Biola University Continues It’s Slip Into Eastern Metaphysics (Updated)

(Originally Posted June 2013)

“Fr. Thomas Keating teaches on centering prayer who tells us contemplative prayer is a way of tuning into a fuller level of reality that is always present …”(Open mind, Open heart p.37). He explains “My acquaintance with eastern methods of meditation has convinced me that … there are ways of calming the mind in the spiritual disciplines of both the east and the west … Many serious seekers of truth study the eastern religions, …”What he is promoting is the concept of God permeating the air as prana.” (Lighthouse Trails)

Over the years I have noticed that Biola is going down a road that is based not in Christ, but in Eastern philosophy. For instance, my first encounter wit this came from an assistant pastor at a church in my town. When I was talking about how contemplative prayer came to our current faith (India, Alexandria, the Desert fathers, Thomas Merton, and then Keating/Nouwen/Foster, and the like), this pastor was shocked, and recommended a book he was studying in a class at Biola entitled, “A Seven Day Journey with Thomas Merton.” In it you have the christian faith laid into the matrix of Buddhist thought. Over the years since this jaw-dropping encounter with a pastor from a “Biblically conservative” church not seeing any problem with the book HE recommended to me, I have become more interested in where Biola was heading. And over the years they seem to put a stamp of approval on things un-Biblical. The most recent being a video presentation on Biola’s YouTube by Phileena Heuertz. She gave a presentation on, you guessed it, contemplative prayer.

In a question directed at Mrs. Heuertz elsewhere, Janice Kraus asks:

  • “I am trying to learn more about ‘Who I am’ and starting to use Mediation for purpose of changing my ways of thinking : Do you have any links for this and How can I find out who am I?”

Mrs. Heuertz responds:

  • dear janice, thanks for your honesty. i think we will all spend the rest of our life learning more about who we are. if you like to read, i recommend books by Henri Nouwen, Thomas Keating, Richard Rohr to support your journey. you can also check out my website at www.phileena.com for a list of recommended books and various blog posts that may assist you. ~be well. breath deep.

This response alone is telling. As is her recommended reading list from her site, it is a who’s who of New Age influence and Eastern metaphysics in the guise of Christianese. For instance, let’s deal JUST with Henri Nouwen whom she recommended above, and I wish to quote from my chapter on this topic, IN WHICH I quote from David Cloud’s book (pp. 317-321), Contemplative Mysticism: A Powerful Ecumenical Bond (Port Huron, MI: Way of Life Literature, 2008). It touches on a few other characters as well in Phileena’s reading list, like Sue Monk Kidd, but Nouwen’s alignment not with the Good News, but with Eastern metaphysics becomes clear:


QUOTE


Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932-1996) was a Roman Catholic priest who taught at Harvard, Yale, and the University of Notre Dame. Nouwen has had a vast influence within the emerging church and evangelicalism at large through his writings, and he has been an influential voice within the contemplative movement. A Christian Century magazine survey conducted in 2003 found that Nouwen’s writings were a first choice for Catholic and mainline Protestant clergy….

Nouwen did not instruct his readers that one must be born again through repentance and personal faith in Jesus Christ in order to commune with God. The book With Open Hands, for example, instructs readers to open themselves up to God and surrender to the flow of life, believing that God loves them unconditionally and is leading them. This is blind faith.

“When we pray, we are standing with our hands open to the world. We know that God will become known to us in the nature around us, in people we meet, and in situations we run into. We trust that the world holds God’s secret within and we expect that secret to be shown to us” (With Open Hands, 2006, p. 47).

Nouwen did not instruct his readers to beware of false spirits and to test everything by the Scriptures. He taught them, rather, to trust that God is leading in and through all things and that they should “test” things by their own “vision.” Nouwen claimed that contemplative meditation is necessary for an intimacy with God:

“I do not believe anyone can ever become a deep person without stillness and silence” (quoted by Chuck Swindoll, So You Want to Be Like Christ, p. 65).

He taught that the use of a mantra could take the practitioner into God’s  presence.

...Nouwen's Last Book

At the end of his life, in the last book he ever wrote (Sabbatical Journey), Henri Nouwen said the following:

  • Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God.

Even though such a statement does not at all fit within biblical Christianity, and in essence denies the very foundation of Christ’s work on the Cross, Henri Nouwen is touted as a great spiritual figure by countless Christian leaders, pastors, seminary professors, etc.

(A response from the editor at Lighthouse Trails)

“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” (The Way of the Heart, p. 81).

He said that mysticism and contemplative prayer can create ecumenical unity because Christian leaders learn to hear “the voice of love”:

“Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen to the voice of love. … For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral to the mystical is required” (In the Name of Jesus, pp. 6, 31, 32).

In fact, if Christians are listening to the voice of the true and living God, they will learn that love is obedience to the Scriptures. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3).

Nouwen, like Thomas Merton and many other Catholic contemplatives, combined the teaching of eastern gurus with ancient Catholic practices. In his book Pray to Live Nouwen describes approvingly Merton’s heavy involvement with Hindu monks (pp. 19-28).

In his foreword to Thomas Ryan’s book Disciplines for Christian Living, Nouwen 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 and does not hesitate to bring that wisdom home” (Disciplines for Christian Living, p. 2).

Nouwen taught a form of universalism and panentheism (God is in all things).

  • “The God who dwells in our inner sanctuary is the same as the one who dwells in the inner sanctuary of each human being” (Here and Now, p. 22).
  • “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” (Bread for the Journey, 1997, Jan. 15 and Nov. 16).

He claimed that every person who believes in a higher power and follows his or her vision of the future is of God and is building God’s kingdom:

  • “We can see the visionary in the guerilla fighter, in the youth with the demonstration sign, in the quiet dreamer in the corner of a cafe, in the soft-spoken monk, in the meek student, in the mother who lets her son go his own way, in the father who reads to his child from a strange book, in the smile of a girl, in the indignation of a worker, and in every person who in one way or another dreams life from a vision which is seen shining ahead and which surpasses everything ever heard or seen before” (With Open Hands, p. 113).
  • “Praying means breaking through the veil of existence and allowing yourself to be led by the vision which has become real to you. Whether we call that vision ‘the Unseen Reality,’ ‘the total Other,’ ‘the Spirit,’ or ‘the Father,’ we repeatedly assert that it is not we ourselves who possess the power to make the new creation come to pass. It is rather a spiritual power which has been given to us and which empowers us to be in the world without being of it” (p. 114).

The radical extent of Nouwen’s universalism is evident by the fact that the second edition of With Open Hands has a foreword by Sue Monk Kidd. She is a New Ager who promotes worship of the goddess! Her book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine was published in 1996, a decade before she was asked to write the foreword to Nouwen’s book on contemplative prayer. Monk Kidd worships herself.

  • “Today I remember that event for the radiant mystery it was, how I felt myself embraced by Goddess, how I felt myself in touch with the deepest thing I am. It was the moment when, as playwright and poet Ntozake Shange put it, ‘I found god in myself/ and I loved her/ I loved her fiercely (The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, p. 136).
  • “Over the altar in my study I hung a lovely mirror sculpted in the shape of a crescent moon. It reminded me to honor the Divine Feminine presence in myself, the wisdom in my own soul” (p. 181).

Sue Monk Kidd’s journey from the traditional Baptist faith (as a Sunday School teacher in a Southern Baptist congregation) to goddess worship began when she started delving into Catholic contemplative spirituality, practicing centering prayer and attending Catholic retreats.

Nouwen taught that God is only love, unconditional love.

“Don’t  be afraid to offer your hate, bitterness, and disappointment to the One who is love and only love. … [Pray] `Dear God, … what you want to give me is love–unconditional, everlasting love”’ (With Open Hands, pp. 24, 27).

In fact, God’s love is not unconditional. It is unfathomable but not unconditional. Though God loves all men and Christ died to make it possible for all to be saved, there is a condition for receiving God’s love and that is acknowledging and repenting of one’s sinfulness and receiving Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Saviour.

Further, God is not only love; He is also holy and just and light and truth. This is what makes the cross of Jesus Christ necessary. An acceptable atonement had to be made for God’s broken law.

In his last book Nouwen said:

“Today I personally believe that while Jesus came to open the door to God’s house, all human beings can walk through that door, whether they know about Jesus or not. Today I see it as my call to help every person claim his or her own way to God” (Sabbatical Journey, New York: Crossroad, 1998, p. 51).


UNQUOTE


This radical rejection of the major tenants of the Christian Worldview, and acceptance of major tenants within Eastern metaphysics causes all sorts of interpretive problems for Phileena. Take for instance her understanding of the clear thesis/antithesis Jesus sets up in comparing His mission and how the world should understand the absolute worldview entwined in that mission. Here is a great Commentary on these words spoken of in Matthew 7:13:

Enter ye in at the strait gate,…. By the “strait gate” is meant Christ himself; who elsewhere calls himself “the door”, John 10:7 as he is into the church below, and into all the ordinances and privileges of it; as also to the Father, by whom we have access unto him, and are let into communion with him, and a participation of all the blessings of grace; yea, he is the gate of heaven, through which we have boldness to enter into the holiest of all by faith and hope now; as there will be hereafter an abundant entrance into the kingdom and glory of God, through his blood and righteousness. This is called “strait”; because faith in Christ, a profession of it, and a life and conversation agreeable to it, are attended with many afflictions, temptations, reproaches, and persecutions. “Entering” in at it is by faith, and making a profession of it: hence it follows, that faith is not the gate itself, but the grace, by which men enter in at the right door, and walk on in Christ, as they begin with him. (Source)

Here is how Phileena sees it, and it is more about her and her experience than about Jesus and the source for grace:

What makes this personalizing Jesus’ message all-the-more odd is that in reality Phileena believes in some form of universalism — and we know this by the authors and people whom she recommends as well as posting a video of Thomas Keating recently (a small portion of which is below, right) on her front-page of her blog. Making one wonder how universalism is now understood as the narrow way? For instance, let us now deal with Thomas Keating’s universalism:

A KUNDALINI BREAK

This short video sample is from Chapter 6 and Chapter 8 of our video, The Submerging Church. It goes into how the Emergent Church are bringing the Contemplative Prayer, Mysticism and New Age practices into the church.


QUOTE


…Keating combines contemplative practices with humanistic psychology, eastern religion, and New Age, and he has been deeply influenced by his pagan associations.

He believes that man has a “false self” built up through one’s life experiences and this false self is filled with guilt because of a false sense of sin and separation from God. The guilt supposedly is not real and the false self is “an illusion.” The objective of contemplative techniques is to reach beyond this false self to the true self that is sinless and guiltless and already in union with God.

This is a universalistic doctrine that denies the fall and salvation through faith in the substitutionary atonement of Christ.

Keating says:

“As we evolve toward self-identity and full self-consciousness, so grows the sense of responsibility, and hence guilt, and so grows the sense of alienation from the true self which has long ago been forgotten in the course of the early growth period. This whole process of growth normally takes place without the inner experience of the divine presence. That is the crucial source of the false self. … THERE’S NOTHING BASICALLY WRONG WITH YOU, it’s just that YOUR BASIC GOODNESS has been overlaid by emotional programs for happiness which are aimed at things other than the ultimate happiness which is your relationship with God” (Keating interview with Kate Olson, “Centering Prayer as Divine Therapy,” Trinity News, Trinity Church in the City, New York City, volume 42, issue 4, 1995).

Keating describes thoughtless meditative prayer in Hindu terms as being united with God in a mindless experience.

“Contemplative prayer is the opening of mind and heart, our whole being, to God, the Ultimate Mystery, BEYOND THOUGHTS, WORDS, AND EMOTIONS. It is a process of interior purification THAT LEADS, IF WE CONSENT, TO DIVINE UNION” (Keating interview with Kate Olson, “Centering Prayer as Divine Therapy,” Trinity News, Trinity Church in the City, New York City, volume 42, issue 4, 1995).

Keating describes centering prayer is “a journey into the unknown” (Open Mind, Open Heart, p. 72).

Keating wrote the foreword to Philip St. Romain’s strange and very dangerous book Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality (1990). Keating says, “Kundalini is an enormous energy for good,” but also admits that it can be harmful….

….He recommends that kundalini “be directed by the Holy Spirit.” He postulates that the meditative prayer practices of Catholic mystics such as Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross might have been associated with kundalini energy. Keating concludes by saying: “This book will initiate Christians on the spiritual journey into this important but long neglected dimension of the transforming power of grace.”

Kundalini is a Hindu concept that there is powerful form of psychic energy at the base of the spine that can be “awakened.” It is called the serpent, is purely occultic, and has resulted in many demonic manifestations.

[….]

Keating and the Snowmass Conference published eight “Guidelines for Interreligious Understanding,” including the following.

✦ The world religions bear witness to the experience of Ultimate reality to which they give various names: Brahman, Allah, Absolute, God, Great Spirit.

✦ Ultimate Reality cannot be limited to any name or concept.

✦ The potential for human wholeness–or in other frames of reference, enlightenment, salvation, transformation, blessedness, nirvana–is present in every human person.

✦ Prayer is communion with Ultimate Reality, whether it is regarded as personal, impersonal or beyond them both

This is blatant universalism, and it is fruit of contemplative spirituality and interfaith dialogue. 

Keating is past president of the Temple of Understanding, founded in 1960 by Juliet Hollister. The mission of this New Age organization is to “create a more just and peaceful world” by achieving “peaceful coexistence among individuals, communities, and societies.” The tools for reaching this objective are interfaith education, dialogue, mystical practices, fostering mutual appreciation and tolerance, and promotion of the contempt of global citizenship. ….


UNQUOTE


This goes a long way to show that Phileena parrots (see right) the universalist line that incorporates Eastern metaphysics into its ethos. And it should be yet ANOTHER wake up call to Biola… the question is, who is listening over there?

In another portion of a video presentation by Phileena, she mentions the types of prayers under contemplative practices, as well as giving a partial history or etymology of the practice. She forgot, however, to include that before the desert mothers and fathers the practice came first through/from India through Alexandria, to these early “mystics.”

Ray Yungen makes this point in his excellent article, “THE DESERT FATHERS – BORROWING FROM THE EAST


QUOTE


….In the early Middle Ages, there lived a group of hermits in the wilderness areas of the Middle East. They are known to history as the Desert Fathers. They dwelt in small isolated communities for the purpose of devoting their lives completely to God without distraction. The contemplative movement traces its roots back to these monks who promoted the mantra as a prayer tool. One meditation scholar made this connection when he said:

The meditation practices and rules for living of these earliest Christian monks bear strong similarity to those of their Hindu and Buddhist renunciate brethren several kingdoms to the East … the meditative techniques they adopted for finding their God suggest either a borrowing from the East or a spontaneous rediscovery.

Many of the Desert Fathers, in their zeal, were simply seeking God through trial and error. A leading contemplative prayer teacher candidly acknowledged the haphazard way the Desert Fathers acquired their practices:

...Seekers or Finders?

…Thomas Keating who teaches on centering prayer explains, “He is acquainted with eastern methods of meditation …and writes “many serious seekers of truth study the eastern religions,…”

But a Christian is no longer a seeker but a possessor of the truth – when he walks by the word of God and in the Spirit. A believer in Christ does not call himself a spiritual seeker (beginner or seasoned) they have found the truth in Jesus Christ. But this is what the emergent movement is about, they are restless not finding peace in Christ they continue their spiritual journey

(From Let Us Reason ministries)

They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, “May we learn about this new teaching you’re speaking of? For what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these ideas mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new. Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed:

  • TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.

Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.

(Acts 17:19-23)

It was a time of great experimentation with spiritual methods. Many different kinds of disciplines were tried, some of which are too harsh or extreme for people today. Many different methods of prayer were created and explored by them.

Attempting to reach God through occult mystical practices will guarantee disaster. The Desert Fathers of Egypt were located in a particularly dangerous locale at that time to be groping around for innovative approaches to God, because as one theologian pointed out:

[D]evelopment of Christian meditative disciplines should have begun in Egypt because much of the intellectual, philosophical, and theological basis of the practice of meditation in Christianity also comes out of the theology of Hellenic and Roman Egypt. This is significant because it was in Alexandria that Christian theology had the most contact with the various Gnostic speculations which, according to many scholars, have their roots in the East, possibly in India.

Consequently, the Desert Fathers believed as long as the desire for God was sincere–anything could be utilized to reach God. If a method worked for the Hindus to reach their gods, then Christian mantras could be used to reach Jesus. A current practitioner and promoter of the Desert Fathers’ mystical prayer still echoes the logical formulations of his mystical ancestors:

In the wider ecumenism of the Spirit being opened for us today, we need to humbly accept the learnings of particular Eastern religions … What makes a particular practice Christian is not its source, but its intent … this is important to remember in the face of those Christians who would try to impoverish our spiritual resources by too narrowly defining them. If we view the human family as one in God’s spirit, then this historical cross-fertilization is not surprising … selective attention to Eastern spiritual practices can be of great assistance to a fully embodied Christian life.

Do you catch the reasoning here? Non-Christian sources, as avenues to spiritual growth, are perfectly legitimate in the Christian life, and if Christians only practice their Christianity based on the Bible, they will actually impoverish their spirituality. This was the thinking of the Desert Fathers. So as a result, we now have contemplative prayer. Jesus addressed this when he warned His disciples: “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions, as the heathen do.” (Matthew 6:7)

It should be apparent that mantra meditation or sacred word prayer qualifies as “vain repetition” and clearly fits an accurate description of the point Jesus was making. Yet in spite of this, trusted evangelical Christians have often pronounced that Christian mysticism is different from other forms of mysticism (such as Eastern or occult) because it is focused on Jesus Christ….


UNQUOTE


So again, to be clear, Biola is pushing a form of Eastern Metaphysics and universalism onto its student body.

How sad! Where is the adherence to the word and Jesus’ own warnings? Or does experience trump all else in Western Christianity?

The best resource in one-place on this topic is Lighthouse Trails. They have the most books, articles, and media on the matter. Apprising Ministries as well has a in-depth “category” section that helps narrow down topics and people in the movement (right hand column of their site). I recommend also my review of a book used at Biola, as well as my reasons for leaving a church after 12-years of investment (this post is a bit choppy, I apologize). Also, I recommend highly my chapter from my book on the matter as well, it is entitled “Emergen[t]Cy – Investigating Post Modernism In Evangelical Thought.”

UPDATES will appear below here and may include my thoughts to comments made about the above post from FaceBook or elsewhere (I may edit a bit my remarks to make understanding here easier):


UPDATES


M.S. mentioned the following:

  • I am a current student at Biola and have not currently nor ever experienced what this article suggests. That does not mean it does not happen, but I have not witnessed it.

I respond:

I imagine that like in most large universities there is a divide… Like in the apologetics program — I doubt this topic will come up at all, but in the Biblical counseling or psychology type classes I bet this is touched on. In fact, a pastor showed me a book he was using in the classroom there (offered to let me borrow it, I got a used copy instead). He couldn’t see anything wrong with it, so I wrote about all the “wrongs” in it for him: “A Seven Day Journey with Thomas Merton” (http://tinyurl.com/cfalael). The book wasn’t being taught — at Biola — with a critical eye or a discerning spirit… but as wholly acceptable.

Mind you, when I had this discussion I had recently left my church of twelve years for getting elbow deep into the emergent movement. I tried to hang in there for a year, had a few discussions with the pastor, whom I knew and respect still, but the last straw came when the men’s college class started using the book “Irresistible Revolution,” by Shane Claiborne, with a forward by Jim Wallace.

So while I am not on campus at Biola and am not intimate with the vibe… I can tell you that most practices of centering prayer and the like are not founded in solid Biblical practice but as Ken Kaisch (quoted by Ray Yungen — linked in my post) said:

It was a time of great experimentation with spiritual methods. Many different kinds of disciplines were tried, some of which are too harsh or extreme for people today. Many different methods of prayer were created and explored by them.

I went through to my Masters and only encountered it (this emergent influence) in my last semester of Biblical counseling. Until then it was all kosher! Even the mandatory books on the syllabus for the class were fine. But the books recommended at the bottom that were not mandatory but recommended, kicked off my four-year-long study of the issues at hand.

I am glad you haven’t encountered it as of yet ~ The Angels Smile.

But the chapel at Biola didn’t have Phileena in like they would a “Sam Harris” in or “Richard Dawkins,” someone they are clear about being un-Biblical in their view, but want to have a debate, a thesis/antithesis, or a “hey guys, we do not advocate this, but you should know about it”... type “warning.” No, this is pushed as mainstream.

QUESTION [for you] M.S. — I would be curious what your professors think about Richard Foster? Maybe over the next few months just bring him up in general conversation with folks on campus, get a vibe from them… and then message me and we will talk about it. I have noticed Foster is a good dividing line to show if people are really using the Word for doctrine and reproof, the testing of spirits (2 Timothy 3:16; 1 John 4:1). I would love to hear back from your sociological experiment.

Book “Review” ~ A Seven Day Journey with Thomas Merton

Why This Post? I was attending a church recently after leaving a church my family and I attended for 12-years. I really enjoyed the people, the teaching, and the like at this church and was settling in a bit. They offered good solid food. But in conversation with an elder/assistant pastor about his schooling at Biola’s graduate school, a couple “red-flags” went up for me. This elder/assistant pastor stopped me when I mentioned Thomas Merton’s name during our discussion of my reasons for leaving my previous church. He mentioned he could not see anything wrong with Merton, and was even reading a book assigned to him in his graduate class at a Christian university. He offered to loan it to me, I politely opted to buy my own for inclusion in my library. This is the review of the book and the reason I left THAT church… for leadership to read through this book and not see a conflict with the Christian worldview means they do not understand the Christian worldview well. Well enough to Shepard that is.

  • UPDATED. While I am certain that my church of 12-years is still a place where I would not recommend people go… I would not hold that same reservation for this church, which is why I have removed it’s name and link from this post. I trust the people who are on staff there. It was very close to the time I had deep doctrinal concerns with my long-time church and I am sure I could have worked out — and taught why these differences matter that are so apparent in this review.

(Originally posted at RPT at Blogspot 3-18-2010.)  As I have studied this subject and getting into some of the characters involved — many Catholic — I have thought to myself, is this reaching out in contemplative prayer a form of works? Does it make man the prime mover towards God as all too often many of the rituals in works oriented beliefs do. As I read along with Thomas Merton and other contemplatives, this thought became solidified for me. These Catholic monks and persons who separated themselves from society created many ritualistic works to commune with God (breath prayer, contemplative prayer, lectio divina, silence [which differs from physical solitude], palms up palms down, whatever).Merton Drawn As the Buddhist He Was

Instead of going the way of Reformation using the Bible as their guide, studying the many Protestant Reformers and changing Catholic doctrine, praxology, and the like; thus, allowing God through Christ to fulfill in them the finished work that they try to achieve daily. Instead, they choose a pagan form of “freedom.” This freedom is called “darkness” by Merton (Chapter 5 in Merton’s Contemplative Prayer).

David Cloud, whom I find a bit legalistic, nevertheless shines through on this particular topic by documenting various works found in Catholicism. Lets just focus on one of them, the Mass:[1]

What could be more mystical than touching God with your hands and taking Him into your very being by eating him in the form of a wafer? In the Mass the strangely-clothed, mysterious priest (ordained after the order of Melchisedec) pronounces words that mystically turn a wafer of unleavened bread into the very body of Jesus. The consecrated wafer, called a host (meaning victim) is eaten by the people.

The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice … ‘In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and offered in an unbloody manner (New Catholic Catechism, 1367) “In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord…. reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession” (New Catholic Catechism, 1378).

On some occasions one larger host is placed in a gaudy metal holder called a monstrance to be worshipped (“adored”) as God. This is called Eucharistic adoration.Eventually the host is placed in its own little tabernacle as the focus of worship between Masses. A lamp or a candle is lit to signify the fact that the consecrated host is present.This highly mystical ritual is multisensory, involving touch (dipping the finger into holy water and touching the wafer), sight (the splendor of the church, the priestly garments, the instruments of the Mass), smell (incense), hearing (reading, chanting, bells), and taste (eating the wafer).

The Mass is even said to bring the participant into “divine union” like other forms of contemplative mysticism (Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, book IV, chap. 15, 4, p. 210).

The Second Vatican Council reaffirmed the centrality of the Mass in Catholic life:

“The celebration of the Mass … is the centre of the whole Christian life for the universal Church, the local Church and for each and every one of the faithful. For therein is the culminating action whereby God sanctifies the world in Christ and men worship the Father as they adore him through Christ the Son of God” (Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, edited by Austin Flannery, 1975, “The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, General Instruction on the Roman Missal,” chap. 1, 1, p. 159).

The Catholic Mass is not a mere remembrance of Christ’s death; it is a re-sacrifice of Christ, and the consecrated host IS Christ. Consider statements from the authoritative Council of Trent, Second Vatican Council, and the New Catholic Catechism.”There is, therefore, no room for doubt that all the faithful of Christ may, in accordance with a custom always received in the Catholic Church, give to this most holy sacrament in veneration the worship of latria, which is due to the true God” (The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, translated by H. J. Schroeder, chap. v, “The Worship and Veneration to be Shown to This Most Holy Sacrament,” p. 76).”The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different. And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and offered in an unbloody manner… this sacrifice is truly propitiatory” (Council of Trent, Doctrina de ss. Missae sacrificio, c. 2, quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1367).

[….]

Before David Cloud ends the section on the Mass and jumps into his section on Labryinths, he finishes off his thinking with another example:

In the 1990s I visited a cloistered nunnery in Quebec. A pastor friend took me with him when he visited his aunt who had lived there for many decades. He and his wife wanted to show the nun their new baby. She wasn’t allowed to come out into the meeting room to see us; she had to stay behind a metal grill and talk to us from there. The nuns pray in shifts before the consecrated host in the chapel. That is their Jesus and the object of their prayers. At the entrance of the chapel there was a sign that said, “YOU ARE ENTERING TO ADORE THE JESUS-HOST.” Nuns were sitting in the chapel facing the host and praying their rosaries and saying their prayers to Mary and their “Our Fathers” and other repetitious mantras, vainly and sadly whiling away their lives in ascetic apostasy.

These work based religions can be dangerous for the soul; these practices of prayer as Thomas Merton lays out can be equally dangerous.

An example of this type of meditative practices leading to demonic presences masquerading as spirit guides can be found in Johanna Michaelsen’s book, The Beautiful Side of Evil.  Johanna got involved in meditation and New Age/Eastern teachings and soon was being guided by multiple spirit guides, one of them being Jesus.[2] Who wouldn’t want to be lead by Jesus personally? Truly there is a way that seems right to a man but ultimately leads to deaths door (Proverbs 14:12).

How does Johanna’s experience connect in any way to Merton? If this technique were really a form a meditation influenced by Eastern practices leading to altered states of consciousness, you would expect some sort of warning about it if trying to Christianize it. Bingo.

Serious mistakes can be made…. when a person thinks he has attained to a certain facility in contemplation, he may find himself getting all kinds of strange ideas and he may, what is more, cling to them with a fierce dedication, convinced that they are supernatural graces and signs of God’s blessing upon his efforts when, in fact, they simply show that he has gone off the right track and is perhaps in rather serious danger…. Hence the traditional importance, in monastic life, of the “spiritual father,” who may be the abbot or another experienced monk capable of guiding the beginner in the ways of prayer, and of immediately detecting any sign of misguided zeal and wrong-headed effort. Such a one should be listened to and obeyed, especially when he cautions against the use of certain methods and practices, which he sees to be out of place and harmful in a particular case, or when he declines to accept certain “experiences” as evidence of progress.[3]

The above quote/book by Thomas Merton has the introduction written by Thich Nhat Hanh, who is a Zen Buddhist Monk. Mentioned quite a few times as well is Abbe J. Monchanin (Swami Parama Arubi Ananda), who founded a “Christian” Ashram. Which brings me to the reason for this post.  A pastor asked me to read Esther de Waal’s book, A Seven Day Journey with Thomas Merton.

This pastor recommended the book as a healthier presentation of Merton  than my previously posted biographical insights via RPT (see: Part I, Part II, Part III). I was happy to hear of a book that may correct some of my faulty thinking on the matter. I was open to view a book that would allay some of my fears, dare I say paranoia, that Eastern meditative practices had so infected the Evangelical denominations through this monk by combining panantheism with Christianity.

As I read along alI was fine until page 14, where there started to be talk of “silence.” Silence, as Merton teaches, is not merely seclusion, but an emptying of the mind. The book often mentioned by these contemplatives, The Cloud of Unknowing, talks at length about this emptying – it’s called: this darkness, this nothingness, this nowhere, the blind experience of contemplative love. David Cloud documents some quotes from this book the Desert Fathers were very enthralled by. (I wish to quickly make the point that about the time these “Desert Fathers” were writing in the area of Egypt they resided, so too were the Gnostics [same area as well] writing their poison that still lives-on today in the Word Faith movement, in the Emergent movement, and various cults and the occult, Freemasonry as an example):[4]

Do all in your power to forget everything else, keeping your thoughts and desires free from involvement with any of God’s creatures or their affairs whether in general or in particular … pay no attention to them” (The Cloud of Unknowing, edited by William Johnston, Image Books, 1973, chapter 3, p. 48).

Thought cannot comprehend God. And so, I prefer to abandon all I can know, choosing rather to love him whom I cannot know. … By love he may be touched and embraced, never by thought. … in the real contemplative work you must set all this aside and cover it over with a cloud of forgetting” (chapter 6, pp. 54, 55).”…

dismiss every clever or subtle thought no matter how holy or valuable. Cover it over with a thick cloud of forgetting because in this life only love can touch God as he is in himself, never knowledge” (chapter 8, pp. 59, 60).”

So then, you must reject all clear conceptualizations whenever they arise, as they inevitably will, during the blind work of contemplative love. … Therefore, firmly reject all clear ideas, however pious or delightful” (chapter 9, p. 60).

The Book of Privy Counseling, written by the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, says:

reject all thoughts, be they good or be they evil” (The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counseling, edited by William Johnston, Image Books, 1973, chapter 1, p. 149).

A mantra is the key to entering the non-thinking mode. The practitioner is taught to choose “a sacred word” such as love or God and repeat it until the mind is emptied and carried away into a non-thinking communion with God at the center of one’s being.

“… the little word is used in order to sweep all images and thoughts from the mind, leaving it free to love with the blind stirring that stretches out toward God” (William Johnston, The Cloud of Unknowing, introduction, p. 10).

The practitioner is taught that he must not think on the meaning of the word.

“… choose a short word … a one-syllable word such as ‘God’ or `love’ is best. … Then fix it in your mind so that it will be your defense in conflict and in peace. Use it to beat upon the cloud of darkness above you and to subdue all distractions, consigning them to the cloud of forgetting beneath you. … If your mind begins to intellectualize over the meaning and connotations of this little word, remind yourself that its value lies in its simplicity. Do this and I assure you these thoughts will vanish” (The Cloud of Unknowing, chapter 7, p. 56).

“… focus your attention on a simple word such as sin or God … and without the intervention of analytical thought allow yourself to experience directly the reality it signifies. Do not use clever logic to examine or explain this word to yourself nor allow yourself to ponder its ramifications … I do not believe reasoning ever helps in the contemplative work. This is why I advise you to leave these words whole, like a lump, as it were” (The Cloud of Unknowing, chapter 36, p. 94).

The attempt to achieve a mindless mystical condition through a mantra can produce a hypnotic state and open one to demonic activity. Even if you don’t consciously try to lose the meaning of the word, it quickly becomes lost to the mind. Ray Yungen, who has done extensive and excellent research into the New Age, explains:

“When a word or phrase is repeated over and over, after just a few repetitions, those words lose their meaning and become just sounds. … After three or four times, the word can begin to lose its meaning, and if this repeating of words were continued, normal thought processes could be blocked, making it possible to enter an altered state of consciousness because of the hypnotic effect that begins to take place. It really makes no difference whether the words are ‘You are my God’ or ‘I am calm,’ the results are the same” (A Time of Departing, p. 150).

Catholic contemplative master Anthony de Mello agrees. He says:

“A Jesuit friend who loves to dabble in such things … assures me that, through constantly saying to himself ‘one-two-three-four’ rhythmically, he achieves the same mystical results that his more religious conferees claim to achieve through the devout and rhythmical recitation of some ejaculation. And I believe him” (Sadhana: A Way to God, pp. 33, 34).

Across from the reference to “silence” on page 14 of The Seven Day Journey we find the following photo on page 15 (to the right):

I told myself that maybe I was being too paranoid and that this photo Merton took was just of an old wagon wheel and had nothing to do with Eastern meditative practices encapsulated in the Wheel of Life. So I told myself to give it a chance, so I put page 14 and 15 out of my mind. Okay. Page 16 mentions repeating words in a mantra, something Catholics are use to, even in light of Matthew 6:7. Again I put it aside. When I got to page 26 however, all these thoughts reemerged with this:

From then on Merton never stopped writing. Books, articles, poems, flowed from his pen. He wrote books of meditation, books about the monastic life, books on issues of peace and war, books on Zen and the east.[5]

My thoughts were back to that wheel. I remembered where I had seen it before — So I flipped the book closed and there on the cover was where that wheel sat (see photo above), confirming my thought that Merton truly believed what he said when he said “I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity. I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can.” Now I was back to my comparative religious mindset. Mind you it only took me 26-pages to resume this thinking. On page 32 (SDJw/TM) the Desert Fathers are mentioned, keep in mind that the progression of their practices and Merton’s lifting them up for modern consumption looks like this:

Biblical vs Contemplative Revelatory Progression by Papa Giorgio

This reference to the Desert Fathers in his Contemplative Prayer book and Esther de Waal mentioning that Merton loved the Desert Fathers (42) is troublesome to me. Loving the Desert Fathers is a “ding” in my book, especially considering the other biographies I put together (see: Part I, Part II, Part III). There are offensive theological and philosophical positions throughout SDJw/TM. However, I wanted to point out a big one or two that take an Eastern slant (there are positions in this book that fly in the face of Reformational thinking that undergirds Protestantism as well) — On pages 66 and 68 we find the following:

The meditation on the power of Christ continues as Merton now leads us more deeply into a rediscovery, a recognition of the Christ in the Trinity and in each one of us.

Christianity is life and wisdom in Christ,

It is a return to the Father in Christ.

It is a return to the infinite abyss of pure reality in which our own reality is grounded

and in which we exist.

It is a return to the source of all meaning and all truth.

It is a rediscovery of paradise within our own spirit, by self-forgetfulness.

And, because of our oneness with Christ,

It is the recognition of ourselves as sons and daughters of the Father. It is the recognition of ourselves as other Christs.

It is the awareness of strength and love imparted to us by the

miraculous presence of the Nameless and Hidden One

Whom we call the Holy Spirit.

[….]

Writing to the Zen scholar Daisetz Suzuki he speaks of Christ within:

about his own hidden spiritual life. Writing to the Zen scholar Daisetz Suzuki he speaks of the Christ within.

The Christ we seek is within us,

in our inmost self,

is our inmost self,

and yet infinitely transcends ourselves.

Christ himself is in us as unknown and unseen.

We follow Him,

we find Him,

and then He must vanish,

and we must go along without Him at our side. Why?

Because He is even closer than that.

He is ourself.

In case you didn’t catch it, those two quotes are very New Age’ish. There is a bit of universalism involved because this God-consciousness indwells all. De Waal tells a story Merton shared:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realisation that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers . . . Then it was as though I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could see themselves as they really are.

She continues with a different quote, same page:

I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realise what we all are. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

Taken by itself of course, the above would be hard to make a case from. Taken as a whole however, it is pretty damning. I am not done however, I love this upcoming page. It made me wonder how pastors think of this page in light of all the evidence as a whole, especially conservative Reformed and Evangelical pastors. What contortions do they need to go through in order to make this philosophy fit with the inerrant Word of God. To me it must be mind-boggling! Feelings and emotions [e.g., these practices “make me feel good,” or, “give me the feeling of being closer to God.” Aside from feelings, how do they compare to the Word of God?] must be imported into the equation to ease over the obvious heresies involved. Here is page 88:

One way of seeing Merton’s life is as ‘an odyssey towards unity’. His path towards healing and maturity was one of unification. He faced the opposites and the tensions within himself, and let them converge. In doing this he becomes a symbol of the way in which we have watched in the twentieth century the bringing together of East and West, of masculine and feminine, secular and religious. Merton’s interest in the East has at times been controversial. ‘We must contain all divided worlds in ourselves’ he once said. He learnt much in his later years from the study of Eastern thought and in particular from Zen. He spent five years studying texts from fourth and fifth century Taoist circles. He was attracted to them because he found there ‘a certain taste for simplicity, for humility, self-effacement, silence and in general a refusal to take seriously the aggressivity, the ambition, the pusg, the self-importance which one must display in order to get along in society.’ He also discovered here the role played by the central pivot through which passed Yes and No, I and non-I. Here he found the complementarily of opposites, and this became extremely important for him.

We see it in the yin-yang symbol [actual symbol from book].


Here then are light/dark, good/evil, masculine/feminine. The white and the black show that contradiction exists, and yet each flows into the other. At the start of each there is a small portion of the other. Taken separately each side appears contradictory; taken as a whole they flow together and become one dynamic unity.

How this could be taken as “normative” in a Christian’s life is beyond me. A page later we find this, “It is not a question of either-or but of all-in-one… of wholeness, wholeheartedness and unity… which finds the same ground of love in everything.” Hogwash! A couple of pages later (93) we find this as well, “It is an invitation to become part of that dance, in harmony with the whole universe…” Last I remember, the universe isn’t in harmony (Romans 8:22). What is presented to us in this book is not Christian theology, it is a mix of paganism and Catholicism — both of which are works oriented. Man trying to spread the gap between God and himself.  By-the-by, the forward to this book is by Henry Nouwen, another damning sign for those apologists who live by the Sword (Hebrews 4:12):

For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart. ~ HCSB

God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what. ~ The Message


 Footnotes:


[1] David Cloud, Contemplative Mysticism: A Powerful Ecumenical Bond (Port Huron, MI: Way of Life Literature, 2008), 85-89.

[2] (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1982), 85.

[3] Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer (New York, NY: Image/Doubleday, 1996), 35-36.

[4] Cloud, 64-66

[5] Esther de Waal, A Seven Day Journey with Thomas Merton (Ann Arbor, MI: Charis, 1992).