Letter to the Editor: Is Lighthouse Trails Crying Wolf on Meditation?

LTRP Note: The following is a letter we received from someone who has a legitimate concern. Below his question is our response and some added information.

The Question:

To Lighthouse Trails:
I have been enjoying your expose of the emergent church. We share the same concerns; however, it seems that anyone who has uttered the word “meditate” in the past is suspect of bringing Hinduism into the church. Don’t the Psalms encourage us to meditate on his word?

Sincerely concerned about crying wolf.

A man from Minnesota

Our Response:

Thank you for writing. We understand your concerns. And you are right that there is a biblical kind of meditation where we mindfully think about, give thanks for, and ponder on the wonderful things of God and His Word. However, the teachers and writers we critique are in a category where their view of “to meditate” has slipped into a different dimension, mostly due to their adherence of the teachings of the mystics. Of each case we write, the person speaks of something different than thoughtful meditation; they speak of stilling the mind, putting it into neutral, so to speak (what they refer to as the silence). For instance, in Chuck Swindoll’s book, So You Want to Be Like Christ: Eight Essential Disciplines to Get Your There, he says there is a stillness of the mind that is different than the quieting of the outer atmosphere (televisions, phones, etc). And he encourages this inner stilling; in fact he says we cannot become deep Christians without it. Whether he knew it or not when he wrote these things, his words echoe Thomas Merton and other mystics. And of course in that same book, in his chapter on “Silence and Solitude,” he points to Henri Nouwen’s book, The Way of the Heart, a book that is a primer on contemplative meditation. What Swindoll has done is point thousands in a direction that could have disastrous spiritual results.

To our response above, we would like to suggest an article by Ray Yungen on meditation: What is Mantra Meditation? In addition, keep in mind that one of the common elements of contemplative meditation is the notion that we must remove the inner distractions of our mind (remove our thoughts) in order to hear from God and become truly “deep” Christians as Swindoll suggests. However, nowhere in Scripture are we instructed to stop thinking. Contemplative Brennan Manning says to “choose a single sacred word … repeat the sacred word inwardly, slowly, often” (from Signature of Jesus), and in Ragamuffin Gospel, he explains: “[T]he first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer”(p. 212). But this is not what the Bible instructs us to do. Turning off our thoughts is the core of Hinduism and not biblical meditation.

Below are some quotes by a mixture of Christian figures and New Age mystics, speaking about the silence and stilling the mind. When these authors speak of stillness, solitude, and silence, it is a fair question to ask them: are they talking about finding a quiet place to read the Word, pray, and think about God, or are they talking about removing distractions from our minds and shutting out our thoughts? We believe in the cases below, they are referring to the latter.

“What you need is stillness and silence so that the sediment can settle and the water can become clear.”–Ruth Haley Barton, “Beyond Words” (Barton encourages the use of repeating a word or phrase. 1

“The basic method promoted in The Cloud [of Unknowing] is to move beyond thinking into a place of utter stillness with the Lord … the believer must first achieve a state of silence and contemplation, and then God works in the believer’s heart.”–Tony Jones, Sacred Way, p. 15

“Progress in intimacy with God means progress toward silence…. It is this recreating silence to which we are called in Contemplative Prayer.–Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home

“It is through silence that you find your inner being.”–Vijay Eswaran, In the Sphere of Silence

“This book [In the Sphere of Silence] is a wonderful guide on how to enter the realm of silence and draw closer to God.”–Ken Blanchard, originally from the In the Sphere of Silence website

“[G]o into the silence for guidance”–New Ager, Wayne Dyer, see ATOD p. 18, endnote #23

“While we are all equally precious in the eyes of God, we are not all equally ready to listen to ‘God’s speech in his wondrous, terrible, gentle, loving, all embracing silence.'”–Richard Foster, Prayer, Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 156.

“When one enters the deeper layers of contemplative prayer one sooner or later experiences the void, the emptiness, the nothingness … the profound mystical silence … an absence of thought.”–Thomas Merton biographer, William Johnston, Letters to Contemplatives, p. 13

“In the silence is a dynamic presence. And that’s God, and we become attuned to that.”–Interspiritualist, Wayne Teasdale, see ATOD, p. 55, endnote #1

From the Be Still DVD:

“One of the great things silence does, it gives us a new concept of God.”–Calvin Miller

“[I]f we are not still before Him [God], we will never truly know to the depths of the marrow of our bones that He is God. There’s got to be a stillness.”–Beth Moore (In her book, When Godly People Do Ungodly Things, Moore says that “practicing God’s presence” has become extremely important to her; she points readers to Brennan Manning several times in the book and suggests that his contribution to “our generation of believers may be a gift without parallel” (p. 72). Her participation in Richard Foster’s DVD project, Be Still, and her recanting of an apology for being in the film which included a promotion of the Be Still contemplative message backs up Moore’s statements about Manning and the stillness2

In essence, biblical meditation is thinking; and contemplative New Age meditation is simply not thinking … and that is something to think about.

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