The headline is sadly accurate – Ravi Zacharias International Ministry website is carrying numerous articles which speak favorably of Catholic mystic Henri Nouwen, Catholic monk and mystic, Thomas Merton, and contemplative Richard Foster. The articles are under a section called A Slice of Infinity.
A summary statement on the website says they are “aimed at reaching into the culture with words of challenge, words of truth, and words of hope.” Unfortunately, by pointing people to Nouwen, Merton, and Foster, the message of truth and hope will be tainted with mysticism and spiritual danger. Many of the articles about Nouwen are written by RZIM writer Jill Carattini, who’s bio says:
Among her favorite thinkers are Malcolm Muggeridge, Henri Nouwen, and many of the early church pilgrims, though the writings of C.S. Lewis have been most formative in her own thought and writing.
One article on the site, written by Ravi Z is titled “Lessons From War in a Battle of Ideas.” This too includes a discussion of Henri Nouwen. In a 2001 article titled “September 11, 2001: Was God Present or Absent?” written by Zacharias, he spoke of Nouwen:
But this is where we break free from the entanglements and distractions to find the hand of God. Communion with God takes place in our solitariness before it takes effect in community. Henri Nouwen captured this profound truth: “In solitude we can unmask the illusion of our possessiveness and discern in the center of our own self that we are not what we can conquer, but what is given to us. Through that solitude He leads us to communion.”In other words, it is not our victories that make us who we are; it is His divine presence that carries us through both victory and defeat, and defines us.
Does Zacharias know what Nouwen meant by “the center of our own self”? Does he know that Nouwen was referring to the Higher Self in which divinity dwells (in all humans). And this “communion” reached with solitude is the altered state that is produced through contemplative prayer. Listen to Ray Yungen explain a little about Nouwen’s spirituality:
Nouwen’s endorsement of a book by Hindu spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran, teaching mantra meditation, further illustrates his universalistic sympathies. On the back cover, Nouwen stated, “This book has helped me a great deal (p. 62, ATOD). 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.(p. 62)
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.(p. 62)
But what God’s “active presence” taught him, unfortunately, stood more in line with classic Hinduism than classic evangelical Christianity. He wrote: 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. (emphasis mine, p. 63) 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.”
“Contemplatives sometimes speak of their union with God by the analogy of a log in a fire: the glowing log is so united with the fire that it is fire …”
“What is the goal of Contemplative Prayer? … union with God…. our final goal is union with God, which is a pure relationship where we see nothing.”
“Christians … have developed two fundamental expressions of Unceasing Prayer. The first … is usually called aspiratory prayer or breath prayer. The most famous of the breath prayers is the Jesus Prayer. It is also possible to discover your own individual breath prayer…. Begin praying your breath prayer as often as possible.”
Perhaps what is even more disturbing is to see articles where Zacharias himself speaks favorably of Thomas Merton, 1 as does one of his writers.2 We hope that Ravi Zacharias will realize that he cannot give hope and truth to people, as he says he wishes to do, by pointing people to Henri Nouwen.