The National Day of Prayer has once again chosen Heart’s Cry by Jennifer Kennedy Dean as one of this year’s featured books. Kennedy Dean writes about the “listening prayer” in chapter 11 of her book. Here are some excerpts:
“God calls us to silence, inner as well as outer. He invites us to listening prayer [contemplative prayer] … in the inner sanctuary of our souls…. Listening prayer is the ground from which spoken prayer grows. Spoken prayer will not reach its fullness unless it is born in listening prayer” (p. 127).
“The place of His presence is within you. You will find Him at the center of your being…. God has things to tell you…. Something you didn’t know before?…. When we learn the art of silence, then we create the setting in which God can reveal to us His secrets…. We are not programmed for silence. It does not come naturally to sit quietly in God’s presence without words. Listening to God is a learned discipline” (pp. 128-129).
“[T]o find a way to center your thoughts on God. As you visualize the presence of God, visualize yourself in that presence …. In His presence, I feel the need to empty myself. I visualize placing things on His altar” (p. 129).
In the back of Dean’s book, she recommends two other books she wrote for more information on “listening prayer.” In one of those books, Riches Stored in Secret Places 2, Dean references panentheist Thomas Kelly about four times. It is Kelly who said that within every human being is a divine center, a holy sanctuary (from A Testament of Devotion). Dean quotes Kelly in his chapter called “The Light Within,” in which Dean refers to the “secret sanctuary” (p. 43). This “secret sanctuary” Kelly is speaking of is the “abiding Light behind all changing [life] forms.” Kelly says: “In that Current we must bathe. In that abiding yet energizing Center we are all made one” (p. 38).” In referring to this “secret sanctuary,” which Kelly says is in all of life, Dean tells readers to use “the meditative exercises” in her book. Some of the techniques Dean refers to are lectio divina and visualization (though she does not call them this, but she describes them).
Unfortunately, the National Day of Prayer website is pointing to other contemplative resources as well. On the “Prayer Movement Links” page, they include a magazine called Pray Magazine. This is a publication put out by NavPress and has been promoting contemplative spirituality for some time. In fact, NavPress also publishes a similar magazine called Pray Kids, where kids are told to practice contemplative prayer, including lectio divina.1 NavPress has actually become one of the more influential Christian publishers when it comes to contemplative spirituality. One of their books, When the Soul Listens by Jan Johnson is a case in point.
In the past, the magazine, (Pray) that the National Day of Prayer is recommending to participants has carried articles promoting such things as labyrinths and lectio divina as well as contemplative teachers like Richard Foster, Thomas Merton, and Henri Nouwen.
Discipleship Journal (another NavPress publication) also promotes contemplative spirituality. In an article titled The Listening Side Of Prayer , the author states:
I have learned to hear His voice through listening prayer-what some call contemplative prayer … I slowly inhale, saying to myself Jesus’ name, and with each exhalation I release a fear or worry that is on my mind. Then, I continue to think on Jesus’ name, yet each time I exhale I think on a characteristic of Jesus.
Another Discipleship Journal article instructs on lectio divina. 2
Below is contact information if you wish to speak with NDP to share your own concerns about their promotion of contemplative prayer.
National Day of Prayer Headquarters
National Day of Prayer Task Force
P.O. Box 15616
Colorado Springs, CO 80935
Phone: (719) 531-3379
Fax: (719) 548-4520