Centering-Prayer

 

I recently decided to dig deeper into understanding Centering Prayer, so I could advise readers on it. I bought Fr. Thomas Keating’s book Open Mind, Open Heart and wrote a review that will appear at SpiritualDirection.com in September.

But one blog post was not enough. The errors in this book were so many and so serious, I decided it needed a more thorough response. So I am writing a quick ebook called Teresa of Avila Debunks Centering Prayer. It should be ready for publication in a couple of weeks. Here is an Excerpt, on Centering Prayer’s errors about God. It still needs to be edited, so please excuse anything my editor/husband would refer to as “infelicities.”

The first error concerns the distinction between God and man.

 Here is a key point of contrast between New Age and Christianity. So much New Age literature is shot through with the conviction that there is no divine being ‘out there’, or in any real way distinct from the rest of reality. From Jung’s time onwards there has been a stream of people professing belief in ‘the god within’. Our problem, in a New Age perspective, is our inability to recognise our own divinity, an inability which can be overcome with the help of guidance and the use of a whole variety of techniques for unlocking our hidden (divine) potential. The fundamental idea is that ‘God’ is deep within ourselves. We are gods, and we discover the unlimited power within us by peeling off layers of inauthenticity. The more this potential is recognised, the more it is realised, and in this sense the New Age has its own idea of theosis, becoming divine or, more precisely, recognising and accepting that we are divine.[1]

Perhaps the greatest error, and the one most widely known, is Keating’s blurring of the distinction between God and man. Accused of pantheism, he and other Centering Prayer advocates responded that they teach panentheism. What is panentheism? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that it is an attempt to find a middle ground between a theistic view that sees God as only transcendent, and a pantheistic view that sees God as only immanent. However, there is no fixed set of beliefs for panentheism.[2] Therefore, invoking the term cannot settle the question: what do Thomas Keating and his movement teach about who God is?

Here is just one quote among many from Keating’s book Open Mind, Open Heart that shows the problem:”God and our true Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing” (158).

Similarly, in a Youtube clip of a movie about Keating’s life, the abbot says:

The beginning of the spiritual journey is the realization that there is a Higher Power or God, or to make it as easy as possible for everybody, that there is an Other; Capital O. Second step: to try to become the Other; still a Capital O. And finally, the realization that there IS no Other; you and the Other are One. Always have been, always will be. You just think that you aren’t.”[3]

And in a frank online interview, Keating seems to be saying that the only thing holding him back from embracing a Hindu way of speaking about the divine is what Christianity “requires” him to say. In other words, he suspects that there is no real distinction between Buddhist, Hindu, and Catholic views, but only distinct traditions and ways of using words to talk about mystical realities.[4]

In orthodox Catholic teaching, even at the highest stages of union with God, the soul remains a distinct personality.

What does St. Teresa of Avila say on this matter? Here is a section from the beginning of her classic work Interior Castle:

 As I see it, we shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God: let us think of His greatness and then come back to our own baseness; by looking at His purity we shall see our foulness; by meditating upon His humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble.

There are two advantages in this. First, it is clear that anything white looks very much whiter against something black, just as the black looks blacker against the white. Secondly, if we turn from self towards God, our understanding and our will become nobler and readier to embrace all that is good: if we never rise above the slough of our own miseries we do ourselves a great disservice.[5]

Keating might respond that Teresa is in this passage using the word self to mean what he calls our false self. He never identifies our false self with God, only our true Self. Such a distinction is unknown to Teresa, however. To her, the self is one thing and God is something else, from the lowest depths to the heights of spirituality.

In another passage she speaks about entering into oneself, but very clearly distinguishes that self from God:

It is absurd to think that we can enter Heaven without first entering our own souls — without getting to know ourselves, and reflecting upon the wretchedness of our nature and what we owe to God, and continually imploring His mercy. The Lord Himself says: ‘No one will ascend to My Father, but by Me’ (I am not sure if those are the exact words, but I think they are) and ‘He that sees Me sees My Father.’ Well, if we never look at Him or think of what we owe Him, and of the death which He suffered for our sakes, I do not see how we can get to know Him or do good works in His service.[6]

We will return to this idea when we consider Centering Prayer’s errors concerning sin and redemption.

Connie Rossini

[1] Jesus Christ: Bearer of the Water of Life, 3.5.

[2] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/panentheism/. Accessed 7/10/15.

[3] You and the Other (with a Captila O), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rd2LPjpd9As, accessed 7/10/15.

[4] http://www.livingrosaries.org/interview.htm, Accessed 7/10/15.

[5] Interior Castle, translated by E. Allison Peers. First Mansions, Ch. 1.

[6] Interior Castle, Second Mansions.

Written by Connie Rossini
Hi, I'm a Catholic writer and homeschool mother of four boys. I practice Carmelite spirituality. Check out my Books page for publications to help your whole family grow in holiness.

    16 Comments

  1. John Kennedy July 22, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    There is always an admixture of truth with these falsehoods. God does come to live within us by virtue of our baptism. And we do seek to unite ourselves with Him. But even with the greatest saints who attain a deep union with God, the distinction between the creature and the Creator remains. Also the whole idea of sin as an impediment to union with God is completely missing. We are not sinners who need to grow in holiness. Instead in new age thinking, we are little gods, who simply are mistaken about who we are. None of that inconvenient stuff like sin, rebellion, repentance and conforming to the will of God.

    • Connie Rossini July 22, 2015 at 5:52 pm

      You have it exactly, John. The word “sin” does appear in a few places in Keating’s book, but the only time it is defined is when he says Original Sin has to do with evolution of consciousness. The change he emphasizes is getting rid of negative emotions, not sin.

  2. Ferrell Leary July 25, 2015 at 10:55 am

    Dear Connie, Have you read the Pope’s encyclical, Laudate Si? A must read! I invite your comments. It is very enlightening!
    God bless and thank you,
    Ferrell Leary

    • Connie Rossini July 26, 2015 at 1:13 pm

      I haven’t had time to read it yet, Ferrell. I have just read some excerpts here and there. I think that, no matter what our opinion on the science of global warming, we should always be living simply and sharing what we have with the poor. That is the call of the Gospel. It’s not right for some to waste the resources God has given us, while others starve or live without the basics. God bless.

  3. jennifermaryoftheholyrosary July 26, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    I’m a tertiary Carmelite and I think you have some misconceptions about what St. Teresa taught. Have you read her book “Way of Perfection”?
    She definitely teaches her nuns about centering prayer. When she talks about the interior castle, at the very center of our castles resides God within us. He is who we are trying to spend time with.
    In silent prayer knowing He is there in the center of our souls, within ourselves.
    Maybe I can recommend some books written by Carmelite authors who discuss what this means.
    But Sy. Teresa definitely taught that we are supposed to spend time every day in silence with God.

    • Connie Rossini July 26, 2015 at 1:38 pm

      Jennifer, I was OCDS for 17 years and have read Way of Perfection and Interior Castle at least 3-4 times each, twice each in formation classes. I am also currently writing a book for Emmaus Road with Daniel Burke, which is partly about Teresa’s teaching on vocal prayer. So I am VERY familiar with her teaching. You should read the whole book from which this post is an excerpt. Point by point I compare quotes from the teaching of Fr. Thomas Keating with quotes from St. Teresa. God resides within everyone as Creator and sustainer of our lives, and within the baptized in a deeper way. We can seek Him in our hearts. Yes. But He is always Other to Teresa. As I demonstrated in this post, God is not really Other to Fr. Keating, who is one of the original creators of the method of Centering Prayer. Teresa does not advise silence in prayer until the fourth mansions. In the first 3 mansions, she says almost nothing about prayer methods, except where she mentions that meditation on Sacred Scripture or the lives of the saints is a must for beginners. Centering Prayer replaces prayerful reading of Scripture, reflecting on it, and responding to it in conversation with Christ, with a quest for a forced interior silence. Teresa says repeatedly that we should not try to make the mind silent on our own, but follow the movement of the Spirit. When people have been practicing prayer for a while–and have been faithful and humble in their daily lives as well–their prayer begins to simplify through the workings of normal grace. At that time, it is good to allow for some more periods of silence to sit in God’s presence and humbly gaze at Him. But Teresa says that if God “doesn’t appear to hear us,” we are “ninnies” or “simpletons” for sitting there doing nothing. Until God gives us the gift of infused contemplation, periods of silence in prayer will usually be brief, sustained by brief meditations (in the traditional Catholic sense) or affective prayer.

      Sometimes people mistakenly use the term Centering Prayer to refer to orthodox methods of prayer. Centering Prayer as taught by Fr. Keating and those who follow him focus on ignoring all thoughts and feelings during prayer. It focuses on reaching altered states of consciousness. This is not prayer, as the CDF document Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life makes clear. True Christian prayer always focuses on Christ. We cannot become contemplatives by getting rid of thoughts and emotions. Instead, we should engage our mind and our heart in conversation with “Him whom we know loves us.” When God wants us to have a stilled intellect and will, He will take them captive by His power. That part is His job. Our job is to learn to love Him. Peace.

  4. M.R. July 28, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    Thanks for this post. When I was helping to get our church library put together, there were a lot of Fr. Keating’s books. I secretly threw most away including the one you have mentioned. I could not, however convince our pastor that centering prayer is not okay. People are really attached to Fr. Keating and also centering prayer. They don’t listen.

    • Connie Rossini July 28, 2015 at 10:10 pm

      That’s sad, M.R. I think the people who stick with Centering prayer are true believers. The others don’t keep up the practice for very long. What’s so sad is that if someone had taught them about true prayer in the Teresian tradition, they might have become attached to that instead and really be growing closer to God instead of just learning to exist at a deeper level of consciousness. The Church has spoken pretty clearly: Teresa was made a Doctor of the Church, and the CDF highly criticized methods like Centering Prayer. Which one are we going to follow?

  5. Alyosha August 2, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    What is your view on “Cloud of Unknowing” — the 14th Century manuscript that was the genesis of the modern practice of Centering Prayer?

    • Connie Rossini October 5, 2015 at 10:54 am

      I replied to this on another post. I recently started reading The Cloud of Unknowing and hope to write a post (or more) dedicated to it in the future.

  6. Graeme August 4, 2015 at 5:14 am

    Thank you for a great post. I once investigated centering prayer or “Christian meditation” as given by Fr. Lawrence Freeman following Fr. John Main (R.I.P.) They go to great lengths to show the parallels between Fr John Main’s trip to the East and learning from an Eastern spiritual master (a Hindu teaching transcendental meditation) and John Cassian who also went East to learn prayer from Eastern spiritual masters (Christian, so just a tiny distinction I suppose). In the end, they claim that John Cassian’s prayer that he learnt: “Oh Lord come to my aid, Oh Lord make haste to help me” was exactly the same as a mantra. Obviously it isn’t a mantra, and is quite a long prayer, but as it is repeated, they say it’s a mantra, and so justify centering prayer, i.e. transcendental meditation, as an ancient Christian practice. I believe that these chief proponents of centering prayer are actually Hindu missionaries trying to win converts using covert methods. I pray that God helps you in your quest to debunk the myth of centering prayer, and that true Christian prayer, such as lectio divina, the rosary and the daily examen can be promoted more.

    • Connie Rossini August 4, 2015 at 11:00 am

      Thanks, Graeme. I hope to dig into St. John Cassian’s teaching more in the future. From what I know of it now, you are absolutely right that he uses a repeated prayer, not a mantra. The focus is completely different. I don’t know about Hindus trying to covertly win converts, but I do know of an enemy of the faith who is always trying to pull people away. The Devil especially likes to get people who are interested in a deeper prayer life to go astray, because if they were to pursue the life of prayer as the saints teach, they could greatly endanger his kingdom.

  7. Laura September 29, 2015 at 5:13 am

    SMITH, Elizabeth; CHALMERS, Joseph, O.Carm.,
    A Deeper Love – An Introduction to Centering Prayer, Burns & Oates, Tunbridge Weels, 1999

    Not all carmelites think so bad about centering prayer. Peace to all of you.
    L.

    • Connie Rossini September 29, 2015 at 10:30 am

      Laura, I agree, there are Carmelites who are promoting it, both O. Carm. and OCDS. However, what really matters is what the Church thinks of it. Since the Church has called many of the teachings found in Fr. Keating’s works (without mentioning him by name) New Age errors, we would be seriously wrong to practice or promote Centering Prayer. Christ must remain the center of prayer, not a man-made silence of the faculties. We think about Him and love Him and offer ourselves to Him. Then if He decides to suspend our faculties by His power, we do not resist. That is St. Teresa’s and the Church’s understanding of prayer. Peace to you as well.

      • Laura October 5, 2015 at 2:23 am

        Ah, sorry, these declarations are totally or partially fake. The source was sarcastic, but I am not english so I didn’t catch it in time…

        • Connie Rossini October 5, 2015 at 10:50 am

          No, problem. I just deleted it.