by Mike Stanwood
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. Acts 20: 28-30
This October Willow Creek continues to contribute to the wide spread influence of contemplative spirituality that is infiltrating mainline church denominations. Not only have they recently begun to sell Peter Scazzero’s contemplative materials 1, they are also promoting as one of their leadership training speakers Mindy Caliguire, the founder of Soul Care, a spiritual formation ministry serving church leaders. She is scheduled to speak on Oct. 24, 2009 as a ‘group life expert’ at a conference called This Changes Everything, (2) a one day satellite training event designed to bring small groups to a point of transformation and foster spiritual growth. 3
Mindy Caliguire will also be sharing the speaking platform this week (4) with contemplative Canadian pastor and author, Mark Buchanan, (5) at an Interactive Day for Leaders sponsored by Willow Creek Canada called Leading from a Healthy Soul–a conversation about the deeper things in life (October 6 in Mississauga, ON, October 7 in Calgary, AB, October 8 in Surrey, B.C.). 6
The kind of transformation and spiritual growth in these Willow Creek training sessions involves equipping leaders with spiritual practices that are said to bring life to a thirsty soul. But just what kind of spiritual practices are these?
One needn’t attend one of these sessions in order to see the kind of spirituality this particular speaker draws from. Upon closer inspection, we find that Mindy Caliguire is not only the founder and president of Soul Care (soulcare.com) but also the author of six Soul Care resources. These are books which Willow Creek Association sells (7), as does Willow Creek Canada Leadership Center.
While we are reminded that Soul Care’s home organizations are Willow Creek Community Church (www.willowcreek.org) and Willow Creek Association (www.willowcreek.com), the Soul Care website also recommends some ministries they work with as “some of our favorite places to go.” These include Renovare and Upper Room.
The Upper Room organization not only promotes contemplative prayer methods but encourages all types of eastern-style meditation and offers various programs based on mystical spirituality, including Walk to Emmaus, an adaptation of the Roman Catholic Cursillo Movement. 9
Also recommended by Soul Care as places to go on retreats (short or long-term) is Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House in Barrington, IL, a place which “specializes in silent weekend retreats for men and women adapted from the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.” 10
Caliguire also has a blog at Soul Care, which also reveals her contemplative leanings. 11
Another contemplative group Mindy Caliguire works with is the Spiritual Formation Alliance, a network of Christian organizations and individuals offering spiritual formation resources, as mentioned on her biography at Building Church Leaders. 12
With all these contemplative connections, it’s no surprise that Soul Care founder Mindy Caliguire’s teaching sessions are also based on contemplative spirituality and the spiritual disciplines. This is clearly evident if one listens on-line to her sessions. Caliguire is a good speaker, and she does quote and reference the Bible, but for those who understand and recognize contemplative spirituality, it becomes obvious in listening to her that Caliguire is in that camp.
In Practicing Silent Prayer, Caliguire teaches about mantras, silence, and finding a quiet place undistracted. She also mentions that this kind of prayer is “difficult to do. In Practicing Solitude Part 1, she teaches on how to prepare an undistracted quiet place or retreat, and explains what things to bring to connect with God. Oddly, she recommends bringing an alternative Bible translation that is less familiar to you, a journal, and The Way of the Heart by Henry Nouwen. The following is from Nouwen’s book:
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. 81)
In 2008, Mindy Caliguire led an intermediate to advanced class at Willow Creek church that can be
During Soul Searching–Week 1, she told her class how she had drawn from Dallas Willard, loved Brian Mclaren’s book, quoted John Ortberg and Ruth Haley Barton, and Henri Nouwen and said that David (author of the Psalms) “got” the inner journey.
Some things she mentioned to her class were to not give each other advice or quote Bible verses, and that we’ve hidden ourselves for so long we hardly know our true selves anymore.
In Week 2 she began with a quote from Henri Nouwen by saying she was “the living reminder” tonight (as Henri Nouwen referred to himself). The class then discussed their stories about sensing an experience from God that week, to “let the real you be brought into community.” Then she taught them the Practice of Examen, providing Richard Foster’s explanation from his book on prayer. One barrier to going deeper with God, Caliguire said, is a lack of awareness of God’s presence.
She further explained how to do An Examen of Conscience and An Examen of Consciousness or awareness. She mentioned how Ignatius of Loyola was a rebel in the season when he was ministering and was a reformer that created a following called the Jesuits. Part of their way of deepening their relationship with God, she said, involved this form of prayer, part of their rhythm of life as a community, like the rule of life. She then explained essential steps to get into the pattern, or rhythm, and highly recommended it. Roger Oakland, in Faith Undone, says of the Jesuits:
Ignatius founded the Jesuits with a goal of bringing the separated brethren back to the Catholic Church. He and his band of ruthless men would do everything possible to accomplish this goal. (ch. 7)
Ignatius Loyola began the cruel order of priests, the Jesuits, who would use Ignatius exercises to meditate, put themselves into a trance and levitate. There are no scripture passages in the Bible that tell us we need to practice Roman Catholic methods, monastic rules of life to deal with our guilt ridden lives in order to experience God. The things that Caliguire is teaching ought to be setting off alarm bells within the Protestant church.
The “deep” prayer that Caliguire recommends practicing every day is centering prayer, a practice of silencing the mind that has led others into contact with spirit guides. In fact, Caliguire has been quoted to say that she has been led by “soul guides” in the fall 2004, Leadership Journal, in an article called “Soul Health”:
“Try centering prayer for about 20 minutes once a day for a week”
“Thankfully, I had a few soul-guides (in person and on pages) that led me into a new way of life that, while still a work in process, keeps me much more clear on my need for authentic connection to God, more than anything else in my life.”
In a Willow Creek magazine article, contemplative advocate Keri Wyatt Kent talks about the paradigm shift taking place through spiritual formation programs:
At first, many churches just wanted a program to ‘do’ spiritual formation at their church … Now, we’re seeing a shift as people start to get it–there’s a process, and it can’t be a separate program, it needs to be adopted systemically. WILLOW Magazine, Issue 4, 2007, “Rediscovering Spiritual Formation: From monastic communities to the emergent church, spiritual formation continues to shift and change a whole new generation of Christians” by Keri Wyatt Kent.13
It appears that the goal of not only Mindy Caliguire and Soul Care, but the contemplative prayer movement as a whole, is to bring this shift to the church leaders and then to their congregations. This is why we are seeing so many “conversations,” “discussions,” pastors retreats and training sessions like this one promoted by The Center of Congregations:
The Soul of Your Congregation looks at spiritual formation for the whole congregation. In April 2009, Mindy Caliguire from SoulCare and Lyle Smith Graybeal and Chris Webb from RENOVARE led participants through discussions and exercises to help them understand spiritual formation and how to incorporate it into all aspects of congregational life. 14
It is of great interest to note that The Center of Congregations is an ecumenical organization where together, the Catholics, Unitarian Universalists, United Methodists and Mennonites (all groups that heavily promote contemplative mysticism) are connecting and becoming one in environmental consciousness, with the help of a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. Congregations Explore Sustainability and Earth Care
This kind of ecumenical spiritual training is very widespread. For example, Ascending Leaders is another leadership training organization that uses Caliguire’s materials, alongside resources that include Richard Foster, Spiritual Directors International, Renovare, Thomas Keating, Contemplative Outreach and various centering prayer links. 15
To conclude, Mindy Caliguire and her contemplative colleagues are moving full speed ahead to train others how to have healthy souls through the practices of contemplative spirituality. And now, thanks to Willow Creek and their far reaching membership promotions, the practices of these spiritual “soul care” trainers (John 10:12) will help to escalate this mystical spirituality. It may even be welcomed into your church to “shift” your congregation–beginning with your church leadership. Just like the “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” resources that Willow Creek has recently begun to promote, this type of spirituality is not healthy or biblical, and may lead many sincere souls away from the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Instead of practicing the Ignatius Examen, it looks like many Christians desperately need to start “practicing” what the Bible teaches and examine what they are being taught.