"Christ lives, he has overcome death, he has overcome all these powers. We live in this certainty, in this freedom, and in this joy." (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 12 XI 2008)
"Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love which lacks the truth! One without the other becomes a destructive lie." (Blessed John Paul II, Canonisation of Edith Stein, 11 X 1998)

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

WCCM, Christian Meditation and Centering prayer – a spiritual mishmash for Catholics

 Guest post by NETI


My Parish in London (Our Lady of Victories) initiated a “Lenten Talk” run this year by the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM). Having recently read an awful lot about the New Age Movement I became worried. I went to the first talk done by Fr Laurence Freeman titled “Letting go” and the one done by Kim Naraja “Is meditation Christian”. Here are my reflections.


The subject is vast and much can be said about what is happening in the Catholic Church nowadays. I guess the right basis for any discussions are two documents issued by the Vatican: 1) “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life, a must-read for any Catholic in the current world of confusion and 2) “The Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of Christian Meditation”.


C.S. Lewis once gave a speech to an assembly of Anglican ministers and youth leaders asking them to respect the boundary line: 'I think it is your duty to fix the lines clearly in your own minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially as Christian or as priest but as honest men.'


I would be really grateful if those priests changed their professions as C.S. Lewis says, not only out of respect to our Holy Mother Church but also as honest men (or women in some cases). But above all I pray for their conversion to the true spirituality. Sometimes I wonder if they think they are much smarter than Our Lady who encourages us, the sinners, to pray the Rosary, read the Bible, go to Confession and receive the Eucharist. Not navel-gazing !


And the list of the “enlightened” fathers is long (of those that I know):


  • Cistercian monks ( O.C.S.O) Fr Thomas Keating, Fr William Meninger, Fr Basil Pennington and Fr Thomas Merton;
  • Benedictine monks (O.S.B.) Fr John Main, Fr Laurence Freeman, Fr Bede Griffiths
  • Franciscan friar (O.F.M.) Fr Richard Rohr
  • Benedictine sisters (OSB) Sr. Teresa Ann Harrington
It was interesting to discover that most of them use the Rule of St Benedict - St Benedict incorporated many principles of John Cassian and recommended his monks read the works of Cassian.

Okay, so who was this John Cassian so widely quoted by many propagators of so called “Christian Mediation” or Centering prayer (Kim Naraja when asked by me what the difference between those two types of prayer is replied that they were like brothers, very similar).


JOHN CASSIAN John Cassian wrote two major spiritual works, the Institutions and the Conferences. In these, he codified and transmitted the wisdom of the Desert Fathers of Egypt. The Institutions (Latin: De institutis coenobiorum) deal with the external organization of monastic communities, while the Conferences (Latin: Collationes patrum in scetica eremo) deal with "the training of the inner man and the perfection of the heart.” John Cassian is generally considered to be an early proponent of the view that later became known as Semi-pelagianism. This emphasized the role of free will in that the first steps of salvation are in the power of the individual, without the need for divine grace. His thought has been described as a "middle way" between Pelagianism, which taught that the will alone was sufficient to live a sinless life, and the view of Augustine of Hippo, that emphasizes original sin and the absolute need for grace.


The second reference widely used by our “Meditating MishMash Fathers” is the mysterious book called: “The Cloud of Unknowing”. The story goes that in 1974, Father William Meninger, a Trappist monk and retreat master at St. Josephs Abbey in Spencer, Mass. apparently found a dusty little book in the abbey library, The Cloud of Unknowing. As he read it he was delighted to discover that this anonymous 14th century book presented contemplative meditation as a teachable, spiritual process enabling the ordinary person to enter and receive a direct experience of union with God. This form of meditation is recently known as 'Centering Prayer' (from a text of Thomas Merton). He quickly began teaching contemplative prayer according to The Cloud of Unknowing at the Abbey Retreat House. One year later his workshop was taken up by his Abbot, Thomas Keating, and Basil Pennington, both of whom had been looking for a teachable form of Christian contemplative meditation to offset the movement of young Catholics toward Eastern meditation techniques.  Father Meninger now teaches the Centering Prayer along with workshops on Forgiveness, the Enneagram, Sacred Scriptures, and Prayer all around the world – now, have a look at the Vatican document and you will find that the Enneagram is classified as a New Age Practice. That is what I call spiritual mishmash – a bit of Scripture, a bit of New Age and a bit of prayer.


“The Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of Christian Meditation” says: Christian prayer is not an exercise in (…) stillness and self-emptying, but a dialogue of love, one which “implies an attitude of conversion, a flight from 'self' to the 'You' of God”. It leads to an increasingly complete surrender to God's will, whereby we are invited to a deep, genuine solidarity with our brothers and sisters.”


Fr Freeman (WCCM) told us in his introduction that “Meditation is the way of self knowledge, prayer in silence, letting go (I think he mentioned that world at least 50 times, almost like a mantra on its own). Prayer is not about getting benefits from God but becoming like god. Capacity of letting go (here we go again) everything, receiving, humbly and simply. Not to acquire but to let go (déjà vue). All forms of prayer converge in the hub of a wheel of prayer. In the center of prayer we enter into the prayer of Jesus (Christ prays in you).


The inspiration for his enlightened talk can be discovered by reading from “Centering Prayer” by Fr Basil Pennington (p 25-37): The desert tradition out of which this teaching on prayer of John Cassian, The Cloud of Unknowing, and Centering Prayer evolved is the same as that from which the Jesus Prayer issued. However, while Abba Isaac gave St. John a word from the Psalms: "0 God, come to my assistance; 0 Lord, make haste to help me," the Eastern current derived its source from two passages of the New Testament - that of the blind Bartimeus and that of the publican - to form the well-known prayer: 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner." In time, especially under the long domination of the Moslems, the Eastern Christian tradition was enriched or modified by other influences from the East. Thus today the expression "The Jesus Prayer" is a blanket covering a variety of methods.


Also remember that although the early Fathers (including Cassian) sought union with God in solitude and peace, this was always in the third stage of spiritual development, after undergoing both the Purgatio and Illuminatio. For us to assume that we can jump directly to the stage of Unitio without the first two stages is dangerous and not in keeping with Catholic teaching. Also, for us to attempt to achieve mystical experiences through certain practices is against our Faith as these mystical experiences are graces giving to the mystics as a great gift from God and it is Him alone who decides who shall receive them. As the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of Christian Meditation from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states in paragraph 23: “Genuine Christian mysticism has nothing to do with technique: it is always a gift of God, and the one who benefits from it knows himself to be unworthy (cf St. Teresa of Jesus, Castillo Interior IV)”. St Teresa of Avila also tells us in The Interior Castle that more harm than good can from trying to stop the mind, but we should rather without any effort or noise, strive to cut down the rambling of the intellect – but not suspend either it or the mind; it is good to be aware that one is in God’s presence and of who God is when in prayer. 


Also, you can't use technique as a substitute for spiritual growth to suddenly arrive at "contemplation" or Unitio. You may "blank" your mind or use a mantra to some how hypnotise yourself, but this will bring an empty calmness more akin to transcendtal mediation than any true contemplation. Let us not forget what the Great Pope John Paul II taught us in his homily during the celebrations of the 4th Centenary of St Teresa of Avila's death. He reminded us that St Teresa opposed the books of her day which presented  contemplation as thinking about nothing or an assimilation into some vague divinity.

What most of the above Fathers are proposing is mishmash of Eastern religions (Zen Buddhism and Hinduism) mixed with the wisdom of the Desert Fathers and true mystics. It is not easy to make up your mind while going through that mishmash of good and less good intentions. The rich heritage of Christian Meditation is not to be found in other religions. It is found in the methods of St Theresa of Avila, St Ignatius of Loyola and St Francis de Sales. It is also most prominently found in the ancient practice of Lectio Divina. As Pope Benedict points out in Verbum Domini: “The Word of God is at the basis of all authentic Christian spirituality.” (Para 86, where Origen is also quoted). The basis of Christian meditation is the Word of God (in the person of Jesus and the Scriptures), not an emptying of the mind, but approaching the dialogue with God where God reveals himself through his Word (cf Verbum Domini).


I would fully encourage you to read some of the following sources for a better understanding of centering prayer and what the dangers for any Catholic practicing them are:
And please write to your Parish Priests, Bishops and The Vatican about this alarming spread of mishmash spirituality.

3 comments:

  1. It's true ... Unfortunatelly priests are being under very intense attack ... Our Lady in Naju, Korea says: Pray for priests without ceasing. They are now like a light before wind. They are being subjected to temptations. The windows of rectories are left open. Through the open windows, three devils (of pride, materialism and lust) are peeking in. Close the windows of rectories.
    The more there is adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and humble prayer the less of tempation to lure people by confusing practices.
    The danger is hudge, it weakens our faith and disorder spreads as says Our Lady: Do you know how the Heart of my Son Jesus is being torn apart? His Heart is being torn apart continuously, as human sins multiply and disorder spreads.

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  2. Very good post ... World Christian Meditation Community applies joga for teens (which as we know is a spiritual Eastern exercise) and they method of meditation is very similar to TM hence leading you to turning of your brain activity and putting you on half trans hypnosis mode ... long term - very dangerous

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