Contemplative prayer Is it really prayer?

Contemplative prayer

Is it really prayer?

MattS AMTM December 2018 Part 18 (heresy and false teachings)

Many Christians are embracing the idea of “Contemplative Prayer” today and very sadly I see this as two things. Firstly that the church is rapidly moving away from scripture as a basis for teaching and sound doctrine, and secondly that new generations of Christians are finding many current Churches void of biblical truth. In saying this, that first thing may be generating the second thing. The Churches departure from sound biblical teaching may be leading new generations of Christians to seek, some form of spirituality that offers them meaning, and gives some type of “experience”. Many young Christians are hungry for the truth and if they do not find it in their Church, they will go looking for it. Sadly there are many counterfeits waiting to embrace these young folk.

My last article on Gnosticism discussed the idea of Gnostic teaching and practices, i.e. looking within oneself for divine inspiration (and indeed God). Let’s see how “Contemplative Prayer” lines up with this type of thinking.

As I have researched this topic, I have found that I have opened up the proverbial “can of worms”. It has opened up so many avenues for research and exposed some much information related to “Contemplative Prayer”. I find often, the more I learn, the less I know. There is so much more that I could add to this article but cannot for the sake of keeping it brief and to the point. So, that said, I will get on with it.

What is “Contemplative Prayer”?

“Contemplative Prayer” is defined as ………………… Well, maybe we should look at what “Contemplative” or “Contemplation” means. One of the things I am learning is that often, people say the same word but it has different meanings depending on your world view, or in this case, your spiritual view.

The adjective “contemplative” means; reflective,moody,pensive,meditative,introspectiveor pondering. The noun “contemplation” means; concentration on spiritual things as a form of private devotion,a state of mystical awareness of God’s being,an act of considering with attention,the act of regarding steadily. I think this is clear that “contemplation” can mean giving something spiritual, close attention, meditating on something.

If I were to ask you what the word “meditate” means to you, and then go back 70 years in a time machine and ask someone what their definition of meditation is, would we get the same answer? It is likely that we would get a much broader definition today, you know, someone sitting in the Lotus Position, legs crossed, hands on knees doing the “OK” sign!!

I suspect that these days the terms “meditation”, “contemplation” and indeed “contemplative prayer” will mean different things to different Christian groups. I would suspect that they would mean different things to the Catholic, to the Emergent Church member and to the Pentecostal Church member. As I have mentioned before, we, as human beings know how to make things so very complicated (and as always, with the devil’s covert help). So, for the purposes of keeping things simple, I will discuss what the scripture has to say about prayer at a later stage of this article.

So, let’s get back to how the many of the Catholic, Gnostic, New Age, Emergent Church and NAR folk see and practice “Contemplative Prayer”.

The initial part of “Contemplative Prayer” may be “Centering Prayer” and these can be part of a practice called “Lectio Divina“.

“Lectio Divina” (this method has been around since the 3rd century AD) is again popular among Catholics and Gnostics. This method of prayer can start with an Eastern meditation style of breathing techniques to relax the mind and clear the mind of stray thoughts. This is followed by repetitive phrases (mantras) and reading of scripture. This whole process is about opening oneself to God and allowing a deeper conversation with God. I don’t have any problems with the reading of scripture but the initial stages are very similar toTranscendental Meditation which comes from Hindu meditation techniques.

When I looked at “Lectio Divina” initially, I thought, what is problem? It seems to be okay! Getting yourself into an area where there are no distractions, reading scripture, speaking with God, what’s wrong with that? However as I have read more on the subject of “Contemplative Prayer”, I realised that the focus of the prayer and experience seemed to have qualities that might lead to some significant issues. The word “mystic” comes up often and there seems to be an emphasis on “inward focus”, on “emptying the mind”, the “repetitive mantras”, the focus on a quest for special knowledge as in hearing that “still, small voice” inside.

I started to have some concerns that with achieving a stilling of the mind and using repetitive phrases, this could lead to a trance like state. The same kind of trance that induces a hypnotic state or is used for “Transcendental Meditation”, here is a video on the techniques for a trance state (I do not endorse this and please do NOT do this, it is DANGEROUS). The video explains practices similar to those used in entering a “Contemplative Prayer” state.

“Transcendental Meditation” is a practice that is derived from Hindu meditation techniques and Hindu religious practices. It has become very popular since the 1960’s & 70’s with groups like the Beatles advocating TM. This can also be likened to the Buddhist practice of “Mindfulness” which achieves similar things and is so very popular as a practice these days.

The Desert Fathers“, an early Christian sect of the 3rd century AD practiced “Hesychasm“, a form of “Contemplative Prayer” that involved using repetitive phrases to enter a prayer state. They misinterpreted Matthew 6:6 “go into your inner room” as meaning “go into yourself”. The Desert Fathers had many practices that would be deemed Gnostic. The forms or steps of “Hesychasm” also resemble “Lectio Divina” very closely.

Let us have a look at what some of the “Christian Contemplative Prayer” advocates say.

Thomas Keating (a catholic monk and priest) started a group called the “Contemplative Outreach of Colorado” Here are quotes from Thomas Keating

The root of prayer is silence

Having chosen a sacred word, we do not change it during the prayer period, for

that would be to start thinking again. … When you become aware of thoughts,

return ever-so-gently to the sacred word. \ ‘Thoughts’ is an umbrella term for every

perception including sense perceptions, feelings, images, memories, reactions, and

commentaries.(Open Mind, Open Heart, Keating, p. 49, 139-141)

On the same webpage from the “Contemplative Outreach of Colorado” here is a statement of their vision as follows; [my emphasis in bold bigger font]

Contemplative Outreach is a spiritual network of people and small faith communities committed to living the contemplative dimension of the Gospel in everyday life through Centering Prayer. Our purpose is to share the method of Centering Prayer and its conceptual background. We also encourage the practice of Lectio Divina, particularly its movement into contemplative prayer, which a regular and established practice of Centering Prayer facilitates.

We identify with the Christian contemplative heritage. While we are formed by our respective denominations, we are united in our common search for God and the experience of the living Christ through Centering Prayer. We affirm our solidarity with the contemplative dimension of other religions and sacred traditions, with the needs and rights of the whole human family, and with all creation.

Here is a quote from Jan Johnsona seminary professor, author and speaker from her book “When the Soul Listens

Contemplative prayer,in its simplest form, is prayer in which you still your thoughts and emotions and focus on God Himself. This puts you in a better state to be aware of God’s presence, and it makes you better able to hear God’s voice correcting, guiding, and directing you.

Brendan Manning who has been very influential on Southern Baptist teacher Beth Moore (Moore quotes Manning in her books) Manning says this;

Perhaps the gut issue is not how much theology we have studied or how much

Scripture we have memorized. All that really matters is this: Have you experienced

the furious longing of God or not? This very question provoked the brilliant Karl

Rahner to prophesy: \In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has

experienced God for real) or nothing at all.”

(The Furious Longing of God, Manning, 2009, p. 129, emphasis in the original.)

Choose a single sacred word or phrase … without moving your lips, repeat the

sacred word inwardly, slowly, and often. (The Signature of Jesus, Manning, 1996,

p. 203-204)

Next, try this simple exercise in faith: gently close your eyes and assume any position

that is comfortable so long as you keep your spine straight … Imagine Jesus glancing

at you either the way he glanced at the apostle John in the Upper Room … For

ten minutes, pray over and over the first strophe of Psalm 23: \The Lord is my

shepherd, I lack nothing.” (The Ragamuffin Gospel, Manning, 1990, p. 206)

Manning was influenced by “Contemplative Prayer” advocates Thomas Merton (considered one of the fathers of the “Contemplative Prayer movement) and Beatrice Bruteau, founder of The School for Contemplation. Thomas Merton says this;

Monastic prayer begins not so much with “considerations” as with a “return to the heart,” finding one’s deepest center, awakening the profound depths of our being”
Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

” In reality the monk abandons the world only in order to listen more intently to the deepest and most neglected voices that proceed from its inner depth.”
Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. Thomas MertonLINK

I’m deeply impregnated with Sufism” (Sufism is the Mystic sect of Islam) quote Thomas Merton LINK

Beatrice Bruteau says this;

The conclusion for the religious person should be that the world is God’s most personal work, therefore something for us to know and admire and revere, to take part in, to contribute to creating — since it is made as a self-creating universe. This is participating in the divine life, precisely what the religious person wants to do.

“So I have tried to set forth a general view of this cosmos that shows it in this light. My hope is that others will get a sense of how the universe is radiant and exciting and how we are poised right on the creative edge, right where the new action is happening. God’s action, our action. A self-creating universe that is God’s ecstasy, God standing — indeed, God dancing! — outside Godself, still doing the Godly things: being One, being Community, sharing being, indwelling, rejoicing, always being more.”
God’s Ecstasy: The Creation of a Self-Creating WorldLINK


YWAM (Youth With A Mission) has recently indicated that it wants its students to use “Contemplative Prayer” as part of their prayer practices.


Richard Foster, a Quaker, (a disciple of Thomas Merton) and well known evangelical circles is a strong advocate of “Contemplative Prayer”, he says this;

In your imagination allow your spiritual body, shining with light, to rise out of your physical body. Look back so that you can see yourself lying in the grass and reassure your body that you will return momentarily … Go deeper and deeper into outer space until there is nothing except the warm presence of the eternal Creator. Rest in His presence.”
Richard Foster in the 1978 edition of
Celebration of Discipline, pp. 26-27

Foster also gives a word of warning;

I also want to give a word of precaution. In the silent contemplation of God we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm, and there is such a thing as a supernatural guidance. While the Bible does not give us a lot of information on that, there are various orders of spiritual beings, and some of them are definitely not in cooperation with God and his way! … But for now I want to encourage you to learn and practice prayers of protection. Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding The Heart’s True Home (155,156,157)

Why would a Christian practice something that opens them up to dark spiritual forces?

Foster also says of Thomas Merton;

Thomas Merton has perhaps done more than any other twentieth-century figure to make the life of prayer widely known and understood… His interest in contemplation led him to investigate prayer forms in Eastern religion. Zen masters from Asia regarded him as the preeminent authority on their kind of prayer in the United States

Here are other Christians who advocate Contemplative Prayer; Henri Nouwen, Sue Monk Kidd, Brian McLaren, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Robert Schuller and Norman Vincent Peale.

I think that you are getting the picture from the previous quotes of “Christians” that practice “Contemplative Prayer”, that there is more to this than just contemplation, scriptural meditation and prayer.

The “Contemplative Prayer” practitioners love to quote Psalm 46:10Be still and know that I am God” (amongst other verses, Matthew 6:6etc), their claim is that God calls us to “stillness”. In the context of this scripture, God was calling those he was speaking to stop, cease and desist from warring with one another. That is the correct meaning in the context of the whole passage, not taking one verse and “spiritualising” it’s meaning as meditative stillness as the Gnostics do.

Is there anything wrong with meditating on the scriptures? No, there is not, we are encouraged to do this Psalm 1:2, after all scripture is God’s word and inspired by God as in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Should we seek quietness and solitude to pray? Jesus says we should in Matthew 6:6 and it is also in Psalm 4:4. Should we say mantras/repetitive words? No, Jesus says this is vain repetition in Matthew 6:7 and God won’t hear it.

What does the Bible say about how we should pray?

Firstly the question that is best asked is, why should we pray? The simple answer to this is because Gods asks us to! Philippians 4:6-7.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The Bible is filled with references to prayer, both of those who pray and the examples of what we should pray. It is how we communicate with God and keep relationship with Him. Jesus gave us the example to pray and told us how to pray Matthew 6:5-14.

Here are some scriptures that speak about prayer;

Mark 11:24

24 Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be grantedyou.

James 5:16

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

1 Thessalonians 5:17

pray without ceasing

1 John 1:9

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

John 15:7

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

1 John 5:14

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.

John 14:13

Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

What do you notice about these scriptures on prayer? They are active and outward in their direction toward God. They ask with gratitude and according to God’s will, if we are walking in his will he will answer our prayers. We are to pray for one another and for healing. These are active thoughts and actions, there are no instructions to empty our minds, go into a trancelike state and repeat mantras. It is communication with God, it is simple and direct ……………

Many of the “Contemplative Prayer” advocates indicate that there are other religions/religious practices that also lead to God. However if you examine how these religions deal with Jesus, this is a good measure of their attitude to Him. The Muslims says that Jesus is just a prophet, not the son of God. To the Hindu and the Buddhist, Jesus may just be the “Christ spirit” or an ascended master. To the Mormon he is the brother of Satan. To the Jehovah’s witness he is an angel or created being. To the Gnostic, Jesus is sent by God to be a teacher to help us find our own way to God. However Jesus sums it up best by saying; John 14:6

I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

Satan will do anything to deceive us, he started this with Adam and Eve, he will quietly slip in something that sounds good, and pervert it to lead us away from God and His son Jesus. I believe the act of prayer and communicating with God has been damaged by the use of “Contemplative Prayer”. By opening ourselves to a trancelike state with repetition of words/phrases and emptying our minds, we can open ourselves to demonic deception. The focus of “Contemplative Prayer” is also inward looking and in this respect could be considered a Gnostic practice.

I am of the opinion that “Contemplative Prayer” is yet another avenue Satan is using to draw Christians into his “One World Religion”, the wide path to peace, oneness, heaven on earth and certain destruction. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 warns us there will be false apostles, deceitful workers disguising themselves as servants of righteousness. I believe that these deceivers, whether knowingly or not, are leading many into deception.

RESEARCH. (The author of this article may not necessarily agree with all the views expressed in the research material)