Centering Prayer at my parish

About a year ago a Centering Prayer group was set up at my parish. I was wondering if anyone had “real” experience with such a prayer group in their own parish. I’ve read several articles over the internet about the dangers of Centering Prayer with reference to New Age and would like some feed back from participatory members.

Dear Bob,

Your information is correct. I have participated in centering prayer when I was active in the Charismatic Movement or the Renewal as they prefer to be called these days. Unfortunately I also know more about new age than most people, because I grew up with it. Both my parents were extremely active new agers, they were a hybrid Sweedenborgian + Lorber Jakob type and had a very strong sect of which my father was one of the leaders. I would say the centering prayer we were praying in Catholic charismatic circles were exactly the same new agers use. The method, experience, and consequences are identical. No wonder I took to the renewal like a fish. In a way I was much like a Protestant convert, who brings along his protestant ways into the Church when he joins the Charismatic Movement. Centering prayer is very dangerous. Do all you can to discourage others from getting involved in it.

Dear Bob,

Centering prayer is not dangerous, or new age.

Obviously tru_devotion disagrees.

I have seen many articles bashing centering prayer but none with credibility.

Centering prayer and its associated teachings about the spiritual journey have deepened my faith life and done great good to rid me of my emotional moodswings.

Centering prayer, as a method, invites “contemplative prayer” which itself is a gift from God. There are other types of prayer that attempt to lead to contemplation. Contemplative prayer is the deepest form of prayer of the three: vocal, meditative, and contemplative, and brings us to true encounter with Christ. The Catechism speaks more about contemplative prayer than the other two combined as you can read here in paragraphs 2697-2724.

Centering prayer was specifically recommended by Most Rev. Fr. Bernardo OLIVERA, O.C.S.O, Abbot General of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance., on the topic of “the personal encounter with the living Jesus Christ,” at a 1997 synod of bishops as you can read on the Vatican web site by clicking here.

You can read about the origins and history of CP at Contemplative Outreach.

You are lucky to have centering prayer meetings right in your parish. There are several weekly meetings in Wichita which I sometimes attend, but none at our parish. I started CP at the recommendation of my spiritual director just over three years ago and wrote an article about it for the diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Advance.

I expect you to see many posts now telling you to stay away from centering prayer because it’s dangerous and wrong. I may or may not engage them because it all gets pretty old. You can research it yourself and make up your own mind, and you are welcome to PM me about it.

The following threads contain much coverage of the centering prayer topic, as well as references to Lectio Divina:
forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=19665
forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=19118
forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=13373
forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=12671
forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=12908

Alan

While I do think that centering prayer can under limited circumstances be fruitful, I would not recommend it.

I already discussed my negative experience with and assessment of centering prayer on another thread and got bashed for my pains. It is a do-it-yourself shortcut to mystical experience that tries to bypass tried and true teaching of the great spiritual directors and saints of the Church about traditional practice of prayer, obedience, humility, virtue and adherence to God’s commandments.

[quote=asquared]I already discussed my negative experience with and assessment of centering prayer on another thread and got bashed for my pains. It is a do-it-yourself shortcut to mystical experience that tries to bypass tried and true teaching of the great spiritual directors and saints of the Church about traditional practice of prayer, obedience, humility, virtue and adherence to God’s commandments.
[/quote]

hang in there…

I agree with asquared. Centering prayer goes contrary to Catholic Tradition, Catholic mysticism, the tried tested and true of Catholic spirituality. This is not the way to sainthood or to intimacy with God.

Dear Bob,

See what I mean? The centering prayer bashers are out in force tonight. :wink:

Centering prayer is not a “shortcut” and it does not go against church teachings or against Catholic mysticism. Perhaps there are some groups that propose to do centering prayer but do not teach it properly. Centering prayer follows the tradition set forth in the 14th century Catholic text the Cloud of the Unknowing. You can see the version I have and recommend here on amazon.com, or you can download a public domain .rtf version I got from the British Museum at wordsfree.org/.

Alan

Dear Bob,

Also, if you want to know more about Catholic mysticism, don’t take my word for it. Check out Mystical Theology: The Science of Love by William Johnston. You can read a pretty good excerpt of it and see the table of contents online.

Alan

Let’s just see:

Editorial Reviews

This is William Johnston’s summary of the message of The Cloud of Unknowing. Nobody knows who wrote the book, or exactly where he lived, or whether he was a member of a religious order, or even, really, whether he was part of any church at all…The mysterious conditions of its composition, however, focus the reader’s attention squarely on the book’s message–an almost Zen rendering of Christianity, which has a great deal to teach our querulous, doctrine-obsessed churches: “And so I urge you,” the author writes, “go after experience rather than knowledge. On account of pride, knowledge may often deceive you, but this gentle, loving affection will not deceive you. Knowledge tends to breed conceit, but love builds. Knowledge is full of labor, but love, full of rest.” –Michael Joseph Gross

SYNOPSIS

This theological treatment of the work of an anonymous 14th-century English writer, originally published in 1967, explores the influences of Eastern ways of contemplation on Christian mysticism. Johnston, a Catholic priest living in Japan and active in the Christian/Buddhist dialogue, provides commentary on the treatise, some historical context for the world in which it was written, and ways to incorporate its ideals into modern…

So we don’t even know who the author was, the Church has NOT recognized it… but we should be teaching this in our parishes… :eek:

From CatholicCulture.org,The Danger of Centering Prayer. Showing the errors of Thomas Keating, the founder of Centering Prayer. (Registration required, but do it anyway, many great articles)

Some highlight:

Centering prayer is essentially a form of self-hypnosis. It makes use of a “mantra,” a word repeated over and over to focus the mind while striving by one’s will to go deep within oneself. The effects are a hypnotic-like state: concentration upon one thing, disengagement from other stimuli, a high degree of openness to suggestion, a psychological and physiological condition that externally resembles sleep but in which consciousness is interiorized and the mind subject to suggestion. After reading a published description of centering prayer, a psychology professor said, “Your question is, is this hypnosis? Sure it is.” He said the state can be verified physiologically by the drop in blood pressure, respiratory rate, lactic acid level in the blood, and the galvanic conductivity of the skin. Abbot Keating relates that, when they began doing the centering prayer workshops in the guest house, some of the monks and guests “complained that it was spooky seeing people walking around the guest house like 'zombies.”’ They recognized the symptoms but could not diagnose the illness.

From CenteringPrayer.com’s vision statement page:


Structure of the Network and its Process***

  1. Our primary focus is to contribute to the renewal of the Christian Contemplative

Tradition. As a contemporary re-expression of the Tradition, we offer the method of

Centering Prayer as found in the book, Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating and currently taught by Contemplative Outreach.

Two words, STAY AWAY!

Btw, Catholicculture.org is formerly peters.net. This website is always within the top 10 most watch Catholic website along with EWTN.com, NewAdvent.org, Catholic Exchange etc.

Oh, btw again, the source for that article is from THIS ROCK magazine.

Dear AlanFromWichita,

So centering prayer is not dangerous and not new age?
Here is a short synopsis of the second book you advised to get:

**Mystical **Theology: The Science of Love
by William Johnston

Synopsis
[font=Arial]Publisher Comments: [/font]
From the earliest centuries there has existed a Christian theology of mysticism, defining the state which Bernard Lonergan called a “being in love with God.” St. John of the Cross wrote such a theology for the sixteenth century, calling it “the science of love.” Now, William Johnston, one of the great spiritual writers of our time, attempts to do the same for the twenty-first century. In Part One of Mystical Theology Johnston surveys Christian mysticism through the centuries. Johnson shows that such a theology today must dialogue with modern science and with Eastern religions. Part Two provides this dialogue, where Johnston engages Einstein’s theories as well as Zen Buddhism. In Part Three, it becomes clear how the “science of love” is no longer an esoteric discipline for monks and nuns. In Johnston’s writing it becomes accessible to all modern people grappling with problems of sexuality, social justice, world peace, and the protection of the environment. Mystical Theology is indispensable to all those seeking guidance as well as intellectual and historical foundations of the Christian mystical experience today. Taking into account modern science, Eastern religions, and biblical scholarship, Johnston adapts theories of love into a mystical theology.

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, we can be sure: it is a duck!

I have read The Cloud of Unknowing, but not on my own as it is a complex book, but under spiritual direction over a 2-yr period, as its author recommends, and the contemplative mode of prayer it refers to is NOT Centering Prayer as proposed by Basil Pennington and others. The proponents of centering prayer have taken bits and pieces of the Cloud of Unknowing (using questionable translations or rather modernisations of the middle English it was written in) and used it to further their own version of prayer which is centred on self, not on God.

there are certain retreat directors and others down here offering an introduction to centering prayer which they bill as a 20 minute sure route to contemplation, which flies in the face of the wisdom of the masters of mysticism and contemplation such as Teresa and John of the Cross. What bothers me more is the people who teach this technique always preface it with attacks on traditional Catholic spiritualities such as the rosary and lectio, and with traditional and orthodox Catholic teachers, such as Ratzinger and the Pope, and present CP as if only they know the real way to pray.

Bob,

I think it is all going to come down to who is teaching it and who will be running the group ongoing. Some groups will definately be much more new-agey than others.

Alan had a good experience. Several other had bad ones. In my diocese, CP is primarily taught at a very unorthodox retreat center along with many new age spirituality courses.

I have read one of Keating books (as instructed by a confessor) and the description of CP technique and results was exactly like the Meditation that was taught to us in college by our Sidha Yoga professors. This was enough for me to shy away.

Before you jump in, besides checking out the leadership/sponsorship of the group at your parish, you might want to read some of the books on both CP and Contemplative Prayer (they are NOT the same). The Fire Within (Dubay) is one I would recommend. And as with any new (for you) spiritual practice - proceed carefully.

[quote=puzzleannie]I have read The Cloud of Unknowing, but not on my own as it is a complex book, but under spiritual direction over a 2-yr period, as its author recommends, and the contemplative mode of prayer it refers to is NOT Centering Prayer as proposed by Basil Pennington and others. The proponents of centering prayer have taken bits and pieces of the Cloud of Unknowing (using questionable translations or rather modernisations of the middle English it was written in) and used it to further their own version of prayer which is centred on self, not on God.

[/quote]

I think it’s great that you studied the book, but I’m curious to hear where you find this exhortation, unless it be in a preface by someone other than the author in your translation. The closest thing I found to it in the translation from the British Museum was:

Where does it say anywhere that one should not read the book all at one time? Again, I have no problem at all with you studying the book over a two year period.

there are certain retreat directors and others down here offering an introduction to centering prayer which they bill as a 20 minute sure route to contemplation, which flies in the face of the wisdom of the masters of mysticism and contemplation such as Teresa and John of the Cross. What bothers me more is the people who teach this technique always preface it with attacks on traditional Catholic spiritualities such as the rosary and lectio, and with traditional and orthodox Catholic teachers, such as Ratzinger and the Pope, and present CP as if only they know the real way to pray.

I haven’t a clue where you heard this stuff. Clearly there is nothing that “guarantees” us a 20-minute contemplation formula, and at the meetings I go to, both centering prayer and lectio are now practiced, and we discuss the rosary. Please give me the name and contact information of those who are teaching this stuff, via PM if you prefer, and I will forward them to my contacts at Contemplative Outreach and see if they are certified and/or in need of training.

Alan

Dear tru_dvotion,

Unfortunately I cannot find my copy of Mystical Theology right now, but I am curious what about talking to eastern religions and considering science causes you such grief. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable talking to other people about their religion, but how does that make it dangerous?

Einstein was among those who prevented me from going completely away from the faith when I was doing my undergraduate work toward becoming an engineer. There were charismatics who were trying to tell me to quit trying to think and just believe what they were saying. Einstein, however, found that the more he learned about physics the more he believed in God and in intelligent design. Atheist physicists have some explaining to do, as they honor Einstein for unlocking some of the incredibly bizarre relativistic behavior of space, time, matter, energy and gravity, even calling him the “father of modern physics” while ignoring Einstein’s own claim that “Religion without science is blind. Science without religion is lame.” Further, if one actually studies relativity, parts of which have been repeatedly experimentally demonstrated – in every TV set CRT for one – one cannot help but be humbled by how complex and wonderful the world is, and how little we really know and perceive of it.

I’d write more, and address the issue with talking to eastern religions, but I’m out of time for the moment.

Alan

KMKTEXAS,

I second your recommendation of Fr. Dubay’s “Fire Within.” One piece of advice he gives in it may have some bearing on this thread, namely, that growth in prayer is less a matter of “technique” than in practicing the virtues. I think in some circumstances, particulary in centering prayer, there is an overemphasis on technique (breathing, mantras, etc.)
Now, of course even the saints favored some structure to prayer but the great Carmelite contemplatives Teresa and John of the Cross have a lot more to say about growth in virtue than about the technique used.

I read out a six page excerpt of Fire Within at amazon.com, and to me it sounds like an excellent book. It reinforces what I’ve learned and experienced about the spiritual journey.

One thing I noticed was that the index included the following entry:
Centering prayer, 51; as impediment to advancing, 92; as taught by St. Teresa, 92.

I’d be interested to know what the distinction is that the book makes on p. 92.

Alan

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