Centering prayer is often offered to large groups, where there is no way of knowing the psychological and spiritual problems some people may have. And this can be very dangerous indeed, leading to any of the following: (1) The delusion that one has found and pleased God, when in fact he has not. God is not part of the universe. The attempt to reach God by human technique is not only futile, but objectively sinful.

(2) A self-absorption which forgets that life in the Triune God is relationships and that we have been inserted into these relationships through Christ. People who come out of this type of prayer often express it as coming into a freedom they did not know that they had lost.

(3) The danger of opening oneself to evil spirits. Such techniques can bring people in touch with the spiritual realm.

But the spiritual realm includes not only God but human and angelic spirits. A person with a problem in a moral or psychological area can open himself to some degree of demonic influence.

A mother wrote to ask me for advice: “In the Catholic school in [name of town], Sister has been using this [centering prayer and use of the Jesus Prayer] in the religion classes. My ten-year-old daughter took to it right away. This was about two-and-a-half years ago. The things she shared with me that Jesus had told her didn’t appear to me to be imagination. They made her feel very close to Jesus. About six weeks ago, Kristy started having difficulty going to sleep.

She didn’t want to stay in her own room and would lie there afraid to close her eyes, until I would let her go into her sister’s room and sleep with her. Finally she confided in me that she would see something scary if she closed her eyes. A few days ago, she confided that it laughed. Kristy had used the centering prayer on her own at bedtime for some time before this fear started.”

What happened to Kristy? The laughter is very characteristic of evil spirits. It would have taken personal contact and prayerful discernment to know for sure. From the description, I would suspect an evil spirit is harassing her. I would doubt that it has any serious hold on her, unless there was immoral behavior or a special vulnerability in her psychological state. I suspect that her use of centering prayer opened her to evil spirits and such harassments.

The past several decades have seen an explosion of groups and movements involved in spiritual and psychic pursuits. Some of these no doubt are of God; some clearly are not. The New Age Movement, which is actually as ancient as the

Eastern religions from which it draws its resources, has shown a phenomenal growth. A materialistic civilization is trying to find what it threw away. I believe that the interest is more than a sociological phenomenon and that it is part of a conflict of the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. 

I see the springing up of so many spiritual and psychic movements as part of the rebellion of man and evil spirits against God. The totalitarian movements of the twentieth century managed to capture the major sectors of society, and what destruction they brought on the world! But they fell short of total possession of man. In his interior life, man remained free. Nazism and Communism had some success in penetrating the interior life of man by persuasion, by socioeconomic pressures, and even by the violence of brainwashing.

But the vulnerability of man today to manipulation is today much greater than it was even a half-century ago. The moral order and faith in God have drastically declined. Man’s technology and managerial abilities have increased. Tyranny has better tools to dominate others and, more and more, a ripe situation in which to do so. The restraining influences on the work of evil spirits are being stripped away: loss of moral standards, break-up of family life, uprootedness, merely functional relationships, emptiness of meaning. In this context, what centering prayer does, at a minimum, is make respectable the false spiritualities that are rushing in to fill the spiritual void.

My hypothesis is that it is Satan’s strategy, in all these things, to strip away the physiological and psychological forces that, in our fallen state, are a fail-safe protection for the human spirit. (This is a possible interpretation of Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-10 about the lawless one and the force that restrains him.) Thus, he can hope to capture the spirit of man worldwide and establish a kingdom of darkness.

The Catholic Church is the major obstacle to the Devil’s plan-and the Lord of it the only hope of mankind. Hence the Church has been the special target of today, as indeed it has been since Pentecost. The rapid spread of centering prayer in the past decade into so many areas which are at the very heart of Catholic faith is, I believe, part of the Devil’s strategy against the Church.

Yet none of this has escaped God’s hand. As I see it, he has given us the modern world’s problems right in the very heart of the Church, so that, when we get our own house in order, we will be in very good shape to bring the gospel to every nation. No Christian can read the Great Commission and fail to have hope for the future.

“All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations. And behold I am with you always” (Matt. 28:18-20). Also at http://catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0005.html
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2.
Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by R.J. Grigaitis, S.F.O* 2007-12-14 (edited 2009-04-07)

http://grigaitis.net/?doc=weekly/2007/2007-12-14.html
*Secular Franciscan Order

I was discussing my difficulties with contemplative prayer with a friend and how the book I was reading wasn’t helping. He said that the book I was reading probably wasn’t the right one for me, and gave me another book that he thought might help: Open Mind, Open Heart by Fr. Thomas Keating. Someone else had given him the book, and he hadn’t read much more that the first few chapters. I read the book, and it seemed to be just what I needed.

Using language to describe contemplative prayer that I was familiar with, Fr. Keating explained a method of prayer that I was unfamiliar with. Fr. Keating made it seem that what I thought only a few attain can be achieved by anyone with a little practice. This should have been my first warning sign. Contemplative prayer is not achieved; it is a gift from God.

Missing this first warning sign, I found Fr. Keating’s website (Contemplative Outreach Ltd.), and ordered a book he recommended: Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault.

It took a little over a month for this book to arrive in the mail. When it finally arrived, I was a little shocked to read on the back cover that Cynthia Bourgeault is an Episcopal priest. First of all, women can’t be priests; and second, I’m a little cautious of anything that does not originate from the Catholic Church.

My caution escalated to concern before I reached the end of the second chapter as she began to contradict Fr. Keating and used language that seemed more Hindu and Buddhist than Christian. I decided to see what I could find on the internet regarding Centering Prayer. This is what I found on websites I’ve trusted in the past:

A Closer Look at Centering PrayerMargaret A. Feaster (Homiletic & Pastoral Review)

Centering Prayer Meets the VaticanDan DeCelles (New Heaven/New Earth)

The Danger of Centering PrayerJohn D. Dreher (This Rock)

I was also referred to the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Another thing I did was check out the Catholic Culture review on the Contemplative Outreach Ltd. website; something I should have done before I ordered the book.

It seems that Centering Prayer is really Transcendental Meditation disguised with Christian language. Transcendental Meditation, by the way, is Hinduism adapted by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for use in a Western society, and is not compatible with Christianity. It is also said that in Transcendental Meditation “there is no concentration or contemplation, no effort to hold or control the mind.” Since Centering Prayer is based on Transcendental Meditation and Transcendental Meditation is said not to involve contemplation, Centering Prayer cannot be described as contemplative prayer. Fr. Keating admits this in Intimacy with God when he says, “It is not contemplation in the strict sense, which in Catholic tradition has always been regarded as a pure gift of the Spirit, but rather it is a preparation for contemplation by reducing the obstacles caused by the hyperactivity of our minds and of our lives.”

Why did I miss this when I read Open Mind, Open Heart? Fr. Keating used language to describe Centering Prayer that I was familiar with and associated with contemplative prayer. He specifically said that the sacred word used to empty the mind is not a mantra. It wasn’t until I read the introduction of Cynthia Bourgeault’s book that I realised that it really was a mantra, despite what Fr. Keating said.

This is where I found contradictions between Open Mind, Open Heart and Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. However, Fr. Keating must have approved of what I thought where contradiction because he wrote the foreword for Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. Open Mind, Open Heart is deceitful because it says one thing about Centering Prayer, but it is really the opposite that is true, which Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening outright admits.

I may have been a bit naive when I read Open Mind, Open Heart. When Fr. Keating talked about Eastern meditation, I thought he was talking about the Eastern Rites, such as the Byzantine and Antiochene Rites. I did not for an instant think that he was talking about Eastern religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism.

In March 2009, I found a book that has helped me with my difficulties in contemplative prayer: Fire within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel—on Prayer by Fr. Thomas Dubay. After reading this book, I can now see that what I’ve been trying to do is not contemplative prayer, but discursive meditation. At times, God has begun to give me contemplative prayer; however, for the most part, I’ve drowned this out with forced discursive meditation.

There are almost no similarities between what Fr. Dubay teaches and what Fr. Keating teaches. Transcendental Meditation and Centering Prayer require one to empty his mind through techniques, such as repeating a mantra. Once the mind is empty, it is claimed that one can discover God within himself.

In contrast, infused contemplative prayer requires nothing. No technique can induce it. It is a total gift from God that one only has to allow happen. Discursive meditation creates an environment for God to work, but discursive meditation does not induce contemplative prayer.

Discursive meditation focuses one’s mind on God, who is an external being. There are a number of ways to do this, such as repeating the name of Jesus. Some say that this is a mantra, but it is different from the Centering Prayer mantra because it is not used to empty the mind but is a device to help us concentrate on our subject and to chase away any foreign thought or distraction. When one is ready, God will unite Himself with the one who is praying.

This is the bottom-line: contemplative prayer cannot be achieved with techniques. It is a total gift from God. When God gives this gift, the mind is not emptied, but filled, as is the body and the soul.

Once I have completed my series of weekly thoughts titled Spirituality in Erotic Language, I will begin a new series on the holy life, discursive meditation and infused contemplative prayer titled Universal Call to Holiness. The homepage for this series will be found here: http://grigaitis.net/holiness
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3.
Centering Prayer and Enneagram are pagan 
By Susan Beckworth January 6, 2007

http://www.speroforum.com/site/article.asp?idarticle=7349

About the author:
Ms. Susan Beckworth is a Catholic New Age expert. She writes about the involvement of Catholic hierarchs in the New Age movement at the Defender website.

The Centering Prayer empties the mind through repetition of a mantra: it is neither Catholic nor prayer.
Christian meditation has always been about entering more deeply into union with the Lord Jesus Christ and with Him, God the Father and the Holy Ghost. It consists of turning our thoughts, our hearts, our desires and our love to the Living God. 

In stark contrast, “Centering Prayer” focuses on emptying the mind of all thought through the repetition of a mantra (though proponents of centering prayer don’t use the term “mantra” and would object to me using it). Centering Prayer by emptying one’s mind seeks to achieve an ALC – Altered Level of Consciousness.) 

Authentic Prayer, however, has its goal which is union with God. It fosters holiness in the individual. In the Church if meditation is truly authentic, it will possess the following characteristics:

It is Christ-centered and Trinitarian.
It will acknowledge the cross of Christ and suffering.
It will encourage an awareness of sin, a turning away from it, and = trust in God’s mercy.
It encourages a sacramental life, especially the Eucharist.
It encourages a disposition of obedience to Church teaching.
It is Marian.
It looks beyond this world to eternity.

Centering Prayer is a method or technique its advocates claim will result in contemplation for those who practice it. This is why it is often confused with contemplation, contemplative prayer, or mental prayer. But contemplation is not something we do; it is something we receive, not because of a method we follow, but because of the life that we lead. Infused contemplation is a gift from God and most often the result of a life that has grown faithful through prayer and reflection on God’s word. 

Some people have confused the Eastern Christian practice of the “Jesus Prayer” with “Centering Prayer.” The “Jesus Prayer” involves emptying ourselves of all that is self and all that is sinful and filling oneself with Christ. The Jesus Prayer is: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Centering Prayer is neither Catholic nor prayer, yet it is offered at most retreat centers. Nowadays, most retreat centers can scarcely be called Catholic and are notorious for adopting New Age and other non-Catholic techniques and philosophies. The New Age practices offered at retreat centers are insidious, but remember, Satan thrives in subtlety. 

An additional problem with retreat centers is that they often promote universalism (everyone is saved). In a short article by Fr. James Behrens, a universalist and Trappist at Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia (where centering prayer and yoga retreats are offered), he asserts his belief in universal salvation by saying: “Salvation is a given…no one is left out… all the Bibles could be destroyed tomorrow and it would not make a difference.”

What is the connection between Centering Prayer and universalism? At the root of Centering Prayer is the belief that we are all already saved and because of this belief, we do not need to pray to God for salvation. New Agers believe that we are God and God is everything, so we do not need to pray to God in a relational way (as someone apart from ourselves), but rather to the god within.    

Centering Prayer is typical of New Age meditative practices. The soul becomes the center, energy replaces grace, God actually becomes a pantheistic energy. Fr. Thomas Keating, founder of the Centering Prayer movement, has this posted on his Contemplative Outreach, Ltd. website:  When we go to the CENTER OF OUR BEING, and pass through the center into the very CENTER OF GOD, we get in immediate touch with this divine creating energy. 

Other evidence of Fr. Keating’s New Age ties include his writings and books. All throughout Keating’s books he states that the goal of Centering Prayer is to find the True Self; to find out who we really are. What exactly is true self? Fr. Keating states “God and our true self are not separate.” Since he describes the true self as the human soul, how can it be the same as God Almighty? 

The Hindus, Shirley MacLaine (in her book Going Within), and Fr. Thomas Keating all claim the True Self (human soul) is God. As Catholics, we know this statement is not truth. We know the soul is created by God, is inferior to God and is tainted with sin. We know the soul will come before God on Judgment Day. 

Fr. Keating also gave his endorsement on the dust jacket for the book Meditations on the Tarot: Journey into Christian Hermeticism.*
The tarot is a deck of cards used in fortune telling. Fr. Keating calls the book, “the greatest contribution to date toward the rediscovery of the contemplative tradition.” The heavily New Age publisher is Amity House. The book has been classified under “Occult Sciences” and “Cartomancy” by the Library of Congress. (ed. note: Meditations on the Tarot includes a dedication by Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar) *see page 36 ff

Throughout his newsletters, Fr. Keating advocates use of the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a new age tool used to determine personality traits. Fr. Keating states: “As we practice Centering Prayer, we begin to get insight into the dynamics of our unconscious; perhaps through the Enneagram, we can become aware of our personality traits, which is useful.”

Getting insight into the” dynamics of our unconscious”, as Fr. Keating states, is just another phrase for hypnosis. 

Tarot card reading and use of the Enneagram are witchcraft and purely demonic; yet most people do not even know that all of these “New Age” practices are entirely forbidden by God in the First Commandment.  12.

 

 

 

St. Teresa of Avila was well aware of the tendency to stray off course and so she insisted that meditation always be directed to and with Christ. We have a major crisis in the Church today with Centering Prayer. There are powerful people behind it, so we must keep speaking the Truth. 

“Wrong is wrong, even if everyone else is doing it. Right is right, even if no one else is doing it” – St. Augustine.

Comments by Fr. Ben Cameron, CPM [spironews]:
Susan Beckworth has written an excellent article which exposes the dangers of the New Age movement and its invasion  into Catholicism through “Centering  Prayer.” “Centering Prayer” is very well explained, along with its dangers. It is a sign of how we as Catholics have lost touch with our rich tradition of prayer, with the insights of hundreds of saints (who are our  brothers and sisters who have definitely made it to heaven), that so many of us have been sucked into the New Age movement and into Centering Prayer. I encourage each person who has practiced, or currently practices, centering prayer to set it aside for a few months and to focus on the Christ-centered and Trinitarian meditation that was practiced by the saints. I would recommend that you start with St. Francis de Sales, “Introduction to the Devout Life” or Dom  Chautard’s “Soul of the Apostolate” or the book “The Spiritual Doctrine of St. Therese of Lisieux.” Another great source is Bishop Fulton Sheen. Just try meditating more deeply on the person and life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, seeking to apply His teaching to your daily life. That is Christian meditation. Instead of connecting us to “the god within,” it connects us to the true God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I would also encourage anyone who wants to learn more about Christian tradition of prayer to read Part IV of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 

 

4. Centring prayer: a new religion by John B. Shea, MD, FRCP- Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians

http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Centring+prayer:+a+new+religion-a0146836261
Catholic Insight, June 1, 2006

Dr. John B. Shea has also published “The Church and the New Age Movement” (Catholic Insight, Nov. 2005, pp. 33-36) and “Therapeutic Touch: a critique,” (C.I., Nov. 1999, pp. 14-25). Both articles available on our website.

On March 19, 2006, the Catholic Register of Toronto published an article by, Tara Little describing Centring Prayer (CP) as “a way to find God in the silence.” It described CP as the response of many to the distraction of noise pollution, satellite radio, and Internet travel, which are the “clear enemy of prayer.” CP originated in St. Joseph’s Abbey
[
St. Joseph’s Abbey is a monastery of the Catholic Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.), popularly known as the “Trappists”, located in Spencer, Massachusetts], about thirty years ago when Thomas Keating was abbot. At that time, St. Joseph’s held dialogues with Buddhist and Hindu representatives, and a Zen master gave a week-long retreat to the monks. In a few years, CP had spread throughout the world.
What is CP?

CP is a form of prayer taught by Abbot Thomas Keating, a monk, priest, and today abbot of St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, and by Father Basil Pennington, a Trappist monk at St. Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer, MA. Those who practise CP are instructed to pray for a twenty-minute period, twice daily. They are told to sit comfortably with eyes closed and back straight, to choose a “sacred word” such as “Jesus,” “Abba,” “Mercy,” or “Yes,” and to utter this word repeatedly, until all thoughts and feelings disappear. “All thoughts pass if you wait long enough,” Abbot Keating says. (1)
The stated goal of this kind of prayer is to find your “True Self.” (2) Abbot Keating also tells us, “as the Spirit gradually takes more and more charge of your prayer, you may move into pure consciousness, which is an intuition of the True Self,” (3) and that “God and our True Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our True Self are the same thing.” (4) Both Abbot Keating and Father Pennington state that in CP “you pick up vibrations.” (5, 6)
A psychology professor has been quoted as saying that CP is self-hypnosis that can be verified physiologically by a drop in blood pressure, respiratory rate, lactic acid in the blood and the galvanic conductivity in the skin. (7) Abbot Keating denies that repetition of a “sacred word” is a mantra such as one used in self-hypnosis and transcendental meditation (TM). CP, however, shares all its characteristics and claims with TM. Both CP and TM use a twenty-minute meditation; use a repeated word to erase all thoughts and feelings; teach that you pick up vibrations; teach one how to reach a mental void or altered level of consciousness (ALC)

and have a common goal of finding your god centre. TM is the technique used by Hindus and Buddhists when they try to reach what they call “god-consciousness.” Father Finbarr Flanagan, who was involved in both CP and TM, says that Father Pennington has endorsed TM “without hesitation.” (8)
Vatican document

On February 3, 2003, the Vatican Council for Culture and interreligious dialogue published a document, Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the ‘New Age.’ It teaches that:
“Christian prayer is not an exercise in self contemplation, stillness and self emptying, but a dialogue of love…. Life in Christ is not something so personal and so private that it is restricted to the realm of consciousness. Nor is it merely a new level of awareness. It involves being transformed in our soul and body by participation in the sacramental life of the Church…. New Age techniques reproduce mystical states at will…. Sensory isolation, holotropic breathing, hypnosis, mantras … and TM are attempts to control other states and experience them ‘continuously’…. Many people are convinced that there is no harm in ‘borrowing’ from the wisdom of the East, but the example of TM should make Christians cautious about the prospect of committing themselves unknowingly to another religion (in the case of Hinduism), despite what TM’s promoters claim about its religious neutrality.” (9)
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) (Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei), previously known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, is the oldest of the nine congregations of the Roman Curia, declared in 1989:

 

 

“A Christian’s method of getting closer to God is not based on any technique in the strict sense of the word. That would contradict the spirit of childhood called for by the Gospel. The heart of genuine Christian mysticism is not technique: it is always a gift of God; and the one who benefits from it knows himself unworthy.” (10)
“One of the common elements in New Age ‘spirituality’ is a fascination with extraordinary manifestations, and in particular, with paranormal

entities… ‘Mediums’ claim that their personality is taken over by another entity during trances in a New Age phenomenon known as ‘channeling’…. People who have witnessed these events would willingly acknowledge that the manifestations are indeed spiritual, but not from God…. It is probably more correct to refer to this as a contemporary form of spiritualism rather than spirituality in a strict sense…. Some of these spiritual entities are described as powerful energies existing in the natural world and also on the ‘inner planes;’ i.e., those which are accessible by the use of rituals, drugs and other techniques for reaching altered states of consciousness. It is clear that, in theory at least, the New Age often recognizes no spiritual authority higher than inner experience.” (11)
The Vatican has also identified the following as New Age: Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Yoga, Enneagram, Wicca, the Higher Self, the True Self, ALCs, the “god within,” and TM. Many of these beliefs and practices have made their way into Catholic retreat centres, workshops, and parish programs. (12)
Is CP an attempt at Pelagian self-salvation?

Some New Agers abolish all thoughts and feelings by the use of mantras or yoga in order to reach an altered level of consciousness, to “discover” their True Self, and find wisdom and knowledge because they consider the True Self to be God. The old heresy of Pelagianism holds that one can save one’s soul without the need for God’s Grace.
Practitioners of CP may be doing the same. Abbot Keating states, “As you go down deeper, you may reach a place where the sacred word disappears altogether and there are no thoughts. This is often experienced as a suspension of consciousness, a space.” (13) The focus of CP is to discover the True Self, which Abbot Keating says is the “same thing” as God. (14)
In a homily
 on November 1, 1982, Pope John Paul II
said that the call of St. Teresa of Avila advocating prayer completely centred on Christ, “is valid even in our day, against some methods of prayer which are not inspired by the Gospel and which, in practice, tend to set Christ aside in preference for a mental void which makes no sense in Christianity.”
In 1989, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in a Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some Aspects of Christian Meditation stated:
“With the present diffusion of Eastern methods of meditation in the Christian world and in ecclesial

communities, we find ourselves faced with a pointed renewal of an attempt, which is not free from dangers and errors, to fuse Christian meditation with that which is non-Christian…. Still others do not hesitate to place that absolute without image or concepts, which is proper to Buddhist theory, on the same level as the majesty of God revealed in Christ.” (15)
Abbot Keating holds that “if you are aware of no thoughts, you will be aware of something that is a thought. If, at that point, you can lose awareness that you are aware of no thoughts, you will move into pure consciousness.” He also holds that pure consciousness is an intuition of the True Self, and that the True Self and God are the same thing. (16)
Cardinal Ratzinger states, however, that to try as far as possible to put aside everything that is worldly, sense perceptible, or conceptually limited, as an approach to this sort of prayer, may actually be “an attempt to ascend to or immerse oneself in the sphere of the divine, which is as such, neither terrestrial, sense perceptible, nor capable of conceptualization” St. Teresa of Avila said in The Interior Castle, “be careful not to check the movement of the mind … and to remain like a dolt.” Cardinal Ratzinger has further stated: “In order to draw near to the mystery of God, which the Greek Fathers called the ‘divinization’ of man, and to grasp accurately the manner in which this is to be realized, it is necessary in the first place to bear in mind that man is essentially a creature, and remains so for eternity, so that absorbing himself into the divine self is never possible.” (17)
Is CP panentheistic?

Pantheism

is the philosophy that the Universe is God. Panentheism
is the philosophy that God is the Soul of the Universe; in other words
that the Universe is a Being.
According to panentheism, “God is not the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, but an ‘impersonal energy,’ imminent in the world, with which it forms a ‘cosmic unity’…. This unity is panentheistic. God is the ‘life-principle,’ the ‘spirit or soul of the world’, the sum total of consciousness existing in the world. In a sense, everything is God. God’s presence is clearest in the spiritual aspects of reality: so every mind spirit is, in some sense, God.”
In Abbot Keating’s book Invitation To Love, p. 125, he speaks of “Energy Centers,” a commonly used New Age term. New Agers believe that the body has several energy centres called ‘chakras.’ Father Pennington, in his book Aware in the Spirit, p. 97, refers to “energies flowing up and down the spinal system.”

Johnette Benkovic, founder of Catholic Women of Grace, an apostolate
of Christian women, holds that “Hinduism teaches that at the base of the spine is a triangle in the Kundalini
Shakti-Serpent Power, also called ‘Prana,’ or ‘divine life force.’ It is usually dormant, but when awakened, it travels up the spine to the top of the head, passing through six psychic centers called ‘chakras.’ As it passes through a chakra, one receives psychic experiences and powers. When it reaches the top chakra, supposedly, the power to perform miracles and liberation is realized.” (19)
According to Abbot Keating, “As you go to a deeper level of reality, you begin to pick up vibrations that were there all the time but not perceived.” (20) Father Pennington speaks of “psychic vibrations that are helpful.” (21) Abbot Keating holds that “according to quantum physics, various levels of material energy can occupy the same physical space at the same time.

14.

 

 

In similar fashion, the divine energy can be at work in us at levels that cannot be perceived at all…. When we sit down to do centering prayer and form our intention, we know the divine presence is already there … All we have to do is consent. The divine energy flows into us … available 24 hours a day at a maximum strength…. There remains a further energy … what the theologians call the Beatific Vision…. This is the energy that lights the universe and forms the whirling nebulae” (22). Abbot Keating does not appear to realize that quantum mechanics is a modern theory of physics. It is in no way whatever related to the power of God, who transcends the natural order.
The Book of Genesis

teaches us that “God made the heavens and the earth … in the beginning.” Today, most scientists believe that, approximately 13.7 billion years ago, there was an original explosion of pure energy, the “Big Bang
from which all the matter in the universe has come into being. This energy, from which all matter in fact originated, was created by God who transcends His creation, and exists for all eternity apart from it. To believe that God and physical energy are the same is to regard God and the universe as one being. This ancient, panentheistic belief was common to both the oriental beliefs of Taoism, Hinduism and Buddhism, and that of the Greeks before the time of Aristotle. Abbot Keating and Father Pennington speak of “vibrations” and “quantum mechanics.” Perhaps they are inadvertently confusing the spiritual with the material world.
Some confusion in medical world

In recent years, a similar confusion has appeared in the medical world. So-called “alternative healing

techniques have been made available to the public. They are variously referred to as “Therapeutic Touch” (TT), Reiki, Rolfing, Yoga, Shiatsu, and Tai Chi.
They claim to use “prana,” a Hindu concept of “life force.” Health is seen as a harmonious interactive flow of “energies” in the person and the environment. A healer can, it is claimed, “control” the “energy” flow. Unfortunately the “energies” and “vibrations” exist, in fact, only in the imagination. They have no real existence in the material or spiritual world.
Linda Rosa, of the National Council Against Health Fraud (U.S.A) has made a convincing study that demonstrated that there is no evidence that TT does anything for patients beyond the placebo effect

(23) Dr. Gordon Guyatt, an expert on evidence-based medicine
evidence-based medicine Decision-making ‘The use of scientific data to confirm that proposed diagnostic or therapeutic procedures are appropriate in light of their high probability of producing the best and most favorable outcome‘. See Meta-analysis. , and professor of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics in Family Health Sciences, at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, says that TT is not science at all, but that it is, scientifically “complete and utter balderdash. The 2003 Vatican document on The New Age movement avoids the term “New Age religion.” It does not question the genuine character of people’s search for meaning and sense in life. It respects the fact that many in the New Age movement themselves distinguish between “religion” and “spirituality:”
“At the heart of New Age is the belief that the time for particular religions is over, so to refer to it as a religion would run counter to its own self-understanding. However, it is quite accurate to place the New Age in the broader context of esoteric religiousness whose appeal continues to grow.” (24)
The Vatican document is meant as an invitation to Christians to take the New Age seriously, and as such, asks its readers to enter into a critical dialogue with people approaching the same world from very different perspectives. (25)
Conclusion
The views of Abbot Thomas Keating and Father Basil Pennington, the original promoters of CP, have been presented along with relevant authoritative statements by St. Teresa of Avila and the Magisterium of the Church. These priests claim in effect that CP can enable one to find the True Self, that the True Self and God are the same thing, and that this form of union with God can be achieved by a psychological self-manipulative technique of word repetition and by access to putative “energies” (which have no real existence). The whole exercise, in my opinion, confuses the psychological and the spiritual, is consistent with gnostic panentheism, delusions produced by self-hypnosis, and a Gnostic Pelagian belief that one can reach salvation by one’s own efforts unaided by Grace.

REFERENCES:

(1.) Thomas Keating, Open Mind. Open Heart, Amity, N.Y Amity House, 1986, p. 97.
(2.) Ibid., p. 51.
(3.) Ibid.
(4.) Ibid., p. 127.
(5.) Father Finbarr Flanagan, “Centering Prayer: Transcendental Meditation for the Christian Market” (Faith and Renewal, May/June, 1991).
(6.) Ibid., p. 234.
(7.) This Rock. The Danger of Centering Prayer, vol. 8. http://www.catholic.com

(8.) See reference number 5, p.2.
(9.) Jesus Christ The Bearer of the Water of Life, A Christian reflection on the “New Age,” Pontifical Council for Culture, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Feb. 3, 2003. n. 3, 5, n. 4, n. 62.
(10.) Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Some Aspects of Christian Meditation (Orationis Formas) p. 23.
(11.) Ibid., 2.2.1.
(12.) Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Oct. 2004, pp. 23-26. 44-46.
(13.) See reference 1, p.114.
(14.) Ibid., p.127.
(15.) Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, Oct. 15, 1989. Text from the English version published by St. Paul Books and Media, p. 34. 15.

 

(16.) See reference 1, p. 127.
(17.) See reference 9, 2.3.1
(18.) Ibid., n.14.
(19.) Johnette Benkovic, The New Age Counterfeit, p. 11.
(20.) See reference 5. Quoting from Thomas Keating. Finding Grace at the Center, St. Bede’s Publications, 1978, p. 20.
(21.) See reference no. 5.
(22.) Thomas Keating, Intimacy with God. The Deepening Experience of Centering Prayer, Chapter 9, part II.
(23.) Linda Rosa, B.S.N., R N. et al. “A closer look at Therapeutic Touch.” Journal of the AmeriCan Medical Association. April 1, 1998, vol. 299, no. 18.
(24.) The Swiss “Theologie Fur Laien”, Course entitled Faszination Esoterik puts this clearly. Cf. “Kursmappe 1–New Age and Esoterik.”
(25.) See reference 9, 2.

5. Centering Prayer Meets the Vatican Dan DeCelles catholicculture.org
New Heaven/New Earth, April 1990

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=6892&CFID=9561592&CFTOKEN=51679029

Contemplative prayer has a long and venerable history among the many forms of Christian prayer.

Centering prayer, by contrast, is the new kid on the block. It claims to be a technique of prayer that helps a person enter quickly and almost effortlessly into contemplation. (See below for fuller descriptions of each.)

According to its advocates, anyone, at any stage in the Christian life, can use centering prayer with spectacular results.

Abbot Thomas Keating, O.C., one of its main proponents, says, “To move into that realm is the greatest adventure … a new world appears within and around us and the impossible becomes an everyday experience.”

Last December the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of’ the Faith warned about the dangers of blending Christian prayer and Eastern methods of meditation (e.g., Zen, Transcendental Meditation and yoga).

Although Some Aspects of Christian Meditation does not single out any persons or schools of thought by name, many of its warnings apply to the centering- prayer literature, including the writings of Abbot Keating and his spiritual disciple Father Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O. Both have backgrounds in Eastern meditation methods and cite those experiences favorably as instructive for today’s Christians.

Early in the document the author, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, describes how the church Fathers combated early “errors” that affected the way Christians thought about prayer. He says, “Such erroneous forms, having reappeared in history from time to time on the fingers of the church’s prayer, seem once more [today] to impress many Christians, appealing to them as a kind of remedy, be it psychological or spiritual, or as a quick way of finding God.”

Several elements of these ancient errors find expression in centering prayer. At the end of this article, we’ll look at two of these: a mistaken understanding of “union with God” and an overemphasis on the experiential dimension of prayer.

First, though, I want to call attention to the phrase “a quick way of finding God.” This phrase indicates the most obvious problem centering prayer has.

When God bestows the gift of contemplative prayer, it is normally to more mature Christians. The word “normally” is important. God is sovereign and gives his graces as he chooses, but normally he reserves this gift for those who have made some progress fighting vice and growing in virtue and in the fruit of the Spirit. This usually takes time.

Centering prayer, on the other hand, promises any Christian at any stage access to contemplative prayer. The impression its promoters give is that a person only has to read a brief description of the method, find a quiet room and, after a few minutes of “centering,” experience a deep, contemplative sense of God’s presence.

The promise of quick results may help to explain the popularity of centering prayer, but it cannot be dismissed as a mere sales gimmick. It is a direct antidote to what its promoters regard as a problem afflicting modem Western culture.

Says Abbot Keating, “To the objection that we might be introducing contemplative prayer (to people] too soon, my answer is that our contemporaries in the Western world have a special problem with discursive meditation because of the ingrained inclination to analyze things [which] has led to the repression of our intuitive faculties…. This conceptual hang up … impedes the spontaneous movement from reflection … into contemplative prayer.” What’s needed, he suggests, is a method like centering prayer, a “means of exposing people to the actual experience … essential to get beyond the intellectual bias.”

People looking for a quick way of finding God are likely to run into two temptations that have plagued Christians from the beginning: to take a negative view of the material world, and to think contemplation is something they can attain all by themselves.

First, let’s look at the proper way a Christian values the material world. God chose to come to us through the material world. He chose to reveal himself to us in the spoken words of the prophets, in his sovereign interventions in human history, and, above all, in Jesus, his eternally begotten Son, made man in time and space. He chose to redeem us through the physical death and resurrection of this man. He chose not to take us out of this world after we are united to him in baptism, but to leave us in the world. God even chose the physical sufferings we endure on this earth as a way we can draw closer to him, following in the footsteps of his Son.

It should not surprise us, then, that God wants the believer to approach him in and through the material world. “To grasp the depths of the divine,” says Cardinal Ratzinger, the Christian meditates on the earthly life of Jesus. God reveals these depths “through the human-earthly dimension.” When the Christian sees Jesus, he sees the Father (John 14:9); he grasps “the divine reality in the human figure of Jesus, his eternal divine dimension in its temporal form.” 16.

 

 

 

However, this sort of “human-earthly” meditation is considered a hindrance in centering prayer. “In centering prayer we go beyond thought and image, beyond the senses and the rational mind, to that center of our being where God is working a wonderful work,” says Father Pennington “just sitting there, doing nothing. Not even thinking some worthwhile thoughts or making some good resolutions-just being.” Abbot Keating goes further, “if you are aware of no thoughts, you will aware of something and that is a thought. If at that point you can lose the awareness that you are aware of no thoughts, you will move into pure consciousness .

Cardinal Ratzinger has reservations. He warns about methods which “try as far as possible to put aside everything that is worldly, sense perceptible, or conceptually limited.” An approach of this sort to prayer may actually be “an attempt to ascend to or immerse oneself in the sphere of the divine, which as such is neither terrestrial, sense perceptible nor capable of conceptualization.”

Besides the temptation to reject the material world in this approach there is another problem-indicated by Cardinal Ratzinger’s use of the word “oneself” in the last quote-the temptation to ascend to God by one’s own power or strength. In fact it is God’s choice, not ours, whether we enter the sphere of the divine. “God is free to ’empty’ us of all that holds us back …. to draw us completely into the Trinitarian life of his eternal love,” but this gift is granted “not through our own efforts.”

In the 16th century, Teresa of Avila noticed that as some Christians prayed they tried to stop thinking pre-mature, before God had given the grace of contemplation. In Interior Castle she said, “be careful not to check the movement of the mind … and to remain there like a dolt.” A century later, the church was confronted with a still more passive form of prayer in the teachings of Miguel de Molinos. It did not take long for “quietism” to be condemned.

Centering prayer’s advocates occasionally remind their readers that contemplation is indeed a gift from God, but their clear and constant message is that God will give the gift. Every time. To everyone who uses the method. Their insistence that anyone can master the Centering-prayer technique and their virtual guarantee of success will lead many to a do-it- yourself approach to contemplative prayer.

Centering Prayer

Rule 1:
At the beginning of the prayer we
take a minute or two to quiet down and then move in faith to God dwelling in our depths; and at the end of the prayer we take several minutes to come out, mentally praying the “Our Father” or some other prayer.

Rule 2: After resting for a bit in the center in faithful love, we take up a single, simple word that expresses this response and begin to let it repeat itself within.

Rule 3: Whenever in the
course of the prayer we become aware of anything else, we simply gently return to the Presence by the use of the prayer word.

(Centering Prayer, by Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O., pg. 65)

Contemplative Prayer

[When Gods calls a person to contemplative prayer] the soul is no longer inclined to meditate by itself, to reason on the great truths of faith so as to arouse itself to acts of love of God. It receives “a supernatural recollection” which it could never acquire by its own efforts and “which does not depend on our own will.” It is no longer the soul recollecting itself, it is God who recollects it and draws it toward the inner sanctuary. This is the beginning of contemplation, properly so called; it is infused since we cannot procure it for ourselves by our activity aided by grace…. In contemplation “the soul understands that the divine Master is teaching it without the sound of words.” – – – Under this infused light “the soul is inflamed with love without comprehending flow it loves.”

(Christian Perfection and Contemplation, by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., pp. 244-2.46, quotations are from various works of Teresa of Avila.)

In the beginning of this article we saw that centering-prayer advocates promise quick results. They create in people the expectation that the loftiest of contemplative experiences is theirs for the asking, with little or no preparation required.

We showed how this can lead to a do-it-yourself approach to contemplation, and to an unhealthy contempt for the material world.

The second major area of problems with centering prayer has to do with its notion of union with God. Both Father Basil Pennington and Abbot Thomas Keating speak of recasting ancient Christian wisdom on contemplative prayer in a ‘new package’ more acceptable to modern Christians. (Whether what they’ve packaged is the genuine article is debatable.)

In their zeal to sell centering prayer they overemphasize the role of the contemplative dimension of the Christian life.

Union with God is objectively brought about by baptism. It is deepened daily through our obedience to him and our death to self, and through various means of ‘grace available to us in the church. A Christian’s personal experience of this union-the subjective aspect-varies from day to day, even from hour to hour. At times we are more subjectively aware of our objective union with God. Thus, even when he is in the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2), the mystic is not necessarily more united with God objectively than is the construction worker when he faithfully toils for his family’s livelihood.

In a recent document, Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger uses the example of Jesus’ earthly life to support this point. What sustained Jesus in his eternal union with his Father was doing his Father’s will. “My food is to do the will of my Father” On. 4:34). Of course, Jesus went off to pray in solitude, but this, too, was part of doing his Father’s will “By the will of the Father he is sent to mankind, to sinners, to his very executioners, and he could not be more intimately united to the Father than by obeying his will.” 17.

 

 

 

Union with God, then, comes precisely from doing God’s will in the whole of life, in all its aspects, minute by minute in all one’s activities. Union with God does not result from the effects of a singular or special experience, but from the fact of one’s whole life.

Contemplative prayer, notes Cardinal Ratzinger, is only one aspect of a life lived in union with God. “The person who prays can be called, by a special grace of the Spirit, to that specific type of union with God which in Christian terms is called mystical.”

The proponents of centering prayer, however, talk about union with God as though it meant the contemplative experience alone. In any lesser state of consciousness (say, when concentrating on one’s work at the factory), one is not in full union. This blurs the distinction between the objective and subjective senses of union with God and, in effect, it devalues the normal day-to-day life of the Christian. Yet it is through-and perhaps especially through-the burden some aspects of this life on earth that God brings us into deeper and deeper union with himself. Contemplative prayer, when it is God’s will for us, is never the whole of his plan.

Another problem with their concept of union with God has to do with a paradox that has puzzled people for a long time. How can two persons be one? As we become more one with God, do we become less ourselves? Father Pennington says, “Men we go to the center, we leave behind time and place and separateness. We come to our Source and are in the Being from which we ever flow and in which we ever stand and apart from which we are not.”

This talk of leaving behind “separateness” puts the centering-prayer people on thin ice, theologically. Lying close underneath is a sea of pantheism, the heresy that God and his creation are of the same substance and essence. Abbott Keating says,

Our basic core of goodness is our true self. Its center of gravity is God …. God and our true-Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing.

In a section describing early Christian-errors that still tempt us today, Cardinal Ratzinger says they incite us “to try and overcome the distance separating creature from Creator, as though there ought not be such a distance.” Discussing the valid Eastern Christian understanding of “the divinization of man,” he says that, to grasp that concept accurately, “it is necessary in the first place to bear in mind that man is essentially a creature, and remains such for eternity, so that an absorbing of the human self into the divine self is never possible.”

It is likely that Cardinal Ratzinger is primarily concerned here with Christians who borrow from the Hindu teaching on the individual’s future immersion in the anonymous Brahma, or impersonal deity. When Christians indiscriminately borrow non-Christian methods of meditation they run the risk of also borrowing the philosophy that the methods both reflect and sustain.

Christian mystics throughout the centuries have found it difficult to describe their experience of union with God in prayer. The German mystic Meister Eckhart (1260-c.1328), for example, tended to use imprecise language and was rightly criticized for pantheistic tendencies. It’s difficult to say whether the problem with centering-prayer language is due to their dabbling in Eastern meditation techniques or to their reading of certain Christian mystics. It’s likely that we are seeing the effects of both influences.

This brings us to a third problem with centering prayer: an over-emphasis on the experientially satisfying dimension of prayer. Father Pennington says, “Prayer should be spiritually refreshing … it is also geared to be psychologically refreshing. It should moreover be physically renewing and strengthening.”

Says Abbot Keating, “through the regular practice of contemplative prayer the “dynamism of interior purification is set in motion.” Lest anyone confuse this purification with that described by traditional spiritual writers, he adds, “This dynamism is a kind of divine psychotherapy, organically designed for each of us, to empty out our unconscious….”

Speaking about Eastern methods of meditation, Cardinal Ratzinger says, “Some people turn to these methods for therapeutic reasons…. [They] seek in these methods of prayer a path to interior peace and psychic balance.” Undoubtedly this is true of some of those attracted to centering prayer. Hearing it described as “a kind of divine psychotherapy,” they would begin to approach prayer in a way that is basically self-oriented.

When the centering-prayer people instill this expectation of prayer in their followers they run a great risk. “Christian prayer,” says Cardinal Ratzinger, “flees from impersonal techniques or from concentrating on oneself, which can create a kind of rut, imprisoning the person praying in a spiritual privatism which is incapable of a free openness to the transcendent God.” The person who comes to prayer looking for a psycho- logical quick-fix may well never encounter God.

One of the frustrating things about reading Father Pennington and Abbot Keating is that they seem relentlessly inconsistent. Just when you think you’ve got them pinned down on an issue, you come across a statement to the contrary. Perhaps that’s the nature of the topic, not lending itself to careful analysis. Perhaps it’s their own background in Eastern thought, and its aversion to Western logic.

In any case, I’ve tried to isolate some of their more questionable emphases and to show, in light of the Vatican’s recent document, why these are potentially dangerous for Christians. Whether they intend it or not, it’s just too easy to come away from the writings of Father Pennington and Abbot Keating with a false view of the Christian life in general and of Christian prayer in particular.

The most helpful effect of the centering-prayer movement may be that it reawakens in the Christian people a thirst for a deeper prayer life. It is true that as we mature in the Christian life God calls us to more intimate modes of communion, to drink more deeply from the fountain of life. When he does we will find the methods of prayer we are accustomed to no longer as fruitful, and to cling to them would be a mistake. 18.

 

 

 

 

Cardinal Ratzinger is not trying to hold anyone back from progress in prayer. Rather, he says, as we follow the leading of the Lord we should be careful to avoid the temptations that have historically ensnared Christians. The person who thinks God is calling him on to a deeper form of prayer should seek out “an expert in the life of prayer,” for counsel and direction. Such a practice has a venerable tradition in the life of the church, he notes. “Christian experience has known of this practice from the earliest times, from the epoch of the desert fathers.”

Given the current proliferation of questionable schools of spirituality the possibility of getting some really bad advice is significant. For this reason it is also imperative that one’s adviser have a good sense for what is authentically Christian. He must be “an expert in sentire cum ecclesia (perceiving with the church).” Such a “spiritual father,” lie says, can “lead his pupil in a dynamic way, heart to heart, into the life of prayer, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

 

6. New Age teachings lead away from Christ – Priest cautions against yoga, homeopathy

By Deborah Gyapong http://www.wcr.ab.ca/news/2008/0218/newage021808.shtml Week of February 18, 2008
Canadian Catholic News, Ottawa;
Western Catholic Reporter, Canada’s Largest Religious Weekly

[The Mission of the Western Catholic Reporter is “To serve our readers by helping them deepen their faith through accurate information and reflective commentary on events and issues of concern to the church.”]

Father Dan Dubroy expects a negative reaction when he speaks about New Age teachings, even when he addresses Catholic audiences. That’s because New Age teachings and practices have infiltrated many parishes and Catholic retreat centres, he told an Ottawa Theology on Tap Feb. 5. He did not realize the extent himself until he read a document on the Vatican website entitled “Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: a Christian reflection on the New Age” [http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_20030203_new-age_en.html]

New Age teachings are “not about Jesus,” he said. They involve techniques that lead to inner knowledge that “God is inside me.” “If God is inside me, then I must be God,” he said.

Some of the practices he described as New Age are: Enneagrams, Yoga, mantras, Zen Buddhism, reflexology, homeopathy, astrology, and Jungian psychology.

“It’s hard to find people in the Church who are totally faithful,” he said, blaming what Pope John Paul II called “cafeteria Catholicism,” where people take what they want, building their own faith, with a little of this and that.

Though New Age teachings and practices can produce “wonderful warm feelings”, they involve “no accountability” and “no having to die to self.” He called them a “narcissistic endeavour.”

Though many cathedrals in Europe have labyrinths, he attributed that to the powerful presence of Gnosticism that has competed with Christian doctrine. New Age teachings are the new Gnosticism, he said.

“If people don’t worship Christ they are “going to find something else to worship,” he said. Instead of going within, we need to “go beyond ourselves and live fully in Him,” he said. “It has to be Jesus. We can only have a personal relationship with someone who is a person. Jesus is a human being and He is also God. He is also a place where we have access to God.” “We’re raising a generation of New Age kids,” he said.

Father Dan Dubroy advised against any techniques that give one control, even when it comes to
centering
[prayer].

He said mantras, even if they are Christian words, are about controlling the process and differ from prayers that beg the Lord to “come into my centre.”

 

7. A NEW AGE OF THE SPIRIT? A Catholic Response to the New Age Phenomenon. Prepared by the Irish Theological Commission, 1994

http://www.spiritual-wholeness.org/churchte/newage/introd.htm / http://www.worldcat.org/isbn/1853902373
EXTRACT:

Counterfeit prayer: communing with self or the unknown

The NAM offers a new spirituality. In fact, it is all about spiritual transformation. 149

Group meetings are often called ‘prayer’ meetings, which is confusing for the Christian. Each person must discover their ‘Higher Self’ or their own ‘divinity’. They are encouraged to reach out for transcendental experiences in order to reach the new enlightenment – which is the discovery of their own divinity and their own unlimited potential. Any means that works to achieve this end is permitted. One of their catch-phrases is that if a thing works for you, it is for you!

Many of these groups abuse prayer techniques such as centreing. They also use relaxation techniques, or mind control techniques in order to achieve ‘peace’ or quiet in mind and body.

The centre is the self, not God, therefore there is no prayer. The purpose of achieving this relaxed mind and body is often for material gain in better work output in the market-place, or better health. Sometimes the pray-er wants ‘spirituality’ in out-of-the-body experiences which they call ‘mysticism’. The means used to achieve altered states of consciousness are drugs, tarot cards, crystals, pendulums, yoga, TM, mantras, fasting, isolation, self-hypnosis, séances, and a form of mind control that is meditation on oneself and a programming of the mind.150

19.

 

 

 

149 ‘Images of New Age’ in Reimagination of the World, pp. 2933. Spangler admits that spirituality and transformation are the goals of NAM.

150 Inside the New Age Nightmare, Randall N. Baer, p. 102.

 

8. New Age Catholicism
by
Mary Ann Collins, “A Former Catholic Nun”

http://www.catholicconcerns.com/New-Age.html
March 2002 Revised June 2004

……During the period between 1970 and 1980 (when I was still a Catholic), I ran into three New Age things which were promoted by Catholic priests.

First, a Catholic priest recommended self-hypnosis and gave me cassette tapes for doing it. Fortunately I never listened to the tapes. I have since learned that any form of hypnosis is spiritually dangerous.

Second, some Catholic friends enthusiastically recommended that I attend a Catholic workshop on “Centering Prayer” which was given by a priest. Fortunately, I was not able to attend the workshop. I bought the priest’s book, but it seemed strange and I didn’t read much of it. I’ve learned from Randy England’s book that “Centering Prayer” is similar to Silva Meditation (also called Silva Mind Control).
It involves altered states of consciousness
and spirit guides. (“Unicorn,” pages 143-146)

 

9. Responding to the Lure of New Age, Interview with Father Paolo Scarafoni of the Academy of Theology, Rome

http://www.catholicfidelity.com/interview-with-father-paolo-scarafoni-of-the-academy-of-theology-on-the-new-age-movementt/
www.zenit.org/english/visualizza.phtml?sid=49976
Zenit, Rome, March 2, 2004 EXTRACT:

Q: Of what does the new mysticism consist, which they propose?
Father Scarafoni:
The new mysticism, also practiced by many Catholics, is nourished by the most varied traditions of prayer, especially Eastern. It rejects the vision of a transcendent God, separated and far from us. It provides for inner purification, signs and wonders, a phase of interior emptiness and, finally the attainment of an encounter with “oneself,” the real self, which is one with God, with the universe, and with all that exists. [
ctd. on page 48]

 

CRITICAL QUESTIONS IN CHRISTIAN CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICE

http://www.innerexplorations.com/catchspmys/Critical.htm
Edited by James Arraj and Philip St. Romain

The material here came originally from www.shalomplace.com and www.innerexplorations.com  
PART I: Renewing the Christian Contemplative Life  

Chapter 3. Centering Prayer

http://www.innerexplorations.com/catchspmys/Critical_1.htm

Phil St. Romain: The Centering Prayer method of meditation is very simple to learn and teach:

1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.

2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.

3. When engaged with your thoughts* return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.

4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

*Thoughts include body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections
(http://www.centeringprayer.com/methodcp.htm)

Generally, it is advised that this method be used at the end of a period of Lectio Divina, which is a traditional way of praying with Scripture emphasizing reading, reflection, and affective prayer.  It is also recommended that one practice this method for at least 20 minutes twice a day.

Although the term, “Centering Prayer,” is relatively new, those who teach and write on this topic usually point to the 14th century book, The Cloud of Unknowing, and St. Teresa of Avila’s teaching on the Prayer of Simple Regard as touch-points in the Christian mystical tradition.  Workshops and retreats on Centering Prayer are offered in several countries through Contemplative Outreach, Ltd., an organization founded by Thomas Keating OCSO to promote and support the practice of Centering Prayer.  Fr. Keating has also written numerous books on this topic and is considered one of the founders of the Centering Prayer movement, along with fellow Trappists Basil Pennington and William Meninger.

Jim Arraj: Centering Prayer is one of the most wide-spread and laudable attempts today to introduce people to the life of prayer and dispose them for contemplative prayer. But it is precisely because Centering Prayer is doing such important work that we would like to address these open questions to the world-wide Centering Prayer community in a spirit of gentle inquiry with the hope that any dialogue that results will only strengthen this movement.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Should people be introduced rather indiscriminately to Centering Prayer, as seems to happen, without an assessment of their experience of more discursive forms of meditation? Could they not benefit from exercising themselves in forms of meditation where they use their senses, imagination, intellect, memory and will in a more active fashion, and only later turn to Centering Prayer? If Centering Prayer is a preparation for contemplation, isn’t meditation a valuable preparation, as well?

20.

 

2. What kind of prayer is Centering Prayer? St. John of the Cross describes two fundamental kinds of prayer: meditation, which is the use of our natural faculties of sense, imagination, intellect, memory and will, and contemplation, by which he means infused contemplation, which is a gift of God and which we cannot do at will. According to this distinction, Centering Prayer is a simplified form of meditation, and not contemplative prayer according to St. John of the Cross. It is also, therefore, an active form of prayer rather than a passive reception, and it makes use of our natural faculties in what St. John of the Cross would call a discursive fashion. But would Centering Prayer practitioners agree with this description?

3. In the practice of Centering Prayer there appears to be a deliberate and conscious reduction of the discursive activity of the faculties, but according to the psychology of Jung, the psyche, which embraces the conscious and unconscious, is a closed energy system. If energy disappears from one place it will appear in another. Energy, therefore, excluded from consciousness by the deliberate process of simplification that takes place in Centering Prayer, should appear in the unconscious. Would the process of Centering Prayer, therefore, lead to an activation of the unconscious? Will this activation show itself, for example, in kundalini-like symptoms – that is, currents of energy, the appearance of lights and sounds, etc. – or show itself in the three temptations described by St. John of the Cross, that is, scrupulosity, sexual obsessions and temptations to blasphemy, or in other manifestations? How does the Centering Prayer movement deal with these kinds of things when they happen?

4. The Centering Prayer movement talks about the Divine therapist, that is, God as therapist, and the unloading of the unconscious, and thus leaves the impression that certain psychological effects are an integral part of the Centering Prayer process. But is such psychological work really a direct part of the life of prayer? Couldn’t something like the unloading of the unconscious be an effect due to the exclusion of conscious psychic energy as described in the previous question? Shouldn’t we make a clear distinction between the goal of psychological work and the goal of spiritual work? In short, isn’t it possible that some of the psychological dimension of Centering Prayer practice is actually “provoked” by the Centering Prayer method, itself?

5. The Centering Prayer movement seems to have been significantly influenced by Eastern forms of meditation, especially Zen. It has, for example, intensive prayer retreats which appear to be modeled on Zen sesshins. But does Christian prayer lend itself to intensive retreats like Zen does? Are the two really aiming at the same goals? Can the reduction of discursive activity in Christian prayer be subject to the means used in a Zen sesshin?

6. What is the relationship between Centering Prayer and infused contemplation? Centering Prayer has often been described as a preparation for infused contemplation, which is how St. John of the Cross described what he calls meditation. But the Centering Prayer movement sometimes leaves the impression that many of its habitual practitioners have moved from Centering Prayer as a preparation for contemplation to infused contemplation, itself, even though they are still calling it Centering Prayer. Is this what the Centering Prayer movement actually believes? How does it square this view of Centering Prayer with what St. John of the Cross teaches about the nature of infused contemplation?

Bonnie J. Shimizu responds
(Bonnie teaches Centering Prayer; her response was approved by Thomas Keating, OCSO, founder of Contemplative Outreach)

1. Most people who come to a Centering Prayer Workshop already have an established prayer life even though the forms of prayer may vary greatly from one person to another. Any of the practices mentioned could be a helpful preparation but we assume that the Holy Spirit has directed people to us and if this is something they are called to, they will begin a practice. We are here only to teach the method to those who come to us and help support their practice if they ask us.

2. Centering Prayer goes beyond words, thoughts, and feelings and in that sense is not what John of the Cross calls “meditation.” Infused contemplation as I understand it, even if defined strictly as gift, goes beyond words, thoughts, and feelings. Centering Prayer aids in this movement beyond the faculties and fosters the disposition of openness and surrender to God. It also could be noted that the gift of contemplation is one which is already given (the divine indwelling) and Centering Prayer simply cultivates our receptivity to the gift and helps to remove the obstacles to our awareness of it. It is basically similar to acquired contemplation. Fr. Ernest Larkin, O. Carm., has an interesting article on the nature of Centering Prayer as halfway between discursive meditation and infused contemplation in the January/February 1998 issue of Review for Religious.

3. I am not familiar with this particular Jungian model of the inner life. The simplification that occurs in Centering Prayer is not sought but is allowed to happen as it will. There is no manipulation of the content or process of the mind. However the attitude of receptivity does allow the contents of the unconscious to arise in the form of thoughts, images, and sometimes physical movement such as twitches or itches. Very rarely do Kundalini symptoms appear even in the Intensive Retreats. Exercises are provided to balance the energies of the unconscious that may be released by the length of the periods of silent prayer. In ordinary life the short sessions of Centering Prayer provide a gentle and gradual release of unconscious material or other energies. The teaching of Centering Prayer is that we do not analyze the thoughts, feelings, images, etc., but we allow them to come and go. What is learned over time is an attitude of non-attachment to the contents of the mind and a deeper trust in the wisdom of God in moving through the difficult experiences that can sometimes arise during prayer. All models of reality are simply that – models. Even the best models cannot describe all of reality. Our attitude is to be faithful to the prayer and let God reveal reality in his own good time.

4. There is no clear division between the psychological and the spiritual except those created by the models of reality that we need in order to enlarge our understanding of certain phenomena. What happens on one level of our own personal reality has effects on every other level. The psychological experience of Centering Prayer is what happens or what we tell ourselves is happening in this growing relationship. It would be easier to deal with questions like this if the questioner had a practice of Centering Prayer to draw experience from. Purely theoretical questions about CP cannot adequately be answered. 21.

 

 

5. CP Intensive retreats are not modeled on Zen sesshins. In terms of the number of hours each day devoted to practice, Zen sesshins sit for 10 to 12 hours or longer. In Intensive and Post-Intensive Centering Prayer retreats the participants practice Centering Prayer from 4 to 6 hours only. The antecedents of Centering Prayer are thoroughly Christian and include the “Prayer of the Cloud” as described by a 14th century English author, St. John of the Cross, St. Francis De Sales, St. Therese of Lisieux, and many others.

6. There is no way to accurately judge when a person has moved from Centering Prayer with its minimal effort towards consent and surrender to God’s presence, to a state of infused contemplation where the Holy Spirit is fully directing the prayer or “praying us.” There are some signs, but no distinct states discernable to ordinary human discrimination. Those who are faithful to the practice of CP gradually give up the need to know “where they are” and learn to surrender more and more to what God wants to have happen.

Jim Arraj responds to Bonnie Shimuzu:

The relationship of Centering Prayer to the doctrine of St. John of the Cross is a critical issue since Fr. Keating has made his dependence on John of the Cross, especially his Living Flame of Love, clear. To say that Centering Prayer is not to be equated with St. John’s meditation, that is, the normal working of the faculties of intellect, will and memory, seems to claim for it a passivity that St. John reserves for infused contemplation. Further, to say that Centering Prayer is basically similar to acquired contemplation is to further accentuate this problem because John of the Cross knew nothing about an acquired contemplation between meditation and infused contemplation. The doctrine of acquired contemplation developed after his death, and is a misunderstanding of what he was saying. See, also, the remarks of Fr. Larkin below, which I think are well founded.

The gift of contemplation should not be identified without qualification with the indwelling of the Trinity. Infused contemplation is, indeed, intimately connected to this indwelling, but it is an actual experience of it that takes place through the activation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Everyone in the state of grace has the Trinity dwelling in his or her heart, for that is the central reality of sanctifying grace.

But not everyone has a proximate call to infused contemplation, and thus has the gifts activated in the manner necessary for contemplation, and can therefore take up an attitude of passivity in relationship to this indwelling. Further, infused contemplation, when it grows past its delicate beginnings, is a state that is often discernable to the one who receives it.

I think it would be valuable if the Centering Prayer movement could show what the relationship actually is between Centering Prayer and the doctrine of St. John of the Cross. 

Ernest Larkin, O. Carm. responds to the questions:

1. Concerning #1: The Western Christian tradition seems to presuppose some experience in discursive prayer before encouraging the practice of contemplative prayer. Christians with no previous prayer experience are not likely to be attracted to Centering Prayer. If they are attracted, I would think they need to be taught Lectio Divina as well as Centering Prayer.

2. Concerning #2: I think your description of Centering Prayer and contemplation in the context of the terminology of St. John of the Cross is accurate. Centering Prayer is very simplified meditation, in John’s perspective; it is not sanjuanist contemplation, which is purely infused knowledge and love. My own article in the Review for Religious, January, 1998, does take Centering Prayer as a bridge between discursive prayer (“meditation”) and infused contemplation, but in the dichotomy of John of the Cross between meditation and contemplation it belongs in the category of meditation. In this view there is no room for “acquired contemplation,” unless one defines the latter as a form of simplified meditation.

Fr. Larkin writes in his Review for Religious article called, “Today’s Contemplative Prayer Forms: Are They Contemplation?”:

“John (of the Cross) has no transitional form between meditation and contemplation; the prayer is praying one or the other. He does counsel simple attention or loving awareness at the onset of the dark night. While it is tempting to identify this practice with our contemplative prayer, the advice applies to a different situation. The simple attention presupposes the presence of God’s special action infusing light and love in a subtle way, at times so subtle that the divine action may go unrecognized. We are dealing with the beginning of infused contemplation in the strict sense. The three signs will validate its presence, and the person gives a loving attention that is passive, “without efforts… as a person who opens his eyes with loving attention.” For John of the Cross, contemplation is pure gift and simply received; there is no room for active collaboration. John’s contemplation is not the immediate horizon of contemporary contemplative prayer forms.”

M. Basil Pennington, OCSO responds to the questions:

(Fr. Pennington was one of the early leaders of the centering prayer movement.)

1. Should people be introduced rather indiscriminately to Centering Prayer, as seems to happen, without an assessment of their experience of more discursive forms of meditation?

We do not judge people. We presume they come seeking a deeper union with God. This is a thing of grace. We don’t want to bind God’s action to our conceptions of steps and stages.

Could they not benefit from exercising themselves in forms of meditation where they use their senses, imagination, intellect, memory and will in a more active fashion….

Yes, this is why Fr. Thomas and I regularly insist on Lectio and share it at most prayershops.

and only later turn to Centering Prayer?

Why only later?

If Centering Prayer is a preparation for contemplation,
isn’t meditation a valuable preparation, as well?

Centering Prayer is not only an opening to contemplative prayer but it is often contemplative prayer.

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2.
What kind of prayer is Centering Prayer? St. John of the Cross describes two fundamental kinds of prayer…

Are we bound to accept John of the Cross (a great mystic but a man of his times — post-reformation rationalist period in the Church) as the norm for all our philosophical and theological thinking about prayer? There were fifteen centuries of tradition before him. He belongs to a particular school or tradition, the Carmelite. Centering Prayer comes from the Benedictine-Cistercian tradition, a more ancient, beautiful and simpler tradition.

meditation, which is the use of our natural faculties of sense, imagination, intellect, memory and will, and contemplation, by which he means infused contemplation, which is a gift of God and which we cannot do at will. According to this distinction, Centering Prayer is a simplified form of meditation,

This does not reflect an adequate understanding of Centering Prayer. Centering Prayer does not cease in those times within those twenty minutes when God takes over more completely. To tell someone that he is doing Centering Prayer when he begins, then when the Lord begins to move him by the gifts he is now doing contemplative prayer, then when some thought or sound or something comes along and he uses his prayer word again he is back in Centering Prayer and then when he again is moved by the Spirit he is in contemplative prayer, etc…. is really not helpful. Let the scholars play with their distinctions if they want but leave pray-ers at peace.
. . . and not contemplative prayer according to St. John of the Cross. It is also, therefore, an active form of prayer rather than a passive reception,

Centering Prayer is a totally active prayer – we give ourselves as fully as we can to God in love — and it is totally passive — we are wide open to whatever God wants to do with us during the prayer.
and it makes use of our natural faculties in what St. John of the Cross would call a discursive fashion. But would Centering Prayer practitioners agree with this description?

Not if they are truly practicing CP and understand what they are doing.

3. In the practice of Centering Prayer there appears to be a deliberate and conscious reduction of the discursive activity of the faculties, but according to the psychology of Jung, the psyche, which embraces the conscious and unconscious, is a closed energy system. If energy disappears from one place it will appear in another. Energy, therefore, excluded from consciousness by the deliberate process of simplification that takes place in Centering Prayer, should appear in the unconscious. Would the process of Centering Prayer, therefore lead to an activation of the unconscious? Will this activation show itself, for example, in kundalini-like symptoms – that is, currents of energy, the appearance of lights and sounds, etc. – or show itself in the three temptations described by St. John of the Cross, that is, scrupulosity, sexual obsessions and temptations to blasphemy, or in other manifestations? How does the Centering Prayer movement deal with these kinds of things when they happen?

The third point: Whenever we become aware of anything we very simply, very gently return to God by use of our word.

4. The Centering Prayer movement talks about the Divine therapist, that is, God as therapist, and the unloading of the unconscious, and thus leaves the impression that certain psychological effects are an integral part of the Centering Prayer process.

CP is not properly a process, it is rather a state of being with natural effects as well as supernatural which are not an integral part of the prayer but something that can result from it.

But is such psychological work really a direct part of the life of prayer? Couldn’t something like the unloading of the
unconscious be an effect due to the exclusion of conscious psychic energy as described in the previous question? Shouldn’t we make a clear distinction between the goal of psychological work and the goal of spiritual work?

Yes — the essence of CP is to give oneself in love to God — if one is seeking anything else it is not CP and will not have the same effects.
5. The “Centering Prayer movement” (It is not clear just what this expression includes. CP itself is an ancient Christian form of prayer which was in no wise influenced by Zen.) seems to have been significantly influenced by Eastern forms of meditation, especially Zen. It has, for example, intensive prayer retreats which appear to be modeled on Zen sesshins. But does Christian prayer lend itself to intensive retreats like Zen does?

Yes — the whole Christian tradition, beginning with our Lord, of going apart for prayer.
Are the two really aiming at the same goals?

Concretely, no. CP aims at and enters into union with God in love. Zen cannot conceive of such a reality.
Can the reduction of discursive activity in Christian prayer be subject to the means used in a Zen sesshin?

Christian Zen masters believe so.
6. What is the relationship between Centering Prayer and infused contemplation?
Centering Prayer includes infused contemplation if God wants to give it.
Centering Prayer has often been described as a preparation for infused contemplation,

By whom? This reflects an incomplete understanding of CP.

which is how St. John of the Cross described what he calls meditation. But the Centering Prayer movement sometimes leaves the impression that many of its habitual practitioners have moved from Centering Prayer as a preparation for contemplation to infused contemplation, itself, even though they are still calling it Centering Prayer. Is this what the Centering Prayer movement actually believes? How does it square this view of Centering Prayer with what St. John of the Cross teaches about the nature of infused contemplation?

Is everyone to be burdened with squaring with John of the Cross? Let the scholars of John of the Cross worry about this and let us contemplate in peace.

Jim Arraj responds to Fr. Pennington:

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There is certainly more to the Christian mystical tradition than John of the Cross. But looking at Centering Prayer from his perspective is worth while because of the tremendous influence that both he and Teresa of Avila have had on the Western Christian mystical tradition over the last 400 years, and because Thomas Keating has stated that John of the Cross, especially in his Living Flame of Love, where he talks about the transition from meditation to contemplation, had an important influence on his development of Centering Prayer.

If my memory serves me right, you, yourself, once wrote an essay called “Centering Prayer – Prayer of Quiet” in which you tried to clarify the relationship between them. That is just what we would like to do. Is Centering Prayer a simplified form of affective prayer, or something like Teresa’s active recollection, so that it is a prayer we can do whenever we desire? If so, then it is fair to call it a preparation for contemplation. But if we identify Centering Prayer with the prayer of quiet, that is, with the beginning of infused contemplation, then it is hard to see how we can call it a method, or recommend it to all sorts of people. Do many practitioners of Centering Prayer actually receive graces of infused contemplation? Do they realize that they are receiving these graces? These points are not purely theoretical, but very practical because they help determine whether we should try to be active in prayer, or passive.

Gary Horn: I have been practicing Centering Prayer for 2 1/2 years. I can only offer my personal experiences and am not an expert. I offer these experiences in order to facilitate the discussion with the hopes of arriving at a deeper mutual understanding, if possible.

I began experiencing kundalini-like symptoms three months after beginning the practice. They were quite intense at first. They have continued in various forms since then. Lately, I only experience them at the very beginning of prayer. I am not aware of any other moral manifestations. Father Keating advised me personally to ignore them if I could, and if they were too bothersome to “balance the energy” with physical exercise or a yoga practice. He also recommended an encouraging book by Philip St. Romain, entitled Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality.

A New York resident: I have read two of Keating’s books in which he speaks of the unloading of the unconscious, and I strongly disagree that this is wise without a very good therapist in addition. He makes it sound so simple and easy, which, where there have been no real traumas, it may, in fact, be. Of course, God can
heal even deep emotional scars. But that isn’t His ordinary way, and to expect Him to do so when a good therapist is available seems rather like expecting Him to heal cancer without consulting an M.D., as well.

In a good therapeutic relationship, psychotherapy and a spiritual pilgrimage can be harmonious – the goal of emotional health is not at all at odds with that of total surrender to God, since grace builds on nature. But unless one’s spiritual director is also
a fully qualified and experienced therapist, it is far safer, and better, to make a clear distinction between psychological and spiritual work.

An Anonymous Pray-er:
Since I have experienced the grace of infused contemplation, you asked for my comments. I would like to comment on numbers 1 and 6.
1. Regarding different prayer forms, I would say that the more the entire personality is engaged in prayer, the closer the prayer is to infused contemplation, because in infused contemplation, it is the whole person that is raised up to God. By prayer, I am referring to what occurs in our formal prayer/meditation times, along with the intention of our will towards God throughout the day as we are engaged in our various activities. The greater the recollection in God, Scripture, and Church teaching throughout the day, the deeper the prayer life.

I believe there is much confusion regarding detachment in general and the senses in particular with respect to infused contemplation. From one perspective, it is true that we do not have the ability to experience God with our senses. However, in infused contemplation, God is experienced in a concrete and tangible way. How can this be? The answer is simply this: While we ourselves do not have the ability to perceive God, he has the ability to communicate himself to us in a way that we can directly experience. In infused contemplation, this direct experience of God “spills over” into the entire personality, the senses, and the body itself and impacts them in tangible ways that are almost impossible to describe. For myself, once I had received the grace of infused contemplation, I found that the following activities and prayers were conducive to infused contemplation. In other words, these activities seemed to open the flood gate, once the inflow of infused contemplation had begun:
The Mass. The Liturgy of the Hours. Meditation on Scripture. Genuine expression of sorrow for faults and failings, along with regular participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
This makes sense, since God is directly present in the Mass, in the Word, and in the sacrament of reconciliation. That being said, I would add that there is no type of prayer or meditation that specifically leads to infused contemplation. It is a sheer gift, given for reasons that are known by God alone. Rather, I would say that someone who receives the grace of infused contemplation will generally pass through the various stages of infused prayer described by St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. All Christians are called to a life of prayer. Some people experience infused contemplation. Others experience the same growth in faith, hope, and charity without experiencing infused contemplation.

I would like to stress that the holiness of the latter may well be greater than the holiness of the former. “Blessed are they who have not seen, but have believed.”
Regarding #6: when someone receives the grace of infused contemplation, that person knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that he or she has been touched by God. With respect to Centering Prayer, in all fairness I must say that my experience is limited. For me, it is not conducive to infused contemplation. As I understand Centering Prayer, it involves an attempt to transcend all thought and emotion in an effort to rest in the “ground of our being.” In me, the method of Centering Prayer leads to a natural state of blankness that is quite different from infused contemplation. In infused contemplation, the personality is transcended, but in an entirely different way, and not by a process of elimination. 24.

 

 

 

Rather, the entire person is “raised up” and absorbed into God. Every part of the person is divinized — sometimes in a highly accelerated way, as in a rapture; sometimes to a lesser degree in an ecstasy; and also gradually over time, as infused contemplation is experienced during prayer and outside of prayer as one continues through the purgation process that plays itself out in everyday life.
Gradually, the more intense experiences of infused contemplation level out into a peaceful resting in God. This may be where the confusion arises between infused contemplation and the experience of Centering Prayer. While I can speak of my own experience, I can’t speak to the experience of anyone else. No one knows for sure what someone else experiences in prayer. Words are so inadequate.

Robert Hannon:
The response of Jim Arraj to Fr. Pennington seems to miss his point. The questions you pose may have theoretical value to academics or theologians but add little to the actual process of drawing closer to God. Trying to push C.P. into categories established by St. John of the Cross seems misguided. Having read a good many Fr. Keating’s works he, by far, refers more to the author of “The Cloud of Unknowing” than to St. John, and as Pennington states C.P.’s roots lie more firmly in a different Cistercian soil.

I respectfully ask if a process draws us closer to God, opens us to the Divine and stirs us to take up Christ’s cross and follow Him, to what ends does it serve to pursue your questions? God’s ways are beyond our ken.

Anonymous Response:
By God’s kindness, in the last three years I been given the gift of infused contemplation, apparently as preparation to unexpectedly becoming formation director for a lay-Carmelite community in my parish. My experience is much like the “anonymous prayer” who notes that with this gift comes a dynamic mutual re-enforcement of divine union in Liturgy and every moment of daily “ordinary” life.

20 years ago I had 1 year as a hermit, then 5 years in a Discalced Carmelite Monastery (but did not take vows) This early training has “flavoured” the rest of my life and subsequent relations with God, although my life did not permit much reading of anything beyond old spiritual classics available free from libraries. God took care of my formation, for I was unable to find spiritual direction relevant to my journey.

I had heard about Centering Prayer, but as I was secure on the way God had chosen for me, I felt no urge to try it. A holy woman in my parish involved in prison ministry however, said it was wonderful; she has been doing it some years. But this same woman a year ago said that she now has to pray for protection from the Devil before engaging in her Centering Prayer. She was having “unpleasant” experiences during prayer, which obviously disturbed her. She did not seem to have good guidance to help her deal with this. Why should a person with a healthy prayer life, and supposedly a good spiritual director, need a therapist? This sounded odd to me!

Then I went to the Carmelite Conference in San Antonio in July 2001. There were Carmelites of both branches and all stripes there, priests and cloistered nuns, a few hermits, and many laymen, including some third-order novices who, in conversation, revealed that they barely had a notion of what contemplative prayer really was. One of the general assembly sessions, to hundreds of people, was an explanation of and an experience of Centering Prayer. I was open-minded, obeyed all the instructions, and experienced an altered state of consciousness which, while impressive with what is I suppose is termed “kundalini” energy, ending with an amazing image of a shining Monstrance, it was nothing like the “real thing” which is the profoundly powerful imageless, and peaceful gift of God I was already familiar with. Discernment over the next few days told me this experience was a desolation, not a consolation – it disturbed my interior peace and was not of God. Though no neurophysiologist, I did study biology, (I am a retired ornithologist) and came to the conclusion that Centering Prayer – in me at least – was moving my brain waves from an alpha to a theta state; this was in fact a kind of self-manipulation of the mind-consciousness. Even if done with the intention of pleasing God, Centering Prayer could present serious problems for mentally or emotionally stressed or potentially unstable individuals. I found it disturbing therefore, that this technique was taught to a huge crowd, without knowing if it was suitable for all in the audience, especially at a Carmelite conference; it was presenting Centering Prayer as endorsed by the Carmelite Order. This bothers without upsetting me; God and Our Lady protect and guide the superiors of the Carmelite Order without regard to my opinions, which are entirely insignificant.

Now it so happens that I am formation director of a third order O. Carm. community at my parish; the question of whether I recommend Centering Prayer to beginners on the way of perfection is an important one. I think Centering Prayer may do no harm to those long past the purgative way, and this of course includes its teachers. However, after much prayer and discernment, I am emphatically not recommending it if any novice in my group asks me about it, recommending instead the classic Carmelite ways.

Jim Arraj:
Let me comment, in turn, on a couple of points. First, the woman who has to pray for protection from the devil. This seems to indicate some real activation of the psyche, and it points in the same direction as the experience you relate which you liken to an awakening of kundalini energy.

I really have to wonder whether the Carmelites are turning to various alternatives to Teresa and John’s contemplation because they are simply not attuned to it. If there is a vacuum it will tend to be filled by things like Centering Prayer, or even Eastern forms of meditation like Vipassana that some Carmelites are promoting. In my book From St. John of the Cross to Us I try to look at the historical reasons – the why and how – this took place. Clearly it seems to be that most people do not go by the way of manifest contemplation, but equally clearly, this is what the great Carmelite mystics were talking about, so this is a practical issue that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, Centering Prayer seems to side-step this problem by acting as if what it does is equivalent or identical to St. John’s contemplation.

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Shalomplace Discussion of Centering Prayer

Phil St. Romain:
At shalomplace.com we’ve discussed Centering Prayer on and off through the years, but have never had a discussion thread devoted exclusively to this topic. Jim Arraj has proposed some good questions for discussion at innerexplorations.com and there have been some interesting responses to them. Let’s take them up here, as well, and see where it leads us.

Before getting into them, however, I want to acknowledge that some of these exchanges might seem negative, nit-picky and head-tripping. I think it will be demonstrated that there are serious pastoral issues at stake here. 

Also, let me reassure you all that this is “nothing personal” with regard to those who’ve written and taught on Centering Prayer. I know many of these people and consider Fr. Keating a friend. He would be the last to discourage an honest in-house discussion on this topic. So let’s begin:

Should people be introduced rather indiscriminately to Centering Prayer, as seems to happen, without an assessment of their experience of more discursive forms of meditation? Could they not benefit from exercising themselves in forms of meditation where they use their senses, imagination, intellect, memory and will in a more active fashion, and only later turn to Centering Prayer? If Centering Prayer is a preparation for contemplation, isn’t meditation a valuable preparation, as well?

My own response to this is that the practice of Lectio Divina (praying with Scripture) and its active engagement of the faculties is the best way to direct one’s attention to God. If the grace of contemplation is given, one will know in that one’s energy seems to have moved from the faculties to a deeper level, where one desires only to rest or “be” with God in silence. Then, continuing to read, reflect and respond will be pointless. Otherwise, however, Lectio Divina helps one to connect with God through the mediation of the sacred word via the use of the faculties. This is no trivial matter and its importance should not be minimized simply because one is not experiencing contemplation.

The teachers of CP often speak of Lectio Divina as a preparation for contemplation, or a means by which the faculties are formed to enable a more contemplative encounter with God. That’s all true, but it still seems to be insinuating that Lectio is somehow second-best. If one really has a choice between Lectio and contemplation, then indeed, that is the case. But for those who do not experience contemplative graces, I am convinced that Lectio Divina is the most worthy alternative.

So what is the value of CP, then? Perhaps at the end of a period of Lectio, it can serve to summarize the recollection that has developed. Outside of this context, however, it seems to be very difficult to practice, which is why so many don’t stick to it.

Concerning CP as a kind of bridge to contemplation? I have my doubts, for I am convinced that contemplation is 100% grace. I even have my doubts that what some who practice CP call contemplation really is contemplation. Jim Arraj’s dialogues with Bonnie Shimuzu and Basil Pennington shed some light on this issue.

Moving on to Bonnie Shimuzu’s response, where she notes: Centering Prayer goes beyond words, thoughts, and feelings and in that sense is not what John of the Cross calls “meditation.” Infused contemplation as I understand it, even if defined strictly as gift, goes beyond words, thoughts, and feelings. Centering Prayer aids in this movement beyond the faculties and fosters the disposition of openness and surrender to God. It also could be noted that the gift of contemplation is one which is already given (the divine indwelling) and Centering Prayer simply cultivates our receptivity to the gift and helps to remove the obstacles to our awareness of it. It is basically similar to acquired contemplation.

Notice the logical fallacy here. Because infused contemplation goes beyond thoughts and words, then any going beyond thoughts and words must somehow be contemplation. That’s quite a leap of logic. (Also, when you stop and consider: a human soul also exists beyond thoughts and concepts, but can you imagine two souls communicating without them? Same goes for God, Who has communicated to us through the Word, the incarnate, visible, Christ.)

Jim Arraj disagrees with the whole idea of acquired contemplation, and I am inclined to agree especially with his main point to the effect that John of the Cross did not teach this. In fact, I even wonder if the experience of silence that CP aims for can even be called contemplation. It is a resting, for sure, but inasmuch as it strives for pure contentlessness as the essence of contemplation, I think they miss the point, which is to rest in God’s loving presence.

Here’s Thomas Keating seemingly equating contemplation as prayer without content or even awareness: Let go of sensible and spiritual consolation. When you feel the love of God flowing into you, it is a kind of union, but it is a union of which you are aware. Therefore, it is not pure union, not full union.”… There is no greater way in which God can communicate with us than on the level of pure faith. This level does not register directly on our psychic faculties because it is too deep. (Chapter 7, Part II, Open Mind, Open Heart)

Man alive! Do you see the problem here? What is being recommended is that one view even the experience of God’s love flowing into you as a kind of distraction simply because it has “content” or because you “experience” it. That flow of God’s love is precisely what is implied in the traditional understanding of infused contemplation, and it seems we are being discouraged from resting in it.

That’s not John of the Cross any more. John would have us give ourselves over to this flow of love, not treat it as a kind of distraction we have to go beyond through the practicing of a method of some kind.
(On contemplation as a pre-existing “given” to be realized through CP practice and the divine therapy)

Let’s turn again briefly to the notion that, as Bonnie Shimizu and, indeed, Fr. Keating teaches, that the gift of contemplation is one which is already given (the divine indwelling) and Centering Prayer simply cultivates our receptivity to the gift and helps to remove the obstacles to our awareness of it. Jim Arraj has responded to this in some detail, but I want to add my two cents here.

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First of all, notice that contemplation is referred to as something of a “given.” We’re all contemplating already, only we’re not aware of this because of inner obstacles, presumably the defenses and emotional programs of the false self. I would submit to you that this is not the traditional understanding of contemplation, especially infused graces. While it is true that God dwells within (and alongside and beyond), it doesn’t follow that God’s indwelling presence is contemplation, nor that we somehow enter into this presence if we ever manage to remove our defenses. At best, what we can obtain through our own efforts would be something akin to enlightenment, or natural beatitude, which is not infused contemplation. The latter, as mentioned many times, is a gift of the Holy Spirit given to those whom the Spirit wills when/where She wills.
Note that I’m not saying, here, that it’s not a good thing to have those inner blocks removed, either by the unloading effected by CP practice or other means. What I am saying is that doing so does not guarantee one any kind of contemplative grace or experience of union with God as it has been described by Christian mystical writers. Also, if one is not careful, one can get the idea that the reason one does not experience God more is because one still has all these inner blocks, and that can be discouraging.
A counterpoint to all of this, and one that is seldom mentioned by CP teachers and Contemplative Outreach, is the plain fact that there are many, many Christians who do not manifest contemplative graces and who do not practice CP, yet who are nonetheless very close to God. So many of the religious sisters I work with and have come to know in Great Bend fit this description. So does my wife! Their prayer style is almost completely kataphatic, and this nourishes them. Their will is habitually oriented to God, and they have a sense of God through the faith that so informs their identity and lifestyle. There is no doubting that these holy souls are in union with God. In the end, the telling factor is the fruits of one’s life, and we see abundant fruit in people who are faithful to prayer in a kataphatic mode. They exercise their will-to-God just as purely as do CP practitioners, and one can assume that they are just as open to God’s presence and action within. So this is very much prayer, and it is open to even more even possibilities for encountering God than CP. Something to consider . . .

Mystical graces often have nothing to do with where one is in the divine therapy. God can communicate them to us at the most random of times and long before all the inner blocks and imperfections have been resolved. The only real obstacle to them is mortal sin, and even then I’m not so sure that God can’t break through (e.g., Paul on the road to Damascus). What Jim Arraj wrote about gifts of the Spirit is very important. The impression given by CP teachers is that divine union á la contemplation already exists; we just have to go way deep down and live there. This makes contemplation something we “acquire,” and if we don’t know it, then perhaps we’re not trying hard enough, or we have more work to do, more divine therapy to allow, etc. I know that’s not exactly what’s being said here, but it’s kind of implied, no?

It seems to be another fallacy in thinking — i.e., that since mystical graces operate in a realm beyond our experience of the faculties, we cannot then be at a very deep level of grace if we are experiencing God through the mediation of the faculties. Two objections:

1. When we experience God’s presence through the faculties, it doesn’t follow that God is not also working in depths beyond their operations concomitantly. To turn away from an experience of God’s love in favor of cultivating a deeper level of faith — pure faith! — makes no sense, for the turning away process itself makes use of the mind and will, placing one back in discursive meditation. In other words, contemplative grace is being rejected in favor of discursive meditation (which Centering Prayer is, albeit radically simplified) with a goal of deeper union in mind, no doubt. Nevertheless, I don’t think this kind of practice is what the mystical doctors recommend; quite the opposite, in the case of John of the Cross.

2. For John of the Cross, there is no question of seeking anything like the kind of contemplative practice that CP presents itself to be when/if one is experiencing God through the faculties. As long as meditation (as understood in the West) is fruitful, why go looking for God elsewhere? There is, then, an affirmation of the efficacy of discursive meditation/kataphatic prayer, and not simply because it provides a conceptual foundation/preparation for contemplative prayer. It is a good in its own right, and for many people, it will be their primary means of contact with God through their entire lives.

There is a sense in which CP, if practiced rigorously and as taught in contemplative outreach, rejects kataphatic graces during the prayer time. The example above about viewing even the experience of God’s love as somehow less than the best is a case in point. Viewing other nudgings of grace presenting through imagination, thought, feeling, etc. during the prayer time as “distractions” is also problematic, in my opinion. I cannot imagine relating to another person that way — not even in the interest of developing a deep relationship.

Again, I don’t mean to be suggesting here that CP leads one down the wrong path or that it’s of the devil or anything like that. I’m just pointing out some of the problems I see. What we have here is a relatively new teaching, references to The Cloud of Unknowing and John of the Cross notwithstanding.
PG: Phil, I agree with your criticisms. I know that Keating knows St. Thomas pretty well, but perhaps he hasn’t paid sufficient attention to Thomas’ teaching that we are not able to know God in his essence until the beatific vision, which can’t be experienced in this life. Keating himself seems to speak from an experience of ongoing divine union.

But most hermeneutical philosophers would likely argue that even if this union accompanies him through daily life, it is in some way mediated, if only because he remains embodied. For St. Thomas, too, we remain embodied even in the beatific vision, and even this has a kind of mediation via the lumen gloriae, though Thomas insists that it is really God whom we apprehend (without of course, comprehending him). Again, I think that Keating can veer toward an excessive appropriation of atman/brahman anthropology, which emphasizes, “I am not my body, my mind, etc. etc.,” for the sake of getting to the “true self,” which is seen to be without any qualification. This is not, in my opinion, Christian.

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However I think Keating’s notion of pure faith is more than this, and has some valid elements, though these would come through more clearly if they weren’t conflated with the atman/brahman bias. It’s a relief to me to hear others express these reservations. I wish he would correct or clarify these problems before he dies, because I think his movement would have a stronger legacy as a result, at least within the church. As I see it now, the distortions in his thought may only become more magnified in his followers, many of whom do not have the level of theological training he has, and as a result may not be able to maintain the balance he has achieved (despite the flaws in some of his concepts). This was my sense, at least, from some of those I met at a CO retreat, though they were very good and well-intentioned people whose lives have as much value as anyone with theological training. I don’t mean to criticize their faith — I’m thinking more long term, as to what will become of the movement. I do think that Keating’s books have many wonderful insights that will remain valid, even if some of his teachings need to be critiqued.

Phil St. Romain: I can see some of the similarities between CP and vipassana/insight meditation, but a key difference is in CP’s orientation of the will toward God. In this sense, it truly is receptive prayer rather than a concentrative practice. It makes use of some of the dynamics of Eastern meditation — most notably, disidentification, as you all have noted, but it does so with a view of giving oneself more fully to God in the surrender implied by picking up the sacred word, or resting when we sense we are in God’s presence. Nevertheless, one can predict that the dynamics of disidentification will lead to experiences similar to what Buddhism and Advaita report. More on this a little later, although PG has made a good start on it by noting how strongly Fr. Keating relied on Wilber and other Eastern-leaning sources in some of his early books.

(On the topic of “pure faith”)

I’d like to touch briefly on the issue of “pure faith,” which PG mentioned above, as well, and which seems to be the real goal of CP practice. Recall the quote above, where even the experience of an inflow of God’s love is to be gently laid aside in favor of this pure faith.

In Intimacy With God Thomas Keating says. Pure faith does not seek rewards of any kind, especially sensible consolation, which might be called “spiritual junk food.” The solid food of the spiritual journey is pure faith. It is the “narrow way that leads to life” and is exercised by waiting upon God in loving attentiveness without any specific psychological content.

Here again we note the mention of “pure faith” as the deepest we can go on our own–something to be preferred even over the “junk food” of consolations! Inasmuch as these consolations are often openings to a deeper rest infused by grace, that’s an incredible thing to say. Even the phrase, “junk food,” has a harshness to it that takes one aback. I’m not saying we should be attached to these, but what’s wrong with welcoming them when they come?

Another point: if pure faith is rooted in a realm beyond psychological experience, it would seem that we could be growing in this pure faith whether we have thoughts or not and even all through the day. Why? Because what goes on in that realm is obviously outside of the domain of our control. Perhaps the unconscious plays a role, here, but, so must the Holy Spirit, if it is really to be about faith. I’m reminded of Paul’s teaching that our lives are hidden in Christ; in that sense, even the depths of our faith are hidden from us.

I’m trying to understand the relationship between pure faith and CP. Given the understanding of pure faith expressed here, it would seem that CP could have really nothing to do with its deepening or growth. At best, it would enable us to wake up to ourselves at that level without the static of psychological life obscuring our sense of it. That seems to be the real point, isn’t it? There are the teachings on letting oneself rest, but so long as one is having thoughts (even if one is not identified with them), consolations, and even infusions of divine love, the rest is somehow impure, or marred by psychological content.

I’ve shared some of these questions with Contemplative Outreach teachers before, but it didn’t go so well. Fr. Keating is fine with these discussions, and I think he has tweaked his teaching through the years because of the ongoing dialogues with many. There are Contemplative Outreach fundamentalists, however, who have little knowledge of spiritual matters and who tend to regard questioning and reflecting like this to be an instance of the false self wanting to control things. At a week-long workshop in Snowmass one time, one of the Contemplative Outreach leaders told me I was mired in mythic membership thinking because I was concerned about some of the doctrinal implications of CP teaching. “God is beyond thoughts and images,” I was told.

(On the importance of recollection as a pre-requisite for Centering Prayer).

I think it might help to note that the over-arching context for the development of a formal teaching on CP was to respond to the growing number of Christians who were turning East for inner experiences, believing there to be just nothing similar in Christianity. Keating, Pennington and Menninger came up with this method, or, actually, systematized a teaching about it and began offering retreats. Even the structure of the retreats is modeled on Zen, however — dinging the bell, sitting for 20 min., ding the bell, stand up and do a meditative walk, sit quietly, ding the bell, etc. Lectio is given only perfunctory attention — a short psalm or other reading at the beginning of a sit. That’s been my experience, at least.

It also might help to note that, in the classical tradition, what’s being called Centering Prayer was the prayer of simplicity or simple regard. St. Teresa of Avila writes about this at length. It’s a radically simplified prayer, usually coming at the end of a period of Lectio or another kataphatic prayer form.

The prayer is recollected — i.e., the mind and will are oriented toward God, but there is no evidence of the prayer of quiet, which is the first taste of contemplative grace. A simple word or phrase helps to maintain the state of recollection, and generally this comes from the Scriptures just read or prayers prayed.

It also happens that mature Christians who take time regularly for prayer and who lead virtuous lives are in a state of perpetual or habitual recollection. For these people, the prayer of simplicity/CP can help to sustain and deepen recollection. 28.

 

 

But for those who are not in a state of recollection, I think CP is tough going. They experience what could be called the “internal dialogue.” When moving into prayerful silence, this flow of verbiage can seem to be a tumultuous rapids against which the sacred word is virtually powerless. It would be far better for people in this state to do Lectio Divina and postpone CP until such time as they are recollected. My opinion, here, but it’s one I’ve not heard taught in Contemplative Outreach. There, the thinking seems to be that most anyone can benefit from CP even from the start. I have my doubts about this.
Mystical Michael: Keating, when asked if he practiced CP himself, admitted that he is not sure what he does. I know he has done Sesshins with Zen masters for many a year. He’s been a Trappist since the days of silence and hand signals, and an Abbot for a couple of decades.
This is over sixty years of experience in practice and most of that in directing others. His resume is indeed most impressive. I trust his intentions and in this day of litigation I have never heard of any lawsuit against Contemplative Outreach. This surely is a miracle on the order of Moses or Isaiah.

If I have the story straight, Keating had this idea and approached Pennington, who was practicing TM at the time. Menninger actually developed the method based on The Cloud of Unknowing, an apophatic method. They decided not to call it meditation and to sit in a chair to make it more accessible. It was originally intended for clergy and religious only. It developed a life of its own after awhile. Keating noticed that people often made more progress on a retreat than monks had in years of monastic life. Exciting!

Phil St. Romain: Thanks, Michael, for sharing your understanding of the beginnings of Centering Prayer.

As there seems a kind of uneasiness with this ongoing evaluation, I think it might be profitable to acknowledge the good that comes from CP practice. No doubt, some of you who’ve been contributing can share your own stories, and as Michael has pointed out, there are Fr. Keating’s and others’ observations of the progress they’ve seen.

(Positive aspects of Centering Prayer)

First, I think CP helps to strengthen and purify what we might call our will-to-God. By learning to assert this will and to extricate it from distracting thoughts, feelings, and images, one is doing something similar to what Step 3 of the Twelve Steps invites — a turning our lives and will over to the care of God. This is not contemplative prayer, but it is a surrendering of oneself to God. That’s very good, and we can expect good fruit to attend this practice even if contemplative graces are never given.

Second, there is growing awareness of inner dynamics. One begins to recognize subtle thoughts, movements, etc. Awareness of the false self and its games becomes more obvious, as are mixed motives of all kinds. This, too, is a good in and of itself.

Third, there is a growing sense of one’s true self — of the self we are prior to any act of consciousness. In other places, we’ve called this the non-reflecting aspect of consciousness. I believe it’s the same thing that the East calls the witnessing self. This, too, is a good — one pursued in the East as an end in itself. I think CP practice enables one to become more attuned to this aspect of consciousness, and this enables a growing capacity for detachment and discernment. Very good!

Fourth. Activation of the unconscious. This one’s a mixed bag, and even includes such phenomena as kundalini awakenings.

I have several spiritual directees who center regularly, and they’ve experienced growth in faith and virtue as well. Most of them were already fairly mature in the faith when they started — habitually recollected, I’d say. That seems to be a key ingredient.

(Activation of the unconscious and “divine therapy)

What starts to happen with this activation of the unconscious is that defenses are loosened and repressed material begins to emerge. Fr. Keating has called this “unloading,” and he views it in terms of the Dark Night of the Senses and even the Night of the Spirit. This is a new way of looking at what John of the Cross was describing, especially since it is the practice of CP that is plunging one into the unconscious rather than the onset of contemplative graces (unless one equivocates CP with such, which is a mistake, in my opinion). So an adjustment between the unconscious’ relation to consciousness begins to develop, driven by CP practice, and, presumably, oriented to support the central intention expressed in CP — surrender to God.

Two parts of this bother me. One is the assumption — often expressed — that it is the Holy Spirit that is driving the unloading. I don’t think that’s totally correct; I think CP practice is the primary cause. The other thing that bothers me is that what is being unloaded are “blocks” that are an obstacle to divine union; I have deep concerns about that one.

As I’ve already addressed the first concern, I’ll take up the second, as I’ve counseled with many and even seen it expressed on this board that one feels their inner blocks are preventing them from experiencing union with God. First of all, that’s absolutely false; union with God comes through grace, and our inner blocks are no problem for God. We’ve all been touched by grace when we were dirty/slimy with sin and filled with yuck! These blocks might impede a deeper, ongoing experience of life and might be holding energies that throw up “distractions;” yes, of course. But we do not have to work through all of this to be in union with God. In fact, if we’re not careful, we can become too focused on removing inner blocks instead of looking to God.

“Divine therapy” itself is a dubious concept, as there are other explanations to account for how the unconscious is working, the most obvious being its own innate striving for harmony with the conscious mind. CP changes the dynamics of conscious – unconscious relations, and the adjustment of the unconscious to find a new relation doesn’t require any intervention of the Holy Spirit. It’s in our human nature — this dynamism to wholeness and integration.

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Neither does the unloading require the guidance of the Holy Spirit; the unconscious itself can be regulating this adjustment. I’m not denying that the Holy Spirit CAN be involved, but am simply saying that that need not be the case.

Again, please do not hear this as a personal criticism of anyone. We’ve noted the good fruit from CP, but we also need to note that, in the name of the Divine Therapy, people have undergone enormous struggles that they interpreted to be driven by God/Holy Spirit when, actually, it could have simply been caused by practicing CP. Cutting down on CP and using a prayer approach like Lectio Divina that engages one in prayer through the faculties and gently leads one to rest could be of great help to many. Instead, they feel compelled to keep pushing through to get rid of the blocks separating them from God.

(On references to The Cloud of Unknowing)

As CP teachers frequently point to The Cloud of Unknowing as a touch-point in the Tradition, it might help to listen to what the author of The Cloud is saying:

Whoever you are possessing this book, know that I charge you with a serious responsibility, to which I attach the sternest sanctions that the bonds of love can bear. It does not matter whether this book belongs to you, whether you are keeping it for someone else, whether you are taking it to someone, or borrowing it; you are not to read it, write or speak of it, nor allow another to do so, unless you really believe that he is a person deeply committed to follow Christ perfectly. I have in mind a person who, over and above the good works of the active life, has resolved to follow Christ (as far as humanly possible with God’s grace) into the inmost depths of contemplation. Do your best to determine if he is one who has first been faithful for some time to the demands of the active life, for otherwise he will not be prepared to fathom the contents of this book.

Moreover, I charge you with love’s authority, if you do give this book to someone else, warn them (as I warn you) to take the time to read it thoroughly. For it is very possible that certain chapters do not stand by themselves but require the explanation given in other chapters to complete their meaning. I fear lest a person read only some parts and quickly fall into error. To avoid a blunder like this, I beg you and anyone else reading this book, for love’s sake, to do as I ask.

Note the implication that this kind of practice is not meant for beginners, and that the practice recommended presumes a committed Christian who has been striving to live the Christian life. As one reads through the book, one finds other indications that the one for whom the book is being written is already beginning to experience contemplation, in some manner, or else feels a draw to it that indicates an invitation to come to God in that manner. The author is not presenting a method on how to “acquire contemplation” and seems to know nothing of the sort.

And so, with exquisite kindness, he awakened desire within you, and binding it fast with the leash of love’s longing, drew you closer to himself into what I have called the more Special manner of living.

This desire indicates the early stirring of contemplative graces. Then. . .

Is there more? Yes, for from the beginning I think God’s love for you was so great that his heart could not rest satisfied with this. What did he do? Do you not see how gently and how kindly he has drawn you on to the third way of life, the Singular? Yes, you love now at the deep solitary core of your being, learning to direct your loving desires toward the highest and final manner of living which I have called Perfect. (quotes from Introduction and Chapter 1 of The Cloud of Unknowing)

The recipient of this teaching is not only experiencing contemplative stirrings, but is already deeply and authentically awake “at the deep solitary core of their being.” In other words, this is a mature Christian, habitually recollected, grounded in the teaching of the Church, and formed through the active life (practice of virtue, Lectio Divina, Sacraments, etc.). The author of the Cloud is providing teaching on how to enter this new time of life — to cooperate in surrendering to contemplative graces that are, in fact, being offered.

Contrast this with CP teaching and practice, where anyone may attend a workshop and even intensive retreats, where the practice goes on for hours and hours every day. We’ve noted above that there can be good fruit, but what I’m stressing, here, is that it might not be contemplation, and much can be attributed to natural dynamics like the activation of the unconscious.

(History repeating itself?)

It may seem as though I am picking nits, here, but there is a history behind all of this that many do not know, or have lost sight of. Jim Arraj has explored it in depth in From St. John of the Cross to Us: The Story of a 400 Year Long Misunderstanding and what it means for the Future of Christian Mysticism.

Basically, what this is about is the climate after John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, when people were excited about contemplative spirituality. Many wanted to experience what they described, and they recommended practices very similar to CP, thinking (wrongly) that this is what John was saying. The decades that followed brought forth some truly bizarre teachings and practices, not the least of which was Quietism, which is ever-lurking in the shadows where contemplative methods are taught. The teaching of Miguel de Molinos, in particular, resonates dangerously close to some aspects of CP teaching, especially those on “pure faith.”

Following this period, there was an anti-mystical backlash in the Church, which endured until after the Second Vatican Council. Within a couple of decades, CP had emerged as the Christian response to New Age and Eastern methods of meditation. And so here we are today.

Fr. Keating is aware of this history, and has tried to avoid the same mistakes by recommending Lectio Divina and by upholding the traditional doctrines of the Faith. Some of the early teachings (his Wilber phase, I call it) are problematic, however, especially in relating contemplative experience to Ruth Burrows.

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Jordan Auman’s Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition is a classical work that I’m happy to see online. The section on Quietism is particularly relevant to the current attempts to promote contemplative spirituality using Centering Prayer. See if this section on Michael Molinos sounds familiar:

In 1675 Molinos published his Guía espiritual, and in six years it went through twenty editions. The theme of the book is that the soul should abandon itself completely to God through the practice of the prayer of simple regard, rejecting all other devotions and practices and cultivating an absolute indifference to everything that happens to it, whether it be from God, man or the devil. It is not possible to say for certain whether Molinos deliberately set out to start a new spiritual movement or whether he simply took advantage of a quietistic and mystical ferment that was near the surface of Italian spirituality. What is certain is that Molinos became the “darling prophet” of Quietism.
As we have already indicated, there was in the 17th century an unusually great interest in the practice of prayer, especially the more passive and affective types of prayer. Acquired contemplation was considered to be within the reach of all, and the means for attaining it were carefully expounded.

(Quietism)

So what are we to make of this? How closely does CP practice come to Quietism? Fr. Keating is surely well-aware of this period in Church history, but some of the teachings that have come down re. “pure faith” and associating CP with the prayer of simple regard bring it dangerously close to Quietist tendencies. I’m sure he wouldn’t go so far as Molinos and, later, Madame Guyon in the practice of indifference re. moral issues, nor would he encourage such an exclusive use of CP in the spiritual life, as Molinos did, but the parallels re. the practice of prayer are there, to be sure. And most controversial of all, here, is the idea of “acquired contemplation” through the practice of the prayer of simple regard.

I do think it’s spot-on to say that, unlike Fr. Keating, the error of the Quietists was in their wholesale devaluation of kataphatic spirituality and doctrinal teaching, in general. Once you break from that and extol, instead, the primacy of intentionality, you lose the accountability that comes from dialoguing with the exoteric tradition and maybe even hold yourself above the need for such. So while CP practice itself is basically indistinguishable from the manner of prayer the Quietists were recommending, the overall context of the teaching by Fr. Keating is different.

(The kataphatic / apophatic dance.)

In the history of Christian spirituality, the apophatic tradition (negative way, God-beyond-images) was generally a corrective to the kataphatic (sacramental way, God-mediated via symbol, creation). It almost seems as though some CP teachers have turned things around so that the apophatic is considered normative and the kataphatic second-rate. Listen to these quotes which we’ve visited before. First we hear Bonnie Shimizu: Centering Prayer goes beyond words, thoughts, and feelings and in that sense is not what John of the Cross calls “meditation.”

Don’t ask me why meditation has to be put in quotes. John of the Cross would surely consider it to be “meditation” in the sense of an active form of prayer.

The teaching of Centering Prayer is that we do not analyze the thoughts, feelings, images, etc., but we allow them to come and go. What is learned over time is an attitude of non-attachment to the contents of the mind and a deeper trust in the wisdom of God in moving through the difficult experiences that can sometimes arise during prayer. All models of reality are simply that – models. Even the best models cannot describe all of reality. Our attitude is to be faithful to the prayer and let God reveal reality in his own good time.

It doesn’t follow that because a model doesn’t “describe all of reality” (actually, some do), that:

a. what they tell us imposes limitations, or

b. that concepts do not convey presence or relational energies; nor,

c. that the only valid encounter with God therefore goes beyond all this concept/model stuff.

Is it just me, or is there a kind of bias against kataphatic spirituality manifesting, here?

From the exchange with Fr. Pennington: Whenever we become aware of anything we very simply, very gently return to God by use of our word.

Think about this statement. Is he not saying that awareness of anything other than silent rest or the focus provided by the sacred word is a “distraction?” In other words, any content of awareness is somehow to be regarded as taking one away from God — even holy thoughts, feelings, etc.? One almost gets the idea from some of these exchanges that contemplation is being equated with states of non-awareness, and that’s not at all congruent with the traditional understanding of this prayer.

As I’ve noted before, this is not a criticism of Centering Prayer per se, nor the good that comes from it, nor, less, the good people who have promoted it. What I’m calling attention to now is the seeming lack of appreciation for kataphatic, sacramental spirituality that seems to be present in some of these teachings. What would be far more natural in prayer is to meet God through kataphatic means when grace seems to move in that manner, then to go deeper when we are drawn in that direction, to use a sacred word or phrase at times, then return to reading, etc. In other words, the kataphatic and apophatic ought to be a kind of dance — even in a prayer time! CP categorically dismisses kataphatic connections with God, or else relegates them to a time before or after the time of CP practice, which, in a way, removes CP from the practice of ordinary prayer. In my own experience (which is not normative or definitive, for sure), this introduces an un-natural manner of relating to God.

One can be as desirous of meeting God and as intense in exercising the will-to-God through kataphatic means as through CP practice, the difference being that in the former case, one does not feel constrained to avoid times of quiet and rest when they come, while in the latter, one is restricting the exercise of the will-to-God and openness to receiving grace only to apophatic means. When this is justified because “God is beyond all images and concepts,” I think there is an unhealthy imbalance. 31.

 

 

The supernatural Spirit, God, who is beyond all thoughts, feelings, concepts, and images, can also be present to us through these mediums as well. For those who know the voice of the Shepherd, He is found through many means — not only in the silence beyond “awareness of anything.”

We’ve seen how Pennington suggests going to the CP word whenever we become aware of anything; Keating says the same in his teachings on pure faith. Now I’m not doubting that this is prayer, only that it is much too restrictive a definition, and much too implicitly discounting of kataphatic means. Buttressed by the constant emphasis that “God is beyond all words and concepts,” what you end up with is an emphasis on kataphatic prayer as being helpful primarily because it provides a “conceptual infrastructure” to support CP and whatever contemplative graces might come. What is missing here is the acknowledgement of the word itself, especially the Gospels and the person of Christ that mediate God’s presence. This transforms the faculties and their operations, so that our conscious human knowing, far from being an obstacle to God, becomes attuned to God’s presence, each faculty in its own unique way. This includes the intellect/reason, and the power of conceptualization. Just so long as we don’t confuse the concept with the reality (does anyone really do that?), then concepts can be a means through which we focus our attention toward God. In fact, it’s the most natural of all ways, and so shouldn’t be discounted or minimized.

w. c.:
(on grace working through the faculties of consciousness):
Just a comment about Centering Prayer and how it may interfere with the simplicity facilitated in Lectio Divina. In CP, the focus on one word doesn’t leave much room for the faculties, which in the beginning of prayer are not ordered or quiet, and often in need of an imaginative space for their soothing, where all the senses can be nourished.

In other words, CP seems to rush the mind to a state of quiet it isn’t ready for. The mind needs to move from a state of discursiveness to a state of wonder (which eases the internal dialogue while easing it further into a receptivity for prayer of simple regard and disposed to the gift of contemplation), and this transition is supported by the container of a meaningful passage of Scripture that suggests a relationship between Christ and the one praying. This state of wonder allows the one praying to be open to receiving meaning without having to control the process. The sense of this relational quality, and how the will is being consented to a Person, is probably lost on most folks new to CP, where one word is far more like a mantra used to quiet the mind rather than engage the mind in meditating receptively on a relationship. And so the delicate, and often fragile movement from active to passive receptivity, so well-contained in Lectio Divina, is poorly taken up via CP where Lectio Divina is given such little attention.

I would wager that those carefully taught Lectio Divina, in an experiential atmosphere, would see these differences quite clearly. As Jim Arraj points out, the psyche, during CP, is probably often pushed too quickly into a state of quiet before its faculties are treated and soothed by the Holy Spirit.

Too bad courses on Lectio Divina aren’t offered more often around the country.

Diane A: I led a women’s retreat this weekend. I used Lectio Divina. We used the story of Mary & Martha and Psalm 139. In my humble opinion, the women were not ready for CP or sitting in silence. Heavens, they are Marthas, they do not sit in silence at any time. It “feels” wrong to them. Their husbands are farmers and they are nurses, administrators, therapists, etc. They do 3, 4, 5 jobs and sleep little. Self-care, not at all. Many women and men live this way in this world. They do not have time to think! Or to question. Meditation would be a pure gift from God, if they could accept it!!

In my humble opinion, they need to start with Lectio Divina. To sit and to hear the word. To allow God to take them deeper when they are ready. To have their focus on the face of Christ. To know “Who” is taking them on this journey of faith and healing.

I believe for a believer who (know I am talking about Christians because this is my experience) knows who their God is can do CP, otherwise, I have to agree, I believe a person is just sitting in silence. Of course, God is still in control and can do all things! So, sometimes just by opening ourselves up, we go where we did not know it was possible to go.

My experience is, I did Lectio before doing CP. The Lectio Divina led into CP or contemplation before I knew what it was or that it was. So, that is my comfort level or known. When I lead groups, I love to use Lectio and see where God takes us.

Mystical Michael: I wonder if there might be a “People Damaged by Centering Prayer” support group forming somewhere.

There are many dangers, and a reading of Merton’s journals reveals that many of the best monks were leaving Gethsemane. One had to leave when he became “spiritually overheated.” There are bound to be problems.

I’ve seen brain scans in Newsweek and Reader’s Digest showing decreased activity in monks and meditators in the area of the brain thought to be responsible for feelings of separateness from others. This can be a desirable effect producing love and tolerance. The down side of it is that someone can let their guard down and embrace theological nonsense and New Age thinking. It may be helpful then to have some corrective remedy for this, something to keep oneself individually and collectively close to Christ and His Body.

I would propose that the Church Fathers be read and I can see that they are by visiting the bookstore at Contemplative Outreach. Sure, they have some Wayne Teasdale and other mystical liberals, but overall I see a balance and it’s nothing that the Holy Spirit cannot handle. There is a very loving intention behind the movement and I feel that makes all the difference in the world.

We may see some flakey spin-offs in the years to come as well as more conservative watchdog groups or whatever, but we have a 2000-year-old tradition and volumes and volumes of experience and good orderly direction.

Phil St. Romain: Michael, I appreciate the spice and perspective you’ve added to this discussion. I see how you keep reminding us that these are all good people with good intentions, and I agree. 32.

 

 

 

Some directions I’d be interested in continuing to explore are listed below:

1. The relationship between CP practice and what we might call “Christian enlightenment.”

2. Has Fr. Keating pretty much abandoned his dependence on Wilber in articulating the spiritual journey?

3. Is there a better alternative to CP to introduce to people who are interested in going deeper into prayer? What about traditional practices like silence, solitude, Lectio Divina, and even oldie/goldies like praise and adoration? Then, of course, charismatic prayer . . .

4. Echoing Mystical Michael’s point above, what about those who have experienced negative consequences from CP practice? I know there are some, but how common is this?

5. Is it really true that all are called to experience contemplation? What about all the many mature Christians who are filled with faith and love, but who never seem to show much evidence of apophatic prayer?

Touching on a few concerns again, but in a new way, now.

1. The emphasis on God being beyond all concepts.
2. The emphasis on the apophatic quality of the exercising of pure faith.
3. The emphasis on the activation of the unconscious caused by CP practice as divine therapy.
4. The emphasis on divine union as finally manifesting when inner obstacles are removed.

What gets lost in this is the great good news that Christ is actually present to us in our inner woundedness — even those that are a consequence of self-indulgence and indiscretions. In other words, those inner wounds need not be viewed as blocks, but as occasions where we encounter the One who entered so fully into the human condition as to experience the full consequences of sin.

These inner wounds are also the spawning grounds for energies co-opted by false-self programming, but it would be a mistake to characterize them as belonging completely to the false self. They more surely belong to Christ, and so they are not really “obstacles” to our connection with God. Christ meets us there if we turn our attention to him, and he communicates his love to us in that context — maybe even contemplatively so.

Again, without discounting the possibility of contemplative graces being given to CP practitioners, the more we go into this matter, the more it seems as though CP is more intrinsically oriented toward metaphysical enlightenment, albeit in a context of Christian faith. The strong apophatic emphasis and the way contemplation is described in terms of “pure faith” (not to mention the dependence on Wilber for tracking the spiritual journey) suggest this very strongly to me. This is not a bad thing at all, in my opinion, but it’s important to be clear about what’s going on, here.

w. c.:
One of the difficulties with this sort of discussion is that we’re all ultimately bound to our limited sense of such things. I was a practicing Buddhist for about 5 years before having an experience of Divine grace, which has completely altered my own perceptions re: grace and enlightenment. Such belongs to another thread, but here, in short, is the way I look now at the two different experiences:

The present moment and the Eternal are not the same. These two are equated in non-dual meditative systems. The radiance of the present moment is something the human organism is capable of intentionally opening to. Such is not the case with the Eternal, which stands outside time and space and all creaturely faculties. In other words, the present moment inheres in the Eternal, its uncreated source, much in the same way the kundalini energy arises from its uncreated source, the Holy Spirit.

St. Paul alluded to this distinction between creaturely perception and the darkness within the faculties during graced contemplation when he said:

“Now we see but a dim reflection, through a glass darkly, then we’ll see face-to-face. Now we know in part, then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known.”

Resting in the present moment is actually an effort by comparison to the rest within graced contemplation, where the faculties are completely at home in their source beyond self-reflection. In non-dual awareness, there is still the need to maintain the rest, keeping the will and mind from distraction, which is not the case when the Holy Spirit fills those functions. In the present moment, some degree of Eternal Light is no doubt experienced, but the present moment itself cannot fill the creaturely faculties, as it is itself an effect of the Uncreated.

geridoc: As a psychiatrist and Catholic Christian using Centering Prayer, I have to say that this kind of prayer is not without its dangers. Spiritual: I would definitely not recommend it to anyone who has not been reading the Bible and praying regularly for some years. Psychological: I would not recommend it to those who are very suggestible, or those with significant mental problems…

Although there is a degree of anonymity in the forum, for medico-legal reasons I am not allowed to give what could amount to professional opinions in a public forum like this. In any case, when in comes to prayer and God being a psychiatrist does not lead to any special competence, other than maybe a different perspective.

I will not discuss cases here, other than to say that the use of certain forms of prayer like CP/contemplation or its external opposite ‘charismatic prayer’ often cause problems. Sticking to CP:

1. Risk of inducing a form self-hypnosis in very suggestible persons; some CP teachers even use phrases used in hypnosis to get people to their “center”. For instance, I have heard this, and I have seen this mentioned either in this forum or elsewhere of people reporting that CP instructors have been asking the people to imagine being in an elevator, then going down to the 11th floor, the 10th floor and so on.. [these are phrases sometimes used in hypnosis]. I don’t think the leaders were aware of it; they usually tend to be teaching with a genuine desire to help people.

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2. Those with major mental problems like schizophrenia, OCD etc tend to have problems if asked to sit quietly and distance themselves from all thoughts. The initial period of learning CP where the person learns to ignore images, thoughts and sensations can lead to considerable confusion. People with these kind of illnesses tend to have an overabundance of thoughts or sensations to begin with. Although they would in theory benefit from learning to ignore them, very often the reverse happens. To me this happens when prayers like this are taught to just anyone who happens to be present.

Ultimately for me, there is one question that needs to be addressed: Is CP and others like it something that should be taught to just anyone, or is it a call from God, that occurs after developing a relationship with God through other forms of prayer? I know that sounds awfully elitist but that is not my intention. My knowledge of John of the Cross and Teresa are second-hand, via the books of Fr. Thomas Green [esp. ‘When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer beyond the beginnings’]. My understanding is that the traditional teaching was that contemplative prayer is something that some people are led to. In this view going to a parish and sending a flyer saying that there will be a talk on prayer and then surprising people by teaching CP to everyone who is present would not be appropriate.

Phil St. Romain
responding to geriodoc: Concerning the propriety of presenting CP to just anyone, generally, what seems to happen is that those who aren’t ready for it just quit practicing it after a very short while.

But that doesn’t get to the heart of your question concerning who it’s ideally suited for. There are numerous places in this thread where we take that up, and the consensus seemed to be that the best way to proceed with prayer is Lectio Divina, moving into a more simplified rest mode when grace moves one there.

Re. your point about hypnosis, I don’t think that’s common among CP teachers. It’s certainly not part of the method that’s taught, so it wouldn’t really be a fair criticism of the CP movement to use that example. I’ve never run across that in any of their literature, web sites, workshops, newsletters, or in corresponding with CP teachers. In fact, I’m pretty sure that most would discourage “elevator” type meditations, as such are not really in the spirit of prayer. What you’re describing seems more to be a form of guided meditation, and I share your concerns about that approach as well.

(Concluding remarks)

It’s one thing to criticize CP and the noble efforts of Fr. Keating and Contemplative Outreach to renew the Church’s contemplative tradition, but quite another to offer constructive alternatives. Given the interest in Eastern and New Age mysticism, it is imperative, I believe, that Christianity offer the world an alternative from its own tradition — which is precisely what Keating et al. are trying to do. I think the error, here, is primarily one of offering such a small piece of the tradition, and a somewhat controversial one, at that. So here are some alternative suggestions for those who want to live a more contemplative life within the framework of Christian faith.

Part II / Part III / Part III (Continued) / Let us know what you think of this book / Home

 

NOTE: I have intentionally included a few Catholic writers who root for Centering Prayer. After reading what Catholic authors have to say against Centering Prayer, it is easy for the discerning reader to spot the error and the compromise of the others like www.frimmin.com in their defense of these practices. The article below, for instance. They have no problem with eastern meditations like yoga and zen. Like those who promote “Christian yoga”. I need not elaborate. Read my two detailed articles on YOGA.

 

What Works: Meditation

It isn’t boring, it isn’t non-Christian and you do have the time for it

http://www.bustedhalo.com/features/what-works-2-meditation by Phil Fox Rose, March 30, 2009

I’d just lost my job. And I hadn’t seen it coming, so I didn’t have anything lined up. “How are you OK with this? Why aren’t you freaking out?” asks my coworker, Matt. He’s seen me walk through setbacks and disappointments before. “Well, it’s lots of things, but daily prayer and meditation is a big part.” Matt responds a little too quickly: “Oh, I can’t meditate. I tried it. My mind won’t shut up.”

His rejection of the idea that meditation might be a tool he could use is the most common I hear. Matt thinks he can’t meditate.

My old friend Stacy is a cradle Catholic and she gets a lot out of yoga. She heard she should meditate, so she got a book and tried a local Buddhist sitting group a few times.

“I don’t have time to meditate,” she says. I counter, “But you find time for your yoga.” “That’s at a studio,” she says. “There are interruptions at home. And meditation’s boring anyway. I don’t get serenity out of it like I do with yoga.”

Stacy thinks meditation needs special surroundings; oh, and she wants instant results.

Matt and Stacy are missing the point.

The promise of meditation is not the 20 minutes of refuge from an otherwise insane day, wonderful as that may be. The promise is to gradually cultivate a way of living that is less insane.

I’ve noticed over and over: People struggling with anxiety over things they’re powerless to affect rarely have a daily prayer and meditation practice. The Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, a leading figure in Christian meditation and wisdom teaching, describes the promise of a contemplative practice:

“It is not a matter of replacing negative emotions with positive emotions — only of realizing that… presence can be sustained regardless of whatever inner or outer storms may assail you… You discover that at the depths, Being still holds firm.” 34.

 

 

You may feel calm and restored after meditating. It’s wonderful when you do. But you may not. You may enter a place of profound stillness and awareness and feel conscious contact with God. But you may not.

We call meditation a practice. Think of your daily meditation as practice for life, practice for being in the moment, practice for letting go, practice for attuning to God.

I’ve been practicing Centering Prayer since Cynthia introduced me to it over 15 years ago. Gradually, I assure you, with daily practice we can develop the posture towards life described in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 — to “pray without ceasing.” And when we do that, what the Buddhists call monkey-mind — the constant chatter in our heads — abates. And with that, we stop fighting so much, we start trusting more, and we can just be.

Bestselling author and spiritual education expert Marsha Sinetar says in Ordinary People as Monks & Mystics: “Something in us… is strengthened by silence, much as our physical bodies are strengthened by sleep.”

Isn’t meditation non-Christian?

“Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10)

The purpose of meditation is to better align with God, to better know God — to stop struggling against God’s Will, against the way things are; to better comprehend that we are held and loved, that we are OK no matter what we might be walking through. There is nothing non-Christian about that.

The Desert Fathers of the early Church were meditating in the Third Century. References in the Gospels to Jesus’ prayer life often speak of long unstructured periods in the presence of God. Monks and mystics throughout the history of the Church have meditated. And have you noticed how similar rosaries are to the Buddhist meditation bead bracelets so many people wear?

Cistercian monk Father Thomas Keating, the founder of Centering Prayer, was abbot all through the 60s and 70s at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. This area is thick with religious retreat centers, including the well-known Theravadan Buddhist center, Insight Meditation Society. Fr. Keating tells of meeting many young people, some who stumbled on St. Joseph’s by accident, many of them cradle Catholics, who had turned to Eastern practices for contemplative work:

“It did not occur to them to look for a Christian form of contemplative prayer or to visit Catholic monasteries. When they heard that these existed, they were surprised, impressed, and somewhat curious.”

It’s mostly just a matter of form and terminology. And that’s really unfortunate, because a lot of cradle Catholics, when they decide to try meditation, think they need to go to a zendo or yoga studio, without realizing the listing in their church bulletin for “Centering Prayer” offers a beautiful meditation practice that is directly connected to their faith community. Or that they are meditating when they kneel in silence at an Adoration service.

Personally, I also find nothing wrong with borrowing from non-Christian practices, but it is important to be grounded, so, to be clear: Meditation exists as part of the fabric of my religious life — with being Christian, Catholic, a member of a church and parish; with daily reading of Scripture and other spiritual writing; with weekly Mass; with occasional Vespers and Adoration services; and with monthly meetings with a spiritual director.

I don’t meditate 20 minutes a day. I practice meditation 20 minutes a day; I meditate ceaselessly.

Just sit!

In the sidebar on the right, I describe the simple meditation practice I’ve been using for over 15 years. That’s really all you need. Do that every day and it will change you.

But if you’re like me, you will want to read more, learn the history, debate the points. In that case, there are endless books on meditation, from the Desert Fathers to Thomas Merton to the present, and across a variety of methods and religious traditions. I direct people to one book above all others, by the teacher who personally introduced me to Centering Prayer in the early 90s, the Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault: Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening.

If you don’t do daily meditation, let me encourage you right now, today, to change that. Whatever form of meditation you pursue, I encourage you to give it time — time each day, and time to work. Just sit! Commit to yourself that you will stick with it whether it seems like it’s working or not, whether it’s comfortable or not, for… oh, let’s say 40 days.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with meditation — your struggles and joys, your concerns and questions. Comment below or email me at phil@bustedhalo.com.

COMMENT* from “Catholic”, April 1, 2009: Thanks for the interesting article. There are many things I agree with, and there are some elements that are potential cause of concern. Particularly when it comes to “co-opting” other faith’s practices and implementing them into Catholic practice. One does not need to look far inside a yoga studio for example to see images of Hindu gods and goddesses rampant – or instruction about chakras, the kundalini, etc. And any zendo will be just as so as it pertains to Buddhism. To simply ignore it is not only naive, but it’s an invitation to many unforeseen dangers. Yoga cannot be simplistically viewed as a purely physical exercise. Catholics I know that practice yoga have said multiple times that they put on their “armor” when they practice because the Hindu element is beyond obvious.

For further reading about Christianity and New Age http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_20030203_new-age_en.html#4%20NEW%20AGE%20AND%20CHRISTIAN%20FAITH%20IN%20CONTRAST

*All comments were pro-Centering Prayer. I selected one that was ‘middle of the road’.

RESPONSE from Phil Fox Rose: “Catholic”, thanks for your feedback about meditation. I have no problem with Christians practicing yoga or sitting zazen, but my article pointed out strongly that you could meditate within the Christian tradition, without turning to Eastern practices. Even so, I’ll address your concern, because this is quite important.

35.

 

 

The document you point to — only a working group provisional report dubbed a “meditation” — is about “New Age.” New Age is an entirely different issue. It is rooted in a view from astrology that we’re entering the Age of Aquarius in which human evolution will take our species to the next level of development. It figures prominently in some aspects of the self-help movement because of its focus on individual growth, and it tends also to be associated with things Anglo-Catholic mysticism expert Evelyn Underhill would have categorized as “magic” — crystals, channeling, tarot, etc. Though even the Vatican report says there are things of value in it, none of this has ANYTHING to do with meditation.

To group Hinduism, yogic philosophy and Buddhism into New Age is wrong. These are major world religions practiced by billions of people, each of which predates Christianity. Far more appropriate would be to cite the papal declaration Nostra Aetate, which points admiringly to Buddhism in particular and says it and “other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing ‘ways,’ comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.”

If I am in a room that has some images of Hindu gods or a Buddha statue, where a few of the people present practice that religion, this does not threaten my Catholic faith or identity. If there is a talk and it veers into territory that is in any way incompatible with my beliefs, in my experience it is almost always possible to find much that is good in the teaching anyway. And this can happen in a Christian church too! If someone finds, week after week, a focus on spiritual teaching that is unwelcome by them, then they can go somewhere else where it’s not, or where the focus is kept to meditation or yoga postures.

One final note. Many people less open than I on this issue still consider it acceptable to identify as both Catholic and Zen. Practitioners of Zen Buddhism tend to be quite adamant about its role as a set of ethics and a way of understanding right actions in the world separate from any belief system.

But I don’t want to get bogged down here in arguing whether it’s a religion or not. The form of Buddhism I have practiced is Theravada. Even if zen and Theravada Buddhism were full-blown theistic religions, I see absolutely nothing wrong with learning from them. The truth of the matter is that in the West, the mystical tradition was largely ignored or even discredited for many centuries. So those faiths that kept it going have much to teach us.

Thanks again for the respectfulness of your note. I hope you find my further thoughts welcome. Phil

 

NOTE: Phil Rose, an advocate of Centering Prayer, above, practices Theravada Buddhism and Hindu yoga!

Below is the occult book that Centering Prayer propagators Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington have endorsed [see pages 6 and 12]. The author of this posthumously published esoteric work is anonymous!

A study of the website is very revealing. From a Christian perspective, it is self-condemnatory, and is probably the best example in this article of the danger of Centering Prayer. My comments follow the article.

 

Meditations on the Tarot – A Journey into Christian Hermeticism*** Last update: Dec. 29, 2003

http://www.medtarot.freeserve.co.uk/index.htm

This site is offered as a service to the worldwide community of friends, known and unknown, whose prayer, thinking and living are being formed by the book “Meditations on the Tarot”. Its author says of these friends:

“There is a community of Hermeticists, known and unknown, but the majority of whose members are anonymous. And it is only a small part of this community which is composed of those who know one another and meet one another face to face in the full daylight of the world of the senses. Another part — still less numerous — is composed of those who know each other and meet each other face to face in vision. But it is inspiration which unites all members of the community of Hermeticists — without regard to whether they are near to one another or far apart, whether they know each other or not, or whether they are living or deceased.” [page 397]

Many students of the book are geographically isolated, and the intention of this site is to offer them a means to exchange questions, thoughts and encouragement. The following resources are available; you are invited to add to them. Just send an e-mail to david.m.carter@ntlworld.com .

 

What is the book about?

From the back cover of the 1993 Element edition:

“This remarkable book is no mere study of occultism*. It is a profound Christian meditation, a journey of discovery into the mysteries of Hermeticism.

“First published in 1987, it has rapidly established itself as a classic of Esoteric** Christian teaching.

“The twenty-two Major Arcana of the Tarot are invaluable aids to meditation and spiritual study. Using them as a starting point, the anonymous author links together the wisdom of the Bible, the Upanishads and the Cabbala, as well as the insights of individual thinkers who have profoundly influenced Western thought — including Plato, Origen, John of the Cross, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Bergson and Jung.

“As we approach the 21st century, this unique book shows how study of the Major Arcana not only revives a millennial-old tradition, but immerses us in the ever-flowing current of Hermetic thought*** and revelation.”

*The words imply that it IS occultism, AND MORE.

**esotericism = hidden, is another word for occultism.
36.

 

 

***Hermeticism
http://www.jwmt.org/v1n0/glossary2.html:
Named after Hermes Trismestigus, the supposed author of the Corpus Hermetica and the Emerald Tablet, and equated with the Egyptian God Thoth. Hermeticism is a kind of Alexandrian
Gnosticism or Neoplatonism. The rediscovery of the Corpus Hermetica in the middle ages directly inspired Alchemy. “Hermetic” means “pertaining to Alchemy”: or, in modern terms, “using Ritual Magic in way that is based on Spiritual Alchemy.”

http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeticism:

Hermeticism is the study and practice of occult
philosophy and magic. The name comes from the fact that the first books about Hermeticism are said to have been written by the god
Hermes Trismegistus (“Thrice-Greatest Hermes”), who combines aspects of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth.

Hermeticism is also connected with astrology and alchemy. These beliefs were strong in Europe during the Renaissance. The Hermetic Corpus was translated by Marsilio Ficino in 1463 and published in 1471. At this time, the Hermetic Corpus was thought to be older than both Plato and Pythagoras.

In 1614, Isaac Causabon showed that the texts were actually written sometime between 200 and 300 AD. This view was based on careful study of the way language was used in the original writings.

Hermeticism was revived in the 19th century in Western Europe. The most famous group involved in this revival was the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

Hermeticism is New Age; explained in the Vatican Document on the New Age #2.1, 2.3.2, 7.2. See also p.53

 

Reviews of the book
http://www.medtarot.freeserve.co.uk/links.htm
[ONE EXAMPLE SELECTED- Michael]

Review at Tarotpedia, EXTRACT:
written in French by a Russian ex-patriot living in London, 1967. This book, when not long out of print, fetched up to $200 on the second-hand market — such is its desirability. For all serious Tarot enthusiasts, and for all aspirants walking the Occidental Spiritual paths, I would recommend it without reservation.

This work ranks amongst the classics of mysticism, gnosis and magic – the three pathways into Hermeticism. In my opinion, it is the most masterful book which utilizes the trumps of the Tarot as tools to enter spiritual dimensions.

 

Who is the author?
http://www.medtarot.freeserve.co.uk/#author

That question will not be answered here, although some information on his life is contained in Robert Powell’s article. The author of Meditations explains his reasons for anonymity as follows in the Foreword:

“These meditations on the Major Arcana of the Tarot are Letters addressed to the Unknown Friend. The addressee in this instance is anyone who will read all of them and who thereby acquires definite knowledge, through the experience of meditative reading, about Christian Hermeticism. He will know also that the author of these Letters has said more about himself in these Letters than he would have been able to in any other way. No matter what other source he might have, he will know the author better through the Letters themselves.” (p. xii)

Thus it is not at all necessary to know the author’s identity in order to benefit fully from studying the book. In accordance with his posthumous wishes, this site will not identify him.

Your friend greets you, dear Unknown Friend, from beyond the grave.” (Foreword, p xii).

An article by Michael McConville on the author’s anonymity can be found here.

 

Can I learn the Tarot from this book?
http://www.medtarot.freeserve.co.uk/#learntarot

Yes and no. The book offers deep insights into the mysteries of the Major Arcana. However, these insights are given as a means to deeper Christian contemplative practice, thinking and living. They will not teach you how to use the Tarot cards as a means of amplifying the unconscious by the use of spreads and so on, valuable though this can be as a tool for clarifying issues in your life. If that is what you are interested in, I recommend starting with Anthony Louis’s excellent introductory book, “Tarot Plain and Simple”.

 

Can I benefit from this book even if I’m wary of the Tarot?
http://www.medtarot.freeserve.co.uk/#wary

Yes, definitely. The book is written from an orthodox Christian (Roman Catholic) perspective. One of its beauties is the way it draws out the value in many spiritual and cultural phenomena of which Christians have often been wary, without in any way compromising the centrality of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The author uses the Tarot images to help the reader deepen his or her relationship with God through prayer and meditation.

You may, of course, be less wary of the Tarot by the time you finish the book.

You might also like to look at an article on Tarot for Christians, or at Basil Pennington‘s comments.

 

Some representative comments on the book [A FEW EXAMPLES SELECTED- Michael]
http://www.medtarot.freeserve.co.uk/comments.htm:

Nominated among the one hundred best spiritual books
published since 1900, here are some testimonials concerning Meditations on the Tarot.

1. Abbot Thomas
Keating, the main developer and teacher of the practice of
Centering Prayer, says, “This may be regarded as one of the great spiritual classics of this century. In the hands of this author of immense erudition and deep contemplation, the Tarot cards of ancient Egypt reveal their universal, archetypal, symbolic nature and become a school of objective insight. 37.

 

 

The author gathers us into his own spiritual journey to the authentic Source of all true knowledge and compassion. This book, in my view, is the greatest contribution to date toward the rediscovery and renewal of the Christian contemplative tradition of the Fathers of the Church and the High Middle Ages. With its firm grasp of tradition, its balance, wisdom, profundity, openness to truth, and comprehensive approach to reality , it deserves to be the basis of a course in spirituality in every Christian institution of higher learning, and what would be even better, the point of departure and unifying vision of the whole curriculum.”

2. His colleague Basil Pennington, OCSO, says that it is

“Without doubt the most extraordinary book I have ever read”.

He adds, “It is such a rich collection of wisdom drawn from such a staggering number of diverse sources that it leaves the mind almost reeling. Besides the Bible we find the Upanishads, the Cabbala, the Hermeticists, and men as diverse as Origen and Chardin, Plato and Bergson, Jung and John of the Cross, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.”

3. Father Bede Griffiths,
founder of the Saccidananda Ashram [Shantivanam] in Southern India wrote:

“It is simply astonishing. I have never read such a comprehensive account of the ‘perennial philosophy’. There is hardly a line without some profound significance. To me it is the last word in wisdom. The book was written by a remarkable convert, an experienced occultist. By means of twenty two meditations in the form of ‘Letters to an Unknown Friend,’ the anonymous author attempts to assimilate his vast store of esoteric knowledge within the orthodox Catholic vision.”

4. Benedictine Brother Wayne Teasdale:

“It is impossible to do justice to the author of this truly inspired work. It is my conviction that he is a genuine mystical philosopher, one who has something rare to contribute to the living tradition of the Church.”

[Brother Wayne Teasdale is a member of the Benedictine Priory of Montreal, having completed his doctoral studies at Fordham University on Dom Bede Griffiths, Cam. O.S.B. This work has now been published under the title “Toward a Christian Vedanta: The Encounter of Hinduism and Christianity according to Bede Griffiths” (Asian Trading Corporation, Bangalore,, 1987).]

5. Gerhard Wehr, author of books on Boehme, Jung and Steiner:

“The author of the twenty-two meditations on the Major Arcana of the Tarot draws upon many different sources: the Gospels, ancient hermetic philosophy, gnosis, mysticism, alchemy and magic, also Rudolf Steiner and C.G. Jung, who he often quotes positively, always with the intention of penetrating ever deeper into the Mysteries of Christianity, in order to communicate these fruits further to his readers.”

6. Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar describes the book as follows in his foreword:

“A thinking, praying Christian of unmistakable purity reveals to us the symbols of Christian Hermeticism in its various levels of mysticism, gnosis and magic, taking in also … certain elements of astrology and alchemy … By way of the major Arcana the author seeks to lead meditatively into the deeper, all-embracing wisdom of the Catholic mystery.”

Pope John Paul II was presented with a copy of the two-volume German third edition by the Cardinal, see: http://www.medtarot.freeserve.co.uk/pictures.htm

 

LINKS:

A. Contemplative Prayer

The two best-known modern pathways to Christian contemplation:

1. Centering Prayer : http://www.centeringprayer.com/

2. Christian Meditation : http://www.wccm.org/ and http://www.wccm.org/home.asp?pagestyle=home

B.
The Ecumenical Catholic Church, also known as Christ Catholic Church International. A progressive community within the Old Catholic tradition. Their site mentions Meditations as “of inestimable value”.

C.
Gnosis Magazine. A journal of Western Inner Traditions, sadly defunct. The “Hidden Wisdom” book referred to on their site looks good, and there are lots of back articles.

D.
In Search of the Miraculous. An article on “new age” approaches to the miraculous, at a New Age Catholic web site, covering both Meditations and the Course in Miracles.

E. Christian and Rosicrucian Kabbalah. An introductory essay.

Acknowledgements

This site is put together by David Carter, a reader of Meditations in Cambridge, England. Thanks to Robert Powell and Martin Kriele for their support, for their permission to quote extracts from Meditations on the Tarot, and for their continuing efforts in making this remarkable book available. Robert is the translator of the book into English, and holds the copyright on his translation, while Martin is the copyright holder for the original French version.

 

MY COMMENTS:

Centering Prayer promoters Keating and Pennington eulogize this occult Tarot-based book as “the greatest contribution” towards contemplative spirituality and “the most extraordinary book” he has ever read, respectively.

For Bede Griffiths, “it is the last word in wisdom” even though he admits that it is written by “an experienced occultist” and contains “esoteric knowledge“.

The book is highly recommended by Wayne Teasdale. Who was Wayne Teasdale? He was a disciple of Keating and Bede Griffiths. http://www.wayoflife.org/files/6ec9e9ab5d8e43e56219af2264116f36-128.html reports:

 

WAYNE TEASDALE* (1945-2004) was a Roman Catholic lay monk whose writings are influential in the contemplative movement. As a student in a Catholic college in Massachusetts, he began visiting St. Joseph’s Abbey near Spencer and came under the direction of Thomas Keating. This led him into an intimate association with pagan religions and the adoption of Hinduism. Teasdale visited Shantivanam Ashram and lived in a nearby Hindu ashram for two years, following in Bede Griffiths’ footsteps. In 1989 he became a “Christian” sannyasa or a Hindu monk. Teasdale was deeply involved in interfaith activities, believing that what the religions hold in common can be the basis for creating a new world, which he called the “Interspiritual Age” — a “global culture based on common spiritual values.” He believed that mystics of all religions are in touch with the same God. He helped found the Interspiritual Dialogue in Action (ISDnA), one of the many New Age organizations affiliated with the United Nations. (Its NGO sponsor is the National Service Conference of the American Ethical Union.) It is committed “to actively serve in the evolution of human consciousness and global transformation.”

…The aforementioned Catholic contemplative monk Wayne Teasdale conducted a Mystic Heart seminar series with [New Ager Ken] Wilber. In the first seminar in this series Teasdale said, “You are God; I am God; they are God; it is God” (“The Mystic Heart: The Supreme Identity,” http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7652038071112490301&q=ken+Wilber).

From the Camaldoli Benedictine website which is New Age: In the Ultimate Wayne Teasdale Reference
Guide
by J. Whitford,
Bede Griffiths: An Introduction to his Interspiritual Thought by Bede Griffiths (Foreword), “Wayne Teasdale explains the key terms that form the basis for Bede Griffiths essential theology.”

Advertised on the Camaldoli Benedictine website: A Monk in the World: Cultivating a Spiritual Life by Wayne Teasdale; New Ager Ken Wilber wrote the Foreword.

The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions by Wayne Teasdale is another book advertised on the site.

Teasdale was Bede’s disciple, and the one who started the Indian Express debate. In a letter which was published in the IE of June 1, 1987, he praised Fr. Bede Griffiths for the latter’s study of “the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Gita as well as other texts sacred to the Hindu tradition.” *see my report on the Catholic Ashrams
http://ephesians-511.net/docs/CATHOLIC_ASHRAMS.doc
which gives more information about him as well as his mentor Fr. Bede Griffiths and the seditious Catholic Ashrams movement with which they were both closely associated.

The Cabbala/Kabbalah is mystical, esoteric Judaism.

Rosicrucianism, Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, etc. are all occult groups. See my article on Homoeopathy. Teilhard de Chardin, C.G. Jung are the world’s leading New Agers. There are repeated references to and links with gnosis and gnosticism.

The book also provides links to an “Ecumenical Catholic Church” which is not Catholic.

Most interestingly, the book also provides links to two websites for “Contemplative Prayer”. One is the website of the World Community for Christian Meditation [WCCM] of Fr. John Main and Fr. Laurence Freeman. I have just published a 106-page report which includes evidence that the WCCM’s “Christian Meditation” is Buddhist and New Age.

The WCCM website FAQ admits that there is an “essential harmony” between Centering Prayer and their “Christian Meditation” [http://www.wccm.org/item.asp?recordid=faqs33&pagestyle=default]. My report also established the connection of the WCCM with the Catholic Ashrams movement.

The other website for which a link is provided for “Contemplative Prayer” is that of Centering Prayer, which again is also connected with the Catholic Ashrams movement.

I could go on and on. The above is more than sufficient to show that Centering Prayer is New Age.

 

One will find an abundance of articles in magazines and on the internet, many written by evangelical Christians and even by Catholics, supportive of Centering prayer and other meditations, for example Centering Prayer www.frimmin.com. But the informed Catholic is able to see through their misinformation which is now quite obvious. For academic interest, two articles on meditation/CP are copied below.

 

Meditation goes mainstream as many Christians discover practice
http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com/article/20090110/LIFESTYLE/901100318
By Bonna Johnson, January 10, 2009

Like many churchgoers in the Bible Belt, Kristy Robinson teaches Sunday school with her husband and helps prepare communion at their Episcopal church in Franklin, Tenn. She rounds out her church- and prayer-filled life with another spiritual practice that’s not quite as familiar: meditation. “I’ll see a difference in my day if I don’t,” says Robinson, who opens each day with 20 minutes of absolute silence.

All the chanting and incense and – yikes – even meditation altars may seem too New Age and mystical for some, but meditation has gone mainstream and been embraced by suburban moms and busy people.

Younger generations get an introduction in yoga classes, careerists escape on meditation retreats and boomers seek tranquility in meditation gardens. Meditation, it seems, is no longer associated as a counterculture activity made hip by The Beatles and favored by flower children.

Some approach meditation through Buddhism or other Eastern religions; more and more Christians meditate through the ancient ritual of centering prayer; while others develop their own style, whether it’s patterned after the breathing techniques of popular [New Age] guru Deepak Chopra or not. 39.

 

 

Most sit still usually focusing on a mantra or on their breathing, but you can even clear your mind while walking around, tending a garden or through movement-based activities, such as tai chi.

A report released this year showed an astonishingly high number of Protestants – nearly half – say they meditate at least once a week. Among the public, 39 percent meditate at least weekly, according to a report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

It’s no surprise that people are seeking paths to peace and serenity in our high-octane, 24-hour world.

“We’re a mentally focused, hard-core, achievement-oriented society,” says Dr. J. David Forbes, a medical doctor and meditation teacher in Nashville, Tenn. “People are finding it hard to quiet the brain down.” Once they do, he says, meditation may lead not only to new insights but also to a healthier, happier life, he says. Studies show daily practice can reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and even increase life expectancy in the elderly, he says.

Robinson’s mind-clearing ritual helps her figure out her beliefs and hopes, her doubts and wishes.

She loves the way prayer gives her a chance to talk with God.

“With meditation,” Robinson says, “It’s me listening for God’s response.”

For Carolyn Goddard of Nashville, she was drawn to centering prayer, a form of contemplative prayer, to deepen her connection with God. A Colorado monk revived this ancient ritual of “resting in God” in the 1970s as an alternative for Christians lured to transcendental meditation.

“You don’t have to go outside the Christian tradition to find methods of meditation. It’s part of our heritage, as well,” says Goddard, who is an instructor with Contemplative Outreach of Middle Tennessee.

Meditation has been, at times, eyed with suspicion. The Vatican in 1989 went so far as to say that methods such as Zen, yoga and transcendental meditation, can “degenerate into a cult of the body” and be dangerous.

And the notion that meditation is too way out there for Christians, if not rooted in the Bible, still exists today.

“The idea of emptying the mind is not biblically based,” says Don Whitney, associate professor of biblical spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “There can be a danger.”

Referring to meditation’s long association with Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern religions, Whitney says, “Some of the yoga stuff, where you’re given a mantra, that is rooted in false religions.” He sees no problem with stretching, but once you start chanting, you’re treading on treacherous ground, he says.

His beef is that some people are seeking tools to help them live and de-stress. “That’s very selfish,” he says. “Our lives should be lived to the glory of God.”

But for many Christians, meditation fits quite nicely into their religious life. They’re drawn to biblical Scriptures, such as in the Psalms, which says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

For them, meditation has brought deeper meaning to their lives.

“I discovered my true self through meditation,” says Cassandra Finch, a former Nashville television reporter. “Often because we are so busy, we don’t make time for self-discovery.”

A Christian who attends an interdenominational church and considers herself nondenominational, Finch, 42, has also been attending a Buddhist center to meditate. “Going to church is where I’m being talked to. There is not a lot of silent time,” Finch says. “I feel the power and presence of God through my meditation.”

 

Spiritual Perspectives: Healing of Mind, Body and Spirit By Sister Mary Matthias Ward

http://www.gallupindependent.com/2007/august/081107sp_hlngmbs.html
Special to The Independent, August 2007

Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola at The Independent: (505) 863-6811 ext. 218 or lizreligion01@yahoo.com.

For this time I choose to write on Healing of Mind, Body, and Spirit. I choose to do it because in our society, among both Protestants and Catholics, there are such misunderstandings. I choose to write this article because as I write this, we, the people of the Diocese of Gallup, need healing.  With the accident of Bishop Donald Pelotte, SSS, we are in crisis and we need an inner healing. Bishop Pelotte needs both a physical and an inner healing.

When there are areas of the unknown, we readily jump to labeling things as “New Age” as “being of Satan” and criticizing without asking for an explanation. Here at Sacred Heart Retreat Center in Gallup, we have a Reiki Retreat. We have a labyrinth, yoga, and Centering Prayer.

All of these from time to time have been labeled as “New Age,” and we have received our share of criticism.

Our center’s mission statement declares that we strive for wholeness and holiness.  Is there anyone among us that doesn’t need an inner healing? How many of us pray daily for the healing of others as well as ourselves?

It does seem that attitude toward health, spirituality, our way of life and our place in society has changed dramatically.  People search for answers to daily problems. During these times of chaos, we humans suffer from physical and psychological stress. The environment struggles for survival as well. We have no power to control these developments, but we can face them. We need to own our healing gifts (God’s power within us) and look at what blocks God’s power and what diverts God’s power.  As we walk our journey carrying our crosses, we can experience God and find inner healing.

For myself, I’m able to find an inner peace by walking among nature, by walking the grounds of Sacred Heart Retreat Center, and from seeing and appreciating God’s artwork from every direction. I am able to balance my life by taking the time to communicate with my God, in prayer, in meditation, in spiritual reading, and in contemplative living.

As unique as each of us is, so is our finding inner healing. On Wednesday evenings we offer Centering Prayer. For some this contemplative prayer is what they need to sustain them. For others there is a Thursday night prayer group that finds praying together, reflecting together, sharing faith together is what is needed to sustain them. 40.

 

 

St. Paul says that healing is one of the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12: 28). Jesus says: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I go to the Father” (John 14:12). So, why do we fear healing? Why do we fear the laying on of hands?

Here at the retreat center on the last weekend of August, we will offer a retreat entitled “Journeying with our Angels through Reiki.” This retreat will highlight how our angel guides us on our journey to healing, balance, and harmony. What an experience of inner healing!

Reiki provides a marvelous way to make use of God’s power. The Reiki Master will call upon God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and the angels… especially Michael, Raphael and Gabriel – to work through the person and to heal the person.

Yes, I know I’ve been accused of bringing Satan into the Diocese of Gallup.  Satan tempts people to do evil. Satan does not heal. Reiki is not a religion. Reiki is not a cult. Reiki can be a religious experience which brings one closer to God. Reiki is in alignment with the teachings of the Bible.

I dare to say, not all of us will be attracted to Reiki. That is all right. But, let us not “down” persons who are attracted to the process of healing. We don’t all communicate the same way with our God.  But, hopefully, we all do communicate with God.

During this chaotic time in our diocese, within our world, let’s try to be open to how each person chooses to communicate with their God, how each person seeks to sustain inner healing, an inner peace. St. Paul says “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12:2). I pray this for myself and for each of you as you may read this.

Sister Mary Matthias Ward, Ursuline Sister of Maple Mount, KY, is the director of Sacred Retreat Center in Gallup. She can be contacted by mailing her at P.O. Box 1338, Gallup, N.M. 87305 or calling her at (505) 722-6755 or (505) 870-5679.

This column is written by area residents, representing different faith communities, who share their ideas about bringing a spiritual perspective into our daily lives and community issues.

 

The following article is an unconvincing defense of Centering Prayer by its proponents:

Distinction between Centering Prayer and Transcendental Meditation (TM)

http://www.thecentering.org/tm.html

The method of Centering Prayer is designed to prepare sincere seekers of God for contemplative prayer in the traditional sense in which spiritual writers understood that term for the first sixteen centuries of the Christian era. This tradition was summed up by St. Gregory at the end of the sixth century. He described contemplation as the knowledge of God
that is impregnated with love. For Gregory, contemplation was both the fruit of reflection on the word of God in Scripture and a precious gift of God. He called it “resting in God”. In this “resting” the mind and heart is not so much seeking God as beginning to experience, “to taste”, what they have been seeking. This state is not the suspension of all activity, but the reduction of many acts and reflections to a single act or thought to sustain one’s consent to God’s presence and action.
The differences between Centering Prayer and Transcendental Meditation are significant. The use of the Sacred Word does not have the calming effect attributed to the TM mantra. Nor is the Sacred Word a vehicle to go to the spiritual level of one’s being as it is in TM. There is no cause-and-effect relationship between using the Sacred Word and arriving
at some altered state of consciousness. The Sacred Word is merely the symbol of the will’s consent to God’s presence and action within us based on faith in the doctrine of the Divine Indwelling. Thus it is a means of reaffirming our original intention to be in God’s presence and to surrender to the divine action when we are attracted to some other thought, feeling, or impression.
Throughout the process of Centering Prayer, our intention predominates the movement of our will to consent to God’s intention, which according to Christian faith, is to communicate the divine life to us. Hence, unlike TM, Centering Prayer is a personal relationship with God, not a technique. This form of prayer has been known by different names throughout the Christian era such as the prayer of faith, the prayer of simple regard, the prayer of simplicity, and the prayer of the heart.
Centering Prayer is an effort to renew one of the most traditional forms of prayer in the Christian heritage. It is important not to confuse it with certain Eastern techniques of meditation which can produce natural states of enlightenment. Centering Prayer has nothing to do with this kind of technique. It is basically two things at the same time: the deepening of our personal relationship with Christ developed through reflection on Scripture; and a method of freeing ourselves from the attachments that prevent the development of this relationship through contemplation and the unfolding of the theological virtues of faith, hope and love.
In human relationships, as mutual love develops, there comes a time when two friends can convey their sentiments without words. They can sit in silence sharing an experience or simply enjoying each other’s presence without saying anything. Holding hands or a single word from time to time can maintain this deep communion.
This loving relationship points to the kind of interior silence that is being developed in Centering Prayer. The goal of Centering Prayer is to prepare for the grace of contemplation by simplifying one’s activity. Psalm 46 recommends, “Be still and know that I am God”. In contemplative prayer, one ceases to multiply reflections and acts of the will. A different type of knowledge rooted in love emerges in which the awareness of God’s presence supplants the preoccupations with one’s own presence and the inveterate tendency to reflect on oneself. The experience of God’s presence frees one from making oneself or one’s relationship with God the center of the universe. One’s own reflections and acts of the will are necessary preliminaries to getting acquainted with Christ, but have to be transcended if Christ is to share his most personal prayer to the Father which is characterized by self- surrender.

 


Centering Prayer reduces this tendency to over-activity in prayer and to depending excessively on concepts to go to God. Centering Prayer is a cultivation of the heart in the sense of our inmost being. The purpose of this discipline is not to induce a state of enlightenment, but to reduce the obstacles in us, chiefly selfishness, that prevents us from following the delicate inspirations of the Holy Spirit.

Since the following article is self-admittedly written by and for “fundamentalist, Bible-believing Christians“, even if one dismisses some associations and connections as contrived or exaggeration, there still remain enough of facts that confirm what we have seen already – that the meditative and contemplative techniques including Centering Prayer – conceived and propagated by many Catholic monks are of pagan origin and are New Age in nature. Once again, the connection with the seditious Indian Catholic Ashrams movement is well documented. [Words emphasized in capital letters are as in the original article]

CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICES ARE A BRIDGE TO PAGANISM
by David Cloud August 26, 2008

http://www.wayoflife.org/files/6ec9e9ab5d8e43e56219af2264116f36-128.html

Filed in: Apostasy | Contemplative Mysticism | Roman Catholicism; http://wayoflife.org/catalog/catalog.htm

The Catholic contemplative practices (e.g., centering prayer, …the Jesus prayer, Breath prayer, visualization prayer) that are flooding into evangelicalism are an
interfaith bridge to eastern religions.


Many are openly promoting the integration of pagan practices such as Zen Buddhism and Hindu yoga.


In the book Spiritual Friend (which is highly recommended by the “evangelical” Richard Foster), Tilden Edwards says:
“This mystical stream is
THE WESTERN BRIDGE TO FAR EASTERN SPIRITUALITY (Spiritual Friend, 1980, pp. 18, 19).
Since Eastern “spirituality” is idol worship and the worship of self and thus is communion with devils, what Edwards is unwittingly saying is that contemplative practices are a bridge to demonic realms.
The Roman Catholic contemplative gurus that the evangelicals are following have, in recent decades, developed intimate relationships with pagan mystics.


Jesuit priest Thomas Clarke admits that the Catholic contemplative movement has “BEEN INFLUENCED BY ZEN BUDDHISM, TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION, OR OTHER CURRENTS OF EASTERN SPIRITUALITY” (Finding Grace at the Center, pp. 79, 80).
Consider just a few of the many examples we could give.
THOMAS MERTON, the most influential Roman Catholic contemplative of this generation, was “a strong builder of bridges between East and West” (Twentieth-Century Mystics, p. 39). The Yoga Journal makes the following observation:
Merton had encountered Zen Buddhism, Sufism, Taoism and Vedanta many years prior to his Asian journey. MERTON WAS ABLE TO UNCOVER THE STREAM WHERE THE WISDOM OF EAST AND WEST MERGE AND FLOW TOGETHER, BEYOND DOGMA, IN THE DEPTHS OF INNER EXPERIENCE. … Merton embraced the spiritual philosophies of the East and integrated this wisdom into (his) own life through direct practice” (Yoga Journal, Jan.-Feb. 1999, quoted from Lighthouse Trails web site).
Merton was a student of Zen master Daisetsu Suzuki and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. In fact, he claimed to be both a Buddhist and a Christian. The titles of his books include Zen and the Birds of the Appetite and Mystics and the Zen Masters. He said: I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity. The future of Zen is in the West. I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can” (David Steindl-Rast, “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West,” Monastic Studies, 7:10, 1969,
http://www.gratefulness.org/readings/dsr_merton_recol2.htm).

Merton defined mysticism as an experience with wisdom and God beyond words. In a speech to monks of eastern religions in Calcutta in October 1968 he said: “… the deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. IT IS WORDLESS. IT IS BEYOND WORDS, AND IT IS BEYOND SPEECH, and it is BEYOND CONCEPT” (The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, 1975 edition, p. 308).
In 1969 Merton took the trip of his dreams, to visit India, Ceylon, Singapore, and Thailand, to experience the places where his beloved eastern religions were born. He said he was “going home.”
In Sri Lanka he visited a Buddhist shrine by the ocean. Approaching the Buddha idols barefoot he was struck with the “great smile,” their countenance signifying that they were “questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing, the peace … that has seen through every question without trying to discredit anyone or anything–without refutation–without establishing some other argument” (The Asian Journal, p. 233).
This alleged wisdom is a complete denial of the Bible, which teaches us that there is truth and there is error, light and darkness, God and Satan, and they are not one. The apostle John said, “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19). True wisdom lies in testing all things by God’s infallible Revelation and rejecting that which is false. Proverbs says, “The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going” (Proverbs 14:15).
Merton described his visit to the Buddhas as an experience of great illumination, a vision of “inner clearness.” He said, “I don’t know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination” (The Asian Journal, p. 235). Actually it was a demonic delusion.
Six days later Merton was electrocuted in a cottage in Bangkok by a faulty fan switch. He was fifty-four years old.
Merton has many disciples in the Roman Catholic Church, including David Steindle-Rast, William Johnston, Henri Nouwen, Philip St. Romain, William Shannon, and James Finley.
Benedictine monk
JOHN MAIN
, who is a pioneer in the field of contemplative spirituality, studied under a Hindu guru.

 

Main combined Catholic contemplative practices with yoga and in 1975 began founding meditation groups in Catholic monasteries on this principle. These spread outside of the Catholic Church and grew into an ecumenical network called the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM).

He taught the following method:
“Sit still and upright, close your eyes and repeat your prayer-phrase (mantra). Recite your prayer-phrase and gently listen to it as you say it. DO NOT THINK ABOUT ANYTHING. As thoughts come, simply keep returning to your prayer-phrase. In this way, one places everything aside: INSTEAD OF TALKING TO GOD, ONE IS JUST BEING WITH GOD, allowing God’s presence to fill his heart, thus transforming his inner being” (The Teaching of Dom John Main: How to Meditate, Meditation Group of Saint Patrick’s Basilica, Ottawa, Canada).
THOMAS KEATING
is heavily involved in interfaith dialogue and promotes the use of contemplative practices as a tool for creating interfaith unity. He says, “It is important for us to appreciate the values that are present in the genuine teachings of the great religions of the world” (Finding Grace at the Center, 2002, p. 76).
Keating is past president of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (MID), which is sponsored by the Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries of North America. Founded in 1977, it is “committed to fostering interreligious and intermonastic dialogue AT THE LEVEL OF SPIRITUAL PRACTICE AND EXPERIENCE.” This means that they are using contemplative practices and yoga as the glue for interfaith unity to help create world peace.

MID works in association with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Consider one of the objectives of the MID:
“The methods of concentration used in other religious traditions can be useful for removing obstacles to a deep contact with God. THEY CAN GIVE A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE ONENESS OF CHRIST AS EXPRESSED IN THE VARIOUS TRADITIONS and CONTRIBUTE TO THE FORMATION OF A NEW WORLD RELIGIOUS CULTURE. They can also be helpful in the development of certain potencies in the individual, for THERE ARE SOME ZEN-HINDU-SUFI-ETC. DIMENSIONS IN EACH HEART” (Mary L. O’Hara, “Report on Monastic Meeting at Petersham,” MID Bulletin 1, October 1977).
Keating and Richard Foster are involved in the Living Spiritual Teachers Project, a group that associates together Zen Buddhist monks and nuns, universalists, occultists, and New Agers.
Members include the Dalai Lama, who claims to be the reincarnation of an advanced spiritual person; Marianne Williamson, promoter of the occultic A Course in Miracles; Marcus Borg, who believes that Jesus was not virgin born and did not rise from the grave; Catholic nun Joan Chittister, who says we must become “in tune with the cosmic voice of God”; Andrew Harvey, who says that men need to “claim their divine humanity”; Matthew Fox, who believes there are many paths to God; Alan Jones, who calls the doctrine of the cross a vile doctrine; and Desmond Tutu, who says “because everybody is a God-carrier, all are brothers and sisters.”
M. BASIL PENNINGTON*, a Roman Catholic Trappist monk and co-author of the influential contemplative book Finding Grace at the Center, calls Hindu swamis “our wise friends from the East” and says, “Many Christians who take their prayer life seriously have been greatly helped by Yoga, Zen, TM, and similar practices…” (25th anniversary edition, p. 23). *Centering Prayer
In his foreword to THOMAS RYAN‘s book Disciplines for Christian Living, HENRI NOUWEN says: “[T]he author shows A WONDERFUL OPENNESS TO THE GIFTS OF BUDDHISM, HINDUISM, AND MOSLEM RELIGION. He discovers their great wisdom for the spiritual life of the Christian and does not hesitate to bring that wisdom home.”

ANTHONY DE MELLO readily admitted to borrowing from Buddhist Zen masters and Hindu gurus. He even taught that God is everything: “Think of the air as of an immense ocean that surrounds you … an ocean heavily colored with God’s presence and God’s bring. While you draw the air into your lungs you are drawing God in” (Sadhana: A Way to God, p. 36).
De Mello suggested chanting the Hindu word “om” (p. 49) and even instructed his students to communicate with inanimate objects: “Choose some object that you use frequently: a pen, a cup … Now gently place the object in front of you or on your lap and speak to it. Begin by asking it questions about itself, its life, its origins, its future. And listen while it unfolds to you the secret of its being and of its destiny. Listen while it explains to you what existence means to it. Your object has some hidden wisdom to reveal to you about yourself. Ask for this and listen to what it has to say. There is something that you can give this object. What is it? What does it want from you?” (p. 55).
Paulist priest
THOMAS RYAN took a sabbatical in India in 1991 and was initiated in yoga and Buddhist meditation. Today he is a certified teacher of Kripalu yoga. In his book Prayer of Heart and
Body: Meditation and Yoga as Christian Spiritual Practice (1995)
and his DVD Yoga Prayer (2004) he combines Catholic contemplative practices with Hindu yoga.
All of these are influential voices in the contemplative movement, and those who dabble in the movement will eventually associate with them and with others like them. This the Bible forbids in the strongest terms.
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17).
SOME OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CONTEMPLATIVE PRIESTS HAVE PURSUED THEIR INTERFAITH VENTURE SO FAR THAT THEY HAVE BECOME HINDU AND ZEN BUDDHIST MONKS. FOLLOWING ARE A FEW EXAMPLES:

 


JULES MONCHANIN
and HENRI LE SAUX, Benedictine priests, founded a Hindu-Christian ashram in India called Shantivanam* (Forest of Peace). *or Saccidananda Ashram, see report on the Catholic Ashrams

They took the names of Hindu holy men, with le Saux calling himself Swami Abhishiktananda (bliss of the anointed one). He stayed in Hindu ashrams and learned from Hindu gurus, going barefoot, wearing an orange robe, and practicing vegetarianism. In 1968 le Saux became a hermit in the Himalayas, living there until his death in 1973.
The Shantivanam Ashram was subsequently led by ALAN BEDE GRIFFITHS (1906-93). He called himself Swami Dayananda (bliss of compassion). Through his books and lecture tours Griffiths had a large influence in promoting the interfaith philosophy in Roman Catholic monasteries in America, England, Australia, and Germany. He eventually came to believe in the reality of goddess worship.
WAYNE TEASDALE* (1945-2004) was a Roman Catholic lay monk whose writings are influential in the contemplative movement. As a student in a Catholic college in Massachusetts, he began visiting St. Joseph’s Abbey near Spencer and came under the direction of Thomas Keating. This led him into an intimate association with pagan religions and the adoption of Hinduism. Teasdale visited Shantivanam Ashram and lived in a nearby Hindu ashram for two years, following in Bede Griffiths’ footsteps. In 1989 he became a “Christian” sannyasa or a Hindu monk. Teasdale was deeply involved in interfaith activities, believing that what the religions hold in common can be the basis for creating a new world, which he called the “Interspiritual Age” — a “global culture based on common spiritual values.” He believed that mystics of all religions are in touch with the same God. He helped found the Interspiritual Dialogue in Action (ISDnA), one of the many New Age organizations affiliated with the United Nations. (Its NGO sponsor is the National Service Conference of the American Ethical Union.) It is committed “to actively serve in the evolution of human consciousness and global transformation.” *see report on the Catholic Ashrams
WILLIGIS JAGER, a well-known German Benedictine priest who has published contemplative books in German and English, spent six years studying Zen Buddhism under Yamada Koun Roshi. (Roshi is the title of a Zen master.) In 1981 he was authorized as a Zen teacher and took the name Ko-un Roshi. He moved back to Germany and began teaching Zen at the Munsterschwarzach Abbey, drawing as many as 150 people a day.
In February 2002 he was ordered by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (currently Pope Benedict XVI) to cease all public activities. He was “faulted for playing down the Christian concept of God as a person and for stressing mystical experience above doctrinal truths” (“Two More Scholars Censured by Rome,” National Catholic Reporter, March 1, 2002).
Thus, Ratzinger tried to stem the tide of eastern mysticism that is flooding into the Catholic monastic communities, but he was extremely inconsistent and ultimately ineffectual. Jager kept quiet for a little while, but soon he was speaking and writing again. In 2003 Liguori Press published Search for the
Meaning of Life: Essays and Reflections on the Mystical Experience, and in 2006 Liguori published Mysticism for Modern Times: Conversations with Willigis Jager.
Jager denies the creation and fall of man as taught in the Bible. He denies the unique divinity of Christ, as well as His substitutionary atonement and bodily resurrection. He believes that the universe is evolving and that evolving universe is God. He believes that man has reached a major milestone in evolution, that he is entering an era in which his consciousness will be transformed. Jager believes in the divinity of man, that what Christ is every man can become. He believes that all religions point to the same God and promotes interfaith dialogue as the key to unifying mankind.
Jager learned these heretical pagan doctrines from his close association with Zen Buddhism and his mindless mysticism. He says that the aim of Christian prayer is transcendental contemplation in which the practitioner enters a deeper level of consciousness. This requires emptying the mind, which is achieved by focusing on the breathing and repeating a mantra.

This “quiets the rational mind,” “empties the mind,” and “frustrates our ordinary discursive thinking” (James Conner, “Contemplative Retreat for Monastics,” Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Bulletin, Oct. 1985).

This is the same practice that is taught in the 14th cent. Catholic writing The Cloud of Unknowing, which is very influential in modern contemplative circles.
Jager says that as the rational thinking is emptied and transformed, one “seems to lose orientation” and must “go on in blind faith and trust.” He says that there is “nothing to do but surrender” to “THIS PURE BLACKNESS” where “NO IMAGE OR THOUGHT OF GOD REMAINS.”
This is idolatry. To reject the Revelation God has given of Himself and to attempt to find Him beyond this Revelation through blind mysticism is to trade the true and living God for an idol.
THERE IS ALSO AN INTIMATE AND GROWING RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE CATHOLIC CONTEMPLATIVE MOVEMENT AND THE NEW AGE.
The aforementioned Thomas Keating is past president of the Temple of Understanding, a New Age organization founded in 1960 by Juliet Hollister. The mission of this organization is to “create a more just and peaceful world.” The tools for reaching this objective include interfaith education, dialogue, and experiential knowledge (mystical practices).
Shambhala Publications, a publisher that specializes in Occultic, Jungian, New Age, Buddhist, and Hindu writings, also publishes the writings of Catholic mystics, including The Wisdom of the Desert by Thomas Merton, The Writings of Hildegard of Bingen, and The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.
Sue Monk Kidd, who believes in the divinity of mankind and considers herself a goddess, was asked to write recommendations to two Catholic contemplative books. She wrote the foreword to the 2006 edition of Henri Nouwen’s With Open Hands and the introduction to the 2007 edition of Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation.
New Ager Caroline Myss (pronounced mace) has written a book based on Teresa of Avila’s visions. It is entitled Entering the Castle: Finding the Inner Path to God and Your Soul’s Purpose. Myss says, “For me, the spirit is the vessel of divinity” (“Caroline Myss’ Journey,” Conscious Choice, September 2003). 44.

 

 


On April 15, 2008, emerging church leaders Rob Bell and Doug Pagitt joined the Dalai Lama for the New Age Seeds of Compassion InterSpiritual Event in Seattle. It brought together Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims, and others. The event featured a dialogue on “the themes common to all spiritual traditions.” The Dalai Lama said, “I think everyone, ultimately, deep inside [has] some kind of goodness” (“Emergent Church Leaders’ InterSpirituality,” Christian Post, April 17, 2008).
In his book Velvet Jesus, Bell gives a glowing recommendation of the New Age philosopher Ken Wilber. Bell recommends that his readers sit at Wilber’s feet for three months! For a mind-blowing introduction to emergence theory and divine creativity, set aside three months and read Ken Wilber’s A Brief History of Everything (Velvet Elvis, p. 192).
The aforementioned Catholic contemplative monk Wayne Teasdale conducted a Mystic Heart seminar series with Wilber. In the first seminar in this series Teasdale said, “You are God; I am God; they are God; it is God” (“The Mystic Heart: The Supreme Identity,” http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7652038071112490301&q=ken+Wilber).
Roger Oakland remarks: “Ken Wilber was raised in a conservative Christian church, but at some point he left that faith and is now a major proponent of Buddhist mysticism. His book that Bell recommends, A Brief History of Everything, is published by Shambhala Publications, named after the term, which in Buddhism means the mystical abode of spirit beings. … Wilber is perhaps best known for what he calls integral theory. On his website, he has a chart called the Integral Life Practice Matrix, which lists several activities one can practice ‘to authentically exercise all aspects or dimensions of your own being-in-the-world’ Here are a few of these spiritual activities that Wilber promotes: yoga, Zen, centering prayer, kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), TM, tantra (Hindu-based sexuality), and kundalini yoga. A Brief History of Everything discusses these practices (in a favorable light) as well. For Rob Bell to say that Wilber’s book is ‘mind-blowing’ and readers should spend three months in it leaves no room for doubt regarding Rob Bell’s spiritual sympathies. What is alarming is that so many Christian venues, such as Christian junior high and high schools, are using Velvet Elvis and the Noomas” (Faith Undone, p. 110).
In Up from Eden: A Transpersonal View of Human Evolution (1981, 2004), Ken Wilber calls the Garden of Eden “a fable” and the biblical view of history “amusing” (pp. xix, 3). He describes his “perennial philosophy” as follows:
“… it is true that there is some sort of Infinite, some type of Absolute Godhead, but it cannot properly be conceived as a colossal Being, a great Daddy, or a big Creator set apart from its creations, from things and events and human beings themselves. Rather, it is best conceived (metaphorically) as the ground or suchness or condition of all things and events. It is not a Big Thing set apart from finite things, but rather the reality or suchness or ground of all things. … the perennial philosophy declares that the absolute is One, Whole, and Undivided” (p. 6).
Wilber says that this perennial philosophy “forms the esoteric core of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism, AND CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM” (p. 5).
Thus, this New Ager recognizes that Roman Catholic mysticism, which spawned the contemplative movement within Protestantism, has the same esoteric core faith as pagan idolatry!
This article is derived from our new book Contemplative Mysticism: A Powerful Ecumenical Bond. This is available from Way of Life Literature. If it is not yet available through the online catalog, it can be ordered by phone or e-mail with a credit card.
[Distributed by Way of Life Literature’s Fundamental Baptist Information Service, an e-mail listing for Fundamental Baptists and other fundamentalist, Bible-believing Christians. http://www.wayoflife.org/fbis/subscribe.html

OUR GOAL IN THIS PARTICULAR ASPECT OF OUR MINISTRY IS NOT DEVOTIONAL BUT IS TO PROVIDE INFORMATION TO ASSIST PREACHERS IN THE PROTECTION OF THE CHURCHES IN THIS APOSTATE HOUR… Way of Life publishes many helpful books. The catalog is located at the web site.

Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061. 866-295-4143, fbns@wayoflife.org.]

In case the Catholic reader is scandalized by this article, or by its inclusion in this report on Centering Prayer, please once again read my comments on page 42. The truth can very unpleasant.

 

THE REASON THAT THIS REPORT ON CENTERING PRAYER WAS PREPARED

THE SANGAM INTEGRAL FORMATION AND SPIRITUALITY CENTRE, GOA,
AN ORGANIZATION PROMOTED BY SENIOR LEADERS OF THE CATHOLIC CHARISMATIC RENEWAL [CCR], GOA, ADVERTISED A PROGRAMME CALLED THE ‘GOD IN THE NOW RETREAT’:

GOD IN THE NOW RETREAT, A Unique Invitation To Integrate your Prayer and Your Life

Dates: Four Consecutive Saturdays starting on 20th June, 2009, 3-30 P.M. to 7.30 P.M.

Venue:
Sangam Spirituality Center, Miraton Gardens, Airport Road, Chicalim, Goa

Retreat Experiences: Living in the Present Moment, Spiritual Accompaniment and Journaling, Individual and Group Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, Praying your Everyday Experiences, Welcoming Prayer, The New Universe Story

Charges for the Retreat: Rs. 600

Resource Persons: Br. Mark DaCosta, Mr. Francisco Dias, Dr. Noemia Mascarenhas

For registration contact: Tel Nos. 2541188/ 09370015208/09890172696

45.

 

 

 

 

On learning about this proposed programme, I wrote to Merwyn Rodrigues, CCR National Service Team member who represents Goa, two days before the advertised commencement of the four-Saturday course:

From:
prabhu
To:
merwynrod@hotmail.com
Sent: Thursday, June 18, 2009 8:16 AM

Subject: The God in the Now retreat

Dear Merwyn,

My name is Michael Prabhu and I am writing to you from Chennai.

I came to learn about the above-titled retreat to be conducted at the Sangam Spirituality Centre in Chicalim, Goa.

I also understand that you are one of the organizers of the programme and associated with Sangam. 

There are concerns that one of the components of the programme is Centering Prayer, which is a New Age technique.

As you are a member of the National Service Team of the CCR, you may be aware that there have been articles by reputed priests in the now-defunct New Covenant [Charismatic Renewal-USA] magazine explaining the New Age errors of Centering Prayer.

I write this in the hope that my information about the Centering Prayer retreat — with which senior priests and leaders of the CCR in Goa are reportedly associated — is incorrect.

I look forward to your early response.

At your service in Jesus’ Name, Michael
www.ephesians-511.net

I received this response after four days, which was AFTER the first session of the course was held:

From:
Merwyn Rodrigues
To:
prabhu
Sent: Monday, June 22, 2009 10:26 AM Subject: Re: The God in the Now retreat

Dear Michael

Thanks for your mail and the concern you have expressed. I have noted what you have pointed out and have already forwarded your message to the other members of Sangam and will personally take up the matter at our next meeting.

Thanks and God Bless Merwyn

From:
prabhu
To:
Merwyn Rodrigues
Sent: Wednesday, June 24, 2009 3:45 PM

Subject: Re: The God in the Now retreat

Thanks, Merwyn. God bless you too. I will be happy to be appraised of your decision. Love, Michael

There was no further communication from Merwyn Rodrigues.

A week later, it was brought to my attention that Sangam had advertised another course from August 1-5:

‘HEALING THE INNER CHILD’ by Fr. S.S. Sahayaraj OFM Cap from ANUGRAHA, Institute for Counselling, Psychotherapy and Research, Dindigul, Tamil Nadu

I immediately wrote to Merwyn Rodrigues because Anugraha promotes New Age [read my letter]:

From:
prabhu
To:
Merwyn Rodrigues
Sent: Wednesday, July 01, 2009 10:09 PM

Subject: MOST URGENT: Inner Healing retreats in Goa by the Capuchin priests from Anugraha

My dear Merwyn,

I was waiting to hear from you after your meeting with the other Sangam people [my reply to you, above].

Now, I understand that the Capuchin Fathers of Anugraha, Dindigul, are coming to Goa to conduct an Inner Healing retreat. I am shocked to learn about this programme so soon after the “God in the Now” Centering Prayer retreat arranged by you all.

The type of psychology and counseling that these priests offer is not Catholic-biblical-pastoral at all. In fact, while it may not be Christian even, and purely secular, which need not necessarily be a problem for Catholics, it is hardly avoidable that they include components that are anti-Christian.

While it will take too much time and space for me to prepare an article to justify my statements, what I can assure you is that

the OFM Cap. priests at Anugraha are promoters of yoga retreats, guided retreats based on enneagrams, genograms, bioenergetics, neuro linguistic programming, and other New Age techniques.

Their spirituality is not anything that charismatics would want to touch with a barge pole.

I am preparing a brief report on what the Anugraha priests are doing in the guise of promoting Catholic spirituality and will be sending it to you shortly. [Meanwhile I trust you will reply] It will show you why these practices are not Catholic but New Age.

But that does not shock me. What shocks me is that the charismatic renewal in Goa has become the conduit for New Age!

I would like to be corrected if I am wrong and I will beg your pardon, but aren’t the leading charismatic renewal leaders of Goa in the Sangam organisation? Where has the discernment gone? Where is the Holy Spirit and the Word of God anymore in some sections of the CCR. Do we not have established and reputed charismatic inner healing ministries?

Did not the Goa leaders check out thoroughly the contents of these programmes and the allied activities of those who would be conducting them?

I can say from my experience, observation and the information that I get, that all this is the result of compromises made at different times, a cover up of the truth about New Age dangers because some senior leaders were already into some forms of it, and a decay in the spiritual dispositions of many senior leaders. What is happening was inevitable.

I do not speak as one in authority over you or anyone else, so kindly do not misunderstand me.

46.

 

 

I also request you not to look at me as a fault-finder, as some misguided “leaders” might have you believe. There are lots of good average Catholics in Goa, even in the Renewal, and quite a few priests, who have met me, heard me, and will vouch for me.

I am seriously concerned about the errors, especially the New Age ones, that are getting institutionalized in the Church because of our apathy and silence. And now because of our collaboration with them?

Who will pay the price for this? Our brothers and sisters, our children and grandchildren.

It is our duty to protect and fight for our Faith. Even if today some of the enemies of the Church are within her. Let us do it together.

At your service in Jesus’ Name, Michael Prabhu
www.ephesians-511.net

There was no response to my above letter.

REMINDER: From:
prabhu
To:
Merwyn Rodrigues
Sent: Thursday, July 02, 2009 7:55 AM

Subject: Fw: MOST URGENT: Inner Healing retreats in Goa by the Capuchin priests from Anugraha

Dear Merwyn, This is a reminder. Please do not take offense at anything I wrote. I am very concerned about the spread of New Age error in the Church and the role of the CCR either by its silence or by its participation. Love, Michael

I did not receive any acknowledgement from Merwyn till the time of my completing this report on July 4.

He has not reverted to me on the matter of the Centering Prayer issue either.

Till this time there was no article on Centering Prayer on this ministry’s website because it has had no real presence in India. Or so I thought, because I had not come across anyone promoting it in Catholic circles. But, seeing that the Catholic Charismatic Renewal has taken the initiative to introduce it in this country, I hurriedly put together — in a matter of two days — some information on the subject from material that I had already saved in my computer.

In line with this ministry’s practice of exposing error [Ephesians 5:11] and creating awareness about New Age practices, this writer is obliged to make public this information.

For the SANGAM INTEGRAL FORMATION AND SPIRITUALITY CENTRE, GOA-NEW AGE PSYCHOLOGY, ETC.
report, please see http://ephesians-511.net/docs/SANGAM_INTEGRAL_FORMATION_AND_SPIRITUALITY_CENTRE_GOA-NEW_AGE_PSYCHOLOGY_ETC.doc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

47.

 

 

 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION. UPDATE OF THE ARTICLE ON CENTERING PRAYER

Ctd. from page 20

10. Contemplative Prayer

http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=00BKtO

Q.
I am interested to find out people’s opinions on contemplative prayer. I have been practising the John Main method* for some time now and have been aware of the centering prayer school founded by Abbot Thomas Keating as well. I recently found this on the Internet
http://www.dotm.org/decelles-1.htm (apologies if the hyperlink has not appeared) and wonder how approving the Church is of these two methods of prayer. Does anyone have any idea of other methods of contemplative prayer if the John Main and Abbot Keating ones are not recommended?

Adrian Lowe
adrianmlowe@yahoo.com, September 20, 2003

Q. Does anyone have any idea of other methods of contemplative prayer if the John Main and Abbot Keating ones are not recommended?

Jake jake1REMOVE@pngusa.net, September 22, 2003

*“The John Main method” is the “Christian Meditation” of the World Community for Christian Meditation [WCCM]. It is Buddhist and New Age, see my comments on page 39 and also my separate report- Michael

RESPONSES:

1. For an analysis of the problems with centering prayer, please see The Danger of Centering Prayer by the Rev. John D. Dreher. http://www.petersnet.net/research/retrieve_full.cfm?RecNum=234

Bill Nelson
bnelson45@hotmail.com, September 22, 2003

2. Father Thomas Dubay, S.M., has written and taught extensively on the subject of contemplative prayer. His excellent book, Fire Within, is available from Ignatius Press. It is an introduction to the writings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross — both doctors of the Church, and great Carmelite mystics. While easy to understand, Fire Within is still indepth enough to prepare one for a deeper study of the works of these two great Saints. In my experience as a Secular Discalced Carmelite, one usually begins to study St. Teresa’s writings by reading her Autobiography, followed by The Way of Perfection. Her most profound work is Interior Castle. John of the Cross is best understood by reading The Ascent of Mt. Carmel and The Dark Night of the Soul before moving on to his other more sublime works.

Regarding “centering prayer,” Father Dubay has spoken against it on several occasions that I know of. Contemplation is supernatural prayer, and can therefore only be given by God. We cannot “induce” it ourselves by using methods.

Both Teresa and John teach that we can best prepare ourselves by faithfulness to mental prayer (meditation as best we can), humility, detachment from worldly things, charity and abandonment to God.

Patricia
MTherese2@aol.com, September 22, 2003

3. I agree with you completely, Patricia, concerning Fr. Dubay. He has made several 13-episode series for EWTN, some of them on prayer — with emphasis on mental prayer (meditation and contemplation) according to the great Carmelite saints. Only a few weeks ago, he was interviewed for an hour by Fr. Mitchell Pacwa on “EWTN Live.” He talked about many things, including Centering Prayer [CP]. (I think that someone phoned in a question about it.) He listed several reasons for us to avoid it, though he was careful to say that those promoting CP [including Fr. Keating] were well-intentioned. It meant a lot to me to hear this from an expert like Fr. Dubay, because I have been unsure about CP for more than 15 years. I found out about it in 1985, when I learned that it was being practiced and promoted by a prominent Catholic layman who runs a charitable organization (feeding the hungry, especially in the Caribbean). I had gone to do some volunteer work with this man’s apostolate in Florida, and he sought to interest me in CP by giving me a bunch of audiocassettes made by (then) Abbot Keating and another Trappist/Cistercian, Fr. Basil Pennington. After trying CP and listening to the tapes, I came away “smelling something rotten in the state of Denmark.” This CP business just didn’t “feel” right, so I abandoned it as just another experimental thing that was probably picked up from Eastern Asian non-Christianity. Since seeing Fr. Dubay on EWTN, I have come across two things:

1. A full-length article entitled ‘Is Centering Prayer Contemplation?’
http://www.dotm.org/ctrprayjonnette.htm

2. The following excerpt from another page (http://www.dotm.org/winter99.htm):
“Once again, Catholics … are perplexed by the activities of a local Marian group. In a recent newsletter they aggressively promote the New Age practice called ‘centering prayer.’ In their defense of this practice they have erroneously identified genuine Catholic mystical forms of prayer as examples of centering prayer. We submit that, while there may be some external similarities between the two (the devil will always use a smidgen of truth to lead people astray), centering prayer in itself is irredeemably non-Christian in both its methods and goals.

“What are these methods and goals? Basically, one is directed to empty oneself of all thoughts, not only a simple clearing away of the mind, but a suspension of the intellect. A mantra is used to this effect. An attempt is made to make Catholics more comfortable with this technique by comparing a mantra to the Rosary, or by suggesting that the name ‘Jesus’ be used. One must note that in the Rosary we are called upon to actively contemplate upon the Mysteries (a mindless repetition is exactly what Christ referred to when He cautioned us against vain and repetitive prayers). Some may accept that centering prayer has been ‘Christianized;’ however, the methods of authentic Christian prayer have always been based on cooperation between God and our intellect and will.

48.

 

 

Many noted Catholic theologians and spiritual directors such as: Fr. Thomas Dubay (an expert on Carmelite spirituality), Fr. Benedict Groeschel (a trained psychologist who, ironically, has been invited by this Marian group to be next year’s keynote speaker at their Marian Conference), and Fr. Mitch Pacwa ( a convert from the New Age and centering prayer) — have cautioned strongly against the use of centering prayer pointing out this utter emptying of the mind (better known as Transcendental Meditation) leading to a void which can likely be taken advantage of by satanic forces. Would Christ place souls in such jeopardy? If it is not of God, where did centering prayer come from?

“Johnnette Benkovic … has devoted an entire chapter in her book, ‘The New Age Counterfeit,’ to centering prayer.

In this book, she quotes Fr. Emile Lafranz, S.J., [see page 50- Michael] director of the Center of Jesus the Lord in New Orleans, on the origins of centering prayer: ‘I honestly believe it comes from Hinduism. And it is an attempt to reach an altered state of consciousness.’ He also cautions, ‘I believe it’s something that can likewise introduce a person to an evil spirit.’

“An article entitled, ‘The Danger of Centering Prayer,’ which appeared in the November, 1997 issue of ‘This Rock’ (published by Karl Keating’s ‘Catholic Answers’ apostolate), included a mother’s account of her ten-year-old who had been introduced to centering prayer at a Catholic school: ‘About six weeks ago Kristy started having difficulty going to sleep. She didn’t want to stay in her own room and would lie there afraid to close her eyes, until I would let her go into her sister’s room and sleep with her. Finally she confided in me that she would see something scary if she closed her eyes. A few days ago, she confided that it laughed. Kristy had used the centering prayer on her own at bedtime for some time before this fear started.’ The author of the article, Fr. John Dreher goes on to explain: ‘What happened to Kristy? The laughter is very characteristic of evil spirits. It would have taken personal contact and prayerful discernment to know for sure. From the description, I would suspect that an evil spirit is harassing her. I would doubt that it has any serious hold on her, unless there was immoral behavior or a special vulnerability in her psychological state. I suspect that her use of centering prayer opened her to evil spirits and harassments.

“Having pointed out the dangers involved in the centering prayer method itself, we must address its goals. The Marian group’s newsletter offers the following passage: ‘But in fact its chief purpose is an opening to the Indwelling Trinity, the Divine Presence of God in His Word, Jesus Christ, residing at the core of all creation and at the core of each individual human person.’ This is, indeed, a lofty and laudable goal, but to paraphrase a popular billboard, ‘Will the road of centering prayer really get you to God’s place?’ Centering prayer has been documented to lead some to spiritual ruin and yet the Marian group in its September, 1999 newsletter insists that ‘To call it “demonic” is to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit.’ This claim is the height of spiritual arrogance, an arrogance which is again characteristic of the evil one and not of the One who calls us to humility and a spirit of self-criticism. Let us pray that a group whose stated purpose is to promote Marian devotion will follow more closely the path of her Son.”

Adrian, I have to admit that I have never heard/read anything from the Vatican itself that expresses approval or condemnation of Centering Prayer.

John F. Gecik
jfgecik@hotmail.com, September 23, 2003

4. This CP thing IS New Age mumbo jumbo repacked for Christian consumption. We are to worship with our spirits, hearts and MINDS! We must NEVER empty our minds and leave it open to who-knows-what. That is like walking away from your computer in the middle of a document and leaving the keyboard wide-open to anybody or “anything” else.

Gail
rothfarms@socket.net, September 23, 2003

5. St. Teresa of Avila warns against some methods of prayer “which are not inspired by the gospels, which set Christ aside in preference for a mental void which makes no sense in Christianity”.

The Holy Father {JP 2} addressed the ‘new age’ thing in Rome at an ‘ad limina’ visit from some US bishops in May of 1993. Regarding the ‘new age movement’ he says “it includes some very ambiguous elements which are incompatible with the Christian faith”.

He goes on to say “New Age ideas sometimes find their way into preaching, catechesis, workshops, and retreats, and thus influence even practicing Catholics, who perhaps are unaware of the incompatibility of those ideas with the Church’s faith. In their syncretistic and immanent outlook, these parareligious movements pay little heed to revelation, and instead try to come to God through knowledge and experience based on elements borrowed from Eastern spirituality or from psychological techniques. They tend to relativize religious doctrine in favor of a vague worldview expressed as a system of myths and symbols dressed in religious language. Moreover, they often propose a pantheistic concept of God which is incompatible with sacred scripture and with Christian tradition. They replace personal responsibility to God for our actions with a sense of duty to the cosmos, thus overturning the true concept of sin and the need for redemption through Christ.”
Theresa
Rodntee4Jesus@aol.com, September 25, 2003.

6. It is extremely refreshing to hear your insights into Centering Prayer. I have been looking into Centering Prayer myself for some time now and agree completely with your points. Here is an additional tidbit of information:

Thomas Keating was the President of the Temple of Understanding in 1984. The Temple of Understanding was founded by Lucifer Trust (later renamed to Lucis Trust) which itself was founded by Alice Bailey. Alice Bailey’s goal and the original purpose of Lucis Trust was to prepare the way for “The Christ” (in their speak – the antichrist). The Temple of Understanding promotes the unification of all religions, with the final purpose of creating a one world- religion (i.e., not Christianity). Further, Thomas Keating, in his own words, has stated (to paraphrase) that – through Christ is NOT the only way to get to Kingdom of God. For Christians/Catholics this statement should raise a red flag. Gabo Gaviria
jkcap@hotmail.com, October 08, 2003 49.

 

 

 

 

7. Beware of contemplative prayer. Note that the popular book, “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren advocates contemplative prayer. Emptying ones mind, repeating mantras……Christians don’t need this. We have direct access to the Father through Jesus Christ who is our advocate. New Age techniques are dangerous and should be avoided.
Diane Constant Shefveland
religiontrends@aol.com, June 27, 2004

8. Your last statement is certainly correct. However, contemplative prayer is not a “new age technique”, nor does it have anything to do with “emptying one’s mind” or “repeating mantras”. Catholic Tradition and teaching recognizes three forms of prayer – vocal, meditative, and contemplative. Many of the greatest saints of the Church practiced contemplative prayer daily, and they certainly were not involved in the New Age movement. Your confusing genuine contemplative prayer with new age techniques is understandable though, for much of what is presented as “contemplative prayer” these days, even in supposedly Catholic seminars, workshops and retreats, is a actually a mishmash of contemplative prayer, eastern mysticism, and new age techniques, frequently with more emphasis on the latter than on actual contemplative prayer.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church devotes considerable space to genuine contemplative prayer (sections 2709 through 2724). A few quotes…

“Entering into contemplative prayer is like entering into the Eucharistic liturgy: we “gather up” the heart, recollect our whole being under the prompting of the Holy Spirit, abide in the dwelling place of the lord which we are, awaken our faith in order to enter into the presence of him who awaits us.”

“Contemplative prayer is the prayer of the child of God, of the forgiven sinner who agrees to welcome the love by which he is loved and who wants to respond to it by loving even more.”

“Contemplative prayer is the simplest expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gift, a grace; it can be accepted only in humility and poverty.”

“Contemplative prayer is a union with the prayer of Christ as it makes us participate in his mystery.”
Paul M.
PaulCyp@cox.net, June 27, 2004

 

11.
Centering Prayer: A Pastoral Perspective – An Interview with Fr. Emile Lafranz, S.J.


http://www.albawabaforums.com/read.php3?f=3&i=114060&t=113813

Father Emile Lafranz, S.J. was director of The Center of Jesus the Lord in New Orleans, Louisiana, for twenty years. In addition to traveling throughout the United States preaching about the Holy Spirit and living a life in the Lord, much of Father Lafranz’s time was spent in giving pastoral counselling and spiritual direction to the numbers of people who came to the Center On Ascension Thursday, May 25, 1995, Father Emile Lafranz went home to be with Our Lord.

Johnnette: Before we talk about prayer, it is important for us to start with a definition. What is prayer?
Father Lafranz: St. Teresa talks about prayer as conversation with God. It’s the faith that enables us to enter into a relationship with the Father in the Son through the Holy Spirit.
Johnnette: What is centering prayer?
Father Lafranz: I need to be very careful here. Prayer will have through the grace of God the normal progression of simplifying. And there is a centering on Jesus Christ which must always be encouraged. A personal relationship with Him. A centering like-wise on the word of God that makes Jesus so present to us. But there is a technique of prayer that has become quite popular over the last twenty years and that’s called centering prayer. And
I would say that it is simply transcendental meditation in a Christian dress.
Johnnette: Father, let’s talk about the roots of this centering prayer technique. Where does it come from?
Father Lafranz:
I honestly believe it comes from Hinduism. And it is an attempt to reach an altered state of consciousness (meditative thought). A type of mysticism, not Christian mysticism, but a natural mysticism in which there is a feeling of a peace. And many people get into it and they realize there is a change that is happening. But I would say this is not due to the power of the Holy Spirit. I believe its something that can likewise introduce a person to an evil spirit. Why I say this is that when we go into the void, we need to be extremely cautious. We don’t go unprotected. Evil spirits can touch us if we don’t have our minds and hearts guarded. As were told in the sixth chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Put on the armor of God. What concerns me so much is that a technique is being used to come into contact with God, a technique that will automatically produce mysticism. Union with God is a grace, a gift of God. We cannot create this experience. It is a gift of God. I would say we need to be extremely cautious. When we open ourselves, what spirit is coming in? The Holy Spirit? Is it an evil spirit? That is why I would definitely say Christians need to recognize that first and foremost we need to come with the protection of the Holy Spirit, recognize that the focus has to be on God. Not upon ourselves. I find that this type of prayer actually has the individual looking more and more into himself. He becomes more and more self conscious. The reason I would say this is by its very nature, coming from transcendental meditation, or Hinduism, their understanding of God is very different from the Christian understanding of God.
Johnnette: Share with us, Father, What is that difference?
Father Lafranz: Hinduism believes in a pantheistic awareness of God. All is God. And to become more and more conscious of this relatedness with the is-ness of all creation is the goal of Hinduism. It’s simply something that is passive. For Christians, we believe that God is different from matter. God is separate from matter. The creator is not the creature. God is involved in our lives. He is present to us at the deepest core of our being. But we are not God. The fallacy of the New Age is that it is a proclamation that we are God. That was the first heresy. The first temptation, ‘You will be like God’.

50.

 

 

 

Johnnette: Father, were talking about a technique, and I know that one of the things that concerns me about centering prayer is that it is sometimes stated that centering prayer is a means of coming into contemplative prayer. And sometimes it’s even stated that centering prayer is contemplative prayer. What is contemplative prayer?
Father Lafranz: Contemplative prayer is first of all a gift from God. It’s an infused experience of Gods presence with us through faith and through love. And likewise as a result of the gifts of the Holy Spirit we become more aware of Gods presence to us. The normal progression of the Christian is to grow in the contemplative awareness of God. It’s an infused gift of God. In other words, we can’t create it. We can humbly go before God, in repentance we can turn our lives over to God, and after a period of time we can grow in a deeper understanding of God. But its a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. I believe that what is happening today is people are being told to go into centering prayer and in an instant you will be holy.
Notice the cross is absent in centering prayer, and there can be no growth without the cross…

12.
Fr. M. Basil Pennington (1931-2005) / Tarot Cards / Fr. Thomas Keating (b. 1923)

http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2007/11/centering-prayer-fr-m-basil-pennington.html Posted by Dave Armstrong

All of this inquiry came about as a result of part of my new duties at my new job with the Coming Home Network [CHNI].

I answer some of the “difficult” questions that come in. In this particular instance, someone asked about a show that featured Clare McGrath Merkle*: a critic of centering prayer. See the audio files of her appearances on The Journey Home [link] and also The Abundant Life, with Johnnette Benkovic (one / two / three); see also many EWTN audio files on the topic of a Catholic view of the New Age (many by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J.). *see page 5
My correspondent asserted that the late Fr. Pennington’s views on centering prayer were misrepresented by Merkle, as incorporating New Age techniques, whereas Fr. Thomas Keating’s views were rightly the target of such criticisms. My correspondent also admitted that a lot of what passes for centering prayer (which, she says, is nothing more than a genuine manifestation of the Catholic contemplative prayer tradition) is indeed shot through with an excessive syncretism and mixing of disparate elements. She reiterated that Fr. Pennington (in contrast to these heterodox distortions) was an orthodox Catholic.
I set out to do my research (not knowing much about the topic, going in) so I could offer a substantial answer. My responses show a developing understanding of what I think I found today:

Thanks for your letter. It was forwarded to me, as part of my (recently obtained) job at CHNI is attempting to give answers to the relatively difficult or technical questions that come in. You obviously have a great deal of knowledge about this subject. I can’t say that I knew much of anything, myself, about “centering prayer” before this letter (I had at least heard of it). So I had to look around the Internet to see what I could find from other trusted Catholic sources. I did run across an article in This Rock magazine (Nov. 1997 issue), called The Danger of Centering Prayer [see page 7] [http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/1997/9711fea1.asp] by Fr. John D. Dreher. He does not distinguish Pennington from Keating, and is critical of the entire method. Dreher states:

Centering prayer differs from Christian prayer in that the intent of the technique is to bring the practitioner to the center of his own being. There he is, supposedly, to experience the presence of the God who indwells him. Christian prayer, on the contrary, centers upon God in a relational way, as someone apart from oneself. The Christian knows a God who is personal, yet who, as Creator, infinitely transcends his creature. God is wholly other than man. It is also crucial to Christian prayer that God engages man’s whole being in response, not just his interior life. In the view of centering prayer, the immanence of God somehow makes the transcendence of God available to human techniques and experience.

Centering prayer is essentially a form of self-hypnosis. It makes use of a “mantra,” a word repeated over and over to focus the mind while striving by one’s will to go deep within oneself. The effects are a hypnotic-like state: concentration upon one thing, disengagement from other stimuli, a high degree of openness to suggestion, a psychological and physiological condition that externally resembles sleep but in which consciousness is interiorized and the mind subject to suggestion. After reading a published description of centering prayer, a psychology professor said, “Your question is, is this hypnosis? Sure it is.” He said the state can be verified physiologically by the drop in blood pressure, respiratory rate, lactic acid level in the blood, and the galvanic conductivity of the skin. Abbot Keating relates that, when they began doing the centering prayer workshops in the guest house, some of the monks and guests ” complained that it was spooky seeing people walking around the guest house like ‘zombies.”‘ They recognized the symptoms but could not diagnose the illness.

About Fr. Pennington in particular, he writes:

Centering prayer claims for itself the experience of God, while setting aside external realities and overcoming the “otherness” of God. It takes these characteristics not from Christian tradition but from Hinduism, through the medium of Transcendental Meditation. TM is Hinduism adapted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a Hindu guru, for use in a Western cultural setting. Fr. Pennington, one of the authors of centering prayer and an ardent supporter of TM, says, “Mahesh Yogi, employing the terminology of the ancient Vedic tradition, speaks of this [practice of TM] ‘to plunge into deep, deep rest for fifteen or twenty minutes twice a day’ as experiencing the Absolute. The Christian knows by faith that this Absolute is our God of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who dwells in us. When he goes to his deepest self, he finds in himself an image and participation of God, and he finds God himself.”

Fr. Pennington approves a Christian’s participation in TM, despite the fact that the introductory ceremony to TM, the Puja, involves worship of a dead Hindu guru and that the mantras given those being initiated are in fact the names of Hindu gods. For a Christian knowingly to participate in TM is a violation of the Second Commandment against false worship. 51.

 

 

 

In the February 1998 issue of the same magazine, letters to the editor about Fr. Dreher’s article appear. Ironically, the first one defends Fr. Keating as perfectly orthodox, whereas you would (far as I can tell) disagree with that assessment. But Fr. Dreher’s response and the documentation he provides, is, I think, compelling in showing that Fr. Pennington and Fr. Keating have both committed the errors of espousing false belief-systems to a very troubling degree. I cite his response in full:

Fr. John Dreher replies:

In the spirit of dialogue, especially with those who have had some involvement with centering prayer, let me highlight the crucial issue: Is centering prayer traditional Catholic contemplative prayer or is it New Age in Christian dress or, at least, heavily influenced by the New Age?

Some correspondents make reference to the “method” of centering prayer, so I will begin my response in that area. But first let me say that I believe in contemplative prayer. I practice it every day, and I am reasonably well read in Catholic mystical theology.

1. Method. The guidelines for centering prayer bear similarities to traditional contemplation, enough to package it as Catholic contemplation, but are essentially different.

Guideline 1: “Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.” The “sacred word” has an indispensable place within centering prayer (and in Transcendental Meditation, where it is called a “mantra”) but is not the heart of the Catholic contemplative tradition. Centering prayer uses the “sacred word” as a focusing device for psychic energies. In Catholic contemplation, when I say or think “Jesus,” I intend to relate in a personal way to Jesus. I do not say “love, peace, mercy, silence, stillness, calm, faith, trust,” though centering prayer commends them as “sacred words,” because these qualities or attributes are not persons. The rosary and the Jesus Prayer, though they undeniably have a calming effect, have a personal and relational content that is primary.

Guideline 2: “Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.” What is the nature of “God’s presence and action within”? I reiterate two points I made in the article about the indwelling of God: that it does not reduce his transcendence or make him accessible by any technique or method, and that we are not to go to God deep within but from deep within.

Guideline 3: “When you become aware of thoughts, return ever so gently to the sacred word.” Distractions are a problem not only in contemplative prayer but in daily life as well. A good spiritual director, in Catholic tradition, might offer one of, say, ten different ways to deal with it, depending on the situation. Guideline 3 is a means of deepening the focus of psychic energies and is a hypnotic technique.

What about centering prayer’s fruitfulness in dissipating stress and bringing peace? Many report this outcome. I do not dispute the effect, just the cause. The medieval Flemish mystic Ruysbroeck said there is a form of peace that is purely natural: “When a man is bare and imageless in his senses and empty and idle in his higher powers, he enters into a rest through mere nature . . . without the grace of God. These people err gravely. They immerse themselves in an absolute silence that is purely natural, and a false liberty of spirit is born from this. Having drawn the body in upon itself, they are mute, unmoving. . . . They mistake these types of simplicity for those which are reached through God. In reality they have lost God” (John Ruysbroeck, Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage).

Guideline 4: “At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.” I am not aware of such an instruction in the Catholic contemplative tradition. It is, however, a common place for emerging from a hypnotic state. The examples of St. Teresa, St. Bernadette, the children of Fatima, Padre Pio, and many others who have experienced states of “trance” are not the same, for these are not “acquired contemplation” (accomplished by human effort) but “infused contemplation” in which God has taken the full initiative.

2. New Age? The similarities between centering prayer and Transcendental Meditation are striking. “As an ex-TM mediator,” says Fr. Finbarr Flanagan, O.F.M., “I find it hard to see any differences between centering prayer and Transcendental Meditation.” Frs. Keating, Menninger, and Pennington authored centering prayer at a time when St. Joseph Abbey had received several retreats involving Eastern religions, including Transcendental Meditation. I cited Fr. Pennington’s praise for the Hindu guru and author of Transcendental Meditation. This involvement in eclecticism has continued. Fr. Pennington has not just attended an e.s.t (Erhard Sensitivity Training) session but has served on its board.
Frs. Keating and Pennington gave endorsements, appearing on the dust jacket, for
Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey in Christian Hermeticism.
[See page 36]
The tarot is a deck of cards used in fortune telling. Fr. Keating calls the book “the greatest contribution to date toward the rediscovery and renewal of the Christian contemplative tradition.” Fr. Pennington says it is “without doubt the most extraordinary work I have ever read.”

Amity House, the publisher, is heavily New Age. The Library of Congress has classified the book under “occult sciences” and “cartomancy.” For more on the book about the Tarot, see the article, von Blathasar
and the Tarot, by Carl Olson, writing in Ignatius Insight Scoop: the blog of Ignatius Press (an orthodox Catholic publisher). This issue is complicated by the fact that Hans Urs von Balthasar: a highly-regarded theologian (whose works have often been published by Ignatius Press) wrote a Foreword to the book (see excerpts from it). On this same page (discussion portion), Stratford Caldecott, a Catholic writer, who reviewed the book positively in The National Catholic Register, admits it is not totally orthodox, and that von Balthasar had also noted this:

 

52.

 

 

 

Hi, I am Stratford Caldecott*, editor of ‘Second Spring’ as mentioned above. Carl asked me to jump in. I have to say the intention of our journal is to be as open-minded as we can be from within a total commitment to Catholic truth and the authority of the Church. As background, I am a convert from a New Age sort of background (by which I don’t mean the flakier kinds of occultism but simply an interest in mysticism and other religions, that kind of thing). My heroes are Newman, Chesterton, Tolkien, JPII, Ratzinger/Benedict, not to mention various saints – and I count Balthasar as a big influence, though do not regard him as infallible. *see page 55

I don’t have time now to dig out my original review of Tomberg, but will try to do that later if it might be helpful. It is a very rich and stimulating book, but as Balthasar said (in comments largely edited out of the ‘Afterword’ to the English paperback edition because they sounded too critical) there are certain flaws that need to be borne in mind. It does not appear to be totally orthodox, despite the author’s intention. However, the book is not at all to do with ‘Tarot’ in the sense of divination, but uses the SYMBOLS on the cards as a way into a series of meditations on the Christian and the ‘Hermetic’ traditions that he is trying to weave together…

Translator Robert Powell writes in a review:

Here it must be said that the author’s work does not just connect onto the Hermetic tradition, but rather revivifies it by establishing something new. He has brought into being a new and Christian form of Hermeticism: the birth of Christian Hermeticism is accomplished through these Letters. The reader of the twenty two Letters who works his way through them as meditations can experience that he is on a journey: a journey into Christian Hermeticism.

The excerpt from this book on “Death” (Letter 13) provided on this web page appears to teach the non-Christian belief in reincarnation:

The thirteenth Arcanum of the Tarot is therefore that of the principle of subtraction or death, and is the opposite of the principle of addition or life. It is necessary to subtract the Self from the astral body, the etheric body and the physical body in order to understand the mechanism of forgetting; it is necessary to subtract the Self and the astral body, from the etheric body and the physical body in order to obtain the state of sleep; and it is necessary to subtract the Self, the astral body and the etheric body from the physical body in order to obtain the corpse, i.e. the fact of death. These three degrees of subtraction in their totality constitute the process of excarnation, just as the corresponding three degrees of addition constitute the totality of the process of incarnation. For incarnation is the addition of an astral body to the Self, the addition of an etheric body to the astral body and the Self, and lastly the addition of a physical body to the etheric body, the astral body and the Self.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church flatly rejects reincarnation:

1013 Death is the end of man’s earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny. When “the single course of our earthly life” is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives: “It is appointed for men to die once.” There is no “reincarnation” after death.

The meditation from the book, “The High Priestess” (Letter 2) strikes me as rather bizarre, from an orthodox Catholic standpoint:

The re-birth from Water and Spirit which the Master indicates to Nicodemus is the re-establishment of the state of consciousness prior to the Fall, where the Spirit was divine Breath and where this Breath was reflected by virginal Nature. This is Christian yoga. Its aim is not “radical deliverance” (mukti), i.e. the state of consciousness without breath and without reflection, but rather “baptism from Water and the Spirit”, which is the complete and perfect response to divine action. These two kinds of baptism bring about the reintegration of the two constituent elements of consciousness as such the active element and the passive element. There is no consciousness without these two elements, and the suppression of this duality by means of a practical method such as that inspired by the ideal of unity (advaita non-duality) must necessarily lead to the extinction not of being but rather of consciousness. Then this would not be a new birth of consciousness, but instead would be its return to the pre-natal embryonic cosmic state.

. . . Christian yoga does not aspire directly to unity, but rather to the unity of two. This is very important for understanding the standpoint which one takes towards the infinitely serious problem of unity and duality. For this problem can open the door to truly divine mysteries and can also close them to us…for ever, perhaps, who knows? Everything depends on its comprehension. We can decide in favour of monism and say to ourselves that there can be only one sole essence, one sole being. Or we can decide in view of considerable historical and personal experience in favour of dualism and say to ourselves that there are two principles in the world; good and evil, spirit and matter, and that, entirely incomprehensible though this duality is at root, it must be admitted as an incontestable fact. WE can, moreover, decide in favour of a third point of view, namely that of love as the cosmic principle which presupposes duality and postulates its non-substantial but essential unity.

These three points of view are found at the basis of the Vedanta (advaita) and Spinozism (monism), Manichaeism and certain gnostic schools (dualism), and the Judaeo-Christian current (love).

The Vatican document: Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the “New Age” does indeed (as you allude to) provide a very helpful Christian treatment of the general subject. It includes sections on Hermeticism [see page 37] and anthroposophy:

Hermeticism: philosophical and religious practices and speculations linked to the writings in the Corpus Hermeticum, and the Alexandrian texts attributed to the mythical Hermes Trismegistos.

53.

 

When they first became known during the Renaissance, they were thought to reveal pre-Christian doctrines, but later studies showed they dated from the first century of the Christian era. Alexandrian hermeticism is a major resource for modern esotericism, and the two have much in common: eclecticism, a refutation of ontological dualism, an affirmation of the positive and symbolic character of the universe, the idea of the fall and later restoration of mankind. Hermetic speculation has strengthened belief in an ancient fundamental tradition or a so-called philosophia perennis falsely considered as common to all religious traditions. The high and ceremonial forms of magic developed from Renaissance Hermeticism.

Anthroposophy: a theosophical doctrine originally popularised by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), who left the Theosophical Society after being leader of its German branch from 1902 to 1913. It is an esoteric doctrine meant to initiate people into “objective knowledge” in the spiritual-divine sphere. Steiner believed it had helped him explore the laws of evolution of the cosmos and of humanity. Every physical being has a corresponding spiritual being, and earthly life is influenced by astral energies and spiritual essences. The Akasha Chronicle is said to be a “cosmic memory” available to initiates.

At this point (though I would like to study the issue further), I would be very wary of this book, Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey in Christian Hermeticism, as it appears to cross the line between looking for elements in non-Christian and heterodox Christian religious belief-systems that are true (a fully Catholic practice, and one highly stressed at Vatican II) and outright advocacy of those practices, which involves contradiction to Catholic doctrine and metaphysical philosophy. Fr. Pennington’s extreme praise of the book indicates to me that he has also (though not necessarily) blurred this distinction. Stratford Caldecott, editor of Second Spring: A Journal of Faith & Culture, positively reviewed the book, but also admitted that it was not “totally orthodox.”
I’ll let you make up your own mind as to the materials I have presented. It has made me very curious, myself. We want to avoid the two poles of conspiratorialism and “guilt by association” on one hand and laxity in doctrinal orthodoxy out of a desire for conciliation and ecumenism and a certain level of permissible syncretism, on the other.

* * *

Clare McGrath Merkle (or an unmentioned person; it’s not clear) wrote an article entitled “Centering Prayer: Catholic Meditation or Occult Meditation?”
http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/dissent/centerprayer.htm This appeared in The Contemplative Prayer Online magazine. The writer provides a bit of documented argumentation in that piece.

Of related interest is an article by Margaret A. Feaster, that was published in Homiletic & Pastoral Review: “A Closer Look at Centering Prayer”*(October 2004: pp. 26-31, 44-46). This article contains an abundance of information and critiques both Fr. Pennington and Fr. Keating. That means that two major, respected, orthodox Catholic magazines hold to the same view of the difficulties in Fr. Pennington’s and Fr. Keating’s opinions. EWTN also agrees, since it has on its site the critiques of Clare McGrath Merkle, on two of its shows (including The Journey Home). This is not insignificant.

*http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=6337&CFID=9692006&CFTOKEN=46633867
Yet another article mentions a Vatican document spearheaded by then Cardinal Ratzinger (the present pope),
Centering Prayer Meets the Vatican**, by Dan DeCelles. This originally appeared in New Heaven / New Earth, April 1990, and is reprinted, like Feaster’s article, on the Catholic Culture website. The author notes:

Although Some Aspects of Christian Meditation does not single out any persons or schools of thought by name, many of its warnings apply to the centering- prayer literature, including the writings of Abbot Keating and his spiritual disciple Father Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O. Both have backgrounds in Eastern meditation methods and cite those experiences favorably as instructive for today’s Christians. **http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=6892&CFID=9692006&CFTOKEN=46633867

That’s not to say that I would necessarily think either man is a raving dissenter, deliberately out to subvert Catholic doctrine. That doesn’t follow at all. But there are difficulties here of advocacy of questionable practices and beliefs and a thin line between Catholic doctrine and heterodox hermetic beliefs that cannot be squared with Catholic doctrine. This is why we have the magisterium: to guide us and show us if we are being led astray, whether inadvertently or not, and whether the ones erring may have the very best of intentions and not be aware that they are doing anything questionable, let alone wrong.
That said, I just found an interview
http://www.enlightennext.org/magazine/j16/pennington.asp?page=3
Could Christ have been a Woman by Simeon Alev in the What is Enlightenment? Magazine, “A Magazine for Evolutionaries”, where Fr. Pennington advocates a female priesthood:

What Is Enlightenment: In my talk with Father Panteleimon, he went on to assert that this seemingly discriminatory aspect of the Christian tradition the Twelve Apostles and the priests all being male is in fact inspired and sanctioned by God “Himself,” and that allowing the tradition to be toyed with by misguided reformers who want to ordain women can only have disastrous consequences. But some liberal voices within the Catholic Church, such as yours, insist that traditional Christianity’s attitude toward women is not sanctioned by God but has its roots in the patriarchal ambience of the Church’s early history and now can be modified to suit our more socially enlightened times.

Basil Pennington: You know, our present Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, is a very sharp person, and I wonder if he wasn’t sending that very message to the Church and his people when he spoke on this a couple of years ago. According to Catholic belief, you know, he has the power to speak infallibly, but very rarely has it ever been invoked. And when people have tried to push him to speak infallibly about this particular subject, as well as about other things, he’s always refused so that’s already a message. But it was even more significant to me that two weeks after his very sweet apology for the way his predecessors had treated Galileo, in which he said publicly that they had failed because they’d taken the scriptures too literally, he spoke out against this question of ordaining women, himself explicitly arguing, just as Father Panteleimon does from a very literal interpretation of scripture that this male-only priesthood is simply the way it’s always been and always will be. 54.

 

 

Now, again, he’s a sharp man and I don’t think he was missing that. I think he was sending a message that said, in effect, “Just as they were too sure about Galileo back then, we’re a little too sure about this thing now. Just wait around, boys, and you’ll see.” In other words, I think that by using the very same arguments he himself had said were wrong in the Galileo case, he was saying to us, “Hey, this could change, too!” And not only that it could change but that it
will!

Shortly afterwards, he waffles on the question of homosexuality and claims that we are all (in some sense) bisexual:

WIE: Continuing in this vein, in our time there are also many people who view their own experience of gender or sexual preference as the very basis of their spiritual path. For example, there are women who worship the Goddess; there are men who champion a distinctly male spirituality; and there are many gays and lesbians who regard their sexual orientation as requiring unique forms of practice and worship. In fact, some advocates of a distinctly “gay spirituality” have even suggested that because the male and female polarities are theoretically more fully integrated and balanced in homosexuals, theirs is an inherently superior form of spiritual practice. For all of these individuals, gender and sexuality are seen as central to the path and as giving rise to fundamentally different paths for men and women, homosexuals and heterosexuals. What do you see as the advantages and limitations of a view that focuses on gender identification or sexual orientation as a path in itself to spiritual freedom?

BP: I would say that the differences are not that fundamental. What’s much more fundamental is that we are all in some way expressions of the Divine Being and Life. Of course it’s a reality that we come out male or female, but once again, those are secondary. They’re a part of reality, such that when you come into the fullness of who you are in God, and the expression of God that you are, they’ll still be there. But sexual orientation is even farther down the road and also a little more problematic than gender, because even though we pride ourselves on having learned and understood so much about sex, I don’t think there’s anybody who can tell you what the basis of sexual orientation really is. And I think that ultimately we’re all bisexual anyway, which makes me even more hesitant to speak about sexual orientation as being a fundamental part of one’s spirituality. So while I have no doubt, as I said, that the male/female distinction is an essential though not a fundamental part of becoming fully, integrally divinized, I’d be much more hesitant to say that in order to be that full expression you’re going to be gay or straight. And, as I said, ultimately I think that a person who’s really free knows that they’re bisexual that we all have the capacity to relate to our sexuality in these different ways.

WIE: What do you mean, exactly, when you say that “we’re all bisexual”?

BP: It was established by the Kinsey Report, I think, that virtually nobody is right in the middle of that spectrum, or totally at one end or the other, but that it’s a question of dominance. But most men are so afraid of their homosexual side that they totally ignore it or repress it if they can. And I think that many gay men and women have been so hurt by homophobia that they repress their heterosexual side though probably not as strongly as many heterosexuals tend to repress their homosexual side. All I’m really trying to say, though, is that both elements are there in everyone to varying degrees.

WIE: So in terms of a person who’s liberated realizing that they’re “bisexual,” what that would mean is not necessarily that they would practice bisexuality, only that they would be fully aware of the potential within themselves to be both heterosexual and homosexual?

BP: Yes. I think that someone who’s really free knows that they can relate with others in whatever way is appropriate and that they’re not bound by a particular orientation that would make it impossible to relate with others in one way or the other.

WIE: And what about the notion, prevalent in some gay spiritual circles, that being homosexual makes one more predisposed to the Divine, or more open in some way to direct contact with the Divine?

BP: Well, if you’re speaking about the human race as a whole, many people would probably accept the generalization that women are more disposed to spiritual or contemplative life and, based on that generalization, it could seem that those men who are more comfortable with their so-called “feminine side” would be more disposed to spiritual life than those who aren’t. But again, I think that’s all still kind of superficial because how much of that is sociological acculturation is difficult to say. To the extent that gay men tend to be more gentle and maternal and all those sorts of things, they might be more disposed to spirituality. But you see, we’ve labeled those characteristics as “feminine” without knowing whether, in their nature, they really are.

The interviewer, Simeon Alev, gushed:

We fully expected that a man of Father Pennington’s renowned erudition and open-mindedness would have much to say about the relevance of gender and sexual orientation to the pursuit of true spiritual freedom, and we weren’t disappointed.

I think the difficulties of this view from a perspective of orthodox Catholicism and its view of sexual morality, are rather obvious, and it doesn’t make a spectacular impression on myself (to put it mildly) of where Fr. Pennington stood in the spectrum of things in the Church, according to her true teachings.

* * *

I located Stratford Caldecott’s review of the book about Tarot cards [see pages 52, 53] (endorsed by both Fr. Pennington and Fr. Keating), reprinted at Ignatius Insight. Caldecott states:

Meditations on the Tarot has flaws: the influence of anthroposophy is still too evident, for example, in the discussion of reincarnation.

. . . More could be said about Balthasar’s Foreword or Introduction to the French edition, which was reproduced in slightly truncated form as an Afterword to the English paperback edition.

55.

 

 

 

That Foreword originally began: “Having been asked to write an introduction to this book, which for most readers enters into unknown terrain, and yet is so richly rewarding to read, I must first of all acknowledge my lack of competence concerning the subject matter. I am not in a position to follow up and approve of each line of thought developed by the author, and still less to submit everything to a critical examination.

. . . Also omitted at the end of the piece from the English edition were the following comments of Balthasar’s: “[The author] may from time to time make a step from the middle too far to the left (in presenting, for example, the teaching of reincarnation)…

By the latter criticisms I think Balthasar meant that there remained a certain imbalance in Tomberg’s thought and method, which did not always rest in the calm centre of Catholic truth and flow from there, but struggled to reconcile and integrate the turbulent currents of Hermetic thought with the teachings of the Magisterium.

See also:
Q&A on Tarot Cards (EWTN)
History of Tarot Cards, Fr. William Saunders
Some Aspects of Christian Meditation (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 15 October 1989)
Section 12 reads:

12. With the present diffusion of eastern methods of meditation in the Christian world and in ecclesial communities, we find ourselves faced with a pointed renewal of an attempt, which is not free from dangers and errors, “to fuse Christian meditation with that which is non-Christian.” Proposals in this direction are numerous and radical to a greater or lesser extent. Some use eastern methods solely as a psycho-physical preparation for a truly Christian contemplation; others go further and, using different techniques, try to generate spiritual experiences similar to those described in the writings of certain Catholic mystics. Still others do not hesitate to place that absolute without image or concepts, which is proper to Buddhist theory, on the same level as the majesty of God revealed in Christ, which towers above finite reality. To this end, they make use of a “negative theology,” which transcends every affirmation seeking to express what God is, and denies that the things of this world can offer traces of the infinity of God. Thus they propose abandoning not only meditation on the salvific works accomplished in history by the God of the Old and New Covenant, but also the very idea of the One and Triune God, who is Love, in favor of an immersion “in the indeterminate abyss of the divinity.” These and similar proposals to harmonize Christian meditation with eastern techniques need to have their contents and methods ever subjected to a thorough-going examination so as to avoid the danger of falling into syncretism.

* * *

I didn’t have any opinion of Fr. Pennington one way or the other before I sought to answer your letter. I didn’t have any “ax to grind” or prior agenda. After reading (especially) what he wrote about sexuality and a possible female “priesthood” it seems to me that he (may God rest his soul; I have nothing against him personally) labored under some serious misconceptions as to the Catholic faith and what is orthodox and what is not. I’d love to see how any orthodox Catholic would react to what Fr. Pennington stated about sexuality and gender issues in the interview I found.
I’m as committed to ecumenism as I am to apologetics, and have often defended the Church against false charges; e.g., the Assisi meetings (one / two) and the Church’s approach to Islam (a post on that is currently on the front page of my blog; see other related articles: one / two).
Centering prayer is, I suspect (and I am no expert; I’m simply thinking out loud), somewhat like the charismatic movement — and I consider myself a charismatic –, in that there is a lot of truth in much of it, but there are also excesses easy to fall into. Hence, the letter from Cardinal Ratzinger in 1989 that dealt with these. There is a line that can be crossed from considering the truths of other religions, and applauding them, and adopting (consciously or not) aspects of those religions that contradict our own.
I have no problem with contemplation whatsoever. I do have a problem with an inordinate mixing of incompatible eastern and western religious concepts. The question is the true nature of orthodox contemplative prayer, and what crosses the line into questionable territory.
As a new staff member of CHNI, part of my job — flowing from my overwhelming apologetic emphasis — is to answer questions (in this instance, about one of the guests on The Journey Home and her expressed opinion). From the feedback I have received thus far, CHNI agrees with my assessment. If something changes in that regard in the future, I’ll let you know!
The present pope appears to agree with a strong caution towards methods that mix foreign concepts into Christianity in a way that does the latter harm. At the very least, we know that Fr. Pennington advocated a book that had unorthodox elements in it, such as reincarnation. Even von Balthasar admitted that, and he wrote the Foreword!
I’ve made plenty of distinctions, just as you have yourself (between Fr. Pennington and Fr. Keating, when the articles I have cited do not make such a distinction). I have to call this as I see it. As an apologist, with a long history of studying various religious belief-systems, it looks rather suspicious to me, based on what I have been reading. For example, Homiletic & Pastoral Review is a pretty solid, dependable resource. It’s been in existence over 100 years. And it printed the article critical of some of these practices.
I’ve come up with plenty of material. You, too, have to judge this matter objectively, and seriously consider and pray about this information you have now received, not simply based on your obvious personal admiration for Fr. Pennington.

56.

 

 

13. A Call to Vigilance (Pastoral Instruction on New Age) by Archbishop Norberto Rivera Carrera

Taken from the August/September 1996 issue of “Catholic International.” Published monthly by “The Catholic Review”, 320 Cathedral Street, P.O. Box 777, Baltimore, MD 21203 http://www.ewtn.com/library/bishops/acall.htm
EXTRACT:

31. Another phenomenon that is especially disconcerting to the Catholic faithful is the inexplicable enthusiasm with which certain priests, religious, and people dedicated to teaching the faith have embraced techniques of non-Christian meditation. Frequently imported from the east, forms of asceticism historically far removed from Christian spirituality are practiced in retreats, spiritual exercises, workshops, liturgical celebrations, and children’s catechism courses.

32. These practices were unquestionably born as spiritual disciplines or religious acts within traditional religions (as in the case of Zen, tai chi, and the many forms of yoga), or in sects or new religious movements (as in the case of transcendental meditation and dynamic meditation). At times an attempt is made to “christianize” these forms, as occurred, for example, with “centering prayer”
and “focusing,” but the result is always a hybrid form with slight gospel basis.

 

14. Catholics and the New Age

A Closer Look at the Vatican Document: Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life – A Christian Reflection on the “New Age” by Susan Beckworth, December 29, 2006 http://www.speroforum.com/site/article.asp?id=7236

http://www.thedefender.org/A%20Christian%20Reflection%20on%20the%20New%20Age.html
EXTRACT:

Susan Beckworth is a Catholic New Age expert. She writes about the involvement of Catholic hierarchs in the New Age movement at the Defender website.

The Centering Prayer Movement has become popular through Retreat centers, RCIA programs and even some Seminaries. The Vatican document has linked centering prayer as New Age. It states Christian prayer is not an exercise in self contemplation, stillness and self emptying, but a dialogue of love, one which implies a flight from self to God. A Christian’s method of getting closer to God is not based on any technique (Vatican Document # 2.2.3, #3.4).

 

15. Jung Replaces Jesus in Catholic Spirituality
by Paul Likoudis

http://www.ewtn.com/library/NEWAGE/JUNGCUL2.TXT

It's certainly one of the most bizarre developments in 20th-century Catholicism that Carl Gustav Jung, dedicated to the destruction of the Catholic Church and the establishment of an anti-Church based on psychoanalysis, should have become the premier spiritual guide in the Church throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe over the last three decades. But that's the case. 

Walk into a typical Catholic bookstore and browse in the "spirituality" section, and you'll see the best-selling books of such popularizers of the Jung Cult as priests Basil Pennington, Richard Rohr, and Thomas Keating. 

Read the listings for "spirituality" programs and retreats in many diocesan newspapers. You will see that programs on Jungian dream analysis, discovering the child within, contacting your "god/goddess," or similar such Jungian therapy programs predominate, even though they have nothing to do with Catholic spirituality and are inherently antithetical to it. 

Forty years ago, the great Catholic psychiatrist Karl Stern in "The Third Revolution" (Harcourt Brace & Co.. 1954), wrote that most Catholic scholars recognized that Jung and Catholicism are incompatible-irreconcilable-and he warned that the Jungian who begins viewing religion as existing on the same plane as psychology ends up viewing all religions as equally irrelevant. 

 

16. Centering Prayer (i.e. Keating, Menninger, Herington)

Posted on June 5th, 2009 by Dan Burke

http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog/topics/church-documents

Though this blog is primarily dedicated to positive teachings the spiritual life, from time to time there are issues that must be addressed that are not so positive. For in your in-depth review, we have provided links to several articles that address the challenges with “Centering” prayer.

It is likely that history will categorize “Centering” prayer (as taught by Keating, Menninger, and Herrington) among the errors of Pelagianism, and Quietism and the challenges of confusing Catholicism with Pantheism. Though many attest that they have benefited from centering prayer (and have not necessarily sinned in so doing), those who were influenced by the aforementioned heresies made the same positive claims. It is also clear that the fundamental desire of many who have fallen into Centering prayer is an honest search for a deeper relationship with Christ.

However, truth is not determined by experience and intention alone, but also by external objective reality – particularly when the magisterium of the Church has spoken on the matter. Accordingly we have also included links from the Vatican and other faithful sources.

If you desire to understand the truth, depth, and riches of a profound prayer life and relationship with Christ, see the books we recommend on this site regarding true Christian Contemplation and Meditation (i.e. The Better Part, The Fire Within, The Fulfillment of All Desire, etc.). 57.

 

 

One thing to remember, if we accept the definitions and teaching of the Church and it’s Saints and doctors on the matter, “Centering” prayer (whatever the claims or beliefs may be) is NOT the same as “Contemplation”.

THE DANGER OF CENTERING PRAYER: Catholic Answers

LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON SOME ASPECTS OF CHRISTIAN MEDITATION: Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

NEW AGE AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (8 Part Series) : Colorado Catholic Herald

A CALL TO VIGILANCE (Pastoral Instruction on New Age) : Archbishop Norberto Rivera Carrera

CENTERING PRAYER MEETS THE VATICAN : Catholic Culture

THE HERESY OF QUIETISM : Catholic Answers

A CLOSER LOOK AT CENTERING PRAYER : Catholic Culture

Many blessings to you in your search for the authentic presence of Christ in prayer.

In Christ, Dan

 

17. Reiki and Yoga: No part of Yoga can be separated from the philosophy behind it

Marie Anne Jacques, http://www.michaeljournal.org/reiki.htm
From:
stmichael_em@googlegroups.com; EXTRACT

Reiki and Yoga
Former Hindu guru Rabi Maharaj, “No part of Yoga can be separated from the philosophy behind it.”

If you listen to the gurus and yogis: the practices of yoga, Reiki, centering prayer, transcendental meditation and all similar methods lead to experiences of self-fulfilment or enlightenment.
Unfortunately, many people today think yoga and Reiki are something that is compatible with Christian doctrine. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even though in many communities, “Christian” yoga and Reiki may be used, it is contrary to what the First Commandment teaches us. They instruct us to go down to the level of human realizations that are man-made and not from God. This is very dangerous.
The Catechism teaches us that “all practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others – even if this were for the sake of restoring their health – are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion.” No. 2117
Also, the Church cites idolatry as being against the First Commandment, saying: “Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons.” The New Age ideology promotes self-divinization in many forms.

 

An explanation of centering prayer

Here’s a quote from Rev. Dreher describing the ideology of “centering prayer” which follows the same principles as yoga…
“Centering prayer (or yoga), differs from Christian prayer in that the intent of the technique is to bring the practitioner to the center of his own being. There he is, supposedly, to experience the presence of the God who indwells him. Christian prayer, on the contrary, centers upon God in a relational way, as someone apart from oneself. The Christian knows a God who is personal, yet who, as Creator, infinitely transcends his creature. God is wholly other than man. It is also crucial to Christian prayer that God engages man’s whole being in response, not just his interior life. In the view of centering prayer, the immanence of God somehow makes the transcendence of God available to human techniques and experience.
“Centering prayer is essentially a form of self-hypnosis. It makes use of a “mantra,” a word repeated over and over to focus the mind while striving by ones will to go deep within oneself. The effects are a hypnotic-like state: concentration upon one thing, disengagement from other stimuli, a high degree of openness to suggestion, a psychological and physiological condition that externally resembles sleep but in which consciousness is interiorized and the mind subject to suggestion.”
This type of “prayer” or meditation is a form of hypnosis; this has been proven by various studies by professional psychologists. They did tests to confirm that people under the hypnotic state of meditation used in yoga experienced a drop in blood pressure, respiratory rate, lactic acid level in the blood, and the galvanic conductivity of the skin.

 

The difference between Christianity and Eastern ideologies

Since we want to find what the difference is between meditation used in Yoga and Christian meditation, why don’t we look at the differences between the Christian and Eastern spiritualities first?
According to what the Catholic faith teaches, all men are creatures who are called out of nothing, to serve and know God. A Christian is someone who knows his life is linked with Christ; that without Him, he cannot survive. The Christian’s whole life has been reconstructed in Christ because essentially, he lives in Christ if he is in the state of grace. (i.e. not in the state of mortal sin). Of course, this has to be his choice, since God always respects the free will of the human person.
Eastern religions, on the other hand, look for God as if He was a part of the universe, instead of having created it. They believe all reality is one, so God is just a part of a reality, just as man is. They believe they have to go beyond the “real” world in order to get to the spiritual world that is under it. They believe that God is only a state of being, a “state of mind” if you will.
For Christians, however, God is indeed REAL and all of creation only exists to serve Him, because He willed it so. In Christian thinking, it (the world and all that is in it) need not even exist but for the benevolence of God’s love, of His Fatherly love for us. 58.

 

 

 

So in the East, human means are “necessary” in order to go towards God, with the goal of achieving an altered state of consciousness, whereas a Christian seeks to speak and interact with God. In this interaction with God, a Christian aspires to attain a certain “participation in the divine nature” (2 Peter 4:4). The Eastern religions on the other hand, seek to find God within and find an escape from the realities and distractions of the outer world. This is always attempted by different psychological and/or physiological techniques rather than by an encounter with the Divine Personhood of God.
The Eastern religions confuse technique with encounter. They do not believe in God as supreme Person, but as a part of themselves and of the universe. We are not identical with Him, as He is Creator of the universe. We cannot manipulate this fact with techniques of any sort. We can use the way that children speak with their parents as an example, because in reality we speak to God in the same way, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
When a Catholic speaks about sanctifying grace for example, he means the grace of union with God. By the means of this grace, we are given a share of the holiness of God Himself, it is His way of giving Himself to man. By applying this grace in our daily lives, we travel on the journey of conversion, which is complete union with Him. Our goal as Catholic Christians is not only the inner peace so much sought after by the Eastern religions, but the sanctification of body, mind and heart, not only personally, but including the entire world. The Eastern world instead claims inner peace for oneself, without taking into account the “otherness” of God, and even other realities of one’s life.
Archimandrite Sophrony of Mount Athos, who is an authority in Orthodox spirituality, speaks from his own personal story. He was involved in Eastern religions for years, before he returned to the Orthodox faith of his youth. We quote him at length, for he speaks with clarity on these subjects:

“In advising against being carried away by artificial practices such as Transcendental Meditation I am but repeating the age-old message of the Church… The way of the Fathers requires firm faith and long patience, whereas our contemporaries want to seize every spiritual gift, including even direct contemplation of the Absolute God, by force and speedily, and will often draw a parallel between prayer in the Name of Jesus and yoga or Transcendental Meditation and the like. I must stress the danger of such errors…
“He is deluded who endeavours to divest himself mentally of all that is transitory and relative in order to cross some invisible threshold, to realize his eternal origin, his identity with the Source of all that exists, in order to return and merge with him, the nameless transpersonal Absolute. Such exercises have enabled many to rise to supra-rational contemplation of being, to experience a certain mystical trepidation, to know the state of silence of mind, when mind goes beyond the boundaries of time and space. In such like states man may feel the peacefulness of being withdrawn from the continually changing phenomena of the visible world, may even have a certain experience of eternity. But the God of Truth, the Living God, is not in all this.
“It is man’s own beauty, created in the image of God, that is contemplated and seen as divinity, whereas he himself still continues within the confines of his creatureliness. This is a vastly important concern. The tragedy of the matter lies in the fact that man sees a mirage which, in his longing for eternal life, he mistakes for a genuine oasis. This impersonal form of ascetics leads finally to an assertion of the divine principle in the very nature of man. Man is then drawn to the idea of self-deification, the cause of the original Fall. The man who is blinded by the imaginary majesty of what he contemplates has in fact set his foot on the path to self-destruction. He has discarded the revelation of a personal God… The movement into the depths of his own being is nothing else but attraction towards the non-being from which we were called by the will of the Creator.” (His Life is Mine, 115-116)
To put it simply, authentic prayer goes to God from our soul, and not in the soul itself. Our souls are brought closer to God Himself, and not brought into some distant space in our mind, as what happens in Transcendental Meditation, Yoga, etc. Incidentally, these practices not only distance us from God, but also give us the idea that we can escape from our lives and reality. Christian teaching is just the opposite, because it teaches us to first put our faith in God, and then allow Him to help us to carry our cross.

 

18. The Errors of Centering Prayer

http://acatholiclife.blogspot.in/2007/05/errors-of-centering-prayer.html

By Matthew May 2, 2007

Over the past three decades, thousands of Catholics have fallen into the commonly misunderstood New Age practice known as “Centering Prayer”. Centering Prayer actually is not a prayer and it is not even Christian. Originating with Abbot Thomas Keating in St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, centering prayer has spread across the country and attacked the faith of many good-hearted Catholics would unknowingly embrace a pagan practice. Authentic prayer and meditation stem from contact with God. Prayer does not center in one’s being as advocates of centering prayer claim but rather prayer is a conversation with God from the center of our souls.
As stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Edition), “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God” (CCC 2559). To understand centering prayer, we must first understand what centering prayer is not. Centering prayer is not the raising of one’s mind and heart to God principally because the practice seeks for participants to look within themselves. Such practices should not be confused with meditation, contemplation, or even Lectio Divina. Similarly, centering prayer is not an examination of conscience where we look upon our faults through the lens of the Church and seek to remain in the state of sanctifying grace.

59.

 

On the topic of centering prayer, an article on Our Lady’s Warrior states, “Typical of New Age meditative practice, [in centering prayer] the soul becomes the “center”, energy replaces grace, God actually becomes a pantheistic energy, and the unleashing of this ‘energy’ leads to chaos.” The article continues, “…And then, mysteriously, an evolution of consciousness.” Such statements are based entirely off of the words of Fr. M. Basil Pennington from March 9, 2000, when he states, “When we go to the center of our being and pass through that center into the very center of God we get in immediate touch with this divine energy…”
Both Keating and Pennington are advocates of centering prayer, which is a pagan practice that achieves hypnosis. As confirmed by a psychology professor interviewed in the article “The Danger of Centering Prayer” by Fr. John D. Dreher: “Your question is, is [centering prayer] hypnosis? Sure it is.” Centering prayer is a technique where participants repeat a “mantra”, a word that is repeated over and over again in order to focus one’s will. In true prayer, participants will seek to develop inner peace only through the sanctification of mind, body, and soul, which is achieved by living in a state of grace. In meditation and contemplation, individuals reflect upon the lives of Jesus, Mary, the saints, or other holy things. Above all, we seek to remain in grace and grow in love of God. Centering prayer replaces God with energy.
Centering prayer is not Christian – period. Rather, centering prayer utilizes characteristics from Hinduism such as the medium of Transcendental Meditation (TM). Again quoting from Fr. John D. Dreher’s article: “Fr. Pennington approves a Christian’s participation in T.M, despite the fact that the introductory ceremony to TM, the Puja, involves worship of a dead Hindu guru and that the mantras given those being initiated are in fact the names of Hindu gods.” Thus, praying centering prayer is praying to false gods! Fr. Dreher simply writes, “The rapid spread of centering prayer in the past decade into so many areas which are at the very heart of the Catholic faith is, I believe, part of the Devil’s strategy against the Church.”
Susan Beckworth in “Centering Prayer and Enneagram are Pagan” states the following as the characteristics of authentic meditation:
1) It is Christ-centered and Trinitarian
2) It will acknowledge the cross of Christ and suffering
3) It will encourage an awareness of sin, a turning away from it, and trust in God’s mercy
4) It encourages a sacramental life, especially the Eucharist
5) It encourages a disposition of obedience to Church teaching
6) It is Marian
7) It looks beyond this world to eternity
Since centering prayer fails to meet any of the above criteria, Catholics should simply refuse to participate in centering prayer. In Some Aspects of Christian Meditation by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith led by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican warns against certain practices that are common in centering prayer without using the actual term “centering prayer”.
Even if the “mantra” used in centering prayer sounds Christian, its focus is to draw the person within and see God as nothing more than energy. Rather, such repetitive prayer like the Rosary or the Jesus Prayer used in many Eastern Churches are attempts to quiet our soul and empty all that is sinful and fill ourselves with Jesus Christ. Centering prayer is not contemplation or meditation like what is achieved by the Rosary or the Jesus Prayer. Centering prayer is simply pagan. Fr. Keating, founder of the Centering Prayer Movement, states in his books that the goal of centering prayer is to find the “True Self”. Fr. Keating further claims that the True Self is the human soul and that the True Self is also God. We know that the soul is created by God and tainted with sin. Various catechisms including the Catechism of the Catholic Church state thus. Claiming that our soul is God is blasphemy! However, centering prayer teaches something that is Hindu and not Christian. Fr. Keating even endorsed the book Meditations on the Tarot: Journey into Christian Hermeticisim, which promotes Tarot Cards, which are mortally sinful to use. He even advocates the usage of the Enneagram, which is nothing more than a demonic device.
Another flaw in centering prayer is the promotion of universalism, the belief that all people have salvation. At Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia, a place where centering prayer is offered, Fr. James Behrens states, “Salvation is a given… no one is left out… all the Bibles could be destroyed tomorrow and it would not make a difference.” Again, this is blasphemy. And at the very root of centering prayer is the belief in universalism.
Consequently, I appeal not only to my readers to reject centering prayer but to discuss it with other Catholics and encourage all Catholics to abandon this practice.
Sources:
The Danger of Centering Prayer by Fr. John D. Dreher
Centering Prayer Catholic Meditation or Occult Meditation?
Some Aspects of Christian Meditation
Centering Prayer and Enneagram are pagan
The New Age Mystic: Different Path, Same God?

 

19.
						New Age Traps

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=6667
EXTRACT

By Margaret Anne Feaster, 2005

A parishioner may encounter the New Age in several ways. His parish might be teaching centering-prayer techniques that would help him to reach the center of his being, to find the True Self, or “God within” by using the sacred word (or mantra) to empty the mind of all thoughts. 60.

 

 

These techniques may resemble transcendental meditation, where the person tries to reach the hidden depths of self. The major beliefs of the Centering Prayer Movement have been identified by the Vatican document as linked to New Age.

 

20. Centering Prayer and the Vatican

http://annefeaster.accountsupport.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/centeringprayerandthevatican.pdf

By Margaret Anne Feaster

The Centering Prayer Movement is very popular in retreat centers and parish programs. However, after a closer look, many people have discovered it to be a Hindu type of prayer rather than Christian. (See my article “A Closer Look at Centering Prayer”)

 

What does the Vatican document say about Centering Prayer?

The Vatican recently released a document exposing the New Age and its dangers. It is called “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the New Age.” This 62-page document describes New Age spirituality and how it differs from the Christian faith. It lists most New Age practices and beliefs.

It does not mention the term Centering Prayer anywhere in the document. It does, however, expose the four major beliefs or practices of Centering Prayer as being New Age. These are: mantras (sacred word), altered levels of consciousness, Transcendental Meditation (which is almost identical to Centering Prayer) and the belief in the True Self (Higher Self).

Fr. Thomas Keating, the founder of the Centering Prayer Movement, has written a number of books on Centering Prayer. Fr. Basil Pennington has also written many books on the subject. According to Fr. John D. Dreher’s article, “The Dangers of Centering Prayer”, Keating learned prayer techniques from Buddhists and Hindus in an effort to Christianize TM.
According to the article, Keating had asked the monks, “Could we put the Christian tradition into a form that would be accessible to people…who have been instructed in an Eastern technique and might be inspired to return to their Christian roots if they knew there was something similar in the Christian tradition” (Intimacy with God, p. 15). Frs. William Menniger [sic]
and M. Basil Pennington took up the challenge, and Centering Prayer is the result.

Centering prayer originated in St. Joseph’s Abbey, a Trappist monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts. During the twenty years (1961 – 1981) when Keating was abbot, St. Joseph’s held dialogues with Buddhist and Hindu representatives, and a Zen master gave a week-long retreat to the monks. A former Trappist monk who had become a Transcendental Meditation teacher also gave a session to the monks.

CP is almost identical to TM. The only difference is that in CP the sacred word is usually love, peace, or Jesus. In TM, the mantra or sacred word calls on a Hindu god. Both CP and TM use a 20 minute meditation. Both CP and TM use a mantra to erase all thoughts and feelings. Both CP and TM teach that in this meditation you pick up vibrations. Both CP and TM claim that this meditation will give you more peace and less tension. Both CP and TM teach you how to reach a mental void or altered level of consciousness. Both CP and TM have the common goal of finding your god-center. In the books written by Keating and Pennington, they both teach the reader to use a sacred word, or mantra to achieve mind emptying in order to go into pure consciousness (which is an altered state) to find the True Self. (New Agers believe the True Self, the human soul, is the same as God) Keating makes a similar statement in his book, Open Mind, Open Heart, p. 127, where he states, “God and our true Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing.” This statement represents the basic belief of all New Agers and is clearly contrary to the Christian faith! Our soul was created by God. It is not God Himself!

The techniques used in both Centering Prayer and in Transcendental Meditation, are used to empty the mind of all thoughts and feelings. Keating says in his book, Open Mind, Open Heart, p.97, “All thoughts pass if you wait long enough.” On p. 35, Keating says, “The method consists of letting go of every thought during the time of prayer, even the most devout thoughts.”
Since New Age beliefs are contrary to the Christian faith, the document states, “It is therefore necessary to accurately identify those elements which belong to the New Age Movement, and which CANNOT BE ACCEPTED by those who are faithful to Christ and His Church.” (#4)

 

What did Pope John Paul II have to say about this type of prayer?

When Pope Benedict XVI was Cardinal Ratzinger, he wrote the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation.

 

On p. 34, footnote 12, he writes “Pope John Paul II has pointed out to the whole Church the example and doctrine of St. Teresa of Avila who in her life had to reject the temptation of certain methods which proposed a leaving aside of the humanity of Christ in favor of a vague self-immersion in the abyss of divinity.” In a homily given on November 1, 1982, he said that the call of St. Teresa of Jesus advocating a prayer completely centered on Christ “is valid even in our day, against some methods of prayer which are not inspired by the gospel and which in practice tend to set aside Christ in preference for a mental void which makes no sense in Christianity. Any method of prayer is valid insofar as it is inspired by Christ and leads to Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life” [(cf. John 14: 6). See Homilia Abulae habita in honorem Sanctae Teresiae: AAS 75 (1983) 256-257]

 

What else did Cardinal Ratzinger say about mind-emptying prayer? 61.

 

 

In the same document, Cardinal Ratzinger states, “With the present diffusion of Eastern methods of meditation in the Christian world and in ecclesial communities, we find ourselves faced with a pointed renewal of attempt, which is not free from dangers and errors, to fuse Christian meditation with that which is non-Christian.” He goes on to say, “Still others do not hesitate to place that absolute without image or concepts, which is proper to Buddhist theory on the same level as the majesty of God revealed in Christ.” He says they abandon the Triune God, “in favor of an immersion in the indeterminate abyss of the divinity.” Then he says mixing Christian meditation with Eastern techniques can lead to syncretism (the mixing of religions).

 

What warnings does Fr. [Gabriele] Amorth, the Vatican exorcist give us on CP?

Fr. Amorth, states that “Yoga, Zen, and TM are unacceptable to Christians. Often these apparently innocent practices can bring about hallucinations and schizophrenic conditions.” (Centering prayer and Transcendental Meditation are almost identical, so this warning would apply to both CP and TM)

 

What does the Catechism have to say about this type of prayer?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to mind-emptying prayer as “erroneous”. In section #2726, it describes “erroneous notions of prayer.” It then lists different types of prayer that fall into that category. It states, “Some people view prayer as a simply psychological activity, others as an effort of concentration to reach a mental void.”

 

What does St. Teresa of Avila say about contemplation?

She said that contemplation is a gift from God, and no technique can make it happen. She says it is usually given to people who have a deep prayer life and are practicing many virtues, although God can give it to anyone he chooses. She repeatedly insists that contemplation is divinely produced. She said that entering into the prayer of quiet or that of union whenever she wanted it “was out of the question.” She also said in her book, Interior Mansion, “For it to be prayer at all, the mind must take a part in it.” Our Pope, when he was Cardinal, quotes St. Teresa in his booklet, Letter to Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation on p. 34. She said “the very care not to think about anything will arouse the mind a great deal”, and that the separation of the mystery of Christ from Christian meditation is always a form of ‘betrayal’. St. Teresa advised her nuns to meditate or think about the Passion of Christ as a preparation for contemplation.

The Catechism describes contemplation as “a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus” (#2715). The focus is Jesus and the heart is involved.

In summary, the Vatican document on New Age, Pope Benedict XVI as Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope John Paul II, St. Teresa of Avila, the Catechism, and Fr. Amorth give warnings about mind-emptying prayer. We must remember that prayer is a dialogue with God. A person wanting to reach contemplation begins with normal prayer, or they may remain silent with a loving gaze toward God. Then if God so chooses, he may take that person up into ecstasy or some supernatural state. Then and only then would their normal faculties (ability to think) be suspended! It would be a gift from God!

 

An erroneous article on “Contemplative Prayer”

Ignite the Gift of Faith with the Gift of Contemplative Prayer

http://www.catholic.org/homily/yearoffaith/story.php?id=47992

By Fr. James Farfaglia, October 12, 2012

Contemplative prayer is for everyone.

Contemplative prayer?  Who me?  Isn’t that something for monks and cloistered nuns? Contemplative prayer is for everyone.  Contemplative prayer is essential for the times that we live in so that the gift of faith may be re-ignited and burn ever so brightly. 

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) – Faith is an immense gift from God.  It is through the gift of faith that we are able to see the invisible in the visible world.  As we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, “Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen” (Hebrews 11: 1).
When we pick up the Bible and read it, it is faith that allows us to see that this not an ordinary book, instead, it is the very word of God: inspired and without error.
When we gaze upon the Tabernacle, it is faith that allows us to see not ordinary bread, but the Jesus, the Bread of Life.   
When we look upon a Catholic priest, it is faith that allows us to see through his human frailties and see him for who he is: an Alter Christus, another Christ. 
When we see our neighbor, it is faith that permits us to see Jesus in every person.
When we gaze upon the mountains, the valleys, the oceans and the sky, it is faith that allows us to see the beauty of the Creator. 
Faith is a gift.  It is a gift that we receive through the Sacrament of Baptism.  But, faith needs to be fed and it needs to be proclaimed. 
Faith is nourished through a serious spiritual life and through the thoughtful study of our Catholic Faith.
Faith must be proclaimed.  “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the daylight; what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops” (Matthew 10: 27).

62.

 

 

Contemplative Prayer
A number of years ago, my spiritual director turned my spiritual life upside down. He introduced me to the gift of contemplative prayer.  I must admit that at first I was a bit hesitant to journey into this unknown way of praying, but upon my spiritual director’s gentle insistence, I made the decision to take him seriously. 
It is a decision which has been one of the most important decisions of my almost twenty-five years as a Catholic priest.
Contemplative prayer is an immense gift that needs to be rediscovered during the Year of Faith that we have just begun. 
Anyone today who affirms “I believe” is a survivor. 
We have survived a modern history of wars, death camps, persecutions and terrorist attacks.  We have survived scandal after scandal and the disappointment of institutional collapses both in the Church and in society. 
We have survived our dysfunctional families and a secular culture which is increasingly anti-Christian. 
Contemplative prayer is essential for the times that we live in so that the gift of faith may be re-ignited and burn ever so brightly. 
We may be tired of believing. 
Contemplative prayer will renew us and allow us to believe anew. 
So, what is contemplative prayer? 
The Catechism of Catholic Church defines contemplative prayer with these words:  “Contemplative prayer is the prayer of the child of God, of the forgiven sinner who agrees to welcome the love by which he is loved and who wants to respond to it by loving even more.  But he knows that the love he is returning is poured out by the Spirit in his heart, for everything is grace from God.  Contemplative prayer is the poor and humble surrender to the loving will of the Father in ever deeper union with his beloved Son” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2712).
Contemplative prayer is not a method of prayer.  Instead, contemplative prayer is a free, unmerited gift of the Holy Spirit.  Any baptized Christian can receive this gift and every baptized Christian should ask for this gift. 
“Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.  For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him” (Luke 11: 9-10).
Contemplative prayer?  Who me?  Isn’t that something for monks and cloistered nuns?
Contemplative prayer is for everyone. 
But, speaking of the monastery, how would you like to have a spiritual life as described by John Cassian (c.350 – c.435)?  “It is not easy to know how and in what respects spiritual tenderness overwhelms the soul.  Often it is by an ineffable joy and by vehement aspirations that its presence is revealed.  So much so that the joy is rendered unbearable by its very intensity, and breaks out into cries that carry tidings of your inebriation as far as a neighboring cell.
Sometimes on the contrary, the whole soul descends and lies hidden in abysses of silence.  The suddenness of the light stupefies it and robs it of speech.  All its senses remain withdrawn in its inmost depths or completely suspended.  And it is by inarticulate groans that it tells God of its desire.  Sometimes, finally, it is so swollen with a sorrowful tenderness that only tears give it consolation.”
Older works of spirituality distinguished between acquired and infused contemplation.  Acquired contemplation considered the personal human actions that the individual can do during prayer time.  Infused contemplation was the name given to the moment when God takes over and all human intellectual activity ceases.
Modern authors no longer make this distinction.  Contemplative prayer is seen as a gift of the Holy Spirit. 
“And in this way one comes to the sacred emptiness and detachment from thinking which characterizes the mystical state.  There may come a time when even the word Jesus is no longer necessary because a total unitive silence reigns in the heart; and here again one is in nakedness and darkness with no other light than that which burns in one’s heart” (William Johnston, S.J., The Inner Eye of Love, p. 95). 
There are two methods of prayer that prepares and predisposes us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer.  The first and most effective method is Centering Prayer and the second method is called Lectio Divina.  Let us consider both methods next week. 
In the meantime, let us continue our journey during this amazing Year of Faith. “With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us, we too, then, should throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily, and keep running steadily in the race we have started
(Hebrews 12: 1).
Father James Farfaglia is a contributing writer for Catholic Online and author of Get Serious! – A Survival Guide for Serious Catholics. You can visit him on the web at www.fatherjames.org. 

 

COMMENTS

Centering Prayer, as far as I know, is a method that is based on eastern religions and attempts to manipulate God by reciting “mantras” (that is, incantations). It was invented and is promulgated by Fr. Thomas Keating. It is not approved by the Church and I believe it is also condemned. It is a dangerous practice. I’m surprised the editor of Catholic Online permitted publishing of this article. I’m also confused with Fr. Farfaglia who first said that Contemplative Prayer is an unmerited gift of the Holy Spirit, which is true, and that it is not a method of prayer, which is also true. Yet he goes on to say that the most effective method is Centering Prayer.
Contemplative Prayer requires a very mature prayer life and close relationship with God. 63.

 

 


If you want to learn about true Contemplative Prayer, read the section in the Catechism on the three types of prayer approved by the Church: vocal, meditative and contemplative. Also Fr. Thomas Dubay’s series on contemplative prayer is also very good. –Mario

 

Mario, Regarding Fr. Thomas Keating and Centering Prayer, I encourage you to read an objective study of the topic by an Irish priest. The book is called “Centering Prayer and the Healing of the Unconscious” by Fr. Murchadh O Madagain. I have studied the topic of Centering Prayer and the topic of Contemplative Prayer quite extensively and Fr. O’ Madagain’s work is the best that I have found thus far on the topic.
A few corrections are in order:
1) Centering Prayer is simply a modern name that Fr. Keating applied to an ancient method of prayer rooted in the patristic tradition of the Church. There is nothing new about it.
2) It is not condemned by the Church. As a method, it is not for everybody. But, it does work and it is rooted in an ancient form of prayer in the Catholic tradition of prayer.
3) It is not a dangerous practice.
4) Fr. Keating proposes Centering Prayer as a method of prayer in order predispose the soul to receive the gift of Contemplative Prayer. It has worked for me and it has raised my own personal spiritual life to an entirely new level of incredible intimacy with God.
5) Centering Prayer is not a method based on eastern religions, nor is it a method where one repeats a mantra. Again, I invite you and everyone to read Fr. O’ Madagain’s excellent book which is available through Amazon. Centering Prayer has nothing to do with Buddhism, Hinduism or New Age. I would challenge anyone who affirms that it does.
6) The fourth part of the Catechism on prayer is an incredible gift for the Church as is the section on Contemplative Prayer. Read the section on Contemplative Prayer again and read it with the book that I recommend. You will not find any inconsistencies.
7) Be assured that neither I nor anyone associated with Catholic Online would say or write anything that is not in communion with the Magisterium of Catholic Church. I would die first before teaching anything contrary to the Faith. However, in my writing I like to push the envelope and challenge people to go deeper and to think. Comments, discussion, arguments and other viewpoints are always welcome.
8) Fr. Thomas Dubay’s work is excellent and should be read. Agreed. But at the same time Keating’s work is excellent as well.
9) I will explain Centering Prayer in my next article.
10) What is important is for all of us to be a people of prayer. Whatever method we use to seek the gift of Contemplative is a personal choice. However, I do believe and agree with many authors, that Centering Prayer is the best method to use in order to predispose the soul for the reception of the gift of Contemplative Prayer. –
Fr James Farfaglia

 

Fr. Farfaglia,
This issue is very confusing then because I have read articles contrary to what you have told me. Catholic Answers, for instance has forum entries that link Centering Prayer with the claim I made–and even New Age. And I believe their apologists (although I haven’t listened to the recordings myself) have addressed it also.
I think the Church needs to address this issue once and for all. And if there’s a document already please point me to it. I would never dare to claim something isn’t true if I didn’t have the conviction, much less in matters of the Catholic Faith that I love. I am only seeking the truth.
Thanks so much for replying to my comment. I have also considered contacting you directly. I have read other articles you have published here and they have inspired me. Thanks for all that you do. –Mario

 

Mario:
Many thanks for your second comment and your kind words. I have read the Catholic Answers material on Centering Prayer. I have a great admiration for the work of Catholic Answers, but on this particular topic they are incorrect in their assumptions and conclusions.
When speaking about Centering Prayer, I would like to limit our discussion to the work of Fr. Thomas Keating. Others, even non-Catholic Christians, have written about Centering Prayer. It is Fr. Keating and Fr. Basil Pennington who have done much work on the topic.
My understanding is that they coined the name “Centering Prayer” in order to attract people of our times to an ancient form of Catholic prayer going back to the early patristic period.
So, sticking only to Fr. Keating and Fr. Pennington, the Catholic Answers articles and the criticisms raised by EWTN’s Johnette Benkovic are incorrect and unfounded. The book that I mentioned by the Irish priest answers Benkovic’s concerns directly. Moreover, the author also answers concerns regarding New Age and non-Christian eastern religions, especially Buddhism and Hinduism.
To my knowledge, there is no Church document on the topic of Centering Prayer. Regarding an official treatment of contemplative prayer, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the first official Church source that I know of that treats contemplative prayer. Of course, the Church has a treasure of writings by such greats as Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. There is a short document from Cardinal Ratzinger on prayer and eastern prayer methods which is very helpful. http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/cdfmed.htm
64.

 


We live in a world of unfounded opinion. Everyone has something to say about something. The Internet world of instant publication and instant broadcasting has dramatically increased this problem of the entire world living out of reality. What I mean is this: what does the word mean? What is the truth of a particular concept? What is Fr. Keating saying? One of the greatest gifts that I received in college (Magdalen College, Warner, NH) was to read the author, not someone’s opinion about the author. What is he saying? Objective sources.
Lots of Catholics jump to the conclusion that “centering” means some kind of naval gazing, or a Buddhist type emptying of the mind. This is completely unfounded and incorrect.
Now, it is true that New Age folks and eastern religions may use methods of prayer and/or meditation that are the same or similar to Christian prayer, but their purpose and their end are totally different from what the Christian does in prayer.
The method of Centering Prayer is extremely simple: rather than repeating a word like a “mantra”, Keating suggest taking one word to express intention. For example, take the word “Yes.” Yes to God means yes to Him: whatever you want. Like Abraham and like Mary, the “Yes” expresses the totality of surrender to God. Centering Prayer suggests taking one word as a word that expresses direction or attention such as “yes.” But, don’t stay with the word. Use it if the mind is bombarded with thoughts. The goal is to arrive at a mind that is silent. This is totally different than “emptying the mind.” There is nothing Buddhist, Hindu or New Age about a silent mind. This is all that Keating is talking about. It is quite remarkable how Catholic writers and speakers take Keating’s work and immediately jump to unfounded assumptions and conclusions.
The best work that I have found on the topic is the book that I mentioned by Fr. Madagain. It is an excellent work and I highly recommend it to everyone interested in developing a serious life of prayer. My only objection about the book is the second chapter. I am not sure where Father is going. But, the rest of the book is quite amazing and very clear.
As I mentioned in my article, I was introduced to Contemplative Prayer by my spiritual director, a 75 year old hermit who lives at a retreat center about an hour from Corpus Christi. He introduced me to a great gift and he changed the whole way that I prayed before. I truly believe that Contemplative Prayer is the answer for the crazy world that we live in. Just imagine if everyone asked the Holy Spirit for the gift of contemplative prayer and spent and hour every morning in and with that gift! The world would change very quickly.
Centering Prayer is one method for preparing the soul to receive the gift of contemplative prayer. It is a method. There are other methods. But, my opinion is that it is the best method. That’s all that I am saying. We live in a hyperactive world where we are immersed in noise. Noise at home, noise in the car, noise at work, noise in our heads. What we moderns need is the profound experience of silence. Order and sanity will come to a world through silence.
OK, end of sermon. Got to go and pray before a busy day begins.
Thanks for your comments, questions and concerns. Email me anytime: fjficthus@gmail.com
Fr James Farfaglia

 

21a. Charism gifts building up the Church

http://www.saint-mike.org/warfare/library/wp-content/docs/spiritualgifts.pdf
EXTRACT

(Excerpt from the Rule of St. Michael) 2004, Order of the Legion of St. Michael

Genuine contemplation requires great commitment of years of prayer and devotion. There are no short-cuts, although the immature and impatient continually seek an “easy” and “faster” way, such as through Tongues and also through the so-called “centering prayer.”70

70
“Centering prayer,” we would suggest is an attempt to rob God. It seeks to attain the levels of intimacy with God that are really reserved to the gifts of the higher forms of contemplation and to mystical union. It seeks to acquire the mystical gifts that God only gives to a few. It says, in essence, “God, you did not give me the gift of mystical union, so I will steal it through the techniques of “Centering Prayer.” The Letter to the Bishops on Some Aspects of Christian Mediation (n. 23) reminds us: Without doubt, a Christian needs certain periods of retreat into solitude to be recollected and, in God’s presence, rediscover his path. Nevertheless, given his character as a creature, and as a creature who knows that only in grace is he secure, his method of getting closer to God is not based on any “technique” in the strict sense of the word. That would contradict the spirit of childhood called for by the Gospel. Genuine Christian mysticism has nothing to do with technique: it is always a gift of God, and the one who benefits from it knows himself to be unworthy.

 

21b. Centering Prayer

http://www.saint-mike.net/qa/sw/viewanswer.asp?QID=95

August 12, 2004

I need a detailed explanation on why centering prayer is not recommended for Catholics. How did this form of prayer came about? A good number of youths in my church are using this form of prayer. Hence I would want to bring this alarming issue to them. But I need the necessary resources. -Nivlem

This form of prayer came about by attempting to make contemplative prayer more accessible to people. The higher forms of contemplation, however, is a gift given by God only to a few people. We all can experience some level of contemplation, but the higher forms are only given to a few.

Techniques like “Centering Prayer” attempt to usurp God’s sovereignty in whom he wishes to give this gift by blending Catholic forms of ancient prayer with non-Catholic eastern techniques.

Here is an article that explains in detail why Centering Prayer is to be avoided: The Danger of Centering Prayer by Father John D. Dreher [See pages 7-10]

We will be in prayer for this situation in your parish. –Bro. Ignatius Mary OMSM

 

 

21c. Mystics [and Centering Prayer]

http://www.saint-mike.net/qa/sw/viewanswer.asp?QID=332

May 23, 2007

I have been reading many books on spiritual warfare, and books dealing with my faith. (Catholicism) I notice a lot of references to mystics of our times, what does that mean? And what exactly is a mystic? Doesn’t this refer to someone who can see into the future? –Deborah

While it is possible a God may reveal the future to a mystic that is rare and not the primary attribute. Mysticism is about a sublime and intimate relationship with God.

To quote Father Hardon’s Catholic Dictionary, mysticism is:

The supernatural state of soul in which God is known in a way that no human effort or exertion could ever succeed in producing. There is an immediate, personal experience of God that is truly extraordinary, not only in intensity and degree, but in kind. It is always a result of a special, totally unmerited grace of God. Christian mysticism differs essentially from non-Christian mysticism of the Oriental world. It always recognizes that the reality to which it penetrates simply transcends the soul and the cosmos; there is no confusion between I and thou, but always a profound humility before the infinite Majesty of God.

And in Christian mysticism all union between the soul and God is a moral union of love, in doing his will even at great sacrifice to self; there is no hint of losing one’s being in God or absorption of one’s personality into the divine.

The mystic has a sublime and personal relationship that transcends images and senses. The relationship is intuitive and direct, rather than discursive and material. Jean Gerson (1363-1429) defines mysticism as the “knowledge of God arrived at through the embrace of unifying love.”

In a lesser degree anyone who lives a contemplative life may be called a mystic, but the true mystic is given a special gift of God in contemplation on the higher levels leading to Mystical Union.

Referring back to the Catholic Dictionary, Mystical Union is:

…characterized by a deep awareness of the divine presence, and has a variety of grades, not necessarily successive, but distinguished by spiritual writers [such as Sts. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross]. They are: the two nights of the soul (sense and spirit) before mystical union, the prayer of quiet, the full union, ecstasy, and spiritual marriage or transforming union.

This mystical union cannot be “achieved”. It is a gift of God that He gives to whom He pleases.

This is one reason why Centering Prayer is so offensive. In essence Centering Prayer says to God, “Hey, you did not give me the gift of infused contemplation so I am going to steal it from you with these techniques.” This is not only arrogant and prideful, but delusional since no “technique” or “method” can achieve these heights of contemplation with God. (See article The Dangers of Centering Prayer). –Bro. Ignatius Mary OMSM

 

21d. New Age curriculum in church institute

http://www.saint-mike.net/qa/sw/viewanswer.asp?QID=422

August 10, 2007

This past year I signed up for a course in the Church Leadership Institute of the Archdiocese of Baltimore (http://archbalt.org/ministries-offices/minform/CLI/index.cfm).
The course that I signed up for was on Spirituality and Prayer. I wanted to deepen my prayer life and understand how God wants us to pray. Instead of this I got all sorts of stuff about “Centering Prayer” and “Transcendental Meditation” and Thomas Keating and “Mantras” and the woman even had us do a “Mandala”!
I sent a letter/packet to Bishop Madden in the Archdiocese and he responded by saying something to the effect of “There are many different types of prayer and we need to be open-minded to them.”

Where do I go if I need to go above the Bishop? -Matt

You are right to be disturbed by what the Archbishop said to you about “Centering Prayer” and, for Pete’s sake, Transcendental Mediation (which is Hindu) and its mantras (which are prayers to Hindu gods), and the like. If the Archbishop had no concerns about this then he is flatly wrong. Shame on him. How can his flock be protected against these inappropriate activities when the bishop has no concerns?

You can try writing the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. They are the ones that issued the letter, On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation. –Bro. Ignatius Mary OMSM

 

21e. Richard Rohr

http://www.saint-mike.net/qa/sw/viewanswer.asp?QID=465

October 4, 2007

What do you think of Richard Rohr? He spoke at our Theresian conference and I was not able to go so I do not know what he is about. My friend is always sending me his meditations from his website and I do not know if I should be engaging in this reading. –Brenda

“Father” Rohr is a dissenter from the Faith and one disgusting person. He supports the dissenting organization Call to Action, and his stance on homosexuality and the Enneagram contradict Roman Catholic teaching. He speaks in a way that shows his disdain for the Catholic Church making fun of anything distinctly Catholic. This is a man who thinks his opinions outrank the Holy See and who wishes to re-invent the Church in his own image, or get rid of the Church altogether.

 

 

There is patently no excuse for any Catholic organization, any Catholic bishop, or any Catholic priest to allow this man to speak at their events. Those that do and this includes Cardinal Mahoney, should be ashamed of themselves allowing the Faithful to be contaminated by this man’s anti-Catholic dribble and will be held to account before God for their shameful behavior and teaching.

For good insight into the nature of these non-catholic Catholics read the article at Catholic Culture website, Top Amchurch Catechists Subvert Church’s Doctrine and Discipline.

Any Catholic should avoid this man.

 

21f. Centering prayer and Lectio Divina

http://www.saint-mike.net/qa/sw/viewanswer.asp?QID=472

October 21, 2007

My church just held its annual parish mission, the topic of which was centering prayer and contemplation. With great sadness, my family declined to attend because we couldn’t justify exposing either ourselves or our children to what is considered an occult practice. Friends who did attend mentioned that Lectio Divina was also taught as a contemplative method in combination with centering techniques. I have noticed that some Evangelical Christian websites devoted to halting the spread of centering prayer and New Age errors criticize Lectio Divina with equal vigor, claiming it, too, can lead to awakening of kundalini energy and is essentially pagan. Having been taught in Catholic circles that Lectio Divina is a good alternative to more dangerous forms of contemplative spirituality, I am nevertheless left wondering if there might be any basis for such concern. Could you please share your thoughts on this matter? Thank you so much. And know that I am praying for your health problems. You have such a wonderful, helpful ministry! –Carol

You were wise to refrain from attending this mission that included such non-Catholic garbage as Centering Prayer. Combining Centering Prayer with the Lectio Divina does not remove the danger of Centering Prayer. Doing this merely contaminates Lectio Divina.

Lectio Divina, done the way it is suppose to be done, is an ancient form that has been the backbone of monastic formation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with properly done Lectio Divina. Those non-Catholics who criticize it probably criticize it merely because it is part of Catholic tradition. They do not know what they are talking about.

Lectio Divina has been vetted over nearly 2000 years. There is nothing new age about it.

With that said, however, people can always bastardize a good thing, such as your parish mission adulterating Lectio Divina with the poison of Centering Prayer. –Bro. Ignatius Mary OMSM

 

21g. Centering prayer

http://www.saint-mike.net/qa/sw/viewanswer.asp?QID=1737

November 28, 2012

Many of my friends in Ireland now are practising Centering prayer which is spreading all over Ireland by Fr Thomas Keating. I have my reservations about it as Fr Keating seemed to have been engaged in TM (Transcendental Meditation). Is this what Centering prayer is? –Sandra

I removed the links you had included because we do not want to be directing people to the evil prayer form called Centering Prayer.

We have articles in our Spiritual Warfare Library that warn about Centering Prayer. No Christian ought to be involved with this dangerous prayer form.

The Danger of Centering Prayer by Rev. John D. Dreher [See pages 7-10]

Centering Prayer Meets the Vatican by Dan DeCelles [See pages 16-19] Bro. Ignatius Mary OMSM

 

21h. The difference between true contemplative prayer and
Centering Prayer

http://www.saint-mike.net/qa/fs/viewanswer.asp?QID=568

April 25, 2007

I know that you often advise against things like “centering prayer,” or forms of prayer that involve “emptying the mind.” I’ve read that contemplative prayer is one of the highest forms of prayer, and the saints usually prayed this way. What exactly is contemplative prayer, and how does it differ from “centering prayer,” and the “emptying the mind” type of prayer? –Omar

The highest form of contemplative prayer is available only to those God chooses to grant this grace. The problem with Centering Prayer is that it tries to cheat. It essentially says to God, “You have not given me this gift, so I am going to steal it by using this method.”

But no “method” in itself can bring one to the mystical marriage of infused contemplation.

All of us can practice a form of contemplation in which we quietly meditate upon our Lord and allow God to commune with us and speak to us. The higher forms, however, are only available to those God chooses.

A summary of information about contemplative prayer is found in the Formation lesson for Novices in the Order of the Legion of St. Michael. This lesson is adapted from the formation material of the Carmelite Order.

One definition of contemplation is that it is an intuition of the truth, which can be either from natural causes or from God. Some suggest (rather simplistically) that supernatural contemplation allows one to watch the Lord in action and put ourselves into the scene (i.e., we are then in the presence of God) or that it is becoming absorbed in the life of Jesus (i.e., entering into His viewpoint).

 

 
 

Contemplation, however, is more a gaze of faith that is fixed on Jesus. “I look at Him and He looks at me;” this is what a certain peasant told the Cure of Ars, St. John Vianney, about his prayer before the tabernacle. (Catechism, #2715)

In our St. Michael Charism, we adopt the Carmelite tradition in which contemplation is passive prayer, the Holy Spirit praying within the person. Unlike some other traditional spiritualities, it is not the person acting but God acting within the deepest core of an attentive soul. It is always totally the gift of the Divine Lover.

There are numerous definitions given for contemplative prayer. For example:

-Continuously living in the presence of God.

-God present in my aspirations, in what I think about, in my all.

-The prayer of being a stance of allowing God to pray within our depths, a covenant relationship established by God within our hearts.

-A gift from God, a communion of love bearing life for the multitude, to the extent that it consents to pass through the night of faith. (Catechism, #2719)

For those so gifted, this level of prayer is meant to be a gateway to the highest levels of Christian perfection, which can be attained here in this life, but will only be complete when one enters the Kingdom of Heaven.

PERFECTION

Union with God is our goal and God’s plan for us. It is not the substantial union God has given us by giving us existence. Rather, it is a transformation in God through grace achieved by a union of wills, that is, by friendship. This is perfectly achieved when our will becomes one with God’s Will. It is a union effected through faith and love.

Perfection consists in bringing our senses and our reason into perfect submission to God’s will as known to us through faith. Thus we become perfectly docile to His will. This is true perfection (i.e., we living in God as perfectly as He lives in Himself).

This state cannot normally be achieved by human effort alone. The part we play is by “simply disposing ourselves for a state of contemplative prayer.”

Disposing ourselves for a state of contemplative prayer means undergoing a process of purification. For some, this may be relatively brief; for others, a never-ending struggle.

THE TWOFOLD PROCESS OF PURIFICATION

St John of the Cross refers to this process as a twofold process, consisting of the Night of the Senses and the Night of the Spirit. Both of these nights have an active part and a passive part.

Night of the Senses

The active part of the Night of the Senses takes place when a person undertakes the Night only after one has begun to know God to some degree through the lights and consolations of prayer and has become united to God in a love that is now strong enough to endure some difficulty in His service.  Persons begin this Night sooner who are recollected (i.e., those whose minds and hearts are fixed on God).

This purification is actuated by the person in acts of penance and ascetical practice, preparing one to encounter the Lord passively. Meditative prayer is a help here in focusing on God, seeking our good and enjoying happiness in God alone.

The passive part of the Night God begins to take over. In this Night, one often feels that God is out to destroy everything a person thought was good and valuable, which proves how wholly inadequate the person is to accomplish this work of purification.

St. John of the Cross gives three signs which help one to discern when this night begins: (Dark Night L Chapter 9, #2-3 & 8, pp. 377-380. Also Ascent of Mount Carmel II Chapter 13, pp. 189-191). All three of these signs must appear together.

1. an inability to meditate as formerly done; instead, an inclination to remain alone and in quietude: “They must be content simply with a loving and peaceful attentiveness to God, and live without the concern, without the effort, and without the desire to taste or feel Him” (Dark Night I Chap. 10, #4, pp. 382).

St. John of the Cross even speaks of this as the surest sign when he mentions the three signs again in the Ascent (II, Chap. 13, #4, pp. 189-190).

Meanwhile, St. John says: “Accordingly, such persons should not mind if the operations of their faculties are being lost to them; they should desire rather that this be done quickly so they may be no obstacle to the operation of the infused contemplation God is bestowing so that they receive it with more peaceful plenitude and make room in the spirit for the enkindling and burning of the love that this dark and secret contemplation bears and communicates to the soul. For contemplation is nothing else than a secret and peaceful and loving inflow of God, which, if not hampered, fires the soul in the spirit of love.” (Dark Night I Chap. 10, #6, p. 382)

2. little or no pleasure is found in the things of God, which now leave one dry, and also in the things of this world which are no longer esteemed or desired;

3. a general longing for God together with a fear that one is falling away from God through one’s own fault.

All persons must go through some form of this passive night if they are to come to the state of contemplation. For some, this may last for many years.

In this state, one no longer seeks security in oneself but only in God. The person sees the truth of who God really is and who we are. Sometimes one feels confusion.

Discernment and, most probably, competent spiritual direction are needed.

Three basic fruits of this passive night are joyful humility, confidence and a great growth in faith.

 

 

 

 
 

Night of the Spirit

Both nights of the spirit, (i.e., the active and passive phases), belong to those who have made considerable progress in the spiritual life. These nights are treated in the books by St. John of the Cross, Books II and III of the Ascent of Mount Carmel and Book II of The Dark Night. They form the passage from the state of one proficient in spirituality to that state of perfection called transforming union in God. This union is the very goal of our spiritual journey.

In the passive night of the spirit, the soul is meant to be receptive. If it is not, it can impede (if not understand) the union desired and begun by God. To benefit from this night, the soul should cooperate with God’s action, desire God’s action, and pay attention to God’s action within oneself.

St. John explains this with an illustration: “If a model for the painting or retouching of a portrait should move because of a desire to do something, the artist would be unable to finish and the work would be spoiled.” (Dark Night I, Chap. 10, #5, p. 382)

So: “If individuals were to desire to do something themselves with their interior faculties, they would hinder and lose the goods Chat God engraves on their souls through that peace and idleness.” (Ibid)

Symbolically, the highest experience of union between Christ and the person is called by many classic authors in spirituality: spiritual marriage. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila also add the state of spiritual betrothal to one about to enter into spiritual marriage.

ST.TERESA’S INTERIOR CASTLE

St. Teresa’s Interior Castle is an allegorical description of the soul. God dwells in the center of this castle and there are seven concentric series of rooms around this center. They are not equal states but more like rungs on a ladder. There is much variation in going from one mansion to another and in the time spent in each one, the progress too often being a difference in kind. The seven mansions are “stages” in one’s journey to God, relative and hard to put into neat little packages.

Blessed Titus Brandsma calls the last four mansions the last four degrees of the mystical life.

Comparisons can be drawn between Teresa’s mansions and St. John of the Cross’ insights on what happens to the soul as one lives out the contemplative way of life – (e.g., the Process of Purgation).

The following is a brief summary of each of Teresa’s seven mansions:

First: This is the mansion of beginners in the spiritual life. Good intentions abound here, but the soul is still very much preoccupied with worldly affairs. One is usually rooted in vocal prayer. Detachment must be learned.

Second: This is a mansion where one is practicing prayer, where one becomes quite involved in meditation and will find delight in prayer, but also where one may complain about aridity. The person must learn courage.

Third: Here is the mansion of exemplary life, where one lives a good life, integrating well one’s prayer with worldly necessities. The soul must learn humility in this mansion and be patient with the aridity that often accompanies those in this state of prayer.

Fourth: This mansion is a place of transition to passive recollection. Teresa calls this the “prayer of quiet” The person finds God dwelling within his or her soul, and rests wonderfully in His presence, which gives the soul great spiritual delight and makes the will (in particular) want to remain in this state.

Fifth: This is the mansion of union, as it were, where the soul is blunted to the external life and is carried away in the contemplation of God, as if in a spiritual sleep-the state of spiritual betrothal.

Sixth: This mansion is closely linked with the fifth and seventh mansions. The person is completely immersed in the contemplation and the enjoyment of the object of love: God! Detachment from the world is complete.

Seventh:
Spiritual marriage at last! It is here where the soul is living only in and through its beloved, lovingly drawn to God, never to escape again.

NOTE: In the last three mansions, the soul and God become more and more one until in the seventh, they become inseparably one. A difference in these mansions is simply the degree of permanency of the union. Other differences have to do with the type of mystical experiences that the soul has in these states of its spiritual journey.

Even with this brief discussion of genuine contemplative prayer one can compare with Center Prayer and see how deep the tradition of contemplation is and how shallow Centering Prayer is.

Centering Prayer tries to short-cut through this depth of Contemplative Tradition. To do that it uses non-Christian aspects that cannot be reconciled with our Faith.

For a detailed discussion of the dangers of Centering Prayer see the article by Father John Dreher. [See pages 7-10] Bro. Ignatius Mary OMSM

 

21i. The Jesus Prayer, Lectio Divina and
Centering Prayer

http://www.saint-mike.net/qa/fs/viewanswer.asp?QID=1320

March 11, 2009

Are there any concerns one should have with Lectio Divina or the Jesus Prayer? I know with the Jesus prayer it is cautioned against following the breath down through the nasal passages in to the lungs and out but merely breathe in-an out rhythmically as the prayer is said. I do not understand why this would be cautionary. Are there ways that either of these prayers can overlap with Centering Prayer or ways to avoid this from happening? They both seem like acceptable means of Christian prayer but I wanted to make sure and check if I should be aware of any concerns. -Jeremiah

 

 

 

Centering Prayer is a major problem and should not be practiced by Christians. See the article, The Danger of Centering Prayer. [See pages 7-10]

Lectio Divina is Reading the Scripture with prayer. Pope Benedict XVI stated of Lectio Divina:

In this context, I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of Lectio divina: the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about that intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 25). If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church — I am convinced of it — a new spiritual springtime.

As a strong point of biblical ministry, Lectio divina should therefore be increasingly encouraged, also through the use of new methods, carefully thought through and in step with the times. It should never be forgotten that the Word of God is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path (cf. Ps 119[118]: 105).

The method of Lectio Divina is divided into four parts:

Lectio: Reading a selected scriptural passage slowly and deliberately several times

Meditatio: Meditating and ruminating on the scriptural passage listening for what God has to reveal through the passage.

Oratio: Opening one’s heart to God through this scripture passage. This is not an intellectual conversation but an intuitive conversation with God.

Contemplatio: Loving focus on God through a wordless contemplation and joyful rest in his presence.

Christian Meditation and Contemplation is not to “empty the mind” as in Eastern meditation techniques. It is focused. For more on Christian Mediation see the Vatican’s article, On Some Aspects on Christian Mediation.

Concerning the Jesus Prayer, this is the tradition of Eastern monks called Hesychasts. The Catechism states:

2667 This simple invocation of faith developed in the tradition of prayer under many forms in East and West. The most usual formulation, transmitted by the spiritual writers of the Sinai, Syria, and Mt. Athos, is the invocation, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners.” It combines the Christological hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 with the cry of the publican and the blind men begging for light. By it the heart is opened to human wretchedness and the Savior’s mercy.

2668 The invocation of the holy name of Jesus is the simplest way of praying always. When the holy name is repeated often by a humbly attentive heart, the prayer is not lost by heaping up empty phrases, but holds fast to the word and “brings forth fruit with patience.” This prayer is possible “at all times” because it is not one occupation among others but the only occupation: that of loving God, which animates and transfigures every action in Christ Jesus.

Again, this method must avoid the emptying of the mind and rather focus on Jesus. –Bro. Ignatius Mary OMSM

 

21j. The St. Ignatius Retreat vs. Centering Prayer

http://www.saint-mike.net/qa/fs/viewanswer.asp?QID=1635

May 6, 2010

At your suggestion I have read the thorough and extensive analysis of the Pros and Cons about the Catholic Renewal in the essay, “Charism Gifts Building up the Church”.
Several years ago, my wife and I took part in the “St. Ignatius Retreat” which was given by a very reverent and holy Catholic Jesuit Priest. During this retreat we were taught many different things, one of which was Contemplative Prayer.
Centering Prayer, as it is described below, is somewhat similar to the St. Ignatius method of Contemporary Prayer.
Since, number 70 below discusses “Centering prayer” as a definite no no, although I feel that the St. Ignatius retreat has, and is still, benefiting both my wife and me in our spiritual growth, I find that, what I read below, to be somewhat disturbing.
Your analysis of both the St. Ignatius Retreat and Centering Prayer would be greatly appreciated.

70 “Centering prayer,” we would suggest is an attempt to rob God. It seeks to attain the levels of intimacy with God that are really reserved to the gifts of the higher forms of contemplation and to mystical union. It seeks to acquire the mystical gifts that God only gives to a few. It says, in essence, God, you did not give me the gift of mystical union, so I will steal it through the techniques of “Centering Prayer.”
The Letter to the Bishops on Some Aspects of Christian Mediation (n. 23) reminds us:
Without doubt, a Christian needs certain periods of retreat into solitude to be recollected and, in God’s presence, rediscover his path. Nevertheless, given his character as a creature, and as a creature who knows that only in grace is he secure, his method of getting closer to God is not based on any “technique” in the strict sense of the word. That would contradict the spirit of childhood called for by the Gospel. Genuine Christian mysticism has nothing to do with technique: it is always a gift of God, and the one who benefits from it knows himself to be unworthy.

-Vincent

Vincent is referring to footnote 70 in the document
Charism Gifts Building up the Church.

One will find similarities between legitimate Christian meditation and the Eastern Meditation techniques. This is because there are some elements in common to all meditation/contemplation. The differences, however, are critical and beg the Christian to avoid Centering Prayer and all pretenders to Oriental methods.

Also in the Charism Gifts document at footnotes 30 and 58 is found quotes from the Letter to Bishops on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation:

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to Bishops on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation (15 October 1989), nn. 22-25, from footnote 30:

22. Finally, the Christian who prays can, if God so wishes, come to a particular experience of “union.” The Sacraments especially Baptism and the Eucharist, are the objective beginning of the union of the Christian with God.

 

 

Upon this foundation, the person who prays can be called, by a special grace of the Spirit, to that specific type of union with God which in Christian terms is called “mystical.”
23. Without doubt, a Christian needs certain periods of retreat into solitude to be recollected and, in God’s presence, rediscover his path. Nevertheless, given his character as a creature, and as a creature who knows that only in grace is he secure, his method of getting closer to God is not based on any “technique” in the strict sense of the word. That would contradict the spirit of childhood called for by the Gospel. Genuine Christian mysticism has nothing to do with technique: it is always a gift of God, and the one who benefits from it knows himself to be unworthy.
24. There are certain “mystical graces,” conferred on the founders of ecclesial institutes to benefit their foundation, and on other saints, too, which characterize their personal experience of prayer and which cannot, as such, be the object of imitation and aspiration for other members of the faithful, even those who belong to the same institutes and those who seek an ever more perfect way of prayer. There can be different levels and different ways of sharing in a founder’s experience of prayer, without everything having to be exactly the same. Besides, the prayer experience that is given a privileged position in all genuinely ecclesial institutes, ancient and modern, is always in the last analysis something personal. And it is to the individual person that God gives his graces for prayer.
25. With regard to mysticism, one has to distinguish between “the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the charisms” granted by God in a totally gratuitous way. The former are something which every Christian can quicken in himself by his zeal for the life of faith, hope and charity; and thus, by means of a serious ascetical struggle, he can reach a certain experience of God and of the contents of the faith. As for charisms, St. Paul says that these are, above all, for the benefit of the Church, of the other members of the Mystical Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:17). With this in mind, it should be remembered that charisms are not the same things as extraordinary (“mystical”) gifts (cf. Rom 12:3-21), and that the distinction between the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” and “charisms” can be flexible. It is certain that a charism which bears fruit for the Church, cannot, in the context of the New Testament, be exercised without a certain degree of personal perfection, and that, on the other hand, every “living” Christian has a specific task (and in this sense a “charism”) “for the building up of the body of Christ” (cf. Eph 4:15-16), (29) in communion with the hierarchy whose job it is “not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good” (LG, n. 12).

One of the Eastern Meditation methods we are to avoid is the practice whereby one suspends the intellect and yields oneself to the “spirit.” In a section called, “Erroneous Ways of Praying”, nn. 8-11, 18-19, footnote 58 quotes (para 18 mentions the Ignatius Exercises):

8. Even in the first centuries of the Church some incorrect forms of prayer crept in. Some New Testament texts (cf. 1 Jn 4:3; 1 Tim 1:3-7 and 4:3-4) already give hints of their existence. Subsequently, two fundamental deviations came to be identified: Pseudo-gnosticism and Messalianism, both of concern to the Fathers of the Church. There is much to be learned from that experience of primitive Christianity and the reaction of the Fathers which can help in tackling the current problem.
In combating the errors of “pseudo-gnosticism” the Fathers affirmed that matter is created by God and as such is not evil. Moreover, they maintained that grace, which always has the Holy Spirit as its source is not a good proper to the soul, but must be sought from God as a gift. Consequently, the illumination or superior knowledge of the Spirit (“gnosis”) does not make Christian faith something superfluous. Finally, for the Fathers, the authentic sign of a superior knowledge, the fruit of prayer, is always Christian love.
9. If the perfection of Christian prayer cannot be evaluated using the sublimity of gnostic knowledge as a basis, neither can it be judged by referring to the experience of the divine, as “Messalianism” proposed. These false fourth-century charismatics identified the grace of the Holy Spirit with the psychological experience of his presence in the soul. In opposing them, the Fathers insisted on the fact that the soul’s union with God in prayer is realized in a mysterious way and in particular through the sacraments of the Church. Moreover, it can even be achieved through experiences of affliction or desolation. Contrary to the view of the Messalians, these are not necessarily a sign that the Spirit has abandoned a soul. Rather, as masters of spirituality have always clearly acknowledged, they may be an authentic participation in the state of abandonment experienced on the cross by our Lord, who always remains the model and mediator of prayer. Both of these forms of error continue to be a “temptation for man the sinner.” They incite him to try and overcome the distance separating creature from Creator, as though there ought not to be such a distance; to consider the way of Christ on earth, by which he wishes to lead us to the Father, as something now surpassed; to bring down to the level of natural psychology what has been regarded as pure grace, considering it instead as “superior knowledge” or as “experience.”
10. Such erroneous forms, having reappeared in history from time to time on the fringes of the Church’s prayer, seem once more to impress many Christians, appealing to them as a kind of remedy, be it psychological or spiritual, or as a quick way of finding God.

My comments:

Similar techniques were subsequently identified and dismissed by St. Teresa of Avila who perceptively observed that “the very care taken not to think about anything will arouse the mind to think a great deal,” and that the separation of the mystery of Christ from Christian meditation is always a form of “betrayal” (see: St. Teresa of Jesus. Vida 12, 5 and 22, 1-5)

11. However, these forms of error, wherever they arise, “can be diagnosed” very simply. The meditation of the Christian in prayer seeks to grasp the depths of the divine in the salvific works of God in Christ, the Incarnate Word, and in the gift of his Spirit. These divine depths are always revealed to him through the human-earthly dimension. Similar methods of meditation, on the other hand, including those which have their starting-point in the words and deeds of Jesus, try as far as possible to put aside everything that is worldly, sense perceptible or conceptually limited. It is thus an attempt to ascend to or immerse oneself in the sphere of the divine, which, as such, is neither terrestrial, sense-perceptible nor capable of conceptualization.

 

 

 

This tendency, already present in the religious sentiments of the later Greek period (especially in “Neo-Platonism”), is found deep in the religious inspiration of many peoples, no sooner than they become aware of the precarious character of their representations of the divine and of their attempts to draw close to it.

My comments:

The passions (empirical faculty) are neither good nor evil in themselves, but they must be guided by reason, as already mentioned, and must be guarded from their natural tendency toward selfishness. The emptying of the mind (turning off the intellect) in prayer refers to this emptying of selfishness, not a denial of created things, of which the intellect is a major gift. Paragraphs 18-19 of the Letter to Bishops speaks of this:

18. The seeking of God through prayer has to be preceded and accompanied by an ascetical struggle and a purification from one’s own sins and errors, since Jesus has said that only “the pure of heart shall see God” (Mt 5:8). The Gospel aims above all at a moral purification from the lack of truth and love and, on a deeper level, from all the selfish instincts which impede man from recognizing and accepting the will of God in its purity. The passions are not negative in themselves (as the Stoics and Neoplatonists thought), but their tendency is to selfishness. It is from this that the
Christian has to free himself in order to arrive at that state of positive freedom which in classical Christian times was called “apatheia,” in the Middle Ages “Impassibilitas” and in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises “indiferencia.”
This is impossible without a radical self-denial, as can also be seen in St. Paul who openly uses the word “mortification” (of sinful tendencies). Only this self-denial renders man free to carry out the will of God and to share in the freedom of the Holy Spirit.
19. Therefore, one has to interpret correctly the teaching of those masters who recommend “emptying” the spirit of all sensible representations and of every concept, while remaining lovingly attentive to God. In this way, the person praying creates an empty space which can then be filled by the richness of God. However, the emptiness which God requires is that of the renunciation of personal selfishness, not necessarily that of the renunciation of those created things (i.e., the intellect) which he has given us and among which he has placed us.

Bottom line: The meditations/contemplation in the Ignatian Exercises do not violate the principles of proper Christian Meditation and Contemplation assuming the priest who ran the retreat was teaching it properly. If he mixed in ideas from Centering Prayer then he would have violated Ignatius’ teaching.

For details on Centering Prayer see the articles, The Danger of Centering Prayer
[See pages 7-10] and A Closer Look at Centering Prayer
[See pages 3-7]
. -Bro. Ignatius Mary OMSM

 

22. For Your Discernment: Warnings on the Dangers of Centering Prayer

http://www.courageouspriest.com/discernment-warnings-dangers-centering-prayer

Taken from Sword of Light and Truth Ministries.

Ditto as on pages 61-62

There are 20 readers’ comments against this article.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 



Categories: Eastern Meditation, new age

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