In 2006, a DVD film was released by Fox Entertainment called Be Still. Lighthouse Trails wrote extensively about it at the time, warning our readers that the DVD was an infomercial for contemplative prayer. Recently, a caller who very much understood the deceptive dynamics of the contemplative prayer (i.e., Spiritual Formation) movement, reminded us about the film, and we e-mailed her a copy of all the transcripts (we had transcribed the entire film in 2006). The film includes Richard Foster, Catholic convert Peter Kreeft, Dallas Willard, Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Michelle McKinney Hammon, Max Lucado, and Calvin Miller. You can read some of our previous coverage here.
You can be sure that in the last 10 years since Be Still was released, the contemplative prayer movement has grown by leaps and bounds, and we have no doubt that this film has had a lot to do with this spread.
Below we have posted portions of the transcript from three of the segments (there were six altogether) of the Be Still film. You may need to read between the lines to understand the message that is being promoted because the film was a seductive and enticing infomercial to draw people into the practice of contemplative prayer without coming right out and saying what contemplative prayer really entails. (After all, viewers could get specific instructions later by reading the writings of these people in the film). For those not familiar with the contemplative prayer movement, it may be a good idea to read this article by Lynn Pratt, “So You Want to Practice Contemplative Prayer? What’s Wrong With That?”
Within these quotes, the italicized words are added by LT for emphasis.
“Contemplative Prayer: The Divine Romance Between God and Man”
We live in frenzied chaotic world under a constant siege of business and noise. The weapons of mass distraction are everywhere. We are bombarded by millions of advertisements daily. The Christian community is not exempt. We were designed to experience fullness of joy, yet many only experience fullness of schedule. Where can we go to find rest and peace?
Be still and know that I am God. We find peace in God’s presence. We get to know God better through prayer. Prayer is relationship and two-way communication with God. Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. But how can we experience abundance if we don’t learn to slow down? We need to stop and quiet ourselves to spend time in real relationship with God.
Contemplation is different from other types of Christian prayer. Contemplative prayer involves less telling God what we want to happen in our lives and more listening for God’s call to us in our heart through Scripture. As we develop the inward attentiveness to God’s divine whisper, we begin to experience His presence more throughout the day.
“What is Contemplative Prayer?”
Richard Foster, author “Prayer”:
Contemplative prayer is listening prayer. It is attentiveness. You know how our children will talk with us and sometimes we wish that they would just listen to us. Now, that’s what contemplative prayer is. It’s being all ears to what the Father has to say to us.
[French Catholic mystic] Nicholas Grou said, “O Divine Master, teach me this mute language which says so much.” That’s the idea. It’s very simple, isn’t it? That we become attentive to God. God’s interested in us, what we have to say. We learn to become interested in what God has to say to us.
Priscilla Shirer, author of “He Speaks to Me: Preparing to Hear the Voice of Go”:
Most of my prayer time is filled up with what I’m saying to Him, as opposed to just being quiet and actually giving him an opportunity to speak to me. And of course I’ve thought about hearing the voice of God all my life, and I’ve thought about wanting to hear Him, but it never occurred to me that I needed to consciously go into His presence with my mouth closed, giving Him an opportunity to get a word in edgewise. And so I’ve just begun in my prayer life over the past year of my life to make a conscious effort to be in a time of prayer, and yes, to speak to Him, but to consciously say, okay, I’m done talking now, because I’m just gonna sit here in the stillness and wait to see what it is that you want to say to me.
Dallas Willard, PhD.,former Director, School of Philosophy, USC:
It is somewhat like, uh, the story of electricity with Benjamin Franklin. And actually, we know now that electricity’s everywhere. I mean, our blood cells wouldn’t work without electricity. But it was Franklin who made the effort to contact it, as it were. So the famous story about the kite in the electric storm, and the current running down the line and jumping the gap and causing the spark and so on. And of course it’s a wonder that the old fellow wasn’t killed on the spot with it, because lightning has been doing that for a long time.
Catholic convert, Peter Kreeft:
It’s easy to allegorize it. The key is Franklin’s own ego. And the sky is God. And the electricity is grace and the kite line is prayer. And he’s sending himself up to God in order to get charged.
When my son and I, Jackson, when we play sports or when we play baseball or when he kicks the ball, I always want to try to instruct him on how to do it and what to do. This is how you do it, Son. You do it this way. Well, it hit me. Where Jackson doesn’t want to be with me to receive instruction necessarily. He just wants to be in my presence. And that was the amazing thing. He goes, “You know, Dad, don’t—I don’t need your instructions. I don’t need this. Dad, I’m just happy just being with you.” You know? And that was the thing for me. And that just, you know, made me understand my relationship with Christ. It’s not about me speaking or saying, Lord, this is what I want. He goes, “Jerry, just spend time with Me.”
Contemplative prayer can be experienced everywhere, in small groups of people, when you’re alone, when you’re at work, in all kinds of situations. You take a passage of Scripture, a very simple passage, and you simply lean into the passage and you allow the Lord to teach you.
Churches, small groups and individuals around the world have structured a spiritual life around the practice of Christian contemplation.
Very interesting that even Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, thought the highest human good was contemplation. But he thought it was contemplation of truth, not contemplation of God. Still, he was onto something big. And it was later on the Christians came along because Aristotelian contemplation turned out not really to do a lot for people. But Augustine, for example, corrected Aristotle and taught that it was God that we contemplate, because He is the only final good and we lift our minds and hearts to Him through Christ, and that gives us the kind of life-giving joy and sufficiency that Aristotle understood to be true happiness.
One of the lives that has affected me deeply is Saint Augustine, that after wrestling with God for such a long time, and God just chasing him and hunting him down, I remember thinking to myself, I want to be that way about God. When God’s hunting me down, I wanna slow down and be caught by Him. If He’s chasing me, I want Him to catch me. And that’s what God did with Saint Augustine. And he knew the fiery passion of God’s love, not just a God of the law, but a God of the heart, a God that chases the heart of man, to pick up all its pieces and make it whole.
Peter Kreeft, PhD, Professor of Philosophy, Boston College:
[The mystic] Kierkegaard, probably the greatest Protestant Christian mind of all time, said many times something like this—This is almost the last page of his journal shortly before he died. He said, “If I could prescribe only one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence. Because even if the word of God were proclaimed in its fullness, it would not be heard. There is too much noise. So begin with silence.”
The stresses we live with are so invasive, we begin to believe we’re nothing but these things. We believe they have the power to define who we are and how we live. We must learn to desire a oneness with God that transcends all these things.
“The Need for Contemplative Prayer”
Max Lucado, Pastor, Author, “Cure for the Common Life”:
You know, people are in such a hurry all the time. I talked to a man recently who had completed 60 ironman triathlons. And the guy’s in his 60s. I said, What’s the secret? He said, “Start slow and taper down.” That’s my new motto in life. He said, “Everybody gets out on these races, and they start running as hard as they can, and they wear out. They can’t finish.” He said, “The secret’s to start slow and taper down.” I thought, you know, that’s right. Cause really in life, we start slow. And Jesus said, “Anybody who would know the kingdom of God needs to come like a child.” Children start slow, in our parent’s lap, at our mother’s breast, sleeping a lot, thinking a lot, learning a lot, but then somewhere along the line we think we gotta ratchet up. And so, yeah, I think it’s time to slow it all down a little bit.
I’m reminded of Matthew, chapter 17, during the Transfiguration, Jesus was there with Peter, James and John and it says that God called out from the heavens, God the Father, called out from the heavens. And here’s Jesus standing in front of them with His face shining. And I mean, they are just amazed at what they are seeing and God the Father calls out and says, “This is My Son whom I love, and I am well pleased.” And this is the command that God the Father gives. He says, “Listen to Him.” Here’s Jesus in all of His glory, and the one thing the Father says that He’s, we’re supposed to do is listen to Him. And so, if that’s the one command that God the Father would give at this point, at this incredible point in biblical history, that we listen to Him, then I think we oughta be making some time to come aside from our busyness and listen to what it is that our Father has to say to us.
Calvin Miller, Professor, Author, “Into the Depths of God”: [Miller is a proponent of Marcus Borg who openly denied many tenets of the Christian faith.]
One of the great things that silence does, it gives us a new concept of God. God is not just somebody there to hear us, a doting grandfather who puts his arms around us and says, “Honey, I’ll see what I can do for you.” God is an activist. That’s why I believe in praying the Scriptures. When you open up the Bible and you pray the Scriptures back to God, you’re experiencing something really wonderful, and what you’re experiencing is, you’re reading back to the Author of the Word of God His own words. Now I’m not, I’m not a great writer. But when somebody says to me, “I read your book,” that’s a great gift to give me.
God’s Word is so clear that if we are not still before Him, we will never truly know, to the depths of the marrow in our bones, that He is God. There has got to be a stillness. We’ve got to have a time to sit before Him and just know that He is. We live in such an attention-deficit culture, and we’re so entirely over stimulated, so much coming at us at once, one image after another, that if we are not careful, we are going to lose the art of meditation, to just sit before God and know His peace, that He really is in control, and that nothing is happening that’s not being sifted through His fingers, and He is God upon the throne.
The wonderful thing about contemplative prayer is that it can be found everywhere, anywhere, any time for anyone. [Foster believes that contemplative prayer is for anyone, not just believers in Christ.] We become a portable sanctuary, so that we are living our life, wherever it is, aware of the goodness of God, the presence of God.
If there ever was an age that the church—and a time period when the church needed the practice of solitude and silence, it’s now. We live in the information age. And I love it. I love the technology. I love the opportunities it gives us. But I also recognize that every day there’s hundreds of emails. We’re connected to a world wide web. We have cell phones. We, whether we’re in a car, or on an airplane or at our home, somebody can be in contact with us. And all those are great resources, but if in the middle of it we don’t stop, if we don’t get silent and practice that and be alone with God, all that becomes just a drain on us. And so the very people you’re trying to connect with and minister to, you have no energy for.
Now because silence is such a radical thing, and it does mean that you give up control of your situation, you can see what a tremendous impact that would have on the American church, in their services, in their meetings of various kinds. Suppose they practice silence in some of their meetings. That would actually give a place for God to break in. And who knows, He might have something to say even to a committee meeting, if they would be silent long enough. It would mean that, for example, the pastors and the leaders in the services would not feel like they have to control everything, that again, God is in control. And that’s the way God is. He more or less waits for us to get tired of running things and then He’s glad to help.
Katherine A. Brown-Satzman, [promotes guided imagery] Executive Director, UCLA, Healthcare Ethics Center:
And in the process of that, physiologically, everything begins to shift. Blood pressure comes down. Breathing changes. Our mind quiets. And we can actually get to this state of where our body can heal in a much better way, because it’s not fighting all of this, right? It’s not amped up.
“Fear of Silence”
If silence is a condition of this experience, a lot of people really are not going to undertake it. It’s very difficult to get anyone to be silent. And I think it’s because in silence they really do surrender their control over how they appear. One of the things we do in talking is to adjust our appearance. And to abandon that as a project is really major. So we keep jabbering. You go to the ordinary church service, you can hardly find 15 minutes of silence. But silence is one of the great spiritual disciplines. And in fact you’re not going to get very far in contemplative prayer unless you know how to be silent. And by that I mean that you really are comfortable with it and you’re practiced in it.
Christian meditation is the practice of being in the presence of God. Its ultimate goal is to seek only God and receive His guidance and grace.
Let me give just a little example of contemplative prayer for an individual. I was using Scripture—one of the Psalms, a brief Psalm, like recently I used Psalm 9. And first I would read it through, just out loud to myself, and just become aware of the texture of the Psalm. And then I’d do a second reading. And there I would highlight whatever passage seemed to strike me in any way—a phrase or a sentence. And then I would do a third reading, and there I’m coming—I’m reading only the highlighted passages, and I look for any phrase, any sentence that speaks particularly to my condition. And that particular day, Psalm 9, the passage was, Be gracious to me, O Lord. Isn’t that wonderful? And I was going through some difficult time, and it was so helpful then, for the entire day, to utilize that particular passage. Be gracious to me, O Lord. Whatever I’m doing, whatever work it is, whatever situation with the children or with my wife or whatever—Be gracious to me, O Lord. See? That’s contemplative prayer.
LT: [Richard Foster is describing lectio divina here; but while he’s trying to make contemplative prayer sound very innocent here, we know from years of studying his writings, that he believes contemplative prayer to be much more than just picking out a passage of Scripture and thinking about it throughout the day. He and other contemplative figures teach that in order to go into the contemplative stillness, that special word or phrase needs to be repeated over and over to help eliminate thoughts and distractions.]
“The Difference Between Eastern and Christian Meditation”
What I see in Christian meditation—it’s not escape from the world. It’s an escape to something and to someone. And so it’s an opportunity to stop, and you’re getting away from the world, but you’re moving toward God and connecting with Him.
The loss of self that is meant in the Eastern traditions, really does mean that the individual dissolves. And that solves the problems of desire and passion, which is the curse of human life on that view of things. See, the Christian and Jewish teaching, and for that matter the Islamic teaching, is that the distinctness of the individual is a good thing. And that God has intended that and means to preserve it. So the response to the human condition is not the disappearance of desire but the dominance of love.
That’s the difference with meditation. We’re not just speaking to our inner selves. We’re not just speaking to a more positive thought process that day. We pray to the God of the universe, the king of all creation, is my Abba, Father. That’s who I’m talking to. And when I have that kind of attitude—that I’m talking to somebody that really can change my circumstances, that really can change my heart, that really can empower me to be different than I’d be, to do what I cannot do, to know what I cannot possibly know—I’m gonna tell you something—My approach is gonna be transformed. I’m not just talking, I’m not just trying to get my head together, I’m talking to someone. And I happen to be talking to the God of the universe.
LT: [What Beth Moore and Dallas Willard are saying here is that the method is the same but the intent is different; but we say that if the method is the same, you are going to get the same results. As Ray Yungen has said, two people can jump out of a ten story building with one saying “fly, fly,” and the other saying “fall, fall,” but the results will be the same.]
There’s a peace that surpasses understanding. We know that stress will always be there, but we ground our hearts in such oneness with God that His power can transform our lives.
“How God Speaks Through Scripture”
Learning to distinguish the voice of God from just human voices within us comes in much the same way that we learn any other voice. You know, there’s a tone to a voice. Satan pushes and condemns. God draws and encourages. And we can know the difference. And then there’s a spirit in a voice, isn’t there? Remember it was said of Messiah that He would not break a bruised reed nor quench a smoldering wick. You see, Jesus would never snuff out the smallest hope, never crush the needy. And that’s the spirit that we look for in the voice of God. And then, third, there’s the content of the voice. And in the final analysis, that is the most clear evidence. You see, the voice of God, the Davar Yahweh, is always consistent with the way God has spoken in the past. And so Scripture, then, becomes a primary means by which we understand God speaking to us today. It will always be consistent with the way He has spoken in the past.
LT: [Satan comes as an angel of light and his ministers as ministers of righteousness. This “test” by Richard Foster is very flawed.]
Sometimes the longest distance in our spiritual journey is that 18 inches from our head getting it down into our heart. And the power of this contemplative prayer, this inner life, is it takes the knowledge which is all the facts and figures, and it makes it wisdom by applying it.
LT: [What contemplatives mean when they say from the head to the heart is what contemplative Henri Nouwen meant when he said: “Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen to the voice of love … For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral [doctrine] to the mystical is required.” (from Nouwen’s book, In the Name of Jesus)]
Can you think about how God must feel when a Christian comes into His presence reading the 23rd Psalm? Lord, You are my shepherd. You make me lie down in green pastures. You lead me beside still waters, all for Your name’s sake. I think when we say those things back to God, as the author of those words, He’s delighted. And the silence confirms that we are people, and we’re talking and God’s listening. But the best times are when God starts talking and we’re quiet enough to hear Him.
Second Timothy 3 tells us that all Scripture is God-breathed, and that means that every single word on that paper has come fresh out of the mouth of God. What I try to remember every single time I read Scripture is that it still has the warmth of God’s breath on it. You can’t separate the words of God from the mouth of God, or you’ve just got sterile words sitting on a page. God’s Word is different than that. It’s the very word out of His mouth. Therefore it comes with fresh breath. Because it’s eternal, that means time is not attached to it. So it’s as fresh today to me as it was the day it came out of His mouth and onto the paper. That’s the way I look at it.
LT: [According to this statement by Beth Moore, without the contemplative aspect, the Word of God is “sterile.” We are not taking what she said out of context. This is totally typical of the contemplative mindset. Remember what she said above, without the stillness, you can’t really know God. She also says that “you can’t separate the word of God from the mouth of God,” but the Bible says in Psalm 138:2 that God’s Word is magnified above His name, so surely His Word is magnified above His “breath.” If you stop and really think about what she is saying here, you will see how distorted this thinking is.
The practice of contemplative prayer can be a vital part of our everyday lives. But we must make time for it.
“The Fruit of Contemplative Prayer”
A true lover of God once spoke about practicing God’s presence. To me, that’s such a part of contemplative prayer. That we are able to absorb the reality, that as we commune with God through prayer, that He is with us, that His Spirit, for those of us who are in Christ, fills us, that we are drawn near to Him, that our souls find rest in Him, that we’ll realize that it’s not just words on a page, but it’s the presence of God, the voice out of His mouth, that calms us, or perhaps stirs us, gives us peace or perhaps brings us into a holy passion, that we respond to His presence.
But if we don’t do it, all we are is an inner wrangling that never ceases. We move from hassle to hassle to hassle. One may stick a little Jesus in here or there, but without the silence, there’s no healing. There’s no healing.
From the segment called “Cloud of Witnesses: Contemplative Figures Throughout History”
Beth Moore, Author “A Heart Like His”:
You know one of the things that time gives us is that it erases the lines between so many different sections of the people of God. Because many years later it doesn’t matter any longer that this person was of this practice in the Christian faith and this person of another. Time somehow blurs those lines, and we are profoundly moved by the historical narratives of all of their lives of so great a cloud of witnesses that we can look back on and see what kept them running the race, what kept them running toward the face of Christ at the end of that finish line.
Dr. Mark Brewer, Pastor, Bel Air Presbyterian Church, Los Angeles:
Through the ages a lot of us as Christians think that the Holy Spirit’s been on sabbatical since the first century and now He just showed up. But He’s been very active in the lives of all of His people. I think of some of the desert fathers—they called themselves God’s athletes in the third and fourth century. They left this corrupt Roman Empire to go and to seek God and they made what they called this holy place for God. That’s why they fasted and why they lived such simple lives, was so the Lord could encounter them.
Richard Foster, Author, “Prayer”:
[The mystic] Madame Guyon was a French lady of the 17th century. She had children. She had an ordinary life experience. But she learned, you see, how, in that, to live with God. Her book, “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ,” is one of the sweetest little books on contemplative prayer. And she wrote it for people who couldn’t read themselves. Her book was meant to be read to them.
[Mystic] Teresa of Avila was a Spanish lady in the 16th century, a contemporary with [panentheist] Saint John of the Cross. An incredible leader, administrator. A woman of immense skill and ability and a woman of deep prayer.
Jerry Root, PhD, Professor, Wheaton College:
One of my favorite stories relates to the medieval contemplative Julian of Norwich. She was from England. And she claimed to have had revelation from God and she wrote about it shortly after she had these experiences. She was in her early 20s. Twenty-five years later she wrote about it again. She hadn’t had a new experience with God, revealing Himself to her, but she wrote about it 25 years later, having allowed 25 years of contemplation to inform what this meant to her. There’s one story that occurs in both accounts. She said that God spoke to her and told her to pick up a chestnut. She picked it up and God spoke to her and said, “All the great truths can be found even in a chestnut. God made it. God sustains it. God loves it.”
And I think all of the great contemplative writers have present application, if we’ll look for it.
[The mystic] Evelyn Underhill would be a relatively modern contemplative. She died in the early 1940s. At Oxford University you had to be a male to teach, until Evelyn Underhill came along. She was the first woman given lecture-wide status throughout the university. She was towering intellect. She wrote 39 books on Christian spirituality [i.e., contemplative spirituality] and philosophy of religion. And Evelyn Underhill tells a great story about a friend of hers who had been to Scotland, to the island of Iona. Iona is an island that’s sacred for the Scots because it’s where Columba first brought Christianity to Scotland. Every Scot needs to make the pilgrimage to Iona sometime in their life because the roots of Scottish Christianity are there. Well, Underhill’s friend had been to Scotland and had been to Iona, and when she returned her Scottish gardener said to her, “Where did you go for your vacation?” And Underhill’s friend said, “I’ve been to Iona.” And he says, “Oh, Iona’s a thin place.” She said, “What do you mean?” He said, “It’s a thin place because there’s not much between God and Iona.”
And all of life, properly looked at, in some senses, is a thin place. Everywhere we look, in a world made by God, a world inhabited by God, God is calling us to worship Him. . . . There’s another medieval contemplative named Brother Lawrence. He was responsible for the book “Practicing the Presence of God.” Many people don’t realize that Brother Lawrence was a pot scrubber in a monastery. He wasn’t a full-fledged monk. He was a brother who would come in and scrub pots for the monks so that they could spend their time in prayer. And it was while he was washing pots at a kitchen scullery that he practiced the presence of God. In essence, Brother Lawrence would tell us the kitchen’s a thin place. Scrubbing pots is a thin place. All of life—especially the struggle of life—is a thin place. God wants to meet us in those places.
Brother Lawrence’s experiences were rather different. They involve some things that are quite like this type of prayer. But for example, a major experience for him was viewing a tree that had lost its leaves in the winter and was all stripped bare, and the realization that this tree still had life in it, and that this life would flourish again in the spring. His sense of that seemed to bring him into a kind of unity with that life that he began to practice. And of course, he had a very lowly, menial position, caring for the kitchen and the needs of the monastery. So he learned then to see God in all things.
Brother Lawrence, in his wonderful book, “The Practice of the Presence of God,” said, “Those who have the gale…” He means the wind. “…of the Holy Spirit go forward even in sleep.” Isn’t that wonderful, that we can move forward in our spiritual life even when we’re sleeping? I often try, as I am entering sleep, to just give my life to God—my heart, my mind, my thinking, my dreams, whatever they might be. And then you wake up in the morning and you’ve advanced in the Spirit. You see, that’s part of contemplative prayer as well.
From the segment, Alone With God:
Find a simple and quiet place where you can be comfortable for about 20 minutes. But you don’t want to get so comfortable that you miss your intimate time with God because you’ve fallen asleep. If I’m in bed, I prop up on a pillow and try to sit up as straight as possible, not in the counting sheep position.
Take a few deep breaths. Begin to relax and slow yourself down. As you inhale, think of the Holy Spirit breathing life and peace into your body. And as you exhale, remember the verse that says to cast all your cares upon Him.