I surprised myself, walking out of Hollywood Video with a rental DVD about Christian contemplative prayer. “Be Still and Know That I am God” appealed to me because I’m a big fan of The Cloud of Unknowing, a medieval text that inspired the modern Christian centering prayer movement.
The DVD disappointed me, though. My suspicions were aroused when I read the back cover and didn’t see any mention of leaders of the centering prayer movement that I was familiar with, like Thomas Keating or M. Basil Pennington.
When I watched the film I understood why. “Be Still” doesn’t preach the glory of genuine stillness. Rather, it advocates a half-assed stillness. True, the film emphasizes the virtue of listening to God, as contrasted with speaking to God through prayer and such.
But the “listening” is limited to the message of scripture, rather than a genuine empty receptivity. One speaker said that God will never go against the words of the Bible, so if you receive an inner communication that doesn’t reflect scripture, you shouldn’t trust it.
I saw people reading passages from the Bible. Then they’d re-read them. Four times. Whatever lines struck you the most, you were supposed to focus on. Whatever your mind mentally highlights after reading scripture, that’s supposedly God’s personal communication to you.
Whoopee. I don’t consider this to be close to what meditation or centering prayer is really about. If getting an aha! feeling after reading something interesting brought you closer to God, I’d be in his lap by now. So far as I can tell, I’m not.
Promoters of true Christian contemplative centering prayer say that it’s desirable to become a lot stiller than the “Be Still” DVD teaches. Basically, the idea is that a single word (The Cloud of Unknowing advocates one syllable) be repeated until there are no other thoughts in the mind.
So, the method of centering prayer bears a lot of resemblance to mantra meditation. Buddhists, Hindus, and other forms of Eastern philosophy are right at home with this type of Christian contemplation.
Not surprisingly, this freaks out Christian fundamentalists. They figure that if a Zen monk or Yogi ascetic does it, it’s got to be devil-inspired. Thus even the mild stillness urged upon Christian faithful by this DVD is too much for Brian Flynn, who warns “Be Still and Know…that you are being deceived.”
The Achilles heel of contemplative prayer has always been its lack of biblical support. The choice is clear, we either come to God on his terms or any way man sees fit. Coming to God through a practice taught by mystics during the Dark Ages which they borrowed from eastern religions is not coming to God on His terms.
I left the New Age to escape practices like these, because I knew they lead to deception. I am not going to stand by and watch while my brothers and sisters in Christ fall into the same trap. The participants in this DVD are in scriptural error and must be confronted. No matter how much these modern day mystics try to attain the silence they will never receive silence from me.
Good god. Poor Brian. My namesake has so little faith, he doesn’t trust that God has the power to speak to us in any way he wishes. In words. Or wordlessly. Through the Bible. Or any other writing. With the aid of a mediator. Or directly to the soul.
Brennan Manning is cited in the acknowledgements at the end of the film, but, I believe, doesn’t appear in it (I didn’t watch every minute of the DVD). A website out to expose the dangers of contemplative spirituality shares some excerpts from Manning’s writings. He makes a lot of sense to me.
The first step in faith is to stop thinking about God at the time of prayer. Contemplative spirituality tends to emphasize the need for a change in consciousness. We must come to see reality differently.
Choose a single, sacred word. Repeat the sacred word inwardly, slowly, and often. Enter into the great silence of God. Alone in that silence, the noise within will subside and the Voice of Love will be heard.
I can understand why right-wing Christian fundamentalists are scared of such talk. Lord, imagine what would happen if the voice of love began to be heard by them. I don’t think they’d be able to say that God wants a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, more deaths from AIDS because condoms are sinful, or the death penalty.