The 101 of Contemplative Prayer

7393045_origThere is a movement within modern Christianity today to mainstream and bring in an unbiblical and unorthodoxical method of prayer Called Contemplative or Centering Prayer. Many evangelical churches today are innocently participating in this not so innocent method of prayer. Many good Christian brothers and sisters in the Lord are being unknowingly seduced into a world of mysticism with this method of prayer. This form of prayer goes by many different names and using many different disguises to hide its ugly poison dart such as; Lectio Divina, Christian Yoga, Centering Prayer, Prayer labyrinths and of course Contemplative Prayer. While prayer is always a good thing and something that every Christian should strive to do daily, we must keep in remembrance that the Jesus has already given us a method of prayer in Matthew 6:9 He teaches us how to pray to our Father in Heaven. We don’t need a NEW or BETTER way to pray to God or in this case we don’t need a way to pray to God that is based on mysticism and the occult. Some of the teachers today that are promoting the use of Contemplative prayer are Richard Foster, Rick Warren, and James Manning to name a few.

So what is Contemplative Prayer or Centering Prayer?  Contemplative prayer or Centering Prayer is a form of Christian mysticism. As you will read below Contemplative Prayer or Centering Prayer roots are anything but Christian.  The word for Contemplative Prayer is derived from the Greek term theoria (θεωρία).[1] In this form of prayer distinct vocal prayer (recitation of words) and from meditation in the strict sense (a form of mental prayer, also called methodical prayer, based on discursive reflection on various considerations)[2] The first appearance of something approximating contemplative prayer arises in the 4th century writings of the monk St. John Cassian, (a Catholic mystic) who wrote of a practice he learned from the Desert Fathers. Cassian’s writings remained influential until the medieval era, when monastic practice shifted from a mystical orientation to Scholasticism. It can be plausibly argued that contemplation was (one of) the earliest meditational or devotional practice of Christian monasticism, being later supplanted in dominance by the scholastic theologians, with only a minimal interest in contemplation.

After the monastic era (Catholic mysticism) in our more modern times Contemplative Prayer found its influence from the eastern religions. A Trappist monk and influential writer Thomas Merton who was strongly influenced by Buddhist meditation particularly by the style found in Buddhist teaching of Zen. He was a lifetime friend of Buddhist meditation master and Vietnamese monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh.

Today in the United States contemplative prayer can be traced back to Chogyam Trungpa who founded Shambhala Buddhism in the United States and was also an acquaintance of the current Dalai Lama. His theology attempted to unify existentialism with the tenets of the Roman Catholic faith and Protestant theology. This is what now today has become know as the modern day Christian Existentialism movement started by Kierkegaardian.

As you can see from this brief overview of the origins of the contemplative Prayer movement it is anything but rooted in  bible or Christianity. Instead it is steeply ingrained with monastic practices and eastern pagan religious practices and teachings.

With the history of Contemplative Pray exposed what does this movement teach? The purpose of contemplative prayer or Centering Prayer is quite simple. It is to enter an altered state of consciousness in order to find “one’s true self” in an attempt to find God. You will look long and hard to find this teaching in the bible because it’s not there. We are never instructed to in the Word of God to enter into and altered state of consciousness. You will find that we are told to do the opposite. In Romans 12:12 we are told to take every thought captive. This is quite a different teaching than what is being taught in Contemplative Prayer.

One of Contemplative Prayers basic tenants in its underlining belief is that “one’s true self”, man is basically good. This teaching is contrary to what the Bible teaches and denies the doctrine of original sin. Proponents of contemplative prayer teach that all human beings have a divine center and that all, not just born again believers, should practice contemplative prayer. This teaching that every person has a “divine center” is rooted in eastern pagan religious practices such as Buddhism and is found nowhere in the Bible.

Over all in the practice of Christian Contemplative Prayer one is opening the mind and heart to the whole being to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words and emotions, whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, thinking, feeling and choosing; even closer than consciousness itself. The root of all prayer is interior silence (which is the same teaching found in Buddhism.) Though we think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words, this is only one expression. Contemplative Prayer is a prayer of silence, an experience of God’s presence as the ground in which our being is rooted, the Source from whom our life emerges at every moment. The very teaching style and thought processes that are being portrayed in the methods within Christian Contemplative Prayer are the same methods and practices that can be found being taught in Buddhism and the art of Zen along with other eastern religions.

The very concept of Completive Prayer and its introduction in to Christianity is aloof and runs contrary to the basic tents of the Christian faith. Those that are practicing this method of prayer are not praying to the God of Christianity but a different god.   Over time this movement as crept into American Christianity very slowly at first but now it can be seen in churches everywhere in many different forms. These forms come in many hidden methods from churches that support the use of books like Rick Warrens Purpose Driven Life to churches that use prayer labyrinths. A more broad and outright form of Completive Prayer that is being out rightly used is called Lectio Divina.

With the church being so inundated with this NEW method of unbiblical prayer what is a true follower of Christ to do? The answer is quite simple. Read your bible and pray the way Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:9. We don’t need a NEW formula or method to pray to our Father. What we need to do is to follow the Word of God and take our prayers back to the Scriptures and follow them.

[1] William Johnston, The Inner Eye of Love: Mysticism and Religion (Harper Collins 2004 ISBN 0-8232-1777-9), p. 24

[2]  “The Christian tradition comprises three major expressions of the life of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplative prayer. They have in common the recollection of the heart” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2721)

Source: E.B.C