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Contemplative Meditation ?
The tip of the iceberg began appearing in our ministry mail over the last year, with folks reporting a different kind of prayer meeting in their Church, sometimes called contemplative meditation and sometimes called Christian meditation. Others reported that they began attending prayer meetings in their church, only to find that there was no prayer, only silence, and meditation. Some were surprised to find a Christ candle burning in the middle of the room with church members of all ages sitting on the floor around it. Some arriving with prayer lists were told to put them away, that wasnt what prayer was all about. praying for the needs of others. What on earth is happening in the Church? That is the question this one letter posed.
I am glad I found you again. 24 years ago you helped me get out of Transcendental Meditation. I love your website and thank God for your ministry. Now in my church there is a group practicing and promoting what they call Christian Meditation, and I am uncomfortable with it. The reason is because they use a mantra. As you know, in TM we used to use mantras (Chanting the name of some Hindu deity over and over).
However the mantra which they use in Christian Meditation is Mar-an-a-tha or the word Je-sus. I have no problem with either of these words, however I am concerned with the technique, since it is so similar to TM....
Someone else contacted us saying they had gone to the internet looking for scriptures on meditation. They typed in Christian Meditation and got a website Christian Meditation as taught by Dom John Main. Here is what it said, in part:
Meditation involves coming to a stillness of spirit and a stillness of body. The extraordinary thing is that, in spite of all the distractions of the modern world, this silence is perfectly possible for all of us. To attain this silence and stillness we have to devote time, energy and love.
The way we set out on this pilgrimage is to recite a short phrase, a word that today is commonly called a mantra. The mantra is simply a means of turning our attention beyond ourselves, a method of drawing us away from our thoughts and concerns. The real work of meditation is to attain harmony of body, mind and spirit. This is the aim given us by the psalmist Be still and know that I am God....
In meditation we are not thinking or imagining about God at all. In meditation we seek to do something immeasurably greater... Meditation is concerned not with thinking but with BEING...To meditate we seek a quiet place, and find a comfortable upright sitting position. Close your eyes gently. Sit relaxed but alert. Silently, interiorly, begin to say a single word. We recommend the prayer phrase Maranatha. It is utterly simple. Say it like this, MA-RA-NA-THA. Four equally stressed syllables. Some people say the word in conjunction with their regular breathing. The speed should be fairly slow, fairly rhythmical.
...if thoughts or images come, these are distractions at the time of meditation, so return simply to saying your word...each morning and evening for between twenty and thirty minutes....If one is faithful and patient, meditation will bring us into deeper and deeper realms of silence. It is in this silence that we are led into the mystery of the eternal silence of God...Not only is meditation the necessary basis for contemplative action, but it is the essential condition for a fully human response to life.
In Christian Meditation we follow this yearning into the depths of our own heart--past all thoughts, feelings and experiences even of a religious kind, down into the deep places of the Spirit within... ...it is also a very simple method of praying for all those who seek God.
Why has this movement come to the Church? Lets find out. First off, there is the use of a mantra. The mantra is commonly used in Hinduism and other New Age meditations. Translated from Sanskrit, man means to think and tra means to be liberated from. Therefore the word means literally, to escape from thought. Any word repeated endlessly over and over loses its meaning, the conscious mind tunes out and an altered state of consciousness begins. This is how mystics (and now Christians!) go into a trance.
After awhile, unusual things begin to happen in this altered state. Some report bright lights, some hear music, but all report the realization that there is a strongly-felt presence there. This experience goes by the New Age names of cosmic consciousness, enlightenment, self-realization, awakening, transcending etc.
It is in this frame of mind that persons practicing religions like Eckankar go into a mode called soul travel where they report transcending time and space.
Sometimes a presence manifests itself and is seen, sometimes only a voice speaks out. Sometimes the presence claims to be an ancient entity, a being from another planet, one of the apostles or disciples, or even Jesus Christ himself. One woman shared with me that her presence, called Jesus, was a goat with a mans face and horns. It scared her, and she wanted to be free of this presence which became more and more demanding, even when she wasnt meditating!
Some just feel a presence and there is silence, but they come to feel one with the universe . Some report a strange presence taking over their body, complete with tingles and ectasy feelings.
It is in this mode that the channellers speak what their presence tells them to say. Savy Chanellers hold big meetings, charge big bucks to get in, go into their trance and spout off all kinds of things, which their followers eagerly listen to as the wisdom of the ages.
I read an excellent book recently called A Time of Departing which traces the origins of this movement into the Church. I thank Ray Yungren for his careful research, which I used for this next portion.
The contemplative prayer movement entered the Church through the Roman Catholics. Michael Leach, former president of the Catholic Book Publishers Association, made this telling admission:
But many people also believe that the spiritual principles underlying the New Age movement will soon be incorporated--or rather reincorporated--into the mainstream of Catholic belief. In fact, its happening in the United States right now. (p. 41).
Guess who got the ball rolling? None other than Pope Paul and members of the Catholic Trappist Monastic Order in the 1970s. One of their leading teachers, Thomas Keating said:
The Pontiff declared that unless the Church rediscovered the contemplative tradition, renewal couldnt take place. He specifically called upon the monastics because they lived the contemplative life, to help the laity and those in other religious orders bring that dimension into their lives as well.
The latest official catechism of the Catholic Church now officially endorses and promotes contemplative meditation saying, Contemplative prayer is hearing the word of God...Comtemplative prayer is Silence. (p.42)
Now theres a direct contradiction! How, pray tell, can one hear the word of God when ones mind is empty and silent!!?
Next the movement spread to the mainline protestant churches, dry and hungry for something supernatural, and from them into the Evangelical Churches, and lately into the Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches, always looking for some new experience.
To get this blatantly New Age, Eastern mysticism past folks believing the Bible, it was necessary to try to Christianize it. One scripture was found Be still and know that I am God. Seems to fit, until you realize that the reason we are told to be still is to reflect on God, not to empty our minds! We will deal with what Bible meditation is later, and it is nothing like the empty silence of the altered mind.
Searching for some Christian link-up between contemplative meditation and the Church, it is reported that in the early middle ages there were a group called the Desert Fathers. They wished to devote their lives completely to God without distraction. They were the ones who first promoted the mantra as a prayer tool (p.45).
We read of them:
The meditation practices and rules for living of these earliest Christian monks bear strong similarity to those of their Hindu and Buddhist renunciate brethren several kingdoms to the East...the meditative techniques they adopted for finding their God suggest either a borrowing from the East or a spontaneous discovery. (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander p. 157, 158 by T. Merton).
So, these Desert Fathers obviously believed that as long as your desire for God was sincere, absolutely anything could be utilized to reach God, they borrowed shamlessly from the East, without any consideration for Gods word. Why did they not heed the warning words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 6:7?
And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions, as the heathen do.
What an accurate description by Jesus of the vain practice of the heathens of repeating over and over, a mantra. Christians were to avoid this totally. We are to have the mind of Christ, not an empty mind!
Even if these Desert Fathers were allegedly devout men, they were engaged in a practice outside Christianity, and we should not look to them as an example!
How, then did our Christian faith get contaminated with this New Age practice? The Catholic Church promoted it, but other prominent authors spread the practice far and wide. M. Scott Peck wrote The Road Less Travelled as a self-help book that had widespread appeal to a stressed out generation, in and out of the Church. Professing to be a Christian, he nevertheless makes statements like, It is for the individual to become totally, wholly God... He states these concepts have been promoted in the past by Buddha, by Christ, by Lao-Tse, among many others. Peck claims to have moved from Eastern mysticism to Christian mysticism (contemplative prayer). (p.58)
He didnt move far enough! He also stated later, Christianitys greatest sin is to think that other religions are not saved. He advocated that Buddhism be taught in every 5th grade class in America. No wonder he is recognized as a major New Age leader.
Al Gore enthusiastically endorsed Peck. Thomas Merton is the author that brought contemplative prayer into the mainstream of church life. He put this twist on the altered state achieved by the mantra:
At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusions, a point of pure truth...This little point...is the pure glory of God in us. It is in everybody. (p.61)
Shirley MacLaine was laughed at for teaching this. Thomas Merton was applauded and accepted. Merton admitted he shared a deep spiritual kinship with the Sufis, the spiritual teachers and mystics of Islam. They chant the name of Allah as their mantra. Merton died accidentally by electrocution, but his teachings live on.
Henri Nouwen was popular with Christian intellectuals. He ranked right behind Billy Graham in a poll of 3,400 US Protestant Church leaders in 1994 as the man who most influenced them. At the end of his life he dismissed Jesus Christ as being necessary to reach God, saying each person can claim his or her own way (Universalism).
Two Catholic Monks, Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington encourage their followers to ..take the fruit of the age-old wisdom of the East and capture it for Christ... . They also suggest that Christians could be greatly helped by ..Yoga, Zen, TM and similar practices. They conduct seminars, teachings these concepts to lay persons everywhere--some 31,000 attended in 1991 alone.
Enter Psychiatrist and Author Gerald May, cofounder and teacher at the Shalem Prayer Institute in Washington, DC. For his book Simply Sane, he thanks two Tibetan Buddhist lamas (holy men) and a Japanese zen Master for their particular impact on him. His book Addiction and Grace is used for Christian recovery. Although sprinkled with Christian-sounding phrases, he presents essential unity with one another with all Gods creation, and expounds on the cosmic presence in his book The Awakened Heart. He is a mystic.
Morton Kelsey is an Episcopal (Anglican) priest and a popular writer on the subject of contemplative meditation. His book, Other Side of Silence: The Guide to Christian Meditation has led many into this Eastern practice. He was friends with the author Agnes Sanford, a well-known panentheist (you can still have a personal God, (theism) coupled with pantheism (impersonal God encorporating all of creation). She had quite an unsettling influence on Christianity.
John Mains influence also lives on. He admitted contemplative meditation was first taught to him by a Hindu monk. His work continues through Father Laurence Freeman with a vast network of mantric prayer groups. He is on the internet.
Matthew Foxs influence has been felt in both Catholic and mainline Protestant Churches. He wrote Original Blessing and also The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. As well as ministering in Churches, he is also a popular speaker at New Age Conferences.
On a secular note, Oprah Winfrey was so taken by a book Discover the Power Within You by Unity minister Eric Butterworth, that she said,
This book changed my perspective on life and religion. Eric Butterworth teaches that God isnt up there, He exists inside each one of us, and its up to us to seek the divine within.
Following that, she launched many New Age Authors with similar views. She even had one New Ager, Gary Zukav as a regular guest. His book, The Seat of the Soul became a best seller for two years. It is a primer for New Age thought. Her turning to the East affected millions of viewers.
We all know of her latest find, Dr. Phil. It almost seemed at first that he might be a Christian, with his folksy manner and the occasional bible quote. However he also promotes a core of consciousness that indwells every human being. He quotes Eastern sources in some of his books. Christians beware!
There is no doubt about it, the Church has been invaded by the mystical East through the Contemplative Meditation (Prayer) movement. We can only restate what the Apostle Paul said so many years ago,
You cannot sit at the table of the Lord and the table of demons. (1Cor. 10:21) Paul was speaking of the pagan mystics of his day as the table of demons. He wanted the Body of Christ to be free of contamination. We need to heed this warning today.
So, we ask, what is the truth of the matter? What is true Christian meditation according to the Bible?
First off, as mentioned before, true Christian prayer and meditation is not the repeating of some phrase over and over again. Jesus specifically warned us not to copy the pagans.
And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore, do not be like them.... (Mat. 6:9-13)
Jesus then went on to give the Lords prayer, which is meaningful to all Christians and requires thoughtfulness and a searching of hearts by the one praying.
According to the publication, Book of Bible Lists, the following elements are included in the model Lords prayer, (p.250).
1. A personal relationship with God--Our Father
2. Faith--which art in heaven.
3. Worship--hallowed be thy name.
4. Expectation--thy kingdom come.
5. Submission--thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
6. Petition--give us this day our daily bread.
7. Confession--and forgive us our debts.
8. Compassion--as we forgive our debtors.
9. Dependence--and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
10.Acknowledgement--for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.
We should all measure our prayer life against this pattern set by Jesus. We need to forsake meaningless repetition and seek after a fulfilling prayer life.
We can therefore conclude that while Eastern-type meditation involving mantras is to be avoided, true Bible-type meditation is to be encouraged. According to Scripture, true meditation, done Gods way, results in our being taught of God, and filled with gladness, joy, and peace. There are several biblical identifying marks of meditation that is pleasing to God.
1. Our meditation must be acceptable to God:
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalms 19:14).
2. We need the word of God in our hearts BEFORE we can meditate Gods way:
I will meditate on Thy precepts, and regard Thy ways. I shall delight in Thy statutes; I shall not forget Thy word. (Psalms 119:15,16).
3. Meditation is the time to review what our minds have been taught:
This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it, for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. (Joshua 1:8).
If Bible meditation sounds nothing like contemplative prayer, you are right. Bible meditation is a filling of the mind with the things of God. Silent contemplative prayer with the use of a mantra is an emptying of the mind. This allows for control by spirit-guides. This Eastern type of meditation may offer some relief from anxiety, but it is a temporary escape, much like taking a pill every day for a headache, which in reality is caused by a brain tumor. The root cause of the problem is not dealt with. So, too, contemplative prayer treats the symptoms of the human problem with band-aid solutions, but never deals with the root cause, namely sin and separation from God.
Also, seeking experiences like contemplative prayer indicates a basic laziness in the life of the Christian. Too often today, Christians do not want to read and study the word of God. This requires effort on their part. To meditate Gods way, they would have the know what God says in His word.
Some would rather seek religious experiences from dubious prophets with their visions and follow them. Some would prefer to go the easy route, and empty their minds, rather than filling them with the things of God. Sadly, Christians today have become the TV generation, who want to put out no effort on their own part, but want to relax and have everything delivered to them, filling their lives with experiences but little true knowledge of God.
While relaxing in contemplative meditation, mindlessly repeating a mantra may bring a measure of peace, it is definitely not the true peace of God. Jesus Christ said in John 14:27,
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you.
Those practicing Eastern meditation may feel peaceful during the time of meditation, but are ill equipped to feel that same peace during times of trial and tribulation. Christians, on the other hand, feel the ever-present peace of God, even during times of extreme stress. True peace comes only through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Bible plainly speaks in 1 Timothy 2:5,
For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who have Himself a ramson for all.
In conclusion, not one of us can meditate our way into a relationship, and peace with God, but must approach God His way, through belief and acceptance of Jesus Christ. We must deal with sin Gods way, not attempt to circumvent it by tuning out, and turning to a counterfeit, temporary peace. If you want to know more about the true peace of God, please contact us. We suggest you get the book, A Time of Departing and put it in your Pastors hands, or in your Church library.