Controversial prayer technique at evangelical gathering
A major Christian church-leadership organization, which brought thousands of pastors and church workers together in Carrollton, Texas, this week, succeeded in raising eyebrows from some of the attendees – over so-called “contemplative spirituality.”
During a workshop Tuesday afternoon, contemplative proponent Phileena Heuertz led the audience in a “centering prayer,” which detractors argue opens the door to altered states of consciousness. A common theme throughout Catalyst Dallas was references to mystics Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating and Henri Nouwen.
Warren Smith, a writer specializing in the New Age movement, notes that mainstream Christian leaders have been promoting such mysticism for decades:
“[Robert H.] Schuller had Nouwen as a special guest on the Hour of Power television program in 1992. After Nouwen appeared on that program ‘his reputation [among Protestants] blossomed dramatically."
According to author Phyllis Tickle, there are “seven ancient disciplines,” including centering prayer, or “fixed-hour prayer,” that are making a comeback among younger Christians. Included in these disciplines is the practice of solitude and “centering prayer.”
In her session at Catalyst Dallas, titled, “Find Out Who You Really Are: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer,” Heuertz said that she became aware, 20 years ago, of the teachings of Thomas Keating, a priest and Trappist monk, and expert in the practice of centering prayer.
“I practice centering prayer twice a day for 20 minutes,” Heuertz said. She also refuted criticisms that centering prayer is about “emptying the mind.” At the conclusion of her session, Heuretz stood in front of the group and led in centering prayer.
Read Warren Smith’s expose of the New Age in “The Light That Was Dark.”
In her book, “Pilgrimage of a Soul,” Heuretz describes the methods she advocates:
“The Christian contemplative tradition navigates our path toward a posture of receptivity to the One who can save us from our chaos and destruction—whether that is on a small, personal and social scale or on the grand landscape of global politics. All we have to do is submit to the process. That’s it. Submit. Surrender.”
However, Ken Silva, director of Apprising Ministries, expressed dismay over the contemplative presence at Catalyst:
“For some ten years now I’ve been documenting the influence and impact of the Emerging Church on mainstream evangelicalism. A core doctrine of the EC was contemplative spirituality, which is really a remained form of Roman Catholic mysticism. For the past couple of years now I’ve been seeing contemplative practices only as recommendations by influential evangelicals like Rick Warren.
“Even so, I was a bit taken by surprise that straight ahead contemplative mysticism was being openly taught at such a major mainstream evangelical conference as Catalyst. Catalyst’s stamp of approval will embolden more evangelical churches to incorporate it with their congregations and will serve to quickly spread that spiritual cancer far throughout the heart of the professing ‘Protestant’ community.”