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February 2011

A critique of Centering Prayer by The Cross and the Veil.

Catholic Contemplation or Occult Meditation?


The following quotes are taken from the The Contemplative Prayer Online Magazine and illustrate the typical errors that have entered the Catholic contemplative tradition through various techniques derived, however innocently, from a mixture of Buddhist meditative practice (which ensures dissociation of the spirit from the body in order to achieved enlightenment) and kundalini yogic practice (which unleashes the occult magic of Kali, the destroyer goddess). This technique, known as Centering Prayer (CP), has been in vogue since the 1970's. Thomas Keating, a Cistercian priest, monk, and abbot in Colorado, is the founder of the Centering Prayer Movement. Father Pennington, another teacher of this technique, is called a "master of centering prayer" on the website.

Deceptive claims

CP devotees claim it to be a revival of ancient meditative practice, referring to it as a new version of the practice of ejaculatory mental prayer wherein contemplatives practiced the presence of God by repeating simple sacred words or sentences such as "Jesus, I love you." 

Far from simple or sacred, CP is a codified technique which constructs a psychological and spiritual state of awareness designed to unleash unconscious forces and which typically encourages a narcissistic turning-inward and pre-occupation with self awareness, consciousness-raising and the achieving of preternatural experiences.

Following are Father Pennington's statements. Italicised comments are those of The Cross and the Veil or attributed:

  • "Centering Prayer is a simple method of prayer that sets up the ideal conditions to rest in quiet awareness of God's presence. This way of prayer is alluded to in many passages in the Old and New Testaments and probably dates from then."

(Vague references citing legitimacy of technique from ancient origins is typical.)

  • "The Greek Fathers referred to it as monologion, "one-word" prayer. The desert father, Abba Isaac taught a similar form of prayer to John Cassian who later wrote of it in France, transmitting it to Benedict of Nursia. Unfortunately, by the time of the 16th century, the prayer form largely went out of use in favor of more discursive modes of prayer."

("He [Cassian] is in fact regarded as the originator of what, since the Middle Ages, has been known as Semi-pelagianism...Preoccupied as he was with moral questions, he exaggerated the role of free will by claiming that the initial steps to salvation were in the power of each individual, unaided by grace... Semi-pelagianism was finally condemned by the Council of Orange in 529" - Catholic Encyclopedia.)

Buzz words and phrases

In the following quote taken from the article "Love is God's Being" by Basil Pennington, posted on the web site, we have bolded typical buzz words and phrases revealing the New Age origins of "Centering Prayer":

"When we go to the center of our being and pass through that center into the very center of God we get in immediate touch with this divine creating energy. This is not a new idea. It is the common teaching of the Christian Fathers of the Greek tradition. When we dare with the full assent of love to unleash these energies within us not surprisingly he initial experience is of a flood of chaotic thoughts, memories, emotions and feelings. This is why wise spiritual Fathers and mothers counsel a gentle entering into this experience. Not too much too fast. But it is this release that allows all of this chaos within us with all its imprisoning stress to be brought into harmony so that not only their might be peace and harmony within but that the divine energy may have the freedom to forward the evolution of consciousness in us and through us, as a part of the whole, in the whole of the creation."

Typical of New Age meditative practice, the soul becomes the "center," energy replaces grace, God actually becomes a pantheistic energy, and the unleashing of this "energy" leads to chaos and then, mysteriously, an evolution of consciousness. Legitimacy of this occult technique is sought in pop-psychology, comparing it to seeking insight through bio-feedback or self-hypnosis.

Buddhic withdrawal and dissociation

The following excerpt from the Contemplative web site details the technique-driven method of withdrawal and dissociation derived from Buddhic meditative practice, which posits ultimate withdrawal from all attachments and this "world of illusion" as the means of achieving oneness with and absorption into the primal void, as one's evolution of consciousness leads to the awakening of the "Self" as God:

As you sit comfortably with eyes closed:

1. Let yourself settle down. Let go of all the thoughts, tensions, and sensations you may feel and begin to rest in love of God who dwells within.

(In Catholic contemplative practice, we bring all of ourselves to God and enter into conversation or communion, bringing everything with us to lay at His Feet. All manner of worries, concerns and thoughts are stepping stones to sanctity as we enter into conversation about them with Him. "Letting go" in this particular technique does not simply involve a discipline of the will, which is a typical counsel in meditative practice, but a profound distortion of the use of the will to achieve a practiced dissociation from ourselves and a mentalization of prayer that can foster habitual disassociation, fantasies and ego flight.)

2. Effortlessly, take up a word, the symbol of your intention to surrender to God's presence, and let the word be gently present.

(Using any word to "conjure up" the divine opens one to self-hypnosis and the possibility of perseverating on the object of meditation, not on the contemplation of Our Lord or the meditation of the virtues or events of His Life. An extreme example of the occult power of visualization and mentalization occurred several years ago. At one New Age workshop given by Robert Munroe where participants were trained to go out of their bodies while they slept, eager students were encouraged to first visualize placing all their distractions and cares into a trunk and then lock the trunk. This way they would be freed from earthly bonds. Unfortunately, a very beautiful woman also attending the workshop, then located in a closed sleeping room nearby, reported that during repeated nightmarish attempts to go "out-of-body," she found herself being locked in a trunk and unable to get out.)

Christian meditation

St. Teresa of Avila found herself at a time of increased spiritualism and all kinds of exaggerations of mysticism. Well aware of the tendency to get far off course, she insisted that meditation always be directed to and with Christ. 

Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading, is a tried and true way to union with Christ. As we read holy scripture, the Holy Spirit inspires us to pause and meditate on certain words or passages. 

Unfortunately, the web site here critiqued blends the New Age Centering Prayer with Lectio Divina, further confusing the issue and lending credence to occult techniques by combining them with the holy. 



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