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Contemplative Prayer and Meditation
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Summary: What is the difference between Biblical meditation and New Age meditation? Who are the key supporters of contemplative prayer?
 
This article is part of a series. We recommend that you first read: What’s So Bad about Spiritual Formation?.
 

Meditation, or contemplative prayer, is a practice of spiritual formation used for the purpose of personal renewal and peace.

Biblical versus New Age Meditation

New Age meditation, which is creeping its way into mainstream Christianity through the spiritual formation movement, focuses on the stilling and emptying of the mind. Biblical meditation, on the other hand, involves conscious thought about Scripture and its application.

It is dangerous to enter a passive mental state, because in those situations our minds have no protection against falsehood or evil.

Biblical meditation is having our minds actively engaged on contemplating God's word. James 4:7 says to "submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you". Resistance is key to staying sober in mind.i

The peace experienced in Christian meditation is not found by deep breathing or looking “within.” Rather, peace comes by looking to God, grasping the knowledge that He is all-powerful and has abundant life in store for us (See Isaiah 40:13-31 and John 10:10). When we thoughtfully consider God’s truth in our minds, the Holy Spirit will begin to change our hearts and lead us to obedience:

This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success (Joshua 1:8).

Centering Prayer and Mantras

Centering prayer is one technique many Christians use in an attempt to draw closer to God. It involves meditating on a single word or thought for the purpose of opening the heart up to communion with God. According to a brochure from the King of Peace Episcopal Church, centering prayer is different from New Age meditation, because centering prayer "is not meditation on the word itself."

Just use the prayer word to keep your mind otherwise blank as you wordlessly spend time with God...Do not give in to endlessly contemplating the sound and meaning of the prayer word. Just say the word within yourself. The goal of Centering Prayer as with other forms of contemplative prayer is to spend time with your loving Creator.ii

Although the goal may be different, centering prayer is still dangerously similar to Eastern meditation. Mantras are used in yoga, Zen, Hindu, and transcendental meditation, as these quotes from New Age websites show:

Mantra Meditation is a VERY Powerful technique! You will discover that the repetition of Mantra allows your mind to focus and concentrate more completely on sound, and clear away other thoughts, emotions and distractions which divert our energies.iii

The repetition of a mantra…is meant as a method of practice which brings about a power (siddhi) to reach the supreme state of consciousness. In this state there is silence within the mind which becomes still (shaant) and eventually you will merge the mind or individual awareness with the whole, which is Pure Consciousness and Knowingness.iv

Proponents of Eastern Meditation

According to Roger Oakland, Catholic mystics Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen brought contemplative prayer "out of the convents and monasteries…to Protestant and even evangelical circles.”v

In his book The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen discusses single-word repetition in prayer:

The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart. This repetition has nothing to do with magic. It is not meant to throw a spell on God or force him into hearing us. On the contrary, a word or sentence repeated frequently can help us concentrate, to move to the center, to create an inner stillness and thus to listen to the voice of God.vi

One evangelical who supports this type of contemplative prayer is Richard Foster. His book Celebration of Discipline, which promotes meditative prayer, has sold over two million copies.

Albert Dager of Media Spotlight wrote that Celebration of Discipline is full of "Eastern religion, and extremely spiritually destructive practices."

Dager also wrote a special report about Foster's ministry. He believes that Foster promotes New Age rituals:

Unfortunately, all these exercises serve to do is open the way to demonic influences that assuage the conscience with feelings of euphoria and even “love” emanating from the presence that has invaded the consciousness. This euphoria is believed to validate that the person is on the right spiritual path. It may result in visions, out-of-body experiences, stigmata, levitation, even healings and other seeming miracles.vii

Let Us Reason Ministries says, “Richard Foster speaks on personal renewal by meditative prayer where one centers down becoming quiet and passive and then uses guided imagery and visualization of Christ…his methods offered have similarities to new age or Eastern techniques that are used in meditation. Foster’s meditation aimed at centering oneself begins by concentrating on breathing.”viii

Tony Campolo also practices centering prayer, as we can read on page 26 of his book Letters to a Young Evangelical. Here is a small excerpt:

I say his name over and over again to drive back the 101 things that begin to clutter up my mind the minute I open my eyes. Jesus is my mantra, as some would say.ix

We must guard our hearts and our minds as we seek to follow God and lead disciplined lives that honor Him. God promises renewal and peace to those who seek Him in rest and quietness (see Isaiah 30:15), but not through the use of hypnotic trances, mantra repetition, or breathing exercises.

Ahead to Labyrinth Walking

 


 

i. "Meditation: Finding the god within," Let Us Reason Ministries.

ii. Centering Prayer: An Ancient Christian Prayer Form (Kingsland, Georgia: King of Peace Episcopal Church).

iii. "Mediation," Rhea's Rhapsody website.

iv. "Four Stages of Mantra Meditation," Meditation4Life website.

v. Roger Oakland, Faith Undone (Oregon: Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2007): 83.

vi. Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart (New York: Ballantine Books, 2003): 80-81.

vii. Albert James Dager, "Special Report: Renovaré, Taking Leave of One's Senses," Media Spotlight: 5.

viii. "Meditation: Finding the god within," Let Us Reason Ministries.

ix. Tony Campolo, Letters to a Young Evangelical (Basic Books 2006): 26.

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