Navigators is a Christian organization, founded in 1933 by a young man named Dawson Trotman, that eventually became a household name in the evangelical church.* The Navigators motto is, “To Know Christ and to Make Him Known.” However, Navigators and its publishing arm NavPress have been on a contemplative trend for over 15 years, and in the January 2019 issue of the Navigator’s newsletter, “Worldwide,” it is evident that the stakes have become much higher.
Navigators History of Promoting Contemplative Prayer
In 2005, Lighthouse Trails posted a news brief titled, “NavPress – Whatever Happened to Navigators?” that stated, “Today, NavPress has become a leading publisher for contemplative spirituality books.” Some of the authors NavPress publishes include Brennan Manning, Jan Johnson, Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, and Bruce Demerest. NavPress is also publishing Eugene Peterson’s The Message (which is a key product for NavPress).
In 2009, a reader sent a letter to the Lighthouse Trails editors asking if we were aware that Navigators was promoting contemplative spirituality. She wrote:
This all hits hard. I was saved through the Navigators in 1973. They used The Word, Prayer, Scripture memory, time with the Lord back then. They had us witness and spend time in fellowship.
In 2011, Lighthouse Trails wrote an article titled, “NavPress (Navigators) Continues Push for Contemplative Prayer . . . for Kids Too!” The LT article stated:
The April issue of Pray!shows solid signs that NavPress is still advocating contemplative spirituality. For example, there is an article by contemplative Tricia Rhodes. Rhodes’ book, The Soul at Rest, “introduces a step-by-step journey of learning contemplative prayer.”1 In that book, Rhodes says:
“Take deep breaths, concentrating on relaxing your body. Establish a slow, rhythmic pattern. Breathe in God’s peace, and breathe out your stresses, distractions, and fears. Breathe in God’s love, forgiveness, and compassion, and breathe out your sins, failures, and frustrations. Make every effort to “stop the flow of talking going on within you—to slow it down until it comes to a halt.” (p. 28) (also see our research on “breath prayers.”)
In this quote, Rhodes is quoting Episcopalian priest and mystic Morton Kelsey. To “stop the flow of talking going on within you” is classic mystical prayer. This inner stillness of the mind that is sought by the mystic is different than an outer quietness, such as sitting by a stream or turning off the television and radio. One cannot naturally turn off thoughts, and since thoughts are the enemy of mysticism, so to speak, they must be turned off.
It was in that 2011 article that Lighthouse Trails showed how NavPress was now attempting to advance the contemplative prayer movement into the lives of Christian children. Our article explained:
[D]on’t be mistaken in thinking that NavPress doesn’t push contemplative for kids too. They also publish a magazine called PrayKids!. Issue #25 titled “Contemplative Prayer” states:
“Contemplative prayer is a form of meditative prayer that focuses on communing with God. Although sometimes confused with its Eastern (and non-Christian) counterpart, true Christian meditation has been practiced since Bible times.
“This issue of PrayKids!® helps kids learn to slow down their fast-paced lives long enough to experience a meaningful relational encounter with their Heavenly Father.” (source)
The 2011 Lighthouse Trails article offered some interesting insights:
There is a reason that contemplatives often give a disclaimer that contemplative prayer isn’t the same as eastern meditation – it’s because it is done the very same way. Their reasoning is that if the intent is good then it doesn’t matter about the method. But as Ray Yungen points out, if you jump off a building and say fly,fly, fly, you are going to get the same results as if you said fall, fall, fall. (ATOD, p. 86). Good intentions isn’t a safeguard against deception. Mantra-type meditation brings about an induced altered state that leads the practitioner into demonic realms . . . regardless of the word that is repeated.
January 2019 “Worldwide” Newsletter Backs Up Contemplative History
In January 2019, a Lighthouse Trails reader sent our editors a copy of the January 2019 issue of Navigator’s newsletter “Worldwide.” The cover article is titled “An Ancient and Enduring Discipline” written by David Lyons, an International Vice President of Navigators who serves a staff of 5,000 in over 100 countries “by coaching leaders and leading change.” (source) Lyons’ article starts with:
Will The Navigators last 500 years? If so, it will be because we really do live our motto: To Know Christ, to Make Him Known and to Help Others Do the Same.
The Navigators is similar to another Christian organization—the Jesuits—that has lasted nearly 500 years. Although we are fundamentally different than the Jesuits in important ways, we share a passion for spending daily time alone with God.
Lyons explains he became “fascinated” with the “connection” between the Navigators and the Jesuits’ “passion for spending time alone with God” when he read a book called Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year Old Company that Changed the World, written by Jesuit-school graduate and Catholic Church leader Chris Lowney.
The 450-year old “company” Lowney is referring to is the Jesuit Order of the Catholic Church, and the practices he is talking about are the mystical prayer rituals that the Jesuits practiced called The Daily Examen (or the Ignatius Exercises named after Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order).
While the five steps of The Daily Examen (Ignatius Exercises) do not specifically instruct on contemplative prayer, they present a framework where contemplative prayer can be practiced. For instance, step one is “Become aware of God’s presence.” This is an essential element of contemplative prayer. For example, the contemplative believes it is very important to “feel” God’s presence and thus the need for a meditative prayer practice. Never mind that the born-again believer has God’s presence (the Holy Spirit) in him whether he “feels” it or not and knows it is not necessary to feel a presence in order to be assured that He is with/in us. Not so with the contemplative practitioner – he often doesn’t have that assurance (possibly because he is not born of the Spirit or he does not know that God’s Word promises us He will live in us; thus he seeks out a substitute (i.e., contemplative prayer) so that he may “feel” God’s presence.
Chris Lowney’s Heroic Leadership describes the “Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius” as helping one to find “self-awareness” and aiding the “soul to rid itself of all its disordered affections.” (chapter 6, pp. 113-114) Lowney also describes what is known in contemplative circles as “spiritual directors”:
An experienced, impartial “director” guides each participant, not by teaching but by helping each recruit interpret his own experiences. (p. 114)
Contemplatives teach that spiritual directors are needed because of the esoteric experiences that take place with these mystical practices, and the director can help “discern” what these experiences mean. Contemplative pioneer, Richard Foster (author of Celebration of Discipline) takes it a step further and suggests that special prayers of protection are needed before engaging in such prayer practices because of the possibility of encountering demonic activity. (Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Foster, pp. 156-157; also see here.)
Heroic Leadership, which influenced David Lyons (and now Navigators through Lyons promotion), is an info-mercial for the Jesuit Order and the Jesuit rituals and practices (including guided imagery exercises – p. 115); for instance, the word Jesuit is used 500 times in the book, and the “Suggestions for Further Reading” at the back of the book is five pages of resources that emphasize the Jesuit Order and the Jesuit practices. Of course, that would make sense that a Jesuit-school graduate would promote the Jesuits. But the Navigators? How does that make sense?
For those who do not know much about the Jesuits (and their being the founders and igniters of the counter-reformation movement to stop the Reformation), read Roger Oakland’s booklet titled The Jesuit Agenda and the Evangelical/Protestant Church. It may send shivers up your spine when you realize just what the Jesuit Order is all about (basically, to end the resistance against the Catholic Church and to bring the “lost brethren” back into the fold of the “Mother Church.” One may ask, how have the Jesuits planned to do this? The answer to that is through contemplative prayer. Roger Oakland explains:
[I]f the methods of converting lost or prodigal souls back to Rome have changed, what is the method to accomplish these goals today? It is largely through what is called Jesuit Spirituality. A 2002 book titled Contemplatives in Action: The Jesuit Way reveals how the Jesuit order has had and continues to have a “great influence” in people around the world. It attributes this “vitality” to “its spirituality” which has also “evoked fierce loyalty and fierce opposition.”
What is the spirituality of the Jesuits that was so controversial? By their very roots, Jesuits are proponents of mystical prayer practices. The founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola, created “spiritual exercises” that incorporated mysticism, including lectio divina. Today, millions of people worldwide practice the “Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola.”
One Jesuit priest who resonates with the mystical spiritual outlook is Anthony De Mello (d. 1987), author of Sadhana: A Way to God. De Mello is often quoted today by contemplative and emerging authors and embraced the mysticism of Hinduism. He stated:
“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.” – Anthony de Mello, Sadhana: A Way to God (St. Louis, the Institute of Jesuit Resources, 1978), p. 28 (cited from A Time of Departing, by Ray Yungen, p. 75).
Tony Campolo, a popular figure in the evangelical church, reveals something quite interesting in his book, Letters to a Young Evangelical. In his book, he explains the role [Jesuit] mysticism had in him becoming a Christian. He explains:
“I learned about this way of having a born-again experience from reading Catholic mystics, especially The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola.” (p. 30, see “Coming to Christ Through Mysticism,” Oakland )
For skeptics who may need further evidence that Jesuit Spirituality has come into the evangelical/Protestant church, consider this: In 2006, Baker Books, one of evangelicalism’s top book publishers, released a book titled Sacred Listening: Discovering the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola written by James Wakefield. A publisher description of the book states:
“Central to the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), the Spiritual Exercises is a manual used to direct a month-long spiritual retreat. Now adapting these time-honored Exercises specifically for Protestant Christians, James L. Wakefield encourages readers to integrate their secular goals with their religious beliefs and helps them reflect on the life of Jesus as a model for their own discipleship.”
Wakefield’s book, devoted to the Jesuits and Ignatian Exercises, should be proof enough that the Jesuit Agenda has entered the Christian church and that mysticism is the tool by which the Jesuit Agenda is largely being brought into the lives of countless evangelicals and Protestants. . . .
. . . the “Jesuit Spirituality” has come into the Protestant church; thus this new modern (post-modern) mystical method to accomplish the goals of the papacy is working.
If Protestants and evangelicals can be convinced to practice mysticism (i.e., contemplative), this conditions them to begin embracing Rome and even all religions. It’s important to understand that mysticism is the bridge that unites all the religions of the world. In order to unite them, there would need to be a uniting, common denominator, so to speak. That common uniting medium is mysticism. . . .
Maybe it’s the years of promoting and practicing contemplative prayer ala Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, Jan Johnson, Brennan Manning, et. al, and reading Peterson’s The Message that has entranced the Navigators to see nothing wrong with promoting the Jesuit Order and The Daily Examen. It’s probably too late to get the organization to change its mind, but hopefully there will be discerning Christians who will think twice before following its advice.
*Navigators continues today to have a significant influence in evangelical Christianity. The ministry is active in over 160 colleges, in the military aiding chaplains, “in communities all over the United States,” in church settings, conducting hundreds of conferences each year, doing mission work in 102 countries, and having outreach to young millennials. Sadly, this means that there is the potential for millions to be introduced to contemplative spiritualty through Navigators and NavPress.