For many people, it is hard to understand why Lighthouse Trails includes David Jeremiah in its reports and research on contemplative prayer. He is a devoted Christian with a longstanding reputation in Christian ministry. And when it comes to the New Age and eastern mysticism, he even wrote a book of warning about the topic several years ago. Invasion of Other Gods clearly denounces eastern-style meditation and the New Age.
Yet, in spite of Jeremiah’s 1995 book, he has been building a case against his own writing for some time now with continuous favorable referencing of New Agers and contemplatives as well as with his more than once promotion of emerging futurist Erwin McManus (who recently partnered with Robert Schuller at the Rethink Conference). And once again, today (April 16,) Jeremiah has favorably quoted a mystic – Henri Nouwen.
In his daily Turning Point commentary today, he includes a quote by Nouwen: “Where there is pain, there is healing. Where there is mourning, there is dancing. Where there is poverty, there is the kingdom.” This quote is from Nouwen’s 1995 article titled “Moving from Solitude to Community,” posted in Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal. When Nouwen says “Solitude,” he is referring to eastern-style meditation (i.e., contemplative prayer). This is easy to see when one studies the works of Nouwen. In an article by Ray Yungen titled Henri Nouwen and Buddhism, Yungen points out Nouwen’s spiritual affinities:
Nouwen’s endorsement of a book by Hindu spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran [in 1991], teaching mantra meditation, further illustrates his universalistic sympathies. On the back cover, Nouwen stated, “This book has helped me a great deal.”1
Nouwen also wrote the foreword to a book that mixes Christianity with Hindu spirituality, in which he says:
[T]he author shows a wonderful openness to the gifts of Buddhism, Hinduism and Moslem religion. He discovers their great wisdom for the spiritual life of the Christian … Ryan [the author] went to India to learn from spiritual traditions other than his own. He brought home many treasures and offers them to us in the book.2
Nouwen apparently took these approaches seriously himself. In his book, The Way of the Heart , he advised his readers:
The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart … This way of simple prayer … opens us to God’s active presence.3
But what God’s “active presence” taught him, unfortunately, stood more in line with classic Hinduism than classic evangelical Christianity. He wrote [in 1997]:
Prayer is “soul work” because our souls are those sacred centers where all is one, … It is in the heart of God that we can come to the full realization of the unity of all that is. 4
It is critical to note here that Nouwen did not say all Christians are one; he said “all is one,” which is the fundamental panentheistic concept of God–the God in everything unites everything. Like Thomas Merton, it was Nouwen’s intent to make mystical prayer a pervasive paradigm within all traditions of Christianity. He felt the evangelical church had many admirable qualities but lacked one vital one: mysticism. He sought to remedy this by imploring, “It is to this silence [contemplative prayer] that we all are called.” 5 (from A Time of Departing, ch. 3)
Today’s commentary by David Jeremiah isn’t the first time he has included Nouwen in his writings. In his book Captured by Grace, he favorably discusses Nouwen (and even includes an endorsement from New Age sympathizer Ken Blanchard in the book). While Jeremiah has been quoting or referencing Nouwen as far back as 2001, it is his 2003 book Life Wide Open that clearly shows a change in Jeremiah’s outlook. Ray Yungen states:
In the introduction [of Life Wide Open], Jeremiah tells his readers: “A small handful among us have discovered what the rest of us would pay dearly to know: How can we bring real, living excitement into this life?”
Calling his book “a map to the life of passion and purpose” and saying that it will “totally transform the way you see your existence and your purpose,” Jeremiah proceeds to share with readers the insights from this “small handful” of people who have “discovered what the rest of us would pay dearly to know.”
One of the people Jeremiah points to is Calvin Miller, quoting from his book Into the Depths of God (a pro-contemplative book). Yungen elaborates on Jeremiah’s choice of Miller:
It is perplexing why Jeremiah chose Miller as an example we should follow. In Into the Depths of God, Miller encourages readers to engage in centering prayer and explains it as a union between man and God…. Into the Depths of God is an exhortation in contemplative spirituality and is brimming with quotes by Thomas Merton and other contemplatives. Miller speaks of the “wonderful relationship between ecstasy [mystical state] and transcendence [God],” and says that “Ecstasy is meant to increase our desire for heaven” (p. 96). This state of “Ecstasy” is the same state Thomas Merton likened to an LSD trip and which made him say he wanted to be the best Buddhist he could be.
Life Wide Open also points to Buddhist sympathizer Peter Senge. Yungen explains:
Jeremiah uses Senge to address the issue of getting old and losing vision when he quotes from Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline. The discipline Senge speaks of in that book is the belief that we can create our own reality…. Senge says:
Deep down, all of the contemplative traditions of the world, of which there are an extraordinary variety, stem from the same source … Before there were all the religions of the last 3,000 years or so, there was a common religion that was shared by indigenous people all around the world.6
Yungen goes on:
While it is disconcerting to see David Jeremiah using Peter Senge and Calvin Miller as examples of those who have “secrets” for the rest of us, it is Jeremiah’s favorable quoting of Sue Monk Kidd that I find most disturbing of all. As I have shown [in A Time of Departing], Monk Kidd went from being a Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher to a contemplative prayer practitioner. And yet Jeremiah quotes her from When the Heart Waits in a manner that would give her credibility with his readers.
In this particular book of Monk Kidd’s, she describes her journey to find her true self through the writings of Thomas Merton and other mystics. This ultimately led her to embrace the following beliefs in her next book, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, which incidentally was already in print when Jeremiah quoted her in his book. Monk Kidd states:
As I grounded myself in feminine spiritual experience, that fall I was initiated into my body in a deeper way. I came to know myself as an embodiment of Goddess (p. 161)
Mystical awakening in all the great religious traditions, including Christianity, involves arriving at an experience of unity or nondualism. In Zen itâ€™s known as samadhi…. Transcendence and immanence are not separate. The Divine is one. The dancer and all the dances are one.(p. 163)
The day of my awakening was the day I saw and knew I saw all things in God, and God in all things.49
When the Heart Waits is so filled with contemplative spirituality that it fits right in with more outright New Age books…. How is it that the example David Jeremiah gives for “passion for God” and “something we embrace with heart and soul” is from such a book as When the Heart Waits? In Life Wide Open, Jeremiah quotes Monk Kidd when she says: “[A] spiritual journey is a lot like a poem … you dance it, sing it, cry it, feel it on your skin and in your bones … it lives in the heart and the body as well as the spirit and the head.”7
But what Monk Kidd feels on her skin and bones and in her heart and body is not the Christian Gospel. How can Jeremiah tell readers to embrace the spirituality and the passion that drive Monk Kidd when her spiritual journey has led her directly into the arms of Thomas Merton who was “impregnated with Sufism”?8 … Right under Jeremiah’s nose, contemplatives have slipped into his writings, and now, through his level of influence, may slip into the lives of countless others.
What makes this situation so ironic is that in 1996, while on a trip to Southern California, I attempted to deliver a video tape to Dr. Jeremiah warning him of the dangers of mystical prayer. I myself owned a copy of Invasion of Other Gods and saw Jeremiah as a mentor and ally. I gave the tape to his secretary but never heard back from him. You may be wondering what came of that. I suppose the information I have just given you is my answer. But with When the Heart Waits, Jeremiah had occultism staring him right in the face.
It is sad to note that in November 2007, Jeremiah quoted the late New Ager M. Scott Peck in his Turning Point commentary. And that is strange because in Jeremiah’s book, Invasion of Other God’s he actually warned against Peck (p. 18)! We hope and pray that David Jeremiah will heed his own 1995 warnings against the New Age and stop quoting mystics like Henri Nouwen who at the end of his life said:
Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God. –From Sabbatical Journey, Henri Nouwen’s last book
page 51, 1998 Hardcover Edition
1. Eknath Easwaran, Meditation (Tomoles, CA: Nilgiri Press, 1991 edition), back cover.
2. Thomas Ryan, Disciplines for Christian Living (Mawah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1993), pp. 2-3.
3. Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1991), p. 81.
4. Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1997), Jan. 15 and Nov. 16 daily readings.
5. Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, op. cit., p. 66.
6. Peter Senge cited in “Inviting the World to Transform” (A Research Report by the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, http://www.contemplativemind.org/programs/cnet/inviting.pdf).
7. David Jeremiah, Life Wide Open, op. cit., p.87, citing Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart Waits (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1990), p. 71.
8. Rob Baker and Gray Henry, Editors, Merton and Sufism (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 1999), p. 69.