(397) EMERGING TRENDS IN THE CHURCH TODAY: CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER & SILENCE with RICHARD ROHR
CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER & SILENCE with RICHARD ROHR
Following up on the previous post, let’s look at who seminaries are using to teach the next group of Pastors and leaders in our church. I will start by looking at a popular topic at my denomination – THE CHRISTIAN AND MISSIONARY ALLIANCE (C&MA). At Alliance Theological Seminary (ATS), there are several contemplative authors that are assigned to students to not only read but to EXPERIENCE first-hand. And example is having students spending days at a time at a local Roman Catholic monastery for a period of SILENCE and STILLNESS.
Within the contemplative course offering, a popular teacher used at ATS is the Roman Catholic RICHARD ROHR. A great deal could be said by having an Evangelical seminary teaching its students using Roman Catholic sources. Even more so, wouldn’t it be fair to raise questions and concerns relating to holding retreats at the local Roman Catholic monastery? First, let’s focus on one of the concerns – what is contemplative prayer; what is “the silence?“
Where would you first go to find answers to these questions? The Bible? Novel idea but not with sources such as Richard Rohr and those at the monastery. No, instead, mystical teaching from ancient Roman Catholic mystics is a common source for these practices. In actuality, they resemble Eastern Mysticism more so than they resemble practices within Christianity (orthodox, evangelical…biblical).
One of the Roman Catholics responsible for promoting these mystical practices in contemplative prayer is Thomas Keating. Keating states that “God’s first language is silence.” Yes, “first language” – did you miss that as a Christian?
Contemplation fits well within today’s trend into postmodernism where thinking and analyzing are discouraged and instead feeling, experiencing, mysticism, contemplative, silence, stillness….etc., are what is instead the focus. As we will see, to a large degree, Contemplation is anything but contemplation. Another popular Roman Catholic contemplative, Thomas Merton defines contemplation as “a pure and a virginal knowledge, poor in concepts, poorer still in reasoning, but able, by its very poverty and purity, to follow the Word ‘wherever He may go.'” Another promoter of contemplative spirituality is Basil Pennington who states that “Progress in intimacy with God means progress toward silence.” Really? Did you know that?
Marcia Montenegro, who previously was involved in the New Age / occult community before becoming a Christian – with her ministry Christian Answers for the New Age (http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org), she explains what is meant today by those who promote these concepts –
Contemplative Prayer, also called Centering Prayer or Listening Prayer, has been taught by Roman Catholic monks Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, and Basil Pennington, as well as by Quaker Richard Foster, and is being advocated by many others. There is no one authority on this method, nor is there necessarily a consistent teaching on it, though most of the founding teachers quote medieval mystics, Hindu, and Buddhist spiritual teachers.
According to http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org, “Centering Prayer is drawn from ancient prayer practices of the Christian contemplative heritage, notably the Fathers and Mothers of the Desert, Lectio Divina, (praying the scriptures), The Cloud of Unknowing, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. It was distilled into a simple method of prayer in the 1970’s by three Trappist monks, Fr. William Meninger, Fr. Basil Pennington and Abbot Thomas Keating at the Trappist Abbey, St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts.” It should be added, “During the twenty years (1961-1981) when Keating was abbot, St. Joseph’s held dialogues with Buddhist and Hindu representatives, and a Zen master gave a week-long retreat to the monks. A former Trappist monk who had become a Transcendental Meditation teacher also gave a session to the monks.”
The influence of Buddhism and Hinduism on Contemplative Prayer (hereafter referred to as CP) is apparent. Words such as “detachment,” “transformation,” “emptiness,” “enlightenment” and “awakening” swim in and out of the waters of these books. The use of such terms certainly mandates a closer inspection of what is being taught, despite the fact that contemplative prayer is presented as Christian practice.
Themes that one finds echoed in the CP movement include the notions that true prayer is: silent, beyond words, beyond thought, does away with the “false self,” triggers transformation of consciousness, and is an awakening. Suggested techniques often include breathing exercises, visualization, repetition of a word or phrase, and detachment from thinking.
It is a Zen Buddhist concept that truth is beyond words (this is also a Taoist view; Zen’s roots are in Taoism and Buddhism). Zen teaches that truth must be realized as one practices sitting meditation (zazen), cultivating an empty mind by letting go of thoughts so that rational thinking is transcended; or perhaps, as in the Rinzai school of Zen, one’s awareness is triggered by koans such as, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” or “What was your face before you were born?” According to Zen, Buddha’s “real message remained always unspoken, and was such that, when words attempted to express it, they made it seem as if it were nothing at all.” 9
With Richard Rohr, attached is a brief video clip from Youtube showing him explaining what the “contemplative mind” and “silence” is. Take note of how he uses Scripture to explain these views?
In “Silent Compassion: Finding God in Contemplation,” Richard Rohr focuses on finding God in the depths of silence, and shares that the divine silence is more than the absence of noise. That silence has a life of its own, in which we are invited into its living presence, wholeness of being, and peace it brings. This silence can absorb paradoxes, contradictions, and the challenges of life, Rohr says, connecting us with the great chain of being. Rohr adds that while different faiths use different languages and different words, all major religions have come at the mystery of God as a dynamic flow—God as communion, God as relationships. Silence then becomes that common place for all.