Posts Tagged ‘the silence’
An Appendix on the Al Mohler Situation: “The Contemplative Christian (The Christian of the Future?)”
LTRP Note: In view of our recent post on Albert Mohler who promoted the book The Benedictine Option (a book that encourages contemplative prayer practices), we are posting this article by Ray Yungen from his book A Time of Departing so readers who are unfamiliar with the contemplative prayer movement can gain better understanding.
By Ray Yungen
Within the evangelical world, contemplative prayer is increasingly being promoted and accepted. As a result, it is losing its esoteric aspect and is now seen by many as the wave of the future. One can’t help but notice the positive exposure it is getting in the Christian media these days. In Today’s Christian Woman, a popular and trusted Christian magazine, feature titles make the appeal to draw closer to God. The author of one such article says, “Like a growing number of evangelicals, I’ve turned to spiritual direction because I want to know God better.”1 But without exception, every person she cites is a dedicated contemplative, one being Ruth Haley Barton, author of Invitation to Solitude and Silence. Barton was trained at the Shalem Institute (founded by panentheist Tilden Edwards); and in fact, that organization was featured in the article as a resource for the reader. However, considering the content of many statements on the Shalem Institute website, how could Shalem even be listed as a resource for Christians? Listen to a few:
In Christianity and other traditions that understand God to be present everywhere, contemplation includes a reverence for the Divine Mystery, “finding God in all things,” or “being open to God’s presence, however it may appear.”2
[Thomas] Merton taught that there is only one way to develop this radical language of prayer: in silence.3
The rhythm of the group includes . . . chanting, two periods of sitting in silence separated by walking meditation, and a time for optional sharing.4
In another magazine article, Ruth Haley Barton, who incidentally is the former Associate Director of Spiritual Formation at Willow Creek Community Church, echoes Southern Baptist-turned-goddess worshiper Sue Monk Kidd in many ways, including the general malaise or condition of the human soul. Barton recounts:
A few years ago, I began to recognize an inner chaos in my soul . . . No matter how much I prayed, read the Bible, and listened to good teaching, I could not calm the internal roar created by questions with no answers.5
The following scenario Barton relates could be the wave of the future for the evangelical church if this movement continues to unfold in the manner it already has:
I sought out a spiritual director, someone well versed in the ways of the soul . . . eventually this wise woman said to me . . . “What you need is stillness and silence so that the sediment can settle and the water can become clear.” . . . I decided to accept this invitation to move beyond my addiction to words.6
By “addiction to words,” she means normal ways of praying. She still uses words, but only three of them, “Here I am.” This is nothing other than the Cloud of Unknowing or the prayer of the heart.
Like Richard Foster, Barton argues that God cannot be reached adequately, if at all, without the silence. In referring to 1 Kings 19 when Elijah was hiding in a cave, Barton encourages:
God loves us enough to wait for us to come openly to Him. Elijah’s experience shows that God doesn’t scream to get our attention. Instead, we learn that our willingness to listen in silence opens up a quiet space in which we can hear His voice, a voice that longs to speak and offer us guidance for our next step.7
What Barton fails to mention here is that Elijah was a valiant defender of the belief in the one, unique God—Yahweh (as seen in his encounter with the 450 prophets of Baal), and he never went into an altered state of silence in his personal encounter with God.
Barton is no longer teaching at Willow Creek. She left there to start the Transforming Center and now teaches pastors and other Christian leaders spiritual formation. Hers is just one of many avenues through which contemplative prayer is creating a new kind of Christian, possibly the Christian of the future.
1. Agnieszka Tennant, “Drawing Closer to God”(Today’s Christian Woman, September/October 2004, Vol. 26, No. 5), p. 14. Published by Christianity Today International, Carol Stream, Illinois.
2. Shalem Institute, “What Does Contemplative Mean?” (Shalem Institute About Shalem page, http://web.archive.org/web/20050204190729/http://shalem.org/about.html#contemplative).
3. Ann Kline, “A New Language of Prayer” (Shalem Institute newsletter, Vol. 29, No. 1, Winter 2005, http://web.archive.org/web/20060930230219/http://www.shalem.org/publication/newsletter/archives/2005/2005_winter/article_04).
4. Shalem Institute website, General Events, “Radical Prayer: A Simple Loving Presence Group” (http://www.shalem.org/programs/generalprograms/groupsevents_folder; no longer online—on file at LT).
5. Ruth Haley Barton, “Beyond Words, Issue #113, September/October, 1999, http://web.archive.org/web/20060628075740/http://www.navpress.com/EPubs/DisplayArticle/1/1.113.13.html), p. 35.
7. Ibid., pp. 37-38.
Silence: Movie Promotes Contemplative Spirituality and Sanctions Apostasy But Gets Backing By Christian Groups
By Cedric Fisher
Silence is the latest movie by Martin Scorsese, who also produced The Last Temptation of Christ. I have read several reviews by professing Christians who are recommending it without reservations. Additionally, the Dove Foundation awarded the movie 4 out of 5 doves. Charisma News asks, “Is Martin Scorsese’s Silence Prophetic?” CBN also presented a rave review. Christianity Today titled its review, “Scorsese’s Silence Asks What It Really Costs to Follow Jesus.”
Another review in CT is titled, “Silence Review: Hollywood’s Gift To The Church That Might Just Save Your Faith.” And what is the message of Silence that might save your life? The message of the movie is antithetical to true faith.
The title of Lumindeo’s review of the movie is “Silence—A Christian’s Contemplative Guide.”1 In the “About” section of the Lumindeo website, it is described as “a network created by and for passionate followers of Jesus Christ.” If Lumindeo consists of passionate followers of Jesus Christ, why don’t they know that Christianity never grew in apostasy, but always in persecution and martyrdom?
Crosswalk likewise implies that it is a Christian-themed film with the statement, “Theologians, look no further: this movie is jam-packed with spiritual themes.”2 Spiritual themes, perhaps, but Christian themes? Not by any stretch. Crosswalk reveals a misunderstanding of true Christianity in the following statement. Click here for footnotes and to continue reading.
A Trip to India—to Learn the Truth About Hinduism and Yoga by Caryl Matrisciana is our newest Lighthouse Trails Booklet Tract. The Booklet Tract is 14 pages long and sells for $1.95 for single copies. Quantity discounts are as much as 50% off retail. Our Booklet Tracts are designed to give away to others or for your own personal use. Below is the content of the booklet. To order copies of A Trip to India—to Learn the Truth About Hinduism and Yoga, click here. With more and more Christians (women especially) turning to Yoga, this booklet is a vitally important booklet to hand out at churches and Bible studies. Rarely a week passes when Lighthouse Trails does not receive a phone call or an e-mail from someone telling us that his or her church is now doing Yoga.
By Caryl Matrisciana
Thirteen years had passed since my family had left India. Now I found myself on an airplane returning there. I was filled with excitement and nostalgic memories. Would I bump into old friends with whom I had lost contact over the years? Would anything have changed?
I was travelling with a small group of international cult experts. We had received a grant enabling our research group to travel around India, visiting gurus and their ashrams.
Our plane landed in Calcutta, the former capital of the British Indian Empire and the city of my birth—I was breathless with excitement. Yet my enthusiasm was tinged with fear and apprehension: I knew the India I would encounter over the next few weeks would be a very different India from that of my youth.
This time I would experience the hardships of living an ascetic life with gurus and their disciples, a lifestyle as foreign to me as it was to my companions.
We planned to examine various popular-in-the-West gurus. We would interview them as well as their disciples, trying to glean a basic understanding of their teachings, so that we could better educate our various organizations back home.
I anticipated hardships, knowing that many gurus hid themselves in the outbacks of India’s countryside. I knew that the diets and accompanying Hindu religious activities would be arduous and draining. If all this weren’t spiritually exhausting, it would definitely take its toll physically.
Any disappointments I expected certainly didn’t match up to the overwhelming reality, which I soon encountered. Calcutta is named after the frightful Hindu goddess Kali, the female counterpart of the male god Shiva. Both depict death and destruction, and the city clearly reflects this. Kali also has the benign title of Mother of Love. Calcutta, or Kali-ghat, “the steps to Kali,” embodies all the complex contradictions of the Hindu god-goddess makeup. Calcutta is also one of the biggest cities in the world, with a population of nearly thirteen million. Its harbors and industries make it a key center of Eastern commerce.
The first thing to overwhelm me as I stepped into Dum Dum, the bustling Calcutta airport, was the wild confusion resulting from overpopulation. Being in the midst of shoulder-to-shoulder people was a sensation I had almost forgotten after spending years in the West.
I recalled a conversation with an Indian friend who had visited America. He had commented on the emptiness of American streets. “Where are all the people?” he had asked in bewilderment. “I see houses with cars parked outside, open shops, offices, and restaurants . . . but where are all the people?” That question might seem peculiar to those who have not experienced India’s swarming mass of humanity.
My thoughts were soon flooded with other unpleasant recollections. Besides the pushing and shoving, we had to deal with stealing and lying—almost-forgotten aspects of my childhood memories.
Upon swift recall of necessary survival instincts, I made immediate efforts to beat the corruption of “the system.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t fast enough to protect our little group from the first “criminal.”
One of our party was taken in by a fellow claiming to be a porter. Our naïve traveling companion had paid an up-front deposit. Without hesitation, the imposter had proceeded to put our collective baggage onto a trolley. He had then wheeled it off down the road toward points unknown.
Because I was fluent in Hindi, I was assigned the recovery operation. Eventually, I caught up to the thief and ordered him to return our baggage to the airport lobby. He did so, but, of course, we lost the deposit. He stubbornly claimed it had not been paid to him. After this incident, I quickly learned to stay on my toes.
The next minor incident (our last show of naiveté) was a deliberately elongated taxi drive from the airport. Since I vaguely remembered the surroundings enough to put our cab driver back on course, we were spared the expense of being driven around and around the city. But, oh, the streets of Calcutta we drove through. Pitiful shacks made up of sackcloth, rags, and sticks engulfed the sidewalks and spilled onto the streets.
When our cab stopped for a moment at a traffic light, I was able to peek into the dark interiors of some of those “homes.” I was still horrified, after all the years, to see the number of people living inside. Sisters and brothers were curled against each other like young gerbils in a cage. I saw one pathetically skinny child in tattered rags with cow-dung matted in her hair. She was attempting to soothe a wailing toddler. She cuddled and caressed him, with a comforting smile on her sweet, sad face.
How could the Western spiritual seekers I had spoken to in England, Europe, and America overlook so much tragedy? How could they bypass it to focus on the “wisdom and love” of the East? Couldn’t they see that it was the very aloofness and madness of India’s religion, her so-called wisdom and love, that created such obvious agony for the poor and such cruel apathy in the rich?
They had only to look at any of the ever-present beggars. As a member of one of the largest professions there, each beggar belongs to a master. He is assigned to a specific territory where he collects money for his owner. In return, he is provided with a cramped space in some hovel for sleeping and an occasional meager meal.
Some of these homeless derelicts are horribly diseased. Others are intentionally mutilated by their masters. Some children are maimed from birth in order to elicit sympathy from prospective donors.
Equally heartbreaking are India’s prostitutes. According to one government-commissioned study, there are three million prostitutes in India, with many of them between the ages of twelve and fifteen.1 Young girls are often recruited by pimps who tour rural villages, making wild financial promises to poverty-stricken parents. Male prostitution in India is on the rise too.
In Mumbai, there is an infamous street where young girls are kept behind iron bars. Cage after cage exposes scantily clad, heavily made-up teenagers. Some are extraordinarily beautiful. Others are barely ten years old. Many have been beaten and tortured into submission.2
How does the higher class Indian deal with all this cultural madness? With sure escape in mind, he does what any Westerner might do when stressed—he goes to the movies!
India has the largest film industry in the world, far surpassing the number of films made in the United States, and there are over 13,000 theaters. Every three months a billion people in India buy tickets to the cinema.3 Even in the poorest regions of the country, people would go short of food rather than give up their night with the movie stars.
In an impoverished, starving country some films cost their producers tens of millions of rupees. The controversial 1981 film, Gandhi, was all the rage in fashionable Indian circles. One-third of the film’s nine million pound (English sterling) budget was paid for by the Indian government.4 Such were India’s political priorities.
Meanwhile, alluring tourist propaganda puts out impressive statistics documenting India’s achievements. But these glowing reports fail to address the nation’s most sobering problems.
India is the seventh largest landmass in the world. Her population of over 1.1 billion makes her the second most inhabited country on earth.5
Yet, in spite of her size, a spectacular array of natural resources, and economic growth due to developing technological industries, India places twelfth among the economies of the world.6 And although India is rising economically, malnutrition, lack of educational opportunity, and overall poverty is still extremely high: nearly half of India’s children are underweight for their age;7 there are seventeen million child laborers in India; less than half of India’s children between the ages of six and fourteen go to school; more than one in three women in India and over sixty percent of the children in India are anemic.8
Ashrams of India
The first ashram our group visited was the Sivananda Ashram in Monghyr. Also known as the Bihar School of Yoga, it was founded in 1964 by Tantric Swami Satyananda Saraswati. When we arrived there, the powers-that-be required that we pay the exorbitant overnight accommodation fees in advance. We consented. We were tired and hungry and didn’t have the energy to complain over the high costs. We had had an exhausting overnight train journey from Calcutta. Jamalpur Junction, the train station nearest the ashram, was located six miles away. To make matters worse, we had arrived in the wee hours of the morning.
The station guard had warned us not to venture out of the station. “You’ll be robbed or murdered!” he had declared. He said that the State of Bihar was one of the most violent in all of India. Our kind friend felt it would be wiser if we stayed on the station platform until dawn. We did so, along with hundreds of other passengers.
Tired, but grateful for the sage advice, we settled down for a long night’s vigil. The gangways were festooned with sleeping bodies and the debris of luggage. The only place we could find to sit in was the filthy, dimly lit station restaurant. This was a far cry from the crisply clean and hygienic eating houses of my childhood I recalled so vividly.
A waiter appeared, wearing the same uniform of three decades past. It looked as though it hadn’t been laundered for almost that long! His faded red turban and cummerbund sadly reflected years of deterioration. It was barely discernible that his gray, permanently stained tunic had once been white. His gloves, once a colonial symbol of cleanliness, were almost too filthy to look at; the frayed seams at his fingertips exposed grease-stained nails.
I looked up into his face. “How many years have you been working for the railroad?” I asked him in Hindi.
“Since I was a child,” he smiled proudly. “Since the time of the British Raj.” His eyes looked back into the past and filled with sorrow at the reminiscence. “Things have changed a lot.” He looked around him, waving his arm slowly as if pointing out something. He glanced at the bedraggled uniform that he still wore with an element of pride, and shrugged. “Things have changed,” he repeated. Then he sighed and smiled in weary resignation, “What would you like to order, Mehemsahib?” His tiny, blunt pencil was poised above a pad that had been written on over and over again.
As dawn brightened the skyline, we collected our small bundles of luggage and hailed a rickshaw-puller. He took us a mile or so short of the Sivananda community. We walked the rest of the way.
The accommodations at the ashram were sparse; the spiritual tasks were arduous. All the disciples were Westerners who had to work hard for their keep. They did the most menial chores—cleaning lavatories, peeling vegetables, sweeping floors. All the jobs that my family’s untouchable servants had done in my youth were done by the residents there. Any Indians present were presumably the guru’s aides. They held “higher” responsibilities. The Westerners regarded their work as religious service. This fell under the category of Karma Yoga, the Yoga of “selfless labor” performed for the sake of “spiritual evolution.”
I slept in a large dormitory with about ten other girls. We were awakened at 4:00 a.m. each morning; some of the disciples gathered in meditation classes, while others involved themselves in private practice. On our first morning, the girl in the rope bed next to me woke me up. Her quiet alarm clock had sounded, making her sit bolt-upright. She then pulled her blanket over her head. She was getting herself poised in a lotus position, ready for her own brand of Yoga.
The girl sat still for quite some time, long enough for me to get comfortable and doze off to sleep again. Then she started an uncanny humming, low and monotonous. She hardly seemed to breathe in at all. She just kept blowing out one long, scary tone. It sent goose bumps up and down me. At last I could stand it no longer. I got up and watched the morning activities in the rest of the ashram.
There were those who practiced neti, the cleansing of the nose with warm salted water. The small container used could hold up to two cups of water and had a long spout. It looked rather like a strange teapot. The spout was shoved up the nostril. (It looked most uncomfortable to me.) The devotee breathed in and out, sneezing, choking, coughing.
Neti is said to cleanse the membranes inside the nose and to stimulate and strengthen the surrounding area, which includes the eyebrow center. To Hindus this is an important contact point for the anja chakra—the third eye.
Physical perversions are aspects of Kriya Yoga—the type Gandhi practiced. Perhaps it was part of the madness that had led him to administer enemas to his favorite female devotees. His weird sexual quirks had had him sleeping with nude teenage girls in an attempt to confirm his celibacy. And his extraordinary perspectives on fitness caused him to prescribe cow-dung pills for health!9
Gandhi had been a guru with his own ashram long before he became a political figure. Like a score of other god-men, he had believed that Kriya Yoga balances the psychic energies and awakens the chakras.
A young Australian girl sat next to a neti disciple as I spoke with him. Later that night she paid me an unexpected visit. Perched on a log with my rationed half-bucket of water, I was contemplating how to wash my face, teeth, hair, and underwear. Can I accomplish such a feat? I was wondering when I heard the cracking of a twig nearby. In a few seconds, I saw someone hesitantly come out of the shadows.
I recognized the girl and warmly asked her to join me. She did. There was probably about a minute of silence. Then she gathered up enough courage to say shyly, “You seem as though you have come from another planet. You’ve got such a warm and friendly glow of color all around you.”
I had learned not to laugh at such statements. I dipped my washcloth into the bucket and started wiping my face.
“You’ve got a different kind of life in you. Where are you from?” she questioned. We ended up talking for a couple of hours, until regulations caused the ashram to fall silent at 9:00 p.m.
I learned that Premananda was only twenty-one. She had been a disciple of Satyananda for five years, recruited while still at school. There are numerous branches of this guru’s ashram in many different countries. How quickly the different schools of Yoga are growing all over the world, I thought. That very morning I had read a large sign there at the ashram that said: “Yoga will emerge as a mighty world power and will change the course of world events.”10
“Do you practice all the methods of Kriya Yoga, such as Amoroli?” I asked the young girl. By that time, she trusted me.
“Well, I’m meant to do it,” she said apologetically. “But it tastes so terrible that it makes me feel sick.”
Poor girl, I thought. What a ghastly spiritual duty. Those poor devotees had to drink urine as part of their Yogic discipline. They had been taught that it contained redemptive qualities.
“Do you know what urine really is?” She shook her head. “Well,” I tried to explain, “it’s the body’s waste product. There’s nothing in it that the body needs anymore. So of course it makes you feel sick. And how can it possibly save you?”
Premananda went on to confide that one of her friends had been told to drink her guru’s urine. “I wouldn’t know what to do if that were to happen to me!” Her eyes grew wide at the prospect.
My research had shown that it was believed anything that touched the body of a guru was holy, from the dust of his feet to his dirty dishes. Drinking a guru’s bathwater is said to be enlightening. Should the guru desire sex, the disciple (whether male or female) is to look upon the act as a step up his spiritual ladder. So I knew that drinking the guru’s urine was a devotional duty of great significance.
All these specifics are spelled out in the Guru-gita, a Hindu scripture. “Meditate ceaselessly on the form of the Guru,” this ancient document commands. It also states:
[A]lways repeat his name, carry out his orders, think not of anything except the Guru. . . . Through service at the feet of the Guru the embodied soul becomes purified and all its sins are washed away.11
After a few days, we moved on to the next ashram, leaving behind many spiritual prisoners. I couldn’t help but pray for those poor victims. I also thanked God for the opportunity to speak to a handful of them. Some of the followers were closed, like the neti disciple. Others were open, like Premananda. Her guru, Satyananda, had demanded that his devotees cut themselves off from the outside world, but I had been able to encourage her to get in touch with her parents. I was able to activate her conscience regarding the rights and wrongs of some of her practices. Perhaps it would help her reconsider her commitment to a god of India.
Orthodox Hinduism teaches four stages of life: the learning stage of childhood, the stage of marital responsibilities, the stage of career obligations, and the stage of spiritual preparation for death. The Yoga disciplines teach how to cease the body’s functions, in preparation for death, or as Hindus believe, to enter into reincarnation. The traditional purpose of the Indian ashram had always been to teach people how to die through Yoga meditation.
West Goes East
It was only after the 1960s that young Westerners, inspired by the Beatles, began to flood India’s ashrams to sit spellbound at the feet of gurus. Initially, they used India’s spiritual communities as hostels. They provided cheap accommodations for the young seekers while they explored their mystical whims.
By the 1980s, their presence had changed the traditional atmosphere at many ashrams. Along with the youthful Westerners came children and a more family-oriented environment. The influx of Westerners also altered the ashrams’ structure: new requirements for ashram life and the practice of Yoga bypassed the ancient Brahmin qualifications; regardless of sex, nationality, caste, or creed, everyone was accepted. And what was once only available to elderly Hindus became available to all.
Although ashrams have been made available to outsiders, the message of the gurus and the purpose of Yoga remain unchanged. People in the West have been deceived into thinking it is the art of living; but to people in the East, it is the art of dying.
Many of the Western converts to Yoga have helped spread it in the West. One Westerner who spent time in a Hindu ashram and has had significant influence upon the Western world is Michael Ray, a Stanford University professor. Ray created the “Creativity in Business” course, which takes “much of its inspiration from Eastern philosophies, mysticism, and meditation techniques.”12 Ray describes his ashram experience:
I attended a meditation-intensive day at an ashram to support a friend. As I sat in meditation in what was for me an unfamiliar environment, I suddenly felt and saw a bolt of lightning shoot up from the base of my spine out the top of my head. It forced me to recognize something great within me . . . this awareness of my own divinity.13
Ray now tells his students they can get in touch with their “inner person” or “spirit-guide,” who will guide them through life.14 Since his visit to an ashram, Ray has passed on his Eastern wisdom to thousands through books and seminars.
Even Christianity has been indirectly affected by Ray. In 1982, Jim Collins, a speaker at Christian conferences, took Ray’s course, “Creativity in Business.” He was so inspired by the course that he wrote the foreword for Ray’s 2004 book The Highest Goal. Collins says he discovered “the path to my highest goal” by reading the book. What is this highest goal that Michael Ray speaks of? His “own divinity.” In The Highest Goal, Ray speaks openly about Eastern meditation techniques and quotes Hindu gurus such as Ram Dass, Jiddu Krishnamurti, and Swami Shantananda.
Silence: The Only True Religion?
The influence of Eastern thinking and Yoga upon the West continues in many forms. In October 2007, television talk-show host Oprah Winfrey introduced fifty million viewers to a book titled, Eat, Pray, Love. The book, written by Elizabeth Gilbert, recounts how she left her husband and former way of life and found what she came to call the only true religion: the silence. Her journey took her around the world, and finally to India where she learned to meditate in an ashram.
Gilbert explained that the first step in her journey was to go on an eating binge in Italy:
I would not have been able to physically do the Yoga, the meditation, the hard rigor of spiritual work. So I went to Italy first and I ate my guts out for four months.15
From Italy, Gilbert traveled to India where she learned to meditate:
There was something about that Yoga path that really appealed to me—and you do that through silence and the discipline of meditation—and I really wanted to go pursue that full out.
None of this works without stillness . . . One of the great teachings that I learned in India is that silence is the only true religion.16
During her time at the ashram, Gilbert had a meditative experience in which she says, “the scales fell from my eyes and the openings of the universe were shown to me.”17
Interestingly, Gilbert related a story of how a newfound meditating friend experienced “colors,” “sounds,” “whirling,” and “twirling” during his meditation times.18 This is a description of the kundalini (meaning serpent power in Hinduism) effect experienced by Yoga practitioners. Kundalini is said to be lying dormant, coiled at the base of the spine. When it is awakened and encouraged up the spinal passage it ultimately achieves cosmic union with the third eye. The serpent’s journey passes through ‘chakras’ or psychic centers. And mystical powers are aroused as it progresses. A similar experience led to mystic and Catholic priest Philip St. Romain hearing the voices of other beings, which he called his “inner adviser[s].”19
Eat, Pray, Love was on the New York Times Best Sellers List for over 200 weeks and has sold over ten million copies thus far. Sadly, a popular Christian writer and speaker, Anne Lamott, wrote an endorsement for the book, which sits on the back cover. Lamott is best known for her own book, Traveling Mercies. Of Eat, Pray, Love she says: “This is a wonderful book, brilliant and personal, rich in spiritual insight.”20 But the “spiritual insight” from Gilbert’s book is the same “insight” the Hindu gurus teaching Yoga in India have been passing along to the masses for centuries.
The aim of all Hinduism is to escape the hopeless cycle of reincarnation, wherein the soul passes on from body to soul, to body to soul, over and over again. The purpose of Yoga is to prepare a person to cut off the relationship between himself and the physical world, in preparation for death. He is trained to stop his life processes, to stop thinking, to stop the senses, to stop breathing. Hindus believe the escape from all this living and dying is through Yoga.
Returning to India after thirteen years as a Christian on a research team, I was able to recognize how complicated and contradictory the philosophy of Hinduism really is. Through Yoga, the practitioner trains himself to slow down and eventually stop his life processes. Even the breathing exercises taught in Yoga are not intended to be a health benefit. They are not designed to enable one to breathe more efficiently, but to control one’s breathing. The purpose is to enable one to slow the breathing down to a minimum in order to stop it one day altogether. Yoga’s gift is merely a form of suicide.
In contrast, Jesus said He came to give those who follow Him life. He is the antithesis of death—His resurrection is a powerful illustration of this:
I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. (John 11: 25, 26)
To order copies of A Trip to India—to Learn the Truth About Hinduism and Yoga, click here.
1. Upasana Bhat, “Prostitution ‘increases’ in India” (BBC News, Delhi, July 3, 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/5140526.stm).
2. Robert I. Friedman, “India’s Shame: Sexual Slavery and Political Corruption Are Leading to An AIDS Catastrophe” (The Nation, Vol. 262, No. 14, New York, April 8, 1996).
3. Central Board of Film Certification (Government of India, http://www.cbfcindia.tn.nic.in).
4. G.B. Singh, Gandhi: Behind the Mask of Divinity (Prometheus Books, 2004), p. 76.
5. “Population of India,” from http://www.indianchild.com/population_of_india.htm.
6. List of countries by GDP (nominal): taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal), the CIA’s World Factbook for 2007.
7. “Work Among Children” (South Asian Council for Community and Children in Crisis, http://www.sac-ccc.org/2006/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=16&Itemid=33).
9. Richard Grenier, “The Gandhi Nobody Knows” (“Commentary,” March 1983, published monthly by the American Jewish Committee, New York, NY, http://history.eserver.org/ghandi-nobody-knows.txt).
10. Quote by Satyananda Saraswati, accessed at http://www.7centers.com/10daytransformation.html.
11. The Gura Gita passages, accessed at: http://www.srinannagaru.com/articles/gurugita/gurugita.pdf.
12. Michael Ray, Creativity in Business (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc, 1986, 1st Edition), back flap.
13. Michael Ray, The Highest Goal (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2004), p. 28.
14. Michael Ray, Creativity in Business, op. cit., p. 37.
15. Elizabeth Gilbert, quotes from Oprah Winfrey’s website: http://www.oprah.com/slideshow/oprahshow/slideshow1_ss_20071005_350/6.
19. Philip St. Romain, Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality (Crossroad Pub. Co., 1995), p. 39.
20. Anne Lamott, on the back cover of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
To order copies of A Trip to India—to Learn the Truth About Hinduism and Yoga, click here.
by Ray Yungen
For many years during my research, I would come across the term contemplative prayer. Immediately I would dismiss any thought that it had a New Age connotation because I thought it meant to ponder while praying–which would be the logical association with that term. But in the New Age disciplines, things are not always what they seem to be to untrained ears. What contemplative prayer actually entails is described very clearly by the following writer:
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.1
To my dismay, I discovered this “mystical silence” is accomplished by the same methods used by New Agers to achieve their silence–the mantra and the breath! Contemplative prayer is the repetition of what is referred to as a prayer word or sacred word until one reaches a state where the soul, rather than the mind, contemplates God. Contemplative prayer teacher and Zen master Willigis Jager brought this out when he postulated:
Do not reflect on the meaning of the word; thinking and reflecting must cease, as all mystical writers insist. Simply “sound” the word silently, letting go of all feelings and thoughts.2
One of the most well-known writings on the subject is the classic 14th century treatise, The Cloud of Unknowing, written by an anonymous author. It is essentially a manual on contemplative prayer inviting a beginner to:
Take just a little word, of one syllable rather than of two . . . With this word you are to strike down every kind of thought under the cloud of forgetting.3
The premise here is that in order to really know God, mysticism must be practiced–the mind has to be shut down or turned off so that the cloud of unknowing where the presence of God awaits can be experienced.
So the question we as Christians must ask ourselves is, “Why not? Why shouldn’t we incorporate this mystical prayer practice into our lives?” The answer to this is actually found in Scripture.
While certain instances in the Bible describe mystical experiences, I see no evidence anywhere of God sanctioning man-initiated mysticism. Legitimate mystical experiences were always initiated by God to certain individuals for certain revelations and was never based on a method for the altering of consciousness. In Acts 11:5, Peter fell into a trance while in prayer. But it was God, not Peter, who initiated the trance and facilitated it.
By definition, a mystic, on the other hand, is someone who uses rote methods in an attempt to tap into their inner divinity. Those who use these methods put themselves into a trance state outside of God’s sanction or protection and thus engage in an extremely dangerous approach. Besides, nowhere in the Bible are such mystical practices prescribed. For instance, the Lord, for the purpose of teaching people a respect for His holiness and His plans, instated certain ceremonies for His people (especially in the Old Testament). Nonetheless, Scripture contains no reference in which God promoted mystical practices. The gifts of the Spirit spoken of in the New Testament were supernatural in nature but did not fall within the confines of mysticism. God bestowed spiritual gifts without the Christian practicing a method beforehand to get God’s response.
Proponents of contemplative prayer would respond with, What about Psalms 46:10? “Be still and know that I am God.” This verse is often used by those promoting contemplative prayer. On the surface, this argument can seem valid, but once the meaning of “still” is examined, any contemplative connection is expelled. The Hebrew meaning of the word is to slacken, cease, or abate. In other words, the context is to slow down and trust God rather than get in a dither over things. Relax and watch God work. This isn’t talking about going into some altered state of consciousness!
It should also be pointed out that being born again, in and of itself, is mystical. But it is a direct act of God, initiated by Him–the Holy Spirit has regenerated the once-dead spirit of man into a living spirit through Christ. Yet, we notice that even in this most significant of experiences when one is “passed from death into life” (John 5:24), God accomplishes this without placing the individual in an altered state of consciousness.
We can take this a step further by looking at the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts, chapter 2 where those present were “all filled with the Holy Spirit” (vs. 4). Notice that they were “all with one accord in one place” (vs. 1) when the Holy Spirit descended on them. From the context of the chapter, it is safe to assume this was a lively gathering of believers engaged in intelligent conversation. Then, when those present began to speak in other tongues, it was not an episode of mindless babbling or vain repetition as in a mantra. Rather it was an event of coherent speech significant enough to draw a crowd who exclaimed, “we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God” (vs. 11). Other observers who suspected they were in an altered state of consciousness said, “They are full of new wine” (vs. 13). Notice that Peter was quick to correct this group in asserting that they were all fully conscious. Would it not then stand to reason that their minds were not in any kind of altered state? Next, Peter delivered one of the most carefully articulated speeches recorded in Scripture. This was certainly not a group of men in a trance.
So, through the lens of perhaps the two most meaningful mystical experiences recorded in the New Testament (i.e., being born again and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost), an altered state of consciousness was never sought after nor was it achieved. In fact, a complete search of both Old and New Testaments reveals there were only two types of experiences sanctioned by God where the recipient is not fully awake–namely dreams and visions–and in each case the experience is initiated by God. Conversely, every instance of a self-induced trance recorded in Scripture is adamantly condemned by God as we see summarized in the following verses:
When you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. (Deuteronomy 18:9-11)
An examination of the Hebrew meanings of the terms used in the above verses shows that much of what is being spoken of is the invoking of spells. And a spell, used in this context, refers to a trance. In other words, when God induces a trance it is in the form of a dream or a vision. When man induces a trance, it is in the form of a spell or hypnosis.
And remember, nowhere in the Bible is the silence equated with the “power of God,” but the message of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18) most certainly is!
1.William Johnston, Letters to Contemplatives, op. cit., p. 13.
2.Willigis Jager, Contemplation: A Christian Path (Triumph Books, 1994), p. 31.
3.Ken Kaisch, Finding God, cited from The Cloud of Unknowing, p. 223.
Thank you so much for the information that you have been providing my husband and I for the past several years. It is thanks to Lighthouse Trails that we were able to warn members of our church leadership about contemplative spirituality which was making its way into our church.
Several months back, an associate pastor gave a message on “having closeness with God” which was fine, but then at the end of his message, he said something about “the silence,” requesting from the pulpit that the “lights be dimmed,” and then had the entire congregation practice a moment of slowed breathing, “focusing” and “contemplation” . . . Needless to say, in spite of wanting to bolt for the doors, my husband and I sat there praying aloud (!) for God’s protection over our congregation.
Immediately following his message and “prayer time,” we got with that same associate pastor and then privately shared with him a condensed version of what we’d learned about contemplative spirituality: its roots in the occult, in Buddhism and its ties to Catholic mystics (since he had mentioned a number of Catholic “scholars” in his message). After patiently listening to us, he told us we were wrong. He animatedly told us that there was SO much to be learned from the Catholic faith, that contemplative prayer was actually a good thing and that it wasn’t out of the occult at all!
We were deeply saddened to hear him say that and even discussed leaving the church. After praying about it however, we felt that God would have us stay there. So out of obedience, instead of leaving, we alerted our church elders and senior pastor about it and shared with them the MANY booklets that we have ordered from Lighthouse Trails regarding contemplative spirituality and the emerging church. (Keep in mind, this was a four-month process, so much prayer and dogged determination was required. The end result is that it paid off.)
The happy ending to this story is that this past Sunday, an Elder came up to my husband and I and point blank told us that regarding “all that New Age material (we’d) shared,” we were not to worry – that this “contemplative spirituality/false teaching” was in “NO WAY going to enter here.” He thanked us profusely for alerting church leadership and giving the Elders all that LTRP info.
I realize in planting seed, we don’t always get to see the fruits of our labor so I thought LTRP might enjoy this report. Thank you, Lighthouse Trails, for all the materials you share. Keep it up.
In His Service with Our Eyes Wide Open,
Lectio Divina – There’s a lot of talk about it today; umpteen books are published and more are on the way about lectio divina; and an increasing number of evangelical/Protestant figures are writing about it, endorsing it, and teaching it. Some people think lectio divina simply means to read a passage of Scripture slowly (or “praying the Scriptures”) then ponder or think on that Scripture. That can be a part of it. But if you ask mystics or contemplatives what it entails (And who would know better than they?), they will tell you that lectio divina (pronounced lex-ee-o di-veen-a) always includes taking a passage of Scripture (or other writings), reading it slowly, then working your way down until you have just a word or small phrase from the passage that you are meditating on (repeating over and over). Basically, you are coming up with a mantra-like word or phrase that has been extracted from a passage of Scripture, which, according to contemplatives, if repeated for several minutes will help you get rid of thoughts and distractions, so then, they say, you can hear the voice of God and feel His presence.
Contemplative mysticism pioneer Thomas Keating explains what lectio divina is not. It is not traditional Bible study, not reading the Scriptures for understanding and edification, and not praying the Scriptures (though praying the Scriptures can be a form of lectio divina when a word or phrase is taken from the Scriptures to focus on for the purpose of going into “God’s presence.”).1 Keating says that lectio divina is an introduction into the more intense practices – contemplative prayer and centering prayer.
While some people think lectio divina is just reading Scripture slowly, and what’s wrong with that, it is the focusing on and repeating a word or small phrase to facilitate going into the “silence” that is the real danger. There is certainly nothing wrong with reading Scripture carefully and thoughtfully. Thoughtfully, we say. In eastern-style meditation (and in contemplative prayer) thoughts are the enemy. Eastern-style mystic Anthony De Mello describes this problem with thoughts in his book Sadhana: A Way to God:
To silence the mind is an extremely difficult task. How hard it is to keep the mind from thinking, thinking, thinking, forever thinking, forever producing thoughts in a never ending stream. Our Hindu masters in India have a saying: one thorn is removed by another. By this they mean that you will be wise to use one thought to rid yourself of all the other thoughts that crowd into your mind. One thought, one image, one phrase or sentence or word that your mind can be made to fasten on. (p. 28)
Spiritual director Jan Johnson in her book, When the Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer also believes that thoughts get in the way, and the mind must be stilled:
Contemplative prayer, in its simplest form, is a 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. (p. 16)
Ray Yungen explains this silence that contemplative mystics seek:
When [Richard] Foster speaks of the silence, he does not mean external silence. In his book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Foster recommends the practice of breath prayer (p. 122)—picking a single word or short phrase and repeating it in conjunction with the breath. This is classic contemplative mysticism. . . . In Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, he [Foster] ties in a quote by one mystic who advised, “You must bind the mindwith one thought” . . . I once related Foster’s breath prayer method to a former New Age devotee who is now a Christian. She affirmed this connection when she remarked with astonishment, “That’s what I did when I was into ashtanga yoga!” (A Time of Departing, p. 75)
With lectio divina, the word or phrase one repeats eventuallycan lose its meaning, and this repetitive sound can start to put the practitioner into an altered mind state. Yungen tells us that: “Keeping the mind riveted on only one thought is unnatural and adverse to true reflection and prayer. Simple logic tells us the repeating of words has no rational value. For instance, if someone called you on the phone and just said your name or one phrase over and over, would that be something you found edifying? Of course not; you would hang up on him or her. Why would God feel otherwise? And if God’s presence is lacking, what is this presence that appears as light during meditation and infuses a counterfeit sense of divinity within? (ATOD, p. 76).”
Yungen exhorts believers that “the goal of prayer should not be to bind the mind with a word or phrase in order to induce a mystical trance but rather to use the mind to glory in the grace of God. This was the apostle Paul’s counsel to the various churches: ‘Study to shew thyself approved’ (II Tim. 2:15) and ‘we pray always’ (II Thessalonians 1:11) as in talking to God with both heart and mind. (ATOD, p. 75)
In order to help those you care about stay clear of contemplative spirituality and spiritual deception, it is important for you to understand how lectio divina plays a significant role in leading people toward full blown meditative practices. And we propose that this “presence” that is reached during the “silent” altered states of consciousness from saying a word or phrase over and over (or focusing on the breath or an object) is not God’s presence. God has instructed us in the Bible not to perform “special kinds of process[es] or “formula[s], as Thomas Keating calls lectio divina, (source) to induce mystical experiences (Deuteronomy 18:9-11); thus, we believe ample warning about lectio divina is warranted.
Lectio Divina: Leading Sheep to a New Level of Consciousness by Wolf Tracks
Some authors read by Christians who promote lectio divina:
David Crowder in Praise Habit
Kyle Strobel at Metamorpha
Richard Foster (in several places)
Professor J. Budziszewski (author of How to Stay Christian in College) – tells students to practice lectio divina on a Focus on the Family website and also talks about it in his book, Ask Me Anything.
Dan Kimball in The Emerging Church
Tony Jones in Divine Intervention
David Benner in Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer
Eugene Peterson in Eat This Book
Ken Boa in Healthy Spirituality
Eugene Peterson in Message Bible for Kids
Promoted by Mike Bickle
by David Cloud
Way of Life Ministries
Richard Foster’s writings have been at the forefront of the contemplative movement since the 1970s. No one has done more than this man to spread contemplative mysticism throughout Protestant and Baptist churches.
Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline, which has sold more than two and a half million copies, was selected by Christianity Today as one of the top ten books of the 20th century. (For this review I obtained multiple editions of Celebration of Discipline, plus three other books by Foster.)
The Quaker Connection
He grew up among the Quakers (the Religious Society of Friends), was trained at George Fox College, has pastored Quaker churches, and has taught theology at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, and at George Fox. One website calls him “perhaps the best known Quaker in the world today.”
The Quaker connection is important, because one of their peculiar doctrines is direct revelation via an “inner light.” This is defined in a variety of ways, since Quakerism is very individualistic and non-creedal, but it refers to a divine presence and guidance in every man. There is an emphasis on being still and silent and passive in order to receive guidance from the inner light. Other terms for it are “light of God,” “light of Christ,” “inward light,” “the light,” “light within,” “Christ within,” and “spirit of Christ.”
George Fox used the expression “that of God in everyone.” In his journal Fox said, “I was glad that I was commanded to turn people to that inward light, spirit, and grace, by which all might know their salvation, and their way to God; even that divine Spirit which would lead them into all Truth, and which I infallibly knew would never deceive any” (The Journal of George Fox, revised by John Nickalls, 1952, p. 35).
Another prominent Quaker, Robert Barclay, called this “the light of the heart” and said “there is an evangelical and saving Light and grace in all.”
Isaac Pennington said, “There is that near you which will guide you; Oh wait for it, and be sure ye keep to it.”
The inner light teaching is said to be based on John 1:9 — “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Yet this verse does not say that there is a divine light in every man. It merely says that Christ gives light to every man. The epistle of Romans tells us more about this. There is the light of creation (Romans 1:20), the light of conscience (Romans 2:14-16), and the light of the Scripture (Romans 3:2). When men respond to the light that they have, they are given more light (Acts 17:26-27).
Because of the fall, man’s heart is darkened and foolish (Rom. 1:21; Eph. 4:18).
The inner light teaching was exalted above reliance on the Bible. Martin Meeker says, “… the early Quakers’ reliance on the Bible as a source of spiritual knowledge and inspiration was secondary to their belief in the Inner Light as the primary path to salvation and communication with God” (The Doctrine of the Inner Light). Click here to read more.