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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Praying Off Center

Centering Prayer is a method of contemplative prayer that began in some Roman Catholic monasteries and is now becoming more widespread in ecumenical circles. Even some pastors in my own denomination (The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod) are now advocating it.

Essentially, it is just a form of self-hypnosis. It utilizes breathing techniques, mantras and emptying the mind in order to find God within. Oh, various Christians are trying to bring it more in line with their doctrine, but it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to see how thin these attempts really are.

OK, so I read this book called Journey Back to Eden: My Life and Times Among the Desert Fathers by Mark Gruber. The author is a Benedictine monk and professor who spent a year living in Egypt observing Coptic Christianity, particularly in the desert monasteries. Fascinating book, by the way.

At one point, he is attending a meeting of Coptic monks from around the world including some from the U.S. Some of the other monks were very curious to ask the Americans about stuff they'd heard about monasticism in the West. Here is the quote:

"The wondered about the Oriental practices that have been entering into Western Churches, such as meditation, breathing, and stretching exercises, which are designed to "center" a person. The Coptic Orthodox monks didn't like the idea of being centered by techniques, and even if that were possible, they thought it couldn't be as efficacious or important as being centered by faith in the Paschal Mysteries of Christ."
EXACTLY!! That's what I'm saying. Maybe every Lutheran pastor should be required to live in a Coptic monastery for at least one year before being given a parish. Maybe 12 months sleeping on the ground, eating sheep cheese and praying the entire psalter (all of it) every morning would clear out some debris.

All I have to say is, "Where is the discernment?"

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Lisa said...

Amen Brother. I know of a church staff who went, as an afternoon retreat (team-building, I guess, type thing), to a labyrinth. I never found it to be appropriate or wise and have never understood their need or desire to do it.

There is a very good book called "Unicorns in the Sanctuary" which speaks to the incremental ways the Catholic church allowed new-agey mysticism and spiritualism to creep up on them.
I'm afraid it describes the Protestant..even some of the most reformed...churches today. The camel definitely has it's nose under the tent.

Preachrboy said...

Did I ever tell you about the time the RC nun did "healing touch" on my wife?

She was laid up in the hospital when this nun who was on staff came by and offered this for free. She had her own boom box and played some soft music - to us it sounded like a massage or soemthing.

Anyway it turned out that it was neither "healing" nor "touch" - and was actually the new age practice of reikei (sp?). What a joke. And why are Roman Catholic nuns doing this? I understand it is quite popular now with them.

Kurt Wall said...

What say you of lectio divina (sp?) as a method for reading Scripture for more thorough understanding?

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Kurt, I think lectio divina as a contemplative reading of scripture is quite good. Meditation upon the text is encouraged. But if the words of Scripture are treated as mantras, as means to achieve an altered state of consciousness, and thinking that once in that altered (or centered) state, one receives individual/private/unique revelation from God, it's not good. Or if the words of scripture are thought to carry spiritual power apart from their context, it is little different from Kabbalah. I'm not an expert in monastic prayer, but it seems to me that there are benefits and dangers when taken to extremes. In all honesty, I'm not big on mysticism, east or west. I'm not saying to become hyper-rationalistic either, but I seek a careful discerning balance.

Scott said...

There are, though, several different aspects to practicing "centering prayer," some not all that much different from what you'd find in a Quaker Sunday service. Is there a Biblical precident for denying these sorts of practices? I understand the fear of Eastern Mysticism overtaking Christian truths (of course, we're never really in danger of that occuring), but I think this primarily Lutheran idea of God speaking to us only in the Scriptures (i.e. "God's said what He had to say,") is baseless

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Do you believe God speaks to you outside of Scripture? If so, how do you know it is God? In other words, what is your basis for evaluating extra-biblical revelation. And, why should anyone believe your testimony?

The Quaker idea that there is a divine light within the believer and that by simply being quiet enough we can hear God speak is what is baseless.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

And Scott,listen to your own argument. You seem to be saying that extra-biblical revelation is the way to go. And yet, you are saying that I can't denounce it w/o a Biblical quote in my hand. What if I told you that the Lord has revealed to my spirit that He does not choose to speak any longer in men's hearts? How could you possibly counter me? How do you know my inner voice was not God, but yours is?

Scott said...

There are two issues to be dealt with as far as I see it- 1) Extra-canonical doctrine, or "what is true for the Church corporate" and 2) Personal spiritual development.

I think that as far as we have to deal with extra-canonical issues of doctrine, consensus and consistency (between us and those before us) are the standards, just like they've always been for the Church. Individualism is a product of original sin, so it's out of the question anyway.

But, I think centering prayer is concerned with personal development and is used as a method for profitable reflection and reception of guidance. I don't think a command from Scripture is the neccesary means of securing a Biblical "o.k." with regard to this practice. There's no Biblical precedent for excluding it. Also, it's certainly not a new development in the life of the Church.

As far as the issue of wanting a Scriptural basis for the exclusion of extra-biblical revelation, that's just an application of the method I assume you are asserting. If you believe that God has "said what He had to say, nothing more need be said (in the Scriptures)" then where in the Scriptures, where God said what He had to say, did God state this?

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

If someone says that God is speaking to him, the burden of proof is on him to prove that it's God (and not the devil or his own whims), not on me to prove it's not.

Why should I assume that your inner voice is God just because you say so?

What promise does Scripture ever give that God will speak to you in your prayers or private contemplations? Never once does God promise to do this for every believer. I just have a problem expecting God to do something which He has not promised to do.

It is true that God has spoken directly to people, prophets and apostles. But what biblical evidence is there that this has ever been the case for the average believer?

I'm not saying God can't do this. I'm not even saying that He does not do it. I am saying that when God spoke to the prophets and apostles of old there was never any doubt that it was God. No one wondered if the voice they heard was God or their own imaginings. And in the Bible, true divine revelation was generally accompanied by signs.

I wonder how you have certainty that the inner voice you follow is God's voice. Attributing something to God that might, in fact, not be God is blaspemy. In the OT, they stoned people for this.

Scott said...

I understand you're point about the promise. Of course the promise of God is what we base our faith in. I certainly understand the distinction between how God spoke to prophets and speaks to us, a common example would be in how many today view calls and how the Scripture views calls.

However, I still think we are talking about two different things. I'm not concerned about what sort of truth we are supposed to be seeking in centering prayer. If anything is proposed which is contradictory to prayer, or anyone posits that something must be believed because it has been revealed to them and them alone in prayer, that's another issue.

My concern is with your attempt to restrict a certain method of prayer without Scriptural precident. There seem to be several methods of prayer employed by the disciples and first Christians, some of which seemed to be more contemplative and communal (communing with God.) While we may not have a clear promise that God will deal with all people in this manner, we don't have anything in Scripture to indicate that He will cease either.

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