Soul Feast by Marjorie Thompson is a book that promotes mantra meditation and New Age mystics. It stands among many other contemplative prayer books that do the same. But what is so alarming is that it also stands within the ranks of many Christian ministries, organizations, churches, and colleges. While Thompson does not hide her mystical affinities, many in Christian circles see her as a trustworthy source for spiritual nourishment.
The book was first released in 1995. Henri Nouwen was still alive, and he wrote the foreword, saying that Soul Feast is “the fruit of Marjorie’s personal practice, her solid studies, and long experience in spiritual formation. It brings together in a clear, concise way the essence of her ministry.” Nouwen would agree that if someone wanted to know what Thompson really believed, this book would provide the “essence” of those beliefs.
In the book, Thompson gets right to the point when she makes the following statements in the prologue:
Some Christians find that “mindfulness meditation,” a traditional Buddhist practice, helps them live their Christian discipleship more faithfully.
The practice of contemplative prayer might give a Christian ground for constructive dialogue with a meditating Buddhist.
Spiritual practice is the heart of this book.
Thompson, an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church USA, 1 is a director for The Pathways Center (part of the Upper Room Ministries)2. Upper Room is a religious organization that promotes Eastern style meditation and is the creator of the popular, meditation tool Walk to Emmaus.
In Soul Feast, Thompson’s “Annotated Bibliography” (of books she favors) is a who’s who of pantheistic contemplatives including: Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Anthony de Mello, Richard Foster, Tilden Edwards, Edward Hays, Morton Kelsey, and Parker Palmer. Jesuit priest De Mello, author of Sadhana: A Way To God, says this of meditation:
A Jesuit friend once told me that he approached a Hindu guru for initiation in the art of prayer. The guru said to him, “Concentrate on your breathing.” My friend proceeded to do just that for about five minutes. Then the guru said, “The air you breathe is God. You are breathing God in and out. Become aware of that, and stay with that awareness.” (FMSCN, p. 119)
Soul Feast is peppered with quotes by and references to staunch New Agers like Matthew Fox, Gerald May, and M. Scott Peck. Others in the book are Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and Brother Lawrence (see our research site for detailed information on these teachers). All of these named have one thing in common -they believe in the silent altered state that is induced through contemplative prayer.
One of the mystics Thompson refers to is Thomas Keating, a father of the modern day contemplative prayer movement. In referring to Keating’s philosophy, Thompson states:
A way of prayer closely related to this ancient form [the Jesus prayer] is now enjoying a revival among Christians of several traditions. It is called “centering prayer,” and is a good way to introduce the person in the pew to contemplation. Centering prayer is based on a fourteenth-century treatise titled The Cloud of Unknowing. In this way of prayer, you select a single word that sums up for you the nature and being of God. Single-minded focus on this prayer word in silent concentration becomes a vehicle into the mystery of divine presence and grace. The method bears a striking resemblance to Eastern meditation with mantras but has developed independently out of the mystical strands of Western Christianity.
Most likely Thompson read Keating’s statement in a book he wrote the foreword to (Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality) where he said that Kundalini (an occultic meditation) and Christian contemplative prayer were one in the same. Keating knew this was true – Thompson must also for her to write as she does.
Encouraging the practice of lectio divina and breath prayers, Thompson tells readers to find your own prayer words, then “repeat the phrase gently in your mind for several minutes” (p. 52). She adds: “Over time, the repetition creates a space in which words fall away and we become more aware of the Presence they point to.” Brother Lawrence recognized this presence. In his book The Practice of the Presence of God it says he “danced violently like a mad man” when he practiced going into the presence.(see ATOD, p. 147)
While anyone who has researched the contemplative prayer/spiritual formation movement would expect to find names like Richard Foster and Dallas Willard connected with this book (because of their similar spiritual proclivities to Thompson), it is disquieting to learn just how many Christians are resonating with Thompson.
For instance, in the Harvest House release, Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture, by author Mary E. DeMuth, DeMuth favorably references Thompson in three different chapters. James Emery White 3, quotes Thompson twice in his book, Serious Times. He says: “The spiritual life is ‘the increasing vitality and sway of God’s spirit in us,’ writes Marjorie Thompson” (p. 75). White likens this “spiritual life” to Thomas Merton’s view. Willow Creek did a women’s study of the book 4, andNorth Park Theological Seminary uses it as “required text.” 5. ATS (Association of Theological Schools ) referenced Soul Feast twice in a “Curriculum Revision” report. In view of the fact that ATS is a Christian school accreditation organization, that is troubling to know Soul Feast is included in that report.6 Many, many other Christian leaders and groups are using Thompson’s book. The book is recommended by leaders in several denominations: Nazarene, Wesleyan, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, Church of God, and Southern Baptist.
LifeWay Stores (Southern Baptist) used to offer the book to patrons in their Christian Living section, but now they offer a more recent book of hers, The Way of Scripture. 7 Saddleback doesn’t offer Soul Feast, but they have offered Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, for years, and in that book, Soul Feast is given a thumbs up. 8
Unfortunately, if Thompson’s spirituality becomes indicative of “Christian living,” the words of mystic Karl Rahner will ring true when he said the Christian of the future will be a mystic on not one at all.
It is clear that Thompson shares a spiritual kinship with New Age mystics. That is why she references people like Matthew Fox. Fox believes that all people (and all creation) have a christ-consciousness. He believes Jesus also had this christ-awareness but was not God in the flesh. We can all be just like Him. Chances are your church may carry a copy of Soul Feast in their bookstore or on their library bookshelves. If so, your friends, loved ones, and family members have been put in harm’s way. We hope you will warn them.