This past spring NavPress released My First Message by Eugene Peterson. The book is meant to be a child’s first Bible. A product description of the book suggests that the contemplative practice called lectio divina is being utilized: It states:
My First Message: A Devotional Bible for Kids uses the time-tested practice of lectio divina (or “spiritual reading”), a simple but powerful practice used by Christians for centuries to deepen their devotional lives. It is based on four key elements: reading the Bible, thinking about what is means, praying in response to what is says, and living out the truth.1(This section is taken from the book – p. 5.)
Lectio divina is indeed powerful, as are other contemplative practices, but it will not “deepen” the devotional lives of children. On the contrary, it will introduce kids to a spirituality that produce detrimental results on practitioners.
Friar Luke Dysinger, a present-day monk at Saint Andrews Abbey, describes lectio divina this way:
Choose a text of the Scriptures … Place yourself in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent. Some Christians focus for a few moments on their breathing; others have a beloved ‘prayer word’ or ‘prayer phrase’ they gently recite in order to become interiorly silent. For some the practice known as ‘centering prayer’ makes a good, brief introduction to lectio divina….
Then turn to the text and read it slowly, gently. Savor each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the ‘still, small voice’ of a word or phrase that somehow says, ‘I am for you today …Next take the word or phrase into yourself. Memorize it and slowly repeat it to yourself, allowing it to interact with your inner world of concerns, memories and ideas.
Learn to use words when words are helpful, and to let go of words when they no longer are necessary. Rejoice in the knowledge that God is with you in both words and silence, in spiritual activity and inner receptivity.
This practice has become extremely popular in today’s Christian youth organizations and programs. Youth Specialties, a world renowned Christian organization, instructs young people and youth workers to incorporate lectio divina into their prayer lives. In their magazine, Youth Worker Journal, they describe lectio divina this way:
This is a fancy Latin term for ‘sacred reading’ and has also been called ‘meditation on the Word.’ Sacred reading is the practice of reading scripture slowly in a spirit of contemplation. The goal isn’t exegesis or analysis, but allowing God to speak to us through the word. Christians often refer to the Bible as God’s love letter to mankind, and when we take the time to read it as such, we are practicing sacred reading.”
The article then exhorts readers to:
Take a short passage and repeat it over and over again aloud. With each repetition, remove extraneous words until you’ve broken the passage down to one thought. An obvious example is John 14:27, which could easily be broken down to the word ‘peace.’
The concept of allowing God to speak through His Word is perfectly legitimate. I experience that when I read or meditate on the Bible. However, in the context of this article the purpose is not to contemplate the meaning of a Bible verse by thinking about it but is rather meant to gain an experience from it.
There is a difference between reading the Word and understanding its meaning versus a method of focusing on a single word to gain a mystical experience. In light of NavPress’ PrayKids magazine where contemplative prayer is encouraged, it makes sense that they would publish Peterson’s contemplative promoting Bible for kids, but it is tragic to think of how many children could be drawn into a spiritual camp that ultimately negates the gospel and takes practitioners into what contemplative father Thomas Keating calls kundalini (serpent power),3 a Hindu term for the deep trance state that meditators experience. While Richard Foster himself admits that this type of prayer can be very dangerous, (see RAW, p. 144) it is a mystery then why contemplatives would want to teach this to children.
In the PrayKids magazine, NavPress says:
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.
Typically, we have found that if something sounds eastern or mystical, it’s because it is eastern or mystical. Eugene Peterson’s book rings of the mystical, and we hope parents will avoid putting their children in contact with it.
And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. Mark 9:42
For more information:
Eugene Peterson, The Message and Contemplative Prayer
Special News Alert: New York Times Article Shows Kids Are Learning to Meditate in Schools
Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey – Promoting Contemplative?
Sad News for Preschool Children – MOPS heads contemplative
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