Contemplative or centering prayer is becoming more and more popular within the Evangelical church. Seminaries and Christian youth organizations are particularly attracted by this as are many respected leaders such as Beth Moore and John Piper. What is lacking in this enthusiastic acceptance however is discernment. Contemplative prayer is being endorsed and propagated by Christians who have done no research on it. Some of my readers have shared with me their concerns regarding family members involved in the contemplative prayer movement, so I have researched this obviously thorny issue and my findings are presented below. They are in no way an endorsement but rather an attempt at unpacking an obviously complex issue that light may be shed upon it thereby enabling Christians to make informed decisions.
The key issue underlying contemplative prayer is mysticism. Mysticism is broadly defined as the knowledge of, or the personal experience of, states of consciousness beyond normal human perception, including experience of and even communion with a supreme being.
On the subject of mysticism A.W. Tozer correctly states that "...every real Christian, however practical, is in some degree a mystic, his mysticism lying on the upper side of his life. He prays, meditates on spiritual things and communes with God and the invisible world" (The Price of Neglect, 45-47).
While Hermes Trismegistus was a contemplative who experienced an out-of-body encounter with the Great Red Dragon, and Greek nature-philosophers were almost always initiates of the Mystery Religions wherein they experienced mystical encounters with daemons, mysticism, as Tozer makes clear, is in fact a very broad category that also covers statements such as "we feel His presence in this place" (church), to God speaking to Moses through the burning bush, to God speaking into the minds of Old Testament prophets, to Paul's Damascus Road encounter as well as this:
"I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heavenâ€”whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradiseâ€”whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knowsâ€” and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter." 2 Cor. 12:2-4
If he was "out of body," occult spiritists would define his out-of-body-condition as "astral plane travel."
There is no doubt about it: Contemplative prayer is mysticism.
The tradition of Christian contemplative prayer appears to have originated with some of the early desert Fathers. Early Church Father St. Augustine for example was a contemplative, yet he was obviously not rejected by Protestant Reformers who spoke of him as "the blessed Augustine" in the commentary sections of the Geneva Bible.
Over the centuries, Christian contemplative prayer has been called by various names such as the Prayer of Faith, Prayer of the Heart, Prayer of Simplicity, Prayer of Simple Regard, Active Recollection, Active Quiet and Acquired Contemplation.
St. Teresa defines Christian contemplative prayer as:
".....nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.' Contemplative prayer seeks him 'whom my soul loves'. It is Jesus, and in him, the Father. We seek him, because to desire him is always the beginning of love, and we seek him in that pure faith which causes us to be born of him and to live in him. In this inner prayer we can still meditate, but our attention is fixed on the Lord himself. (The Catechism of the Catholic Church)
So does Christian contemplative prayer have a basis in Scripture? Those who say no may have overlooked certain verses in Scripture calling upon us to contemplate and/or meditate: "set your mind on" (Col 3:2), "with all your mind" (Mt 22, Mk 12, Lk 10), "think about" (Phil 4:8), and "fix your thoughts" (Heb 3:1).
Over and against St. Teresa's definition is Arthur Schopenhaur's definition. Schopenhauer was a famous philosopher known for introducing eastern Mysticism into the West. Whereas the Christian tradition centers the mind on Jesus Christ, the eastern tradition centers the mind on 'self'' as Schopenhauer explains. The eastern mystic starts from,
"....his inner, positive, individual experience in which he finds himself as the eternal and only being..." (Schopenhauer, "The World as Will and Representation)
The Eastern mystic seeks "god within" because "everything is god" while the Christian mystic seeks communion with the Word become Flesh, the Creator of everything that the Eastern mystic worships as "god within everything."
Schopenhauer brought Eastern mysticism into the West and by the mid-seventies three monks wanted to bring an Eastern-infused hybrid they called contemplative prayer to Christianity. The premise of this hybridized version is pantheistic (God is all) and panentheistic (God is in all).
This is how they did it.
"They invited to the abbey ecumenically oriented Catholic theologians, an Eastern Zen master, Joshu Roshi Sasaki, who offered week long retreats on Buddhist meditation, and a former Trappist, Paul Marechal, who taught transcendental meditation. The interaction between these Christian monks and practitioners of Eastern meditation helped distill the practice of Christian contemplative prayer into a form that could be easily practiced by a diverse array of "non-monastic" believers: priests, nuns, brothers and lay men and women." by Joseph G. Sandman (America Magazine 9/9/00)
Cistercian priest Thomas Keating is known as a 'living Spiritual Teacher' or Master of hybridized contemplative prayer. Terms like â€œspiritual masterâ€ actually come straight out of Eastern mysticism and are tantamount to "guru." In the foreword to Philip St. Romain's book, "Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality," Keating acknowledges that kundalini is the same as Christian contemplation. He states:
"Since this energy [kundalini] is also at work today in numerous persons who are devoting themselves to contemplative prayer, this book is an important contribution to the renewal of the Christian contemplative tradition. It will be a great consolation to those who have experienced physical symptoms arising from the awakening of kundalini in the course of their spiritual journey ... Most spiritual disciplines world-wide insist on some kind of serious discipline before techniques of awakening kundalini are communicated. In Christian tradition ... the regular practice of the stages of Christian prayer ... contemplation are the essential disciplines.."
( http://onetruthministries.com/KundaliniContemplative.htm )
Keating explains that spiritual directors are needed to help guide the Christian contemplative because of the powerful and dangerous nature of kundalini. He adds that "spiritual directors" may need to consult with "Eastern teachers in order to get a fuller understanding."
What is the Kundalini spirit? Kundalini is a serpent goddess (demon) "who lies asleep at the base of the spine, coiled three and a half times around the first chakra." ( http://www.snakespirit.webs.com/ )
Keating has inspired many Christian leaders, including Quaker mystic Richard Foster who favorably quotes the heavily demonized Carl Jung in the second chapter of his book, Celebration of Discipline. Fosters contemplative teachings are being enthusiastically accepted by undiscerning Evangelicals who teach his techniques to other undiscerning Christians in Bible studies and elsewhere.
The mystical techniques of Keating, Foster, and other teachers of hybridized contemplative prayer are dangerous. They can open the doors and windows of the mind, making Christians susceptible to familiar spirits, shadow people, and disembodied voices.
Carl Jung contemplated "self" and believed that the voices speaking to him were aspects of his subconscious. Too late did he discover that they were not. Read: Carl Jung and the Occult Spiritual Transformation of the West." http://patriotsandliberty.com/?p=15383
In conclusion, my research reveals two types of contemplative prayer, one in opposition to the other: the Christian tradition and today's dangerous hybridized version.