April 28, 2008

Off Center: The Danger of Centering Prayer

Its recently come to my attention that a new way of praying is sweeping across the pulpits of many of our churches. It seems that within the past year or so a practice that has not been seen or heard of since the 16th century is fast becoming all the rage in certain evangelical circles. In an age where it seems Christianity and other world religions are quickly blurring into one another, it is no surprise for many that this form of prayer is being quickly adopted into the modern day church.

Its called "Centering Prayer" or also known as "Contemplative Prayer". Its Latin term is called Lectio Divina, and was originally started by Catholic Mystics (ie. Madame Guyon, etc). If your unfamiliar with Christian or Catholic Mysticism it is essentially nothing new, but rather its simply Eastern Religion repackaged as being Christian. For example, many ancient mystics believed in repetitive chanting and solitude (monasticism) that would ultimately bring ones inner self literally into "Divine Union" or "at one with God", or as one mystic put it "being literally absorbed into God".

So just what is Centering or Contemplative Prayer? One proponent website had this to say:
"Contemplative Prayer is the normal development of the grace of baptism and the regular practice of Lectio Divina. We may think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words. But this is only one expression. Contemplative Prayer is the opening of mind and heart - our whole being - to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words and emotions. We open our awareness to God whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing - closer than consciousness itself. Contemplative Prayer is a process of interior purification leading, if we consent, to divine union." - The Method of Centering Prayer by Thomas Keating.

One must be very careful to closely examine what it is actually being said here. On the onset it sounds really good, I mean who doesn't want to get closer to God? The author here however has made sure to say all the right things. But if we take a deeper look it soon becomes obvious there is something else at work here.

First, note knowledge of truth has very little to do with one drawing closer to God, but rather "inner purification" is through an experience and not a revelation of truth.

Let's look a little further to see what form of prayer is being taught and just where does its spiritual roots take us?

First, it should be noted that with any movement, there is a founder or one who is responsible for bringing an idea or philosophy to the forefront. For Centering Prayer, it is Father Thomas Keating. Keating is a Trappist Monk who during the 70's began to explore other ways or methods of prayer. As with most monastic monks or monasteries, long periods of silence or solitude is commonly practiced. But Keating began to take some very unorthodox, or shall I say unbiblical approaches to seeking out this "higher" level of prayer. Here is what Keating says began to influence him during is "journey":

    The historical roots of Centering Prayer reach back to St. Josephs Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, where I was abbot from 1961 to 1981. This was during the time of the first wave of the renewal of religious life after the Second Vatican Council, where many questions were raised for the first time and interreligious dialogue was encouraged by the Holy See. Several of us at Spencer became acquainted with groups from other spiritual traditions who resided in our area. We invited several spiritual teachers from the Eastern religions as well as some ecumenically skilled Catholic theologians to visit and speak with us. Fr. Thomas Merton was still alive at this time and writing extensively about his researches and exchanges in interreligious dialogue. He was one of the most articulate pioneers from the Christian side in the dialogue among world religions.

    In a similar spirit we entertained a Zen master who wished to visit our monastery. We invited him to speak to the community and later to give a sesshin (a week long intensive retreat). For nine years after that, he held sesshins once or twice a year at a nearby retreat house. During those years I had the privilege of making several sesshins with him. On the occasion of his first sesshin held in our monastery, he put on the Cistercian habit and ate with us in the refectory. We have a picture of him on his seventieth birthday eating a piece of cake while sitting in the half lotus position. [Spelling of sesshin in original]

    We were also exposed to the Hindu tradition through Transcendental Meditation. Paul Marechal, a former monk of Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia, A daughter monastery had become a TM teacher and offered to instruct us in the practice. Many in the community wanted to experience it.

    Exposure to these traditions, as well as conversations with visitors to our monastery who had benefited from them, naturally raised many questions in my mind as I tried to harmonize the wisdom of the East with the contemplative tradition on Christianity that I had been studying and trying to practice for thirty years.

Keating goes on to say this about "Eastern religions" and how they can help Christians become "closer to God":

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”. (Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington, Finding Grace at the Center. pp. 5-6)
Any Christian who has an inkling of the Holy Spirit dwelling within them should immediately be alarmed by these types of statements. But just what does Centering Prayer involve? What does one do in order to obtain this "Centering" of oneself? Keating goes onto explain just what one must do to enter into this state of drawing closer to God:

"Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God's presence and action within." (cf. Open Mind, Open Heart, chap. 5) The sacred word expresses our intention to be in God's presence and to yield to the divine action. The sacred word should be chosen during a brief period of prayer asking the Holy Spirit to inspire us with one that is especially suitable for us. Examples: Lord, Jesus, Abba, Father, Mother Other possibilities: Love, Peace, Shalom Having chosen a sacred word, we do not change it during the prayer period, for that would be to start thinking again. A simple inward gaze upon God may be more suitable for some persons than the sacred word. In this case, one consents to God's presence and action by turning inwardly toward God as if gazing upon him. The same guidelines apply to the sacred gaze as to the sacred word."
Keating goes on to explain further:

"Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God's presence and action within." By "sitting comfortably" is meant relatively comfortably; not so comfortably that we encourage sleep, but sitting comfortably enough to avoid thinking about the discomfort of our bodies during this time of prayer. Whatever sitting position we choose, we keep the back straight. If we fall asleep, we continue the prayer for a few minutes upon awakening if we can spare the time. Praying in this way after a main meal encourages drowsiness. Better to wait an hour at least before Centering Prayer. Praying in this way just before retiring may disturb one's sleep pattern. We close our eyes to let go of what is going on around and within us. We introduce the sacred word inwardly and as gently as laying a feather on a piece of absorbent cotton.
NOTE: This is no different than the practice of Transcendental Meditation whereby one chants a "Mantra" over and over or as in this case a "Sacred Word". The bible specifically warns believers not to pray repetitive prayers or senseless mumbling. When we look at how Jesus taught his disciples to pray was there any mention of "sacred words" or to enter themselves into a trance like state repeating the scriptures over and over again?

Of course many will say that Keating is at the extreme end of this movement and surely this has not reached the evangelical ranks. But as with many false doctrines and beliefs they are not satisfied until that have spoiled the entire well. Many mainstream Christian leaders have adopted this Eastern Religion into their Christian Leadership Trainings and even retreat centers.

For example, one well noted Christian author and teacher Ruth Haley Barton has become one of the leading experts on Evangelical Centering Prayer and has even opened up her own Christian Retreat Center, The Transforming Center, to teach countless other Christian Pastor and Worship Leaders this heresy. Barton is fast becoming one of the most renowned Contemplative Prayer "Guide" in recent years. On her website she notes the method of how one enters into a alter-state of solitude:

1.Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence
and action within. [Examples: God, Jesus, Abba, Father, Mother, Mary, Amen. Other possibilities: Love, Peace, Mercy, Listen, Let Go, Silence, Stillness, Faith, Trust, Yes.]

2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.

3. When engaged with your thoughts*, return ever-so gently to the sacred word.

4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of
minutes. [ *Thoughts include body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections]
Again, the intent of Centering Prayer is to eventually reach the point where the person is not engaged in their thoughts as they arrive on their stream of consciousness. The point here is to have an "experience" and not a renewing of your mind with Truth as Paul speaks of whereby we are using our God-given abilities to reason and know the Truth through God's word,teachings, and Holy Spirit.

Finally, what is astounding in all of this is none of this is ever mentioned in scripture. But yet why is this no surprise. It seems many in this movement are forgetting one important element and that is knowledge of the truth. Jesus said "The Truth shall set you free" - not some altered state of mind or Transcendental Meditation. It would seem this is again another subversion from people knowing the gospel or knowing God truly with the mind God gave us. Jesus told the woman at the well that "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24). Again Jesus spoke against this very thing in the Gospel of Matthew whereby he says:

" But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him". (Matthew 6:6-8)

Again I truly believe that we are in desperate times friends, when pastors and ministers have traded the truth for a lie and light for darkness. It is my prayer and my hope that many will trun from this perversion of God's word and His Truth!

"But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him." (2 Corinthians 11:3-4)


Ken Silva said...

Hello Preston,

As one who has been studying this contemplative mysticism for years now I was glad to see your piece.

Here's a couple of links you might find of interest as well.

Origin of Contemplative/Centering Prayer

Meditating On Contemplative/Centering Prayer

Preston N said...


WOW! What a great site! Thank God for your efforts in helping expose this latest spiritual assault on the church. The more I read the more I am very concerned that these are the days where men will carried away by all sorts of unsound doctrines and beliefs. We must hold firm in our faith. Please pray as a friend of ours is currently at the Transforming Center in Chicago. She too is a Worship Minister and a Leader in a local church. I am afraid she will not listen to us as she seems to be pretty deep into this stuff.

Please keep exposing this lie so that others may be saved! Thanks for visiting my site!

God Bless!

joe said...

i am curious as to what you think prayer ought to be, who you think you are to tell someone how to pray, and why meditation...which is mentioned in the Holy Writ quite a few times...scares you.

anyone who may quiet the mind while focusing on the Lord, or an element of the Lord, is not one practicing vain repetition...they are practicing and sitting in the presence of the Lord. in these times of fanatics, ranting and raving VAIN repetitious preachers....we have the right to silence your noise from our mind, to contemplate the Lord quietly, to enjoy our experience of Christ.

You are nobody special. You have no right to discourage us from quiet contemplation of our Lord. You are not in our souls, not the Holy Spirit, and not permitted to discourage people in their pursuit of Christ.

You are not God, and you do not tell us how to pray.

Preston N said...

Joe - Apparently you didn't read my peice at all and decided to be ugly in your response. I never said anything about not meditating on the Lord here or discouraging anyone about entering into an attitude of reverance or solitude. My main issue with Contemplative or Centering prayer is its use of Eastern Religion and Catholic myticism and techniques similarly found in Hinduism and Buddahism. This is nothing more than Transcendental Meditation repackage under the guise of Christianity. If this is your thing then I am afraid your trying to mix the Pagan with that which is holy and pure.

Inndesign said...

ummmm your leaching an image off my server eternalpath.org and plagiarizing content to boot. Christians don’t use copyright content without permission. Please replace the image with an image from another source so I don't have to block your blog from my control panel. Thanks.

Preston N said...


Please accept my deepest apologies! If I recall I pulled this image off of a Google image search and simply copied and pasted the image into my post. At that time I was new to blogging and didn't really pay attention to the copyright issue. So thanks for catching this and bringing it to my attention. Please forgive me for any harm I may have brought to you or your site. It was never my intention to purposefully use a copyrighted photo. I have removed the image from the post.

Also, when you said I plagiarized content from your server - can you be more specific? Probably what I need to do in the future is footnote my sources as I pulled a lot of my information from various sites on this piece. If anything its just sloppy "blogging" on my part.

Sue said...

Hey Preston,

I practice centering prayer after a fashion myself. I must say, I have never experienced a "trancelike state" as you mention here (oh, and Lectio divina is another thing entirely; it is praying through the scriptures and quite beautiful).

The intent of centering prayer is not to "eventually reach the point where the person is not engaged in their thoughts as they arrive on their stream of consciousness" and to "have an experience". The intent is to enter into communion with the Father in prayer, and one thing that is required is discipline so as to still one's mind and stop the chatter. That is where the "mantra" comes in, although not everyone uses a mantra in these sorts of prayer. It doesn't seem to me to be the same thing as the "repetitive babbling" that the Bible talks about - as far as I can see that seems to be referring to people who babble on at God thinking that the length of their discourse is going to somehow sway him, as if he doesn't already know what they want. The other is not the focus of the prayer itself, but a method of stilling the mind so that one can focus on the Father. It actually is a form of silent prayer more than anything else.

Sharon said...

I am a Christian. For me, it is those things that I *react* to that tell me most about myself. I wonder what that might be for you, Preston?

Some of *my* observations...

"In an age where it seems Christianity and other world religions are quickly blurring into one another..."

...this comment implies that the "blurring" of religious beliefs is a problem. It also assumes that there is only one *right* religion. Every Religion brings a richness.. Christianity brings the Trinity... Jesus Christ. The richness of religions will continue to withstand the test of time. The *commonalities* of Religious Beliefs is beginning to be seen. There is and always has been *One God*. How can we as Christians ever expect to bring The Word into the world, if all we can see is *our* microcosmic view?

"Its Latin term is called Lectio Divina,"

... Centering prayer and Lectio Divina are 2 very different practices. I'll let you do your homework on that one.

..."If your unfamiliar with Christian or Catholic Mysticism it is essentially nothing new, but rather its simply Eastern Religion repackaged as being Christian."

...the example that you use is chanting and solitude. Since solitude or silence may be a type of "meditation", I'll assume that is the connection to Eastern religion. Not *all* meditation is Eastern Religion. I'll let you do your homework on that one, too.

"First, note knowledge of truth has very little to do with one drawing closer to God, but rather "inner purification" is through an experience and not a revelation of truth."

... "revelation" and "experience" both have a biblical basis. This is not an *either/or*... it is a *both/and*. Jesus was not exclusive... he was inclusive.

"Any Christian who has an inkling of the Holy Spirit dwelling within them should immediately be alarmed by these types of statements."

... now you have me *really confused*. You just said that experience and revelation can't both happen. How can one have the "Holy Spirit dwelling within" and not experience it?

"This is no different than the practice of Transcendental Meditation whereby one chants a "Mantra" over and over or as in this case a "Sacred Word".

... actually Transcendental Meditation focuses on the Mantra and Centering prayer focuses on emptying... letting go. I'll let you do more homework here, so you will see how they are *opposite*.

This blog brings sadness to my Christian heart. I work with a medical mission group in South America bringing The Word there. We as Christians will be unable to bring The Word to the World if all we can see is our *perspective*.

Reminds me of the well-known quote...

"We don't see things the way they are, we see things the way we are."

So, today I will be pondering how can I honor your view that is so different from mine, yet we are both "Christian".

Mary Jo said...

Beautifully said, Sharon, and shared by me. This world doesn't need people criticizing others for journeying closer to the Divine. No one person can think they "have the market" on faith and practice. We are all uniquely created by God and have God-given gifts of grace to lead us into perfect union with the Divine, in more ways than just one.

Preston N said...

Mary Jo and Sharon - Just curious. Do both of you believe truth is absolute or relative????

hovenweep said...

Hi, Preston...As a previous person posted; Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer are two different methods. Please do your homework before posting from a position of authority.

As for a repeated 'mantra' (definition: "a commonly repeated word or phrase")...the word mantra is commonly and often confused as an indelible link to Eastern belief systems. This is incorrect - a misnomer. Aside from that, the Rosary is the oldest mantra known within Christian history. Is it not a mantra? Do you not repeat a word or phrase?

No, there is nothing to fear of Centering Prayer. The only thing I suggest, as with any practice, is to embrace a spiritual director and even a psychologist, on your journey - shaking lose the dark night of the soul, or and shadow work, can be very daunting.

Opening oneself to the trueself, or Divine, or God, is simply that. An invitation. Centering Prayer is not petitionary in nature - how can you rest in God if your mouth is always moving, wanting, desiring, needing?

Preston N said...

Amazing that these recent comments in support of "Centering Prayer" have not mentioned one biblical supportive reference, but pagan catholic references. Sorry hovenweep, I am NOT a catholic, so your idolatry of useless necklaces is an abomination to God.

First, why would I need to "open up myself" if the Holy Spirit already dwells within me. Second, why would I need a psychologist or a spiritual director......are they more enlightened than the rest of us (God is not a respector of persons).

hovenweep said...

Well, Preston...now I'm thinking that Truth is neither relative or absolute, but rather subjective. The Desert Fathers and Mothers (uh, "Saints") brought forth contemplative traditions.

Jesus went into the desert to pray - this would be a desert of dual meaning. "Enter your inner room and close the door", "Be still and know that I Am God", "I Am, I Am". etc. The bible warns against petitionary prayer - God knows what you desire and need.

One should 'open up' to God, an invitation, so as to empty the false self (our authoritarian masks, ego, thoughts). Sounds like your cup is full, Preston, and that you refuse any spiritual or faith growth whatsoever.

Again, please do a bit more research; your initial posting and responses are lacking in wisdom. Respond to these questions - make this a dialog...it's an interesting one.

Preston N said...

Hovenweep - Are you ABSOLUTELY sure that Truth is subjective?

Again, this is nothing more than post-modern liberal Christianity.

If truth is subjective then my truth could mean that I believe its OK to molest little boys as that is what I "Feel" is true. Would this bother you hovenweep? If it does then you have shown your blatant ignorance and denial of a universal truth. You claim to empty yourself and this is for certain - as you have empty your mind and allowed it to be filled by what you deem to be true - based upon your experiences!

I KNOW Truth! I am not dependent upon my flesh and emotions to discern truth, nor am I basing truth on my subjective "Feelings or experiences" - real evangelical truth is never dependent upon my experiences, but what we know to be Truth!

What your preaching here is nothing more than leaven and dangerous.

hovenweep said...

Oh...AND the fact that there is such a (re)surgence of the contemplative lifestyle is because the church(es) and related dogma are not bringing to the table what the people need - a time for reflection. Thus, the mass exodus from various faiths, including that of the clergymen. The churches are in a sad state of affairs, and not because of the media exposures of all the infidelity and molestation of little boys, but because their doctrines are passive and ineffective. Your hiding in your home-pulpit is only exacerbating the problem.

Preston N said...

Hovenweep - the reason the church is in such a disastrous state is because of people such as yourself who refuse to accept and rest upon the truths God has already established. How can God share with you the meat if your unwilling to eat the milk he has already provided? The real issue hovenweep is you wish to reinvent that which requires no reinventing! People need no "reflection" (whatever that means), but to repent from their rebellious hearts and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. I realize that sounds "old fashioned" or irrelevant hovenweep (hmmm look whose hiding now) but from what I recall that has historically worked in the past very well.

hovenweep said...

As for your previous comment "...why would I need a psychologist or a spiritual director...are they more enlightened than the rest of us (God is not a respector of persons)."

I ask: why do we need preachers to transfer the meaning of the bible? Have you ever experienced someone struggling on the path of faith...it's not pretty, and yes, it can be dangerous and misinterpreted.

Sharon said...

I leave the question of "Truth" to those who have studied the Bible in schools of Theology or to those in schools of Philosophy in Universities. It is not a black and white "known", as we all would wish for.

I do know that those who strive for "Truth" have an authenticity that comes from within. I'm noticing Preston, that you don't have your last name on your blog. I follow other religious blogs... yours is the only one without that.

I found this blog by googling "Centering Prayer and Christmas"... it comes up first on the list... I hope those familiar with Centering Prayer will *hold* a container of Love as Jesus would for blogs such as this and those who don't know Centering Prayer will look elsewhere for their information.

I will also add this...

What must I let go in order to be open to growth in 2010?

Adapted from Beginner's Mind by Richard Rohr.

The sin in the beginning of the Bible is “to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17). The moment I sit on my throne where I know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, then I’m capable of great evil—while not thinking of it as evil! I have eaten of the wrong tree, according to the Bible. Don’t judge, don’t label, don’t rush to judgment. You don’t usually know other people’s real motives or intentions. You hardly know your own.

What the author of the classic "Cloud of Unknowing" says is that first you have to enter into “the cloud of forgetting.” Forget all your certitudes, all your labels, all your explanations, whereby you’ve put this person in this box; this group is going to heaven, this race is superior to that race. Just forget it. It’s largely a waste of time. It’s usually your ego projecting itself, announcing itself, and protecting itself. It has nothing to do with objective reality or real love of the truth.

If the world, and the world’s religions, do not learn this kind of humility and patience, I think we’re in definite trouble.

~ Blessings to all in 2010 ... we are all God's children~

Preston N said...


If you can't discern what is "Truth" and what isn't, why then should I ever listen to anything you have to say?? How then do I know your not telling me a lie or something that is false?

You see Sharon, you are what Jesus called a blind guide. And those who follow you will end up in a "pit" with you. What ridiculous teaching you promote! I can't know Truth, but you sure don't have any issues going around telling others what your opinions are and that I for one am wrong in my position on Centering Prayer?! Maybe before handing out advice Sharon, you need to re-evaluate what is Truth, before going around telling others your opinions.

Sharon here is my advice to you and I do so in love. Repent of this false universal religion and New Age Humanism or you will find yourself in Hell. I realize you probably think that sound barbaric and exclusive, but you know what? Jesus WAS exclusive! He said "NO ONE, can come to the Father EXCEPT through ME". Sounds pretty exclusive Sharon. My fear for you Sharon is not that you don't know the Truth, but you do know it and you reject it.

Preston Nesselrotte

Sharon said...

"Jesus WAS exclusive!" *OUCH* !

Christianity is a Religion of *Love*.

"He who is filled with love is filled with God himself." ~St. Augustine

"What ridiculous teaching you promote!" I don't promote teachings... I try to understand and be open to the Word in my Life... I listen.

Any further discussion would be simply be "Ping Pong". I will restate what is best said by Richard Rohr, above...

"If the world, and the world’s religions, do not learn this kind of humility and patience, I think we’re in definite trouble."

Preston N said...


I find it interesting that you quote philosophers to support your position, and I quote scriptures to support mine. Love by definition is exclusive. God says he is a Jealous God and will not tolerate those who are unfaithful. God says to have no other idols before him, and it is clear your idol is that of humanism and flesh driven experiences.

Sadly, you seek to make your fleshly desires a god. Instead of seeking and understanding real Truth, you have turned truth into an "experience" and that is your drug of choice. Your really no different than a heroine addict who seeks that next fix (experience?). Jesus called your ilk out many times, instead of believing and having faith, you were constantly seeking and crying out for "signs and wonders" in order to believe. Instead your kind make God a God of entertainment and experiences.

The thing you need to ask yourself Sharon is this. If God never gave you another "experience" when you prayed, would you still continue to seek Him and worship Him? Or would your faith grow old and dead because your flesh was no longer being fed????

elgregcor said...


elgregcor said...


elgregcor said...

Three is always a charm:

Now hear this:

TRUTH IS A PERSON, HIS NAME IS JESUS CHRIST! In the Name of Jesus, ONLY! Do not be taken off the journey to Him, and Him alone.

For all you Catholics out there Preston speaks of the Living Truth, His Name is the Holy Name of Jesus. Some of you who have been "sacramentalized" need to be "evangelized" and come to know of simple Gospel of Jesus, the Truth, the Way, the Life!

Thank you Preston! The Lord is well pleased at your ardent try...let those who have ears, hear!

Come Holy Spirit,