Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thomas Merton Bio #3

 (See Part I and Part II)

New Age is defined well this way:
         [O]ccultism [New Ageism] is defined as the science of mystical evolution; it is the employment of the hidden (i.e., occult [secret]) mystical faculties of man to discern the hidden reality of nature; i.e., to see God as the all-in-all.[1]
I am very familiar with "freedom," in fact, when Luther wrote his commentary on Romans he was still a bit fresh to the commentary scene. His commentary on Galatians however, fantastic. I also enjoy Augustan, Aquinas, and many other Church Fathers and apologists/theologians, I can even pick through Origin's stuff. Contemplative prayer is not something that should be gleaned/shared or compared to this history. You will see a recurring theme in meditative practices, they are grasped onto by people in the Eastern religions and Roman Catholicism as another way or work to reach God. In other words, the typical Catholic has salvation wrapped up in many legalistic traditions, and it doesn't surprise me that instead of looking to the Reformational doctrines, they look to the East, who are likewise filled with traditions and models to achieve emptiness of the mind. I will contend that the "silence" Merton speaks of is not the "solitude" Jesus sought or the type mentioned in Psalm 46:10, a favorite verse of the contemplatives.
Ken Kaisch, an Episcopal priest and teacher of mystical prayer says in his book Finding God:
         Meditation is a process through which we quiet the mind and the emotions and enter directly into the experience of the Divine.... there is a deep connection between us... God is in each of us.[2]
However, how does one get to this point of realizing "God is in each of us," or, in all things in the panentheistic sense? What does this silence cause? Bishop Alan Jones in Reimaging Christianity, says the church must head towards contemplative prayer,
         ...the life of contemplative prayer... Loved and in communion with all things, the soul is born in and out of the secret silence of God. This silence at the heart of mysticism is not only the meeting point of the great traditions but also where all hearts might meet.... But another ancient strand of Christianity teaches that we are all caught up in the Divine Mystery we call God, that the Spirit is in everyone [not talking about the Imago Dei], and that there are depths of interpretation yet to be plumbed.... At cathedral we "break the bread" for those who follow the path of the Buddha and walk the way of the Hindus.[3]
Here is a longer quote from Bishop Jones from my chapter of a larger paper:
The following quote from is from a book that I had read some quotes from in other works and I just couldn’t believe what I was reading, so I bought it to see for myself.  Here is what I found:
Who's Included?
Imagine a great cathedral in Western Australia packed for the cele­bration of Commonwealth Day. There's been a lot of preparation for the service, and tough questions were asked about what “common­wealth” might mean in such a multicultural society. Who should be included and how should the Church celebrate the present reality that is Australia? What's the relationship of Christianity to the other faiths represented in the Commonwealth?
John Shepherd, the dean of St. George's Cathedral in Perth, Western Australia, invited the abbot of the Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery to preach at the service, which was a Eucharist -- the central Christian sacrament. The abbot accepted in full knowledge of this. Aboriginal dancers led the procession into the cathedral and later led the offertory procession to the altar. During communion, representatives of the Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and Baha'i faiths read passages from their sacred writings, and after communion an Abo­riginal reader offered a dream-time reflection. Was this Christian? The answer, as far as I'm concerned, is “Of course.”
For others, however, the service was an act of betrayal. Outside the cathedral two people stood in protest, holding placards bearing biblical texts. One protester briefly interrupted the abbot's address with a cry that they were all heading for hell. The two lone objec­tors believed that the Christian witness was being compromised.   And from their point of view, they were right.  Either Christianity is true or it isn’t.  If it is, the other religions, however well meaning their adherents are, must be false. Right? And it's hypocritical to think and act otherwise.
But another ancient strand of Christianity teaches that we are all caught up in the Divine Mystery we call God, that the Spirit is in everyone, and that there are depths of interpretation yet to be plumbed. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people” [John 1:1-18; ital­ics mine].[4]
I believe this idea of integrating faith is self-explanatory.  However, in case you missed it, at the end of the quote Alan Jones inserted an Eastern pantheistic worldview into the Gospel of John.  In other words, in order to validate his point, Jones practiced eisegesis.  (“Exegesis is ‘letting the text speak for itself rather than reading into the text what isn’t there,’ which is eisegesis.”)[5]
In the book the Contemplative Experience, Joseph Chu-Cong speaks about Bernard of Clairvaux:
  • He realized that God permeates the whole of creation. His experience was that God is the "stone in the stones, the tree in the trees," and in the same way, the center point of his own soul. God resides at the heart of all that exists![6]
Thomas Merton went so far as to say that without contemplative prayer "the Church cannot fulfill her mission to transform and save mankind."[7] This is Gospel plus something. Plus what? William Shannon quoting Merton explains what the goal of contemplative practice is:
  • The contemplative experience is neither a union of separate identities nor a fusion of them; on the contrary, separate identities disappear in the All Who is God.[8]
This is New Age Eastern thought. It has its place in the Mind Sciences, not in conservative Protestant bodies. Brennan Manning, author of Ragamuffin Gospel, wrote some suggestions in his Signature of Jesus on how to empty you mind:
  • 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.[9]
This is exactly how Eastern gurus empty their mind. Richard Foster (one of the most well-known Merton disciples) defines it thusly: "Christian meditation is an attempt to empty the mind in order to fill it."[10]
This isn’t about whether one listens to Dio or P.O.D. -- has adopted a stance on predestination, free-will, or nothing at all; it is about necromancy (spirit guides), altered states of consciousness, astral projection, importing pantheistic worldviews into a theistic one, and occultism.  For instance:
Willow Creek's Leadership Summit in August 2006 introduced Jim Collins to the 70,000 participating Christian leaders. Since 1982 he has been a disciple of New Ager Michael Ray. That year Collins took Ray's Creativity in Business course, which “takes much of its inspiration from Eastern philosophy, mysticism and meditation techniques” and promotes tapping into one's inner wisdom. It describes an “inner person” called “your wisdom keeper or spirit guide” that “can be with you in life” (“Willow Creek Leadership Summit Starts Today,” Lighthouse Trails, Aug. 10, 2006). Collins wrote the foreword to Ray's 2005 book The Highest Goal: The Secret that Sustains You in Every Minute, which claims that man is divine and recommends Hindu mind emptying, meditation. The book quotes Hindu gurus Ram Dass, Jiddu Krishnamurti, and Swami Shantananda. Yet Collins calls it “the distillation of years of accumulated wisdom from a great teacher.” Following is a quote from the book:
         I attended a meditation-intensive day at an ashram [Hindu spiritual center] to support a friend. As I sat in meditation in what was for me an unfamiliar environment, I suddenly felt and saw a bolt of lightning shoot up from the base of my spine out the top of my head. It forced me to recognize something great within me ... this awareness of my own divinity (Michael Ray, The Highest Goal, p. 28; the foreword is by Jim Collins; quoted from “Willowcreek Leadership Summit Starts Today,” Aug, 10, 2006, Lighthouse Trails).[11]
Which is why Thomas Keating says in his book Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality (a book recommended by Brennan Manning) that,
         In order to guide persons having this experience [divine oneness], Christian spiritual directors may need to dialogue with Eastern teachers in order to get a fuller understanding.[12]
Which may have been the catalyst for Merton saying that he "see[s] no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity. The future of Zen is in the West. I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can."[13] Just a reminder on Manning in my "guilt by proxy" post about Beth Moore:
Moore builds her case for contemplative in her frequent references to Brennan Manning in her book, suggesting that his contribution to "our generation of believers may be a gift without parallel" (p. 72). This is indeed a troubling statement made by a Christian leader who so many women look to for direction and instruction in their spiritual lives. Many of those women, in reading Moore's comments about Manning and her quoting of him in the book may turn to the writings of Manning for further insights. When they do, they will find that Manning is a devout admirer of Beatrice Bruteau of The School for Contemplation.
Bruteau believes that God lives in all creation, stating: "We have realized ourselves as the Self that says only I AM, with no predicate following, not 'I am a this' or 'I have that quality.' Only unlimited, absolute I AM" (Lighthouse Trails).
Ahem... this is contemplative prayer, e.g., New Age realizations geared to eradicate self, cause an eastern style silence/emptying of the mind, and deification in some respect of man. This is not found in Biblical history but only the history of panentheism picked up by the traditions that made Luther and Calvin and others sick. Not only was Merton a typical "worship Mary and pray to the saints" Catholic, he was a self-pronounced Buddhist who used Buddhist forms of meditation and repackaged it into Christianese along with the "Desert Fathers" use of the same Eastern practices. In fact he experienced, while meditating in front of Buddha statues deep mystical experiences similar to his contemplation on Christ.
While I agree you can glean stuff from certain theologians, in all that I have read and studied on Merton he would be lumped in with the anti-Christ's religion by the Reformers. Which may be why there is talk about a new reformation or talk of the "old one" being too rigid.
Fuller Seminary professors Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, in their sympathetic study of the emerging church, say:
         Whereas the Reformation removed many rituals from the worship service, postmodern worship restores these activities. The reformation focused on the spoken word, while postmodern worship embraces the experienced word. Thus, emerging church worshipers may respond with the sign of the cross, more often associated with Catholic worship, and they receive the deep mystical aspects of communion, candles, and incense. They may retrieve ancient rituals and create new ones involving the body; they may dance in different venues" (Emerging Churches, p. 78).
Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis, led by Doug Pagitt, uses labyrinths, celebrates Ash Wednesday by putting ashes on the forehead, practices silent prayer and prayer dancing, makes the sign of the cross, and uses the Stations of the Cross (Church Re-imagined, pp. 86, 101, 102).[14]
The Boston Globe mentions this new monastic mysticism in one of their article:
         There is now a growing movement to revive evangelicalism by reclaiming parts of Roman Catholic tradition--including monasticism. Some 100 groups that describe themselves as both evangelical and monastic have sprung up in North America, according to Rutba House's [Jonathan] Wilson-Hartgrove. Many have appeared within the past five years. Increasing numbers of evangelical congregations have struck up friendships with Catholic monasteries, sending church members to join the monks for spiritual retreats. St. John's Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Minnesota, now makes a point of including interested evangelicals in its summer Monastic Institute ("The Unexpected Monks," The Boston Globe, Feb. 3, 2008).
If there is any mistake about what the goal of contemplative prayer, Richard Foster sums it up:
         To this question the old writers answer with one voice: union with god. ... Bonaventure, a follower of Saint Francis, says that our final goal is "union with god," which is a pure relationship where we see "nothing."[15]
The "old writers" are old Catholic writers, but the Bible nowhere describes or encourages such a practice. The believer's complete relationship with God is an accomplished fact in Christ.
          As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:6-10 NKJV)
I agree with that we need discernment, and can reject parts of peoples writings that we know to be badly slanted (Luther's The Jews and their Lies for example). This is exactly the point... Merton's input on prayer is wrong from the floor up, and we as discerning Christians should consider its rejection, in light of Protestant freedom and relation in Christ. I think all we can glean is that yes, Christian prayer life needs improvement, along with everything else we associate with human-hood. Do we really have to wade through this stuff to get that?

This silence Merton and others speak of, by-the-by, is an emptying of your mind, not solitude.
The question is, since we are called to "prove all things and hold fast to that which is good," have you [the person that has experienced and enjoyed through feelings] tested these practices beyond the feeling that they bring you closer to God or merely hearing about them. The consideration that these practices have been given to us evangelicals via a Roman Catholic Buddhist whom himself received it through a long line of thinking relating to neo-platonic thinking should cause red-flags in our looking into this.

[1] Richard Kirby, The Mission of Mysticism (London, UK: SPCK, 1979), 13. Quoted from: Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing: How Ancient Mystical Practices are Uniting Christians with the World Religions, 2nd ed. (Silverton, OR: Lighthouse Publishers, 2006), 14.
[2] Ken Kaisch, Finding God: A Handbook of Christian Meditation (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1994), 283.
[3] Alan Jones, Reimaging Christianity: Reconnect Your Spirit Without Disconnecting Your Mind (Hoboke, NJ: John Wiley & Sone Inc., 2005), 174, 89. This quote comes from the book as well:
I won't allow those who insist on a literal interpretations of these myths and doctrines to deprive me of my devotion to her. Was she literally a vir­gin: I don't know. I do know that in the old stories and commen­taries about her, virginity was often a code word for absolute dedication. Christ, in this regard, was even referred to as the archvirgin. But much of the emphasis on virginity arose from a neg­ative and destructive view of sexuality. So I doubt very much whether Mary was literally a virgin, but I know many who sincerely believe that she was. 
[4] Ibid., 88-89.
[5] Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor, 1991), 47.
[6] Joseph Chu-Cong, The Contemplative Experience (New York, NY: Crossroads Publishing Company, 1999), 3. Quoted in: Ray Yungen, A Time of Departing, 177-178.
[7] Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer (New York, NY: Image Books; Doubleday, 1996), 116.
[8] Brother Patrick Hart, ed., The Message of Thomas Merton (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1981), 200.
[9] Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus (Sisters, OR: Multnomag, 1996), 212, 216, 218.
[10] Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (New York, NY: Harper San Francisco, 1978), 15.
[11] David Cloud, Contemplative Mysticism, 54-55 (emphasis added). This is interesting because in Tantric Hiduism, this is always pictured as a serpent coiled around the adherent’s spine:

kundalini (koon-duh-lee'nee; Skt., “coiled one”), in Hindu and Buddhist Tantrism, the latent and highly potent spiritual energy resting at the base of the spine. Often depicted as a serpent sleeping coiled three and a half times around a Shiva linga in the muladhara, or base chakra (energy vortex), this power (shakti) is awakened by the initiatory power of the guru (spiritual leader) and is said to move upward “like lightning” through the various chakras to reunion with Shiva at the top of the head. The yogic uncoiling of this energy produces the transformative, meditational states of tantric mysticism. See also chakras; Tantra.
Jonathan Z. Smith, ed., The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion (San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco, 1995), cf. kundalini, 648 (emphasis added). Criticism isn’t always bad, and it is something demanded of us in Scripture (1 Thess 5:21), and is even called “noble” (Acts 17:11). I will again display the ending to David Cloud’s summary of Rick Warren, adapted just enough to be fit to the many church’s that are experiencing the same thing:
Our pastors do not believe that all religions worship the same God or that man is God, but their enthusiasm for contemplative practices and lust for the newest thing have brought them and our parishioners into close association with those who do. They are promoting the same type of "spiritual" practices that are nurturing the New Age and their thinking is being corrupted by this illicit association. Evangelicals who are reading and recommending books by mystics would be wise to take heed to this warning.
[12] Thomas Keating, Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality by Philip St. Romain (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1991), Foreword. 
[13] Brother Patrick Hart, ed., The Message of Thomas Merton (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1981), 88.
[14] David Cloud, Contemplative Mysticism: A Powerful Ecumenical Bond (Port Huron, MI: Way of Life Literature, 2008), 28.
[15] Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding The Heart's True Home (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1992), 159.