An integral part of “spiritual formation” disciplines, contemplative prayer (aka centering prayer, abiding prayer, breath prayer, Jesus prayer) is described by Richard Foster as: wordless (no content), not for the novice (exclusive), unmediated, and dangerous. Thomas Merton gives the dangers: you could lose your faith, contact a demon, be led into false belief by your own imagination, feel a dread sense that God has abandoned you, or have a mental breakdown. No Scripture prescribes the following ritual to achieve union with the divine: sit quietly, use measured breathing, repeat a phrase over and over for 20 minutes until your mind is empty. Is this altered mental state really the one way to achieve union with God, as mystics claim?….
(Lena Wood & Lynn Lusby Pratt) As unsettling changes take place in your Christian environment, you might find yourself in this scenario:
- In my Christian reading I get a gritty feeling about a phrase here or a teaching there. Then…
- I sense that new meanings are being applied to established Christian terms. Then…
- I find outright heresy in books and/or sermons.
- I notice certain names repeated in those sermons or in the endnotes of books.
- I voice concern to my minister, but he’s dismissive: “Now, now, we can’t all agree on everything.”
- I see acceptance of practices that I’ve discovered are misleading: Eastern wellness techniques…
- and contemplative prayer…
- and interspirituality.
- But I also wonder if I’m missing out, if I’m not as spiritual as others who are having “experiences.”
- I come to realize that I can’t blindly follow authorities; they may be losing their grasp of the Scriptures.
I’ll get into the Word for myself, stay connected to the church and to the real Jesus.
1. That gritty feeling
A phrase or idea sounds “off” in a seemingly solid book: “the Christ-thing which has no name.” (John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted) “Our souls are those sacred centers where all is one.” (Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey) “There is nothing wrong…with eroticism in worship.” (Tony Campolo, Adventures in Missing the Point)