Archive | April 2015

LECTIO DIVINA (Sacred Reading – Part 2)


(Part 2) TAKEN FROM LHT Publications

LECTIO DIVINA-What it is, What it is not, and Should Christians Practice it?

LECTIO DIVINA—There’s a lot of talk about it today; umpteen books are published and more are on the way about lectio divina; and an increasing number of evangelical/Protestant figures are writing about it, endorsing it, and teaching it. Some people think lectio divina simply means to read a passage of Scripture slowly (or “praying the Scriptures”) then ponder or think on that Scripture. That can be a part of it. But if you ask mystics or contemplatives what it really entails (And who would know better than they?), they will tell you that lectio divina (pronounced lex-ee-o di-veen-a) always includes taking a passage of Scripture (or other writings), reading it slowly, and repeating it as you work your way down to where you have just a word or small phrase from the passage that you are “meditating” on (repeating over and over). Basically, you are coming up with a mantra-like word or phrase that has been extracted from a passage of Scripture, which, according to contemplatives, if repeated for several minutes, will help you get rid of thoughts and distractions, so then, they say, you can hear the voice of God and feel His presence (going into the silence).

There are said to be four steps in lectio divina. These four steps are:

Reading (lectio)—Slowly begin reading a biblical passage as if it were a long awaited love letter addressed to you. Approach it reverentially and expectantly, in a way that savors each word and phrase. Read the passage until you hear a word or phrase that touches you, resonates, attracts, or even disturbs you.

Reflecting (meditatio)—Ponder this word or phrase for a few minutes. Let it sink in slowly and deeply until you are resting in it. Listen for what the word or phrase is saying to you at this moment in your life, what it may be offering to you, what it may be demanding of you.

Expressing (oratio)—If you are a praying person, when you are ready, openly and honestly express to God the prayers that arise spontaneously within you from your experience of this word or phrase. These may be prayers of thanksgiving, petition, intercession, lament, or praise. If prayer is not part of your journey you could write down the thoughts that have come your way.

Resting (contemplatio)—Allow yourself to simply rest silently for a time in the stillness of your heart remaining open to the quiet fullness of God’s love and peace. This is like the silence of communion between the mother holding her sleeping infant child or between lovers whose communication with each other passes beyond words.1

Catholic priest and contemplative mysticism pioneer Thomas Keating explains what lectio divina is not in an article he has written titled “The Classical Monastic Practice of Lectio Divina.” He explains that lectio divina is NOT traditional Bible study, NOT reading the Scriptures for understanding and edification, and NOT praying the Scriptures (though praying the Scriptures can be a form of lectio divina when a word or phrase is taken from the Scriptures to focus on for the purpose of going into “God’s presence”).2 Keating says that lectio divina is an introduction into the more intense practices—contemplative prayer and centering prayer.

While some people think lectio divina is just reading Scripture slowly (and what’s wrong with that), it is the focusing on and repeating a word or small phrase to facilitate going into the “silence” that is the real danger. There is certainly nothing wrong with reading Scripture carefully and thoughtfully. Thoughtfully, we say. In eastern-style meditation (and in contemplative prayer) thoughts are the enemy. Eastern-style mystic Anthony De Mello describes this problem with thoughts in his book Sadhana: A Way to God:

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.3

Spiritual director Jan Johnson in her book, When the Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer also believes that thoughts get in the way, and the mind must be stilled:

Contemplative prayer, in its simplest form, is a prayer in which you still your thoughts and emotions and focus on God Himself. This puts you in a better state to be aware of God’s presence, and it makes you better able to hear God’s voice, correcting, guiding, and directing you.4

Mark Yaconelli, author of Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus, has this to say about lectio divina. Keep in mind that Yaconelli’s materials are used in evangelical/Protestant settings (e.g., colleges, seminaries, youth groups):

In order to practice lectio divina, select a time and place that is peaceful and in which you may be alert and prayer fully attentive. Dispose yourself for prayer in whatever way is natural for you. This may be a spoken prayer to God to open you more fully to the Spirit, a gentle relaxation process that focuses on breathing, singing or chanting, or simply a few minutes of silence to empty yourself of thoughts, images, and emotions.5

Research analyst Ray Yungen explains this silence that contemplative mystics seek:

When [Richard] Foster speaks of the silence, he does not mean external silence. In his book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Foster recommends the practice of breath prayer6—picking a single word or short phrase and repeating it in conjunction with the breath. This is classic contemplative mysticism. . . . In Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, [Foster] ties in a quote by one mystic who advised, “You must bind the mind with one thought”7 . . . I once related Foster’s breath prayer method to a former New Age devotee who is now a Christian. She affirmed this connection when she remarked with astonishment, “That’s what I did when I was into ashtanga yoga!”8

With lectio divina, the word or phrase one repeats eventually can lose its meaning, and this repetitive sound can start to put the practitioner into an altered mind state. Yungen tells us that:

Keeping the mind riveted on only one thought is unnatural and adverse to true reflection and prayer. Simple logic tells us the repeating of words has no rational value. For instance, if someone called you on the phone and just said your name or one phrase over and over, would that be something you found edifying? Of course not; you would hang up on him or her. Why would God feel otherwise? And if God’s presence is lacking, what is this presence that appears as light during meditation and infuses a counterfeit sense of divinity within?9

Yungen exhorts believers that: “the goal of prayer should not be to bind the mind with a word or phrase in order to induce a mystical trance but rather to use the mind to glory in the grace of God. This was the apostle Paul’s counsel to the various churches: ‘Study to shew thyself approved’ (2 Tim. 2:15) and ‘we pray always’ (2 Thessalonians 1:11) as in talking to God with both heart and mind.”10

In order to help those you care about stay clear of contemplative spirituality and spiritual deception, it is important for you to understand how lectio divina plays a significant role in leading people toward full blown meditative practices. And we propose that this “presence” that is reached during the “silent” altered states of consciousness from saying a word or phrase over and over (or focusing on the breath or an object) is not God’s presence. God has instructed us in the Bible not to perform “special kinds of process[es]” or “formula[s],”11 as Thomas Keating calls lectio divina, to induce mystical experiences (see Deuteronomy 18:9-11); thus, we believe ample warning about lectio divina is warranted.

In conclusion, lectio divina is a bridge to eastern-style meditation. If indeed, this is true, then it will lead Christians away from the message of the Cross and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and thus Christians should NOT practice lectio divina. Do you know where practices such as lectio divina took Thomas Keating in his spirituality? When you read the statement by him below, you can see the answer to this:

We should not hesitate to take the fruit of the age-old wisdom of the East and “capture” it for Christ. Indeed, those of us who are in ministry should make the necessary effort to acquaint ourselves with as many of these Eastern techniques as possible.

Many Christians who take their prayer life seriously have been greatly helped by Yoga, Zen, TM and similar practices, especially where they have been initiated by reliable teachers and have a solidly developed Christian faith to find inner form and meaning to the resulting experiences.12


1. Taken from:

2. Thomas Keating, “The Classical Monastic Practice of Lectio Divina”  (

3. Anthony de Mello, Sadhana: A Way to God (St. Louis, the Institute of Jesuit Resources, 1978), p. 28.

4. Jan Johnson, When the Soul Listens (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1999), p. 16.

5. Mark Yaconelli,

6. Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1992), p. 122.

7. Ibid., p. 124.

8. Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing (Eureka, MT: Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2006), p. 75.

9. Ibid., p. 76.

10. Ibid., p. 75.

11. Keating, “The Classical Monastic Practice of Lectio Divina,” op. cit.

12. M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating, Thomas E. Clarke, Finding Grace at the Center (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Pub., 1978), pp. 5-6

LECTIO DIVINA (Sacred Reading – Part 1)



Now that we finished the three part series on Contemplative Prayer and Spiritual Formation, we will move on to the next topic which has to do with how we understand and use God’s Word.  Again, what is popular today (especially by those within the Emerging Church) is an ancient method of biblical meditation on the Scriptures that has been practiced by CONTEMPLATIVE CATHOLICS three to four hundred years after the time of Christ.

Only recently, through the efforts of those like RICHARD FOSTER has lectio gained a an entry point among Protestants. Foster teaches that lectio is rooted in the ALLEGORICAL INTERPRETATION of Scripture that was common from the time of early church fathers such as ORIGEN up through the REFORMATION.  Foster believes that the pre-Reformation church saw an “interplay between God’s interpretative Spirit, our spirit and God’s inspiring Spirit that gave rise to the original text  – which later became known as lectio divina.

This approach to reading Scripture was one of the main issues at the time of the REFORMATION, with the Reformers returning to the original grammatical/historical method of understanding the Bible (Dr. G.Giley)

Like many of these ancient mystical practices, there are many variations to defining these practices.  We will spend several postings on looking at definitions used by different groups along with spelling out in more detail what this process involves.

For now, let’s open with a Roman Catholic view of defining lectio devina.  As with Contemplative Prayer and Formation, a common characteristic is the lack of Scriptural support for these practices.  Proponents will use some verses to support these practices but usually, they are taken out of context or they provide very thin reasoning from Scriptures requiring more imagination to accept these practices.  But, they do sound “religious” – which appeals to many Christians today.

As with Contemplative Prayer, we have looked at several ways in which proponents have pushed aside Scripture and instead include mystical approaches to spirituality by combining practices from other religions and philosophies.  The most common are practices that mimic Eastern Mysticism stemming from Eastern based religions in Asia including Buddhism and Hinduism.   Add to this elements of Gnosticism all combined with Christian sounding practices, and you end up with a growing trend in spirituality that have less in common with the Bible and more in common to other philosophies.  Some of these characteristics include concepts such as –

  • The Silence
  • Mystical Meditation,
  • Inward Focused Spirituality (inner world unity)
  • Mantras – Repetition of Words and Phrases,
  • Breathing Techniques, 
  • Contemplative Prayer
  • Spiritual Rhythm 
  • Centering Prayer
  • Deep or Deeper Experience
  • Sitting in a Comfortable Position 
  • Being in the Presence or Being Unified with God
  • Greater Emphasis on Experience over Understanding God’s Word

Here is an article which exemplifies many of these practices from a Roman Catholic perspective.  It also provides some basic explanations of lectio devina as a starting point.  See if you can identify any of these –

⇒ How to Practice Lectio Divina

A step-by-step guide to praying the Bible

BY: Father Luke Dysinger, O.S.B.

Lectio divina is a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures. Time set aside in a special way for lectio divina enables us to discover in our daily life an underlying spiritual rhythm. Within this rhythm, we discover an increasing ability to offer more of ourselves and our relationships to the Father, and to accept the embrace that God is continuously extending to us in the person of his son, Jesus Christ.

Very often our concerns, our relationships, our hopes and aspirations, naturally intertwine with our meditations on the Scriptures. We can attend “with the ear of our hearts” to our own memories, listening for God’s presence in the events of our lives. We experience Christ reaching out to us through our own memories. Our own personal story becomes salvation history.

How to Practice Lectio Divina

Choose a text of the Scriptures that you wish to pray. Many Christians use in their daily lectio divina one of the readings from the eucharistic liturgy for the day (find the readings here); others prefer to slowly work through a particular book of the Bible. It makes no difference which text is chosen, as long as one has no set goal of “covering” a certain amount of text. The amount of text covered is in God’s hands, not yours.

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.. For some, the practice known as “centering prayer” makes a good, brief introduction to lectio divina. Use whatever method is best for you and allow yourself to enjoy silence for a few moments.

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.” Do not expect lightning or ecstasies. In lectio divina, God is teaching us to listen to him, to seek him in silence. He does not reach out and grab us; rather, he gently invites us ever more deeply into his presence.

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. Do not be afraid of distractions. Memories or thoughts are simply parts of yourself that, when they rise up during lectio divina, are asking to be given to God along with the rest of your inner self. Allow this inner pondering, this rumination, to invite you into dialogue with God.

Speak to God. Whether you use words, ideas, or images–or all three–is not important. Interact with God as you would with one who you know loves and accepts you. And give to him what you have discovered during your experience of meditation. Experience God by using the word or phrase he has given you as a means of blessing and of transforming the ideas and memories that your reflection on his word has awakened. Give to God what you have found within your heart.

Rest in God’s embrace. And when he invites you to return to your contemplation of his word or to your inner dialogue with him, do so. 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.

Sometimes in lectio divina, you may return several times to the printed text, either to savor the literary context of the word or phrase that God has given or to seek a new word or phrase to ponder. At other times, only a single word or phrase will fill the whole time set aside for lectio divina. It is not necessary to assess anxiously the quality of your lectio divina, as if you were “performing” or seeking some goal. Lectio divina has no goal other than that of being in the presence of God by praying the Scriptures.

Lectio Divina as a Group Exercise

In the churches of the Third World, where books are rare, a form of corporate lectio divina is becoming common, in which a text from the Scriptures is meditated on by Christians praying together in a group.

This form of lectio divina works best in a group of between four and eight people. A group leader coordinates the process and facilitates sharing. The same text from the Scriptures is read out three times, followed each time by a period of silence and an opportunity for each member of the group to share the fruit of her or his lectio.

The first reading is for the purpose of hearing a word or passage that touches the heart. When the word or phrase is found, the group’s members take it in, gently recite it, and reflect on it during the silence that follows. After the silence, each person shares which word or phrase has touched his or her heart.

The second reading (by a member of the opposite sex from the first reader) is for the purpose of “hearing” or “seeing” Christ in the text. Each ponders the word that has touched the heart and asks where the word or phrase touches his or her life that day. Then, after the silence, each member of the group shares what he or she has “heard” or “seen.”

The third and final reading is for the purpose of experiencing Christ “calling us forth” into doing or being. Members ask themselves what Christ in the text is calling them to do or to become today or this week. After the silence, each shares for the last time, and the exercise concludes with each person praying for the person on the right of him or her.

Those who regularly practice this method of praying and sharing the Scriptures find it to be an excellent way of developing trust within a group. It also is an excellent way of consecrating projects and hopes to Christ before more-formal group meetings.

⇒ We will continue to look at this topic in our next posting.  An important conclusion from this brief introduction is that much of what is being promoted in the article such as this one is that it doesn’t have an abundance of Scripture to support it.  More concerning is the fact that there are more similarities with Eastern Mysticism.



The book’s description is as follows –

New Book on Thomas Merton

Make Peace before the Sun Goes Down: The Long Encounter of Thomas Merton and His Abbot, James Fox

In the 1950s and ’60s, Thomas Merton, a monk of the Trappist monastery of Gethsemani in Kentucky, published a string of books that are among the most influential spiritual books of the twentieth century—including the mega–best seller The Seven-Storey Mountain. He was something of a rock star for a cloistered monk, and from his monastic cell he enjoyed a wide and lively correspondence with people from the worlds of religion, literature, and politics. During that period he also explored and wrote extensively on Buddhism, Sufism, art, and social action. The man to whom he owed obedience in the cloistered life was a much more traditional Catholic, his abbot, Dom James Fox. To say that these two men had a conflicted relationship would be an understatement, but the tension their differences in orientation brought actually led to creative results on both sides and to a kind of hard-won respect and love. Roger Lipsey’s portrait of this unusual relationship is compelling and moving; it shows Merton in the years his imagination was taking him far beyond the walls of the monastery, and eventually, literally to Asia

When looking through books in the Christianity section of a local bookstore, it is not uncommon to see a few books published by Shambhala Publications.  Most authors from these books are not familiar to me.  But sometimes i see the following authors – Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Richard Rohr who are commonly considered Roman Catholic or Christian.

When I go Shambhala’s website, it quickly becomes apparent that the site is not a Christian based website.  The site brags itself in its counter-culture tradition and its book categories span the range of various New Age and Eastern Mysticism topics.  Common topics include meditation, mindfulness, Zen….etc.

However, one can find some books being offered with the word Christian in its title or in its descriptions.  But most of the handful of books offered are related mainly to Merton, Nouwen, and Rohr.  All three of these guys have some serious issues with combining New Age / Eastern Mysticism beliefs into Christianity.  These authors are popular today – especially within those who are influenced by the Emerging Church Movement.

For now, without getting into a deep theological discussion, but instead just thinking about a basic question which comes to mind – why does a non-Christian website containing a boat load of resources on Zen, Buddhism, Hinduism, New Age….etc, contain books either written by or about these three guys?

Well, there are several posts on this blog stream relating to these guys and their relationship to Eastern philosophies.  It is no surprise that these guys promote early Catholic Church mysticism and tradition.  As you probably well know by now, a common theme in several of these postings show the relationship between what many in the Emerging Church today call meditation are practices found in Eastern based religions and philosophies.

So, I think it is not an accident that these authors/teachers have resources which are being promoted by a non-Christian website.  If you think about the irony of that, it spells out a great deal of some of the major concerns that are affecting most Evangelical & mainline churches today – whether these churches realize it not.



The Church “Triumphantly” Dead

ChurchWhy are professing Christians so passive during an unprecedented encroachment of evil on Christian liberty in America?  There are the standard reasons.  They are apathetic, weak, backslidden, hypocritical, etcetera.   We could make a case for one or all of those things.

I also believe that many professing Christians abhor any negative information, especially what they believe to be “doom and gloom.”  They’ve shut their minds to everything relative to eschatology.  Thus, they cannot recognize historical precursors for full-scale violent persecution.  A large faction believes that Christ is going to “come and get us before all the bad stuff happens.”  They refuse to recognize that “bad stuff”, including the wanton slaughter of Christians, is already occurring in other nations.

However, I believe that there is another major underlying factor that may be responsible for all the other factors resulting in obstinate passivity.  And it is simple.  There is no threat to their status quo.

Most professing Christians “go to church” and listen to sermons.  That’s what they do to no viable end.  They get the family ready on Sunday morning and they head to a church building.  When they get back home, they put it behind them like a dental visit.  They watch sports on TV, go fishing, play golf, shop, and basically reward themselves for “doing church.”  Most of them do not attend the Sunday night meeting, if their church has one.  In other words, the Sunday morning event has minimal impact in their lives.  It simply satisfies the inherent urge to be religious.

Monday through Friday, they focus on the cares of life with little or no expression of Christianity.  Saturday, they enjoy the day off.  Sunday rolls around and it’s off to the church building again.  It is the stuff of “hearers-only” religion.

So where’s the threat?  So what if the militant Homosexual/Progressive Liberal Movement attacks a Christian florist, cake maker, or some other Christian business.  The congress passes so-called hate crime and anti-discrimination laws intrusive to Christians.  So what?  Radical atheists get angry about nativity scenes.  Department stores refuse to say “Merry Christmas.”   Some bank teller gets fired for saying, “Have a blessed day.”  The Ten Commandments are removed from a courthouse.  So what?  New Age paganism is a swarming invasion.  Entire denominations are succumbing to Contemplative Spirituality.  So what?  It doesn’t even slightly hinder the routine of “going to church” on Sunday.

Therefore, even though there is a concerted effort to force acceptance of the homosexual agenda on the workplace, the marketplace, public education, churches, government, military, and you name it, it does not significantly hinder the status quo.  Professing Christians can still “go to church,” hear sermons, and coast along enjoying their “best life now.”  Warned repeatedly about the invasion of heresy in the church, and the rapid declension of culture into hedonism, they refuse to process the information as a threat.

Guys Watching TVThe fact is, far too many professing Christians consider the diabolical intrusions as much ado about nothing.  Everything goes on as before.  Besides, they do not actually practice Christianity in public anyway.  So where’s the loss in having something pilfered that you never bothered to use?

You know what’s really pathetic?  We have history to inform us about the pattern that evil employs to gain dominance over and then persecute Christians. But people do not (or refuse to) recognize the first step by Christophobes toward abolishing our liberty.  It is to poke the sleeping giant.  What I mean is they begin by caricaturing and then challenging public expressions of Christianity.   If the giant does not awaken, they go a step further and remove liberties by legislation.  They continue to poke and gouge as long as the giant sleeps.  Eventually, the giant is so full of holes (liberties lost) and its hide so bound to stakes (rules and laws) that when it finally awakens, it has little or no power to do anything other than moan.

The sleeping giant is of course Christianity.  It is a massive subdued, ritualistic, apathetic, hireling-infiltrated, spiritually anemic, and heresy-poisoned monstrosity composed mostly of professing Christians who have no concept of true Christianity.  Further they have no interest in theology other than sound-bite explanations of what separates them from other Christian factions.  They have no idea of where their doctrines came from, or the scriptural paths that produced them.   All is well if they can only “go to church” under a specific title, hear a sermon, and go home.

The millennials with their mega-churches and New Age “church” have a worse problem.  They believe they have superior Christianity because they have shaken off the old garments of traditionalism and are breathing the fumes of Spiritual Formation.  Wrong.  They only poured old contaminated wine in new wine skins.  It is still about maintaining a status quo.

What they all fail to realize is that “going to church” will be the last Christian indulgence to be banished.  At the moment, they can “go” all they want as long as they don’t attempt to “do” anything Christ-like in society.  While that status quo is maintained, a furious attack on “doers” is underway.  The “hearers-only” placidly look the other way.

I believe that when the time comes to drive a wooden stake in the heart of the giant, the “hearers only” will applauded the decision.  The reason?  Because Christianity will be replaced with an ecumenical world religion that will eliminate any threat to their status quo.  The government will slide out the old, battered, and heresy-fragmented, shell of Christianity, and slip in place a new, human-centered, ecumenical religion benign to culture, atheism, and all else that opposes righteousness.  It will preserve their “church-going” indulgence.  The millennials with their Seeker-Friendly, Emergent, Ecumenical, New Age, New Apostolic, Spiritual Formation, etcetera, are leading the way and assisting in the process.

When the One-World religion is set in place, the “church-going, hearers-only” folks, clinging to their venerated paradigm, will breathe a bated sigh of relief.  They will not have not lost anything.  What will be destroyed they never possessed.  Their ritual was their faith.  It was the crux of their belief system, the sum of their duty to whom they deem as God.  Killing the battered giant will not matter to them anymore than knocking a fish in the head with a stick.

That is why they are so passive today.  There is nothing in their superficial understanding of Christianity that is considered expensive enough to stand up for and defend.  Their pastors could switch present theology for another one on any given Sunday and they would neither recognize nor care.  It’s the status quo that matters.  Come into the building, breeze through a short burst of fellowship, enjoy the “worship” music, endure a short message, relish the mild inebriation of the meeting’s end, rush to the food, and enjoy life with God in the distant background—a paradigm of the church “triumphantly” dead.




By Marcia Montenegro (page 3 of 3)

Beyond contemplative prayer: back to God’s word
Reflecting on God’s word, in the sense of thinking it over and letting it sink in, are normal ways of learning and understanding. Using our mind is not a barrier to understanding God or his word. In fact, in Matt. 22:37-38, Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” This references Deut. 6:5, which is rendered in many versions as loving God with all one’s “heart,” soul, and strength (or might).

The NET Bible gives this explanation about the Hebrew word, lebab, which is translated “heart” in Deut. 6.5: “Heb ‘heart.’ In OT physiology the heart was considered the seat of the mind or intellect, so that one could think with one’s heart.”59 Even the Greek word for “heart,” kardia, used in Matt. 22, is translated as “mind” in other passages. Another explanation: “The Hebrew word for heart is ‘LEB’ . . . The Greek counterpart is ‘KARDIA.’ Zodhiates says in his Hebrew Lexicon that the main use of the word heart refers to ‘the totality of man’s inner or immaterial nature’ . . . The heart is the seat of your intellect, feelings and will. It is ‘almost a synonym for mind.'”60 Vine’s Expository Dictionary states, “The heart, in its moral significance in the O.T., includes the emotions, the reason and the will.”61 The words translated as “understanding,” “mind,” and “heart” are often interchangeable in the Bible. “The heart in the Scripture is variously used; sometimes for the mind and understanding, sometimes for the will, sometimes for the affections, sometimes for the conscience, sometimes for the whole soul. Generally, it denotes the whole soul of man and all the faculties of it, not absolutely, but as they are all one principle of moral operations, as they all concur in our doing good or evil.”62

The false dichotomy in our culture between mind and heart does not exist in the Bible! Our culture associates feelings and often spirituality with the heart, and separates that from thinking, but this is a modern concept, not a Biblical one.

We see this fictitious dichotomy in CP between the mind or reasoning on the one hand, and feelings or spiritual experiences on the other. Foster creates a theme of this in one of his books in which he endorses the prayer of the mind apart from the prayer of the heart.63 The message comes across clearly that if one is using one’s mind, one is unable to truly commune with God – one must go beyond the rational in order to actually experience closeness with God. One must go beyond words into silence to have true union with God. Not only are these concepts not supported by the Bible, but they also set up false expectations and are likely to evoke artificial experiences.

Christian prayer should be taught as it is modeled in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament. Some key passages include: Matt. 5:43-45 (pray for our enemies); Matt. 6:6 (pray without showing off); Matt. 6:9-13 (the Lord’s Prayer); Matt. 7:6 (do not pray with repetitions); Matt. 9:38 (pray for God to send workers into His harvest); Matt. 21:22 and James 1:6 (pray in faith); Lk. 18:1-8 (pray/petition without losing heart); ask in the name of Christ (Jn 16:23-24); Rom. 8:25-27 (the Holy Spirit prays for us when we do not know how to pray); 1 Cor. 14:15 (pray with the spirit and with the mind); 1 Thess. 5:17 (pray without ceasing – not mindlessly, but having an attitude of prayer and being in the Lord in all things); and James 5:14-16 (pray for the sick). Our prayers are to make use of words and thought.

A feature article on the Roman Catholic apologetics website, Catholic Answers, warns: “Many people assume centering prayer is compatible with Catholic tradition, but in fact the techniques of centering prayer are neither Christian nor prayer. They are at the level of human faculties and as such are an operation of man, not of God. The deception and dangers can be grave.64

Final words

People promoting CP often present a false dilemma between “neatly packaged” evangelical Christianity oriented toward logic and reason, versus the experiential, mystical aspects of CP. This idea is becoming more common now with the influence of postmodernism. This has been shown to be a false dilemma. By supporting reason and thinking as part of communication with God, one is in harmony with the biblical text; one is not discriminating against silent prayer, feelings or experiences.

Nowhere in the Bible is prayer a technique or a way to go beyond thinking. Creating a whole theology of prayer apart from the Bible is dangerous, precisely because we are entering an area fraught with subjectivism, truth based on experience, and therefore, an area where we can be deceived. CP teachers tell us that prayer is listening to and having “divine union” with God,65 but the Bible presents prayer as words and thoughts. CP tells us to focus inward, but the Bible admonishes us to focus outward on the Lord. An evaluation of CP reveals it to be a melange of New Age and Eastern-tinged techniques and concepts that exist outside the Bible.

CP is a misnomer, since it is neither contemplation nor prayer as found in the Bible. We should be wary of any instruction that advises us to:

-Breathe a certain way before or during prayer
-Maintain a certain posture or bodily position
-Repeat a word or phrase, even if it’s from the Bible, or use a word or phrase to stay “focused”
-Go beyond thinking or thought
-To turn inward in order to find or be with God
-Be in silence in order to truly pray
-Believe that CP is true prayer

1 Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart (Rockport, MA: Benedict’s Monastery, 1992), 57.
2 Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (NY: HarperCollins, 1992), 155.
3 M. Basil Pennington, An Invitation to Centering Prayer (Liguori, MO: Cistercian Abbey of Spencer, Inc., 2001), 20.
4 Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc., 1961), 4.
5 The Rev. John D. Dreher, “The Danger of Centering Prayer,” ; also
6 Keating, 89.
7 F. C. Happold, Mysticism: A Study and An Anthology (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1964), 73.
8 Ibid.
9 Alan Watts, The Way of Zen (NY: Pantheon Books, Inc., 11957), 55. The writer of this article studied both Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, and was taught Tibetan and Zen Buddhist meditation by teachers in those traditions; she practiced both forms of meditation.
10 By Charles R. Fillmore, the founder of Unity along with his wife, Myrtle; (published by Unity, Unity Village, MO).
11 “The Adventure Called Unity,” 9.
12 Phil and Mary Stovin, revised and edited by the Executive Ministry Team and Management Staff of the Association of Unity Churches, “twenty questions and answers about Unity,” (Lee Summit, MO: Association of Unity Churches), 10. [Bolding is mine].
13 For a fuller discussion of this passage, see my article at Meditation and Psalm 46:10
14 The Treasury of David at ( .
15 Foster, 156-157.
16 Paul Ferrini, Love Without Conditions: Reflections of the Christ Mind, (Heartways Press, 1995).
17 Keating, 44, 57, 74, 90, 91.
18 Ibid., 36.
19 M. Basil Pennington, Centered Living: The Way of Centering Prayer (NY: Image, Doubleday, 1988), 51, 92-93, 192.
20 Catholic mystics known as the “desert fathers.”
21 Ibid., 53, 77.
22 Ibid., 95.
23 Mike Perschon, “Desert Youth Worker,” http://youthspecial target=”_new”
24 Ibid.
25 Matt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45; Heb. 10:19-20.
26 Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 7.
27 Keating, 74.
28 Happold, 52.
29 Ibid., 54.
30 Keating, 127.
31 Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer (The Merton Legacy Trust, 1969; Garden City, NY: Image Books Edition, Division of Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1971), 70.
32 Happold, 44.
33 Joseph Goldstein, “Exercise/Eating” in Jean Smith, ed., Breath Sweeps Mind: A First Guide to Meditation Practice (NY: Riverhead Books, 1998), 184.
34 Watts, 20.
35 Shunryu Suzuki, “The Swinging Door” in Breath Sweeps Mind: A First Guide to Meditation Practice, 158.
36 Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (Abbey of Gethsemani, 1961), xiv, 41. However, a clear understanding of the atonement is not presented and Merton states that “God wills that all graces come to men through Mary,” 168.
37 Pennington, Centered Living, 199.
38 “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
39 Pennington, An Invitation to Centered Prayer, 50.
40 Keating, 51.
41 “A Lesson in Self-Hypnosis,” ; “How Can I Learn Self-Hypnosis?” ; “Live More of Your Life with Self-Hypnosis,”
42 See Breath Sweeps Mind and Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness (Boston: Beacon Press, 1976).
43 Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (NY: HarperCollins, HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), 23, 35, 37.
44 Ibid., 41-44.
45 Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, xi.
46 The meditator is conscious, but there are alterations in the brain patterns.
47 Keating, 7, 8, 74.
48 Happold, 34.
49 Ibid., 39.
50 Pennington, Centered Living, 7.
51 Ibid., 7, 191.
52 Ibid., 191. Sufism is a mystical offshoot of Islam that started in Persia.
53 Dreher. Note: Transcendental Meditation involves an initiation honoring dead gurus, and the mantras are usually the names of Hindu deities.
54 Ibid., 192.
55 Merton, The Asian Journals (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1975), 125, 166, 179.
56 Ibid., 30. Note: Trungpa was the leader of the particular school of Tibetan Buddhism I studied in the late 1970’s. Trungpa established several centers in the U.S.
57 Ibid., 30, 31.
58 In fact, it is from these very teachings (Tibetan Buddhism and others) that I was delivered in late 1990!
59 NET Bible,
60 Greg Brown, “The Dangers of Hypnosis,”
61 “Heart=Mind: A Biblical Perspective,” [W. E. Vine, ed. F. F. Bruce, Vines Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell Co., 1981) 206-207].
62 Greg Herrick, “The Seat of Sin, The Heart, ”
63 Foster, Prayer: The Heart’s True Home, 136 (this theme is found throughout the book).
64 Dreher.
65 Foster, Prayer: The Heart’s True Home, 159 (this view is also found in Keating and Pennington).



In the writings of mystical Roman Catholics and so-called “Evangelicals” such as RICHARD FOSTER, DALLAS WILLARD, THOMAS MERTON, TERESA OF AVILA, THOMAS KEATING, BASIL PENNINGTON….ETC.

Today’s part 2 of Contemplative Prayer series by Marcia Montenegro.  A brief background – Marcia practiced as a professional astrologer for eight years. Her formal astrological studies began in 1980 and she took classes for over two years. In 1983, she passed the 7-hour exam given by the Atlanta Board of Astrology Examiners, a Board set up by the City to formulate and grade exams to be given to aspiring astrologers wishing to practice legally in the City of Atlanta. Marcia later was a member of this Board for four years, and Chairperson for three of those years. She was also active in the Metropolitan Atlanta Astrological Society, serving as president from 1989-1990. She was also Chairperson of the Curriculum Committee, as well as working in other areas of this organization.

Before becoming an astrologer, Marcia was involved with various New Age, occult, and Eastern beliefs and practices, including Inner Light Consciousness, Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Hindu teachings and meditation, and psychic development classes. During these years, she also participated in past life regression, numerology, Tarot cards, spirit contact, seances, astral travel, and received a spirit guide through a guided visualization.

Today, Marcia’s ministry is CANA/Christian Answers for the New Age, and she is a missionary with Fellowship International Mission, an independent mission board based in Allentown, PA. CANA is an informational and outreach ministry.

Marcia graduated with High Honors from Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College), St. Petersburg, FL, with a degree in literature. Marcia has a Masters in Religion from Southern Evangelical Seminary, Charlotte, NC.

Here is part 2 of her article word for word – I highlighted a few words for emphasis.


By Marcia Montenegro (Parge 2 of 3)

Beyond the mind: No-thinking

According to Keating, CP should be “detachment” from thought, getting into a state of “no-thinking” and that “it is the time to let go of all thoughts, even the best of thoughts,” so that only “pure awareness” exists.17 He even claims that the Holy Spirit will not “barge in” if we are using reason and intellect, and it is “only when we are willing to abandon our very limited human modes of thought and concepts and open a welcoming space that the Spirit will begin to operate in us at this divine level . . . when we Center we practice leaving our human thoughts and reason behind and attending to the Divine, to the Spirit.”18 This presents a radical redefinition of prayer, as well as a false duality between thought or reason and spirituality, a concept common in the New Age.

Pennington discusses “a shift in consciousness” and going beyond “ordinary consciousness” into a state of “pure consciousness” in which we leave the “false self” for the “true self,” and attaining a “unity-consciousness” with God.19 He quotes “the Fathers”20 as saying that “so long as a man is aware he is praying, he is not yet praying,” and he agrees with Merton that we should “rise above thought.21Pennington has a chapter titled “Pure Consciousness” in which he states that God “is known in pure consciousness rather than by some subject-object knowledge.”22

A writer for Youth Specialties, an organization devoted to youth ministries, states that his interest in CP began by reading Dallas Willard and Richard Foster, and later, mystics like Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, and Morton Kelsey.23 He built a prayer room and reports: “In that space I lit candles, burned incense, hung rosaries, and listened to tapes of Benedictine monks. I meditated for hours on words, images, and sounds. I reached the point of being able to achieve alpha brain patterns, the state in which dreams occur, while still awake and meditating.” This sounds like going into an altered state of consciousness — a light trance state — which is the same state one enters in Eastern/New Age meditation, and which parallels techniques of self-hypnosis. In fact, the purpose of Eastern and New Age meditation is to go beyond the mind because the belief is that the mind is a barrier to spiritual enlightenment. This same writer also states that at a retreat, “We held ‘thin place’ services in reference to a belief that in prayer, the veil between us and God becomes thinner. Entire nights were devoted to guided meditations, drum circles, and “‘soul labs.'”24

Yet in the Bible, meditation on God or on the words of God is never presented as an exercise without thinking. Many of the words translated as “meditation” in the Bible are words meaning to muse, ponder, utter, or make a sound. Most of these words are in Psalms where the psalmist is praising the precepts and words of God and affirming that these are what we should learn, obey, and think upon. This is definitely not leaving ordinary thinking for another level of consciousness. Nor do we take actions to make a (non-existent) “veil” between God and us thinner. Did not the death of Jesus on the cross rip the heavy veil in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, forever serving as a symbol of how Jesus opened the way to God for those who believe?25

Due to Eastern and New Age influences in our culture, the word ‘meditation’ has come to mean a technique to enter another state of consciousness, to go inward, to go beyond thinking, or to realize spiritual enlightenment. We cannot read these techniques and purposes into the Biblical word translated as “meditation,” which originates from several different Hebrew words that do not carry the Eastern-New Age meanings. The contexts of these words indicate an active pondering, thinking and learning, not a technique nor a disengagement from the mind.

Beyond self: the false self vs. the true self

Thomas Merton claims that “the superficial ‘I’ is not our real self,” but only our “individuality” and “empirical self,” not the “hidden and mysterious person in whom we subsist before the eyes of God.”26 This kind of thinking is found also in Keating and Pennington.

Keating states that CP takes us to a place “in which the knower, the knowing, and that which is known are all one. Awareness alone remains. The one who is aware disappears along with whatever was the object of consciousness. This is what divine union is.”27

Little realizing that he was anticipating many of the teachings of CP today, one writer on mysticism asserts that the “highest state of the mystic life can only be reached when there has been a complete death of the selfhood” and when one enters the “Dark Silence, that Nothingness, that Wayless Way.”28 The author goes on to say that mystical states are “more than states of feeling, they are states of knowledge.”29 This is a gnostic view of knowledge– a secret knowledge obtained only by those able to attain these higher states.

Keating and Merton both discuss the false self and the true self. Keating capitalizes Self, and states, “God and our true Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing.”30 According to Merton, our “external, everyday self” is mostly a “fabrication” and is not “our true self” which “is not easy to find. It is hidden in obscurity and ‘nothingness,’ at the center, where we are in direct dependence on God.”31 Likewise, another writer asserts that the “basic idea always found in God-mysticism is that of the return of the spirit to its immortal and infinite Ground, which is God.”32 Note the word “return,” as though our spirits were originally with God, a distinctly unbiblical notion.

Buddhism teaches that our identities are merely fleeting images or impressions, like images on film, or a “sequence of happenings, of processes,”33 and that we must discover our true nature, the Buddha nature. The “conventional ‘self’ or ‘person’ is composed mainly of a history of consisting of selected memories.”34 As one Zen Buddhist says, “There is no you to say ‘I.’ What we call ‘I’ is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale . . . when your mind is pure and calm enough to follow this movement, there is nothing: no ‘I,’ no world, no mind nor body; just a swinging door.”35 Self is illusory in Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism, because the only reality is the Absolute, the Tao, or the Buddha nature.

The CP teachers do not say that we are really God, but they present a dichotomy between a false and true self. The Bible talks about the old sin nature versus the “new creature” in Christ; it is not put in terms of “true” and “false” selves, or illusion and truth, but rather in terms of bondage to sin and regeneration. It is not a matter of awareness, but rather a matter of being born again and being regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Merton does acknowledge this point in one book,36 though he still speaks of false and true selves, sometimes in Freudian psychological terms, sometimes in spiritual terms. Is our sin nature a “false self?” Not false in the sense of not being real, certainly. Such terms echo Eastern concepts, and, at the very least, are confusing and misleading.

Beyond natural: special spiritual techniques

Most of the CP teachers announce that CP is not a technique, and then they go on to recommend various techniques. Pennington offers three “rules or guides,” which include being relaxed, to be “in faith and love to God who dwells in the center of your being,” to “take up a love word,” and “whenever you become aware of anything, simply, gently return to the Lord with the use of your prayer word.”37

Merton, Keating and Pennington, and sometimes Foster, suggest repeating a word or phrase such as Jesus, Lord, Father, Friend, or the Jesus Prayer38 during CP. This can be repeated aloud or “deep within,” or used as a word to return to when one become aware of anything else. Pennington advises, “Memorize it and slowly repeat it to yourself, allowing it to interact with your inner world of concerns, memories, and ideas.”39 Keating credits the mystical Cloud of Unknowing for this idea, and states that it should be a “love word” which will take us “beyond our ordinary consciousness” as “an outreach of love to the Infinite.”40

In Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, Transcendental Meditation, and sometimes in New Age meditation, a word, called a mantra, is given to the meditator to repeat. This is often the name of a deity, or sometimes a phrase meaning, “I am That,” “Not this, not that,” or simply, “I am.” The purpose of this mantra is self-purification, and to become open to spiritual truths. Repeating a word or phrase over and over is also one of the tools of self-hypnosis.41 Many of the terms used by CP teachers are the same terms used in hypnosis and in Eastern/New Age teachings (i.e., “shift in consciousness, “pure consciousness,” “emptying the mind,” “creating a space,” “go beyond thought,” etc.).42

Foster quotes heavily from CP teachers and mystics. There are problematic statements such as, “Let me suggest we take an experiential attitude toward spiritual realities;” “We are working with God to determine the future! Certain things will happen in history if we pray rightly;” and, when praying for others, we should not pray “if it be Thy will” to God.43 He advocates using a visualization technique when praying in order to bring about the results.44 He also comments that “God is not a male deity as opposed to a female deity.”45

The focus on relaxation, repeating a word or phrase, concentrating on breath, detaching from thought, and trying to go beyond reasoning should cause concern. Having learned and practiced various forms of Eastern and New Age meditation for many years before becoming a Christian, I can attest to the ability to enter a light trance state using the techniques suggested by CP advocates. This state is one which New Agers and others call “pure consciousness,” where one is suspended from active thought and the ability to make judgments. In fact, Zen Buddhism teaches that one needs to cultivate the ability to detach and to set aside judgment. The mind is open and receptive, without critical thinking skills in place.46 Although Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we are not immune to deception or delusion; otherwise, the Bible would not so consistently warn believers about deception and false teachers.

Do techniques bring closeness to God, especially when such techniques are parallel to Eastern religious practices? Ephesians 2:13 tells us, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” We draw near to God through Christ (Heb. 4:16), not through techniques. When First John talks about abiding in Christ, it speaks of following Christ’s commandments and showing love for each other.

Beyond the west: wisdom from the east

Keating quotes from a major Buddhist text, the Diamond Sutra, to discuss “letting go,” and tells the reader that although psychic powers such as levitation may result from CP, such powers “are like the frosting on a cake and we cannot survive on frosting alone,” and so, if the reader is interested in psychic phenomena, to “be sure to practice them under an approved master.”47 Such warnings about getting attracted to psychic gifts resulting from meditation are commonly issued by those teaching Hindu and Buddhist meditation.

One author on mysticism, who also discusses many of the same techniques as used in contemplative prayer, declares: “[M]ay we not see in the mystics the forerunners of a type of consciousness, which will become more and more common as mankind ascends higher and higher up the ladder of evolution?”48 This idea is parallel to one in the New Age, which posits that as man spiritually progresses, he will gain an expanded consciousness that will include psychic or super mystical powers and insights into the nature of reality. Referring to mystics and practitioners of the medieval practice of contemplation, the author states that the contemplative has contact “with the same Reality” as the mystic, and that he “feels he has received a pure, direct vision of truth.49 This idea is found in Eastern meditation beliefs that teach one perceives or attains truth in a more pure form through meditation techniques and in non-thinking states.

Pennington writes of his admiration for “the great Yogi, Swami Satchidanandaji” and his (Pennington’s) approval of an American professor who, “in search of true wisdom,” had gone to India to study under a Hindu Swami.50 He states that for “most Hindus, Jesus is just one of the many manifestations of the one God” but that “each person is entitled to have his or her own chosen deity or manifestation of God. Jesus is the manifestation for the West.”51 Pennington also acknowledges that both Merton and another person saw the parallels of CP with Sufi meditation and prayer,52 and he approves of Christians’ participation in Transcendental Meditation.53 He writes that CP can be learned and used effectively by anyone (i.e., non-Christians), and that he has not “hesitated” to share it with anyone.54

Another CP teacher heavily influenced by the East is Thomas Merton. Merton was a man of great intelligence, and this is apparent in his writings. But he writes of his meetings with the Dalai Lama in Asia, saying he felt a “spiritual bond” with him; he stated that he found parallels between the meditation concepts and methods of the Catholic monks with the Tibetan Buddhists, and he was even discussing establishing a Tibetan Buddhist meditation center in the U.S.55 He also called Tibetan Buddhist leader Chogyam Trungpa “wise” and a “genuine spiritual master.”56 Merton was even considering being initiated into dzogchen, an esoteric Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice, and was thinking of editing a book of Buddhist writings.57 These projects were cut short by his sudden accidental death in Asia in December, 1968, although he had written on Zen Buddhism previously.

Merton’s Asian Journals, the last words he penned, reveal his fascination with Eastern beliefs and practices. While never showing an inclination to substitute Eastern beliefs for Christianity for himself, he seemed to acknowledge Eastern religions as equally valid and showed a willingness to adapt some of their beliefs into his Christian ones. What else can one think when he writes of seeking advice on initiation into dzogchen and thinking of helping to establish a Tibetan Buddhist meditation center? Most Christians instead would be in quest of dialogue with these Buddhists in order to present Christ to them, not seeking initiation into their practices or to spread their teachings.58