Last winter on social media, I came across another Catholic author who was promoting yoga. Not as an exercise program, but for spiritual growth. I was shocked. I asked her why she wasn’t promoting prayer instead. She answered, “Meditation is prayer!”
Two months ago, my brother forwarded an email from a colleague, asking about Centering Prayer. A friend was pushing it relentlessly. I looked at the website of the Catholic group that promotes Centering Prayer and found this in the FAQs:
“This form of prayer was first practiced and taught by the Desert Fathers of Egypt … the Carmelites St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Therese of Lisieux…”
The other day a new reader asked in the comments about meditating on Sacred Scripture. “Is this the same as the method of Fr. John Main, who has adapted an Eastern mantra method for Christian meditation?”
I have written a little on this topic before, but I think it’s time to revisit it. Let’s start with Teresa of Avila.
Teresa of Avila’s method of prayer
Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross are Doctors of the Church. They are THE experts on Christian prayer. So what method of prayer did Teresa teach? Are you ready to be surprised?
Now that you’ve picked yourself off the floor, let me clarify that a bit. A passage in Teresa’s Foundations does explain briefly how her nuns should practice meditation. But you won’t find a word about this in her classics on prayer Interior Castle or Way of Perfection. Why not? Teresa was not concerned with methods of prayer, but with stages of prayer. She never taught that meditation was a necessary prerequisite to contemplation, let alone the same thing as it.
She had good reasons. In Way of Perfection she mentions a nun who was unable to meditate, but became holy by praying the Our Father slowly and reverently. Teresa herself spent years unable to pray unless she had a book to read, because constant distractions plagued her.
In other words, she knew that everyone was different and that one method of mental prayer would not suit all souls.
Don’t just take my word for it. Here are what others have said:
“What we find in Ss. Teresa and John and in Scripture is a very different message… as far as I can find, not a single sentence … speaks of methodology as a means to deep communion with the God of revelation.” (Fr. Thomas Dubay, Fire Within, 111)
A few paragraphs later Fr. Dubay says:
“While St. Teresa was well acquainted with methods of meditation and wished her young nuns to be instructed in them, she emphatically insisted that the primary need for beginners is not to find the ideal method but to do God’s will from moment to moment throughout the day.”
Pere Marie Eugene, OCD, writes in I Want to See God:
“For Saint Teresa, mental prayer–the door of the castle and the way of perfection–is less a particular exercise than the very practice of the spiritual life…” (53 in the combined 2-volume work with I Am a Daughter of the Church)
Here are the words of Teresa herself:
“Mental prayer, in my view, is nothing but friendly intercourse, and frequent solitary converse with Him Who we know loves us.” (Way of Perfection)
Shortly after quoting this definition, Pere Marie Eugene explains further:
“According to temperaments, the intercourse of friendship will assume an intellectual form, or an affective, or even sensitive one. The child will put its love for Jesus in a kiss, a smile sent to the tabernacle, a caress for the infant Jesus, an expression of sadness before the crucifix. The youth will sing his love for Christ and will encourage its growth by using expressions and images that strike his imagination and his senses, while waiting until his intellect can provide strong thoughts to form a more spiritual and more nourishing prayer.” (55)
Prayer is accessible to all
Do you see how important this is? If true mental prayer, the necessary preparation for the gift of contemplation, requires an elaborate method, it is elitist. Such a way bars the ignorant, children, and those of certain temperaments or psychological weaknesses from being contemplatives. It bars them from intimacy with Christ. It makes holiness the possession of the few who know enough and who have the right natural gifts. This is not the Gospel!
Children can become saints. Some have. For St. Therese of Lisieux, spiritual childhood was the way to reach the heights of holiness very quickly. And we are supposed to believe that she taught a form of prayer that was reserved for the few?
On the contrary, the essential element is not a method, but the loving friendship between the person praying and God.
St. Therese’s method of prayer
St. Therese speaks in a similar way as her patron saint and spiritual mother:
“With me prayer is a lifting up of the heart, a look towards Heaven, a cry of gratitude and love uttered equally in sorrow and in joy; in a word, something noble, supernatural, which enlarges my soul and unites it to God…. Except for the Divine Office, which in spite of my unworthiness is a daily joy, I have not the courage to look through books for beautiful prayers…. I do as a child who has not learned to read, I just tell our Lord all that I want and he understands.” (Story of a Soul, Ch. 11)
Do you see any indication there of a method we should all follow? In contrast to this, those who want to learn Centering Prayer are encouraged to attend a retreat or workshop or take an online course. But the proponents of Centering Prayer still insist it’s not a technique! It doesn’t take a workshop or a class to learn to speak to God from the heart. Moses spoke to God “as a man speaks to his friend.” That is mental prayer.
Are methods useless?
Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t practice any method of prayer. Methods help us stay on track. They help us not sit idly in our prayer time. Some methods are better than others. But the key is this: no one method of prayer is required to prepare us for contemplation. And no method at all can make us contemplatives.
Contemplation is the goal. And contemplation is not an altered state of consciousness. It is not peaceful feelings. It is a supernatural gift. It is God drawing the soul to Himself on His own initiative. It is a progressive union with Him.
Well, some are
So, why do I say that meditation is not prayer? Prayer can be practiced in many legitimate ways. One of them is meditation. But not Buddhist/Hindu/yoga meditation. Those have a different goal. They are not prayer at all! Christian meditation always centers on Christ. There are many traditional means of Christian meditation. Here is one example.
Do not look for God in pagan religious practices. The Church gives us all we need and more, without the dangers of dabbling in foreign religions.
As for Fr. John Main, the criticisms I have read of his method are very similar to criticisms of Centering Prayer. It too originated in pagan religions, trying to make their practices Catholic, and failing. Christ, not a mantra, is the focus of our prayer. Fr. Main’s organization has been accused of syncretism. He apparently learned his method of “prayer” from a Hindu Swami.
If you want to know what Carmelites mean by contemplation, read the two posts that begin here. God willing, I will speak about prayer further next week.
69 thoughts on “Did Teresa of Avila teach Centering Prayer?”
So glad you wrote about this. At one time centering prayer was being promoted by people at a parish in the area. They were having speakers come in from St. Louis. I had never heard of it, but the name itself gave me the creepiest feeling. When I researched it on line I was very upset. Why, I thought, weren’t St. Teresa of Avila’s writings good enough?
No matter how people dress this thing up, it steers people away from a)submission and focus on God and b) promotes the error that something we do rather than what God does will lead to a particular result. Part of my submitting to God’s will is to approach Him like a child and let Him lead. This constant search for something new and different is the very thing St. Paul warned us about in 2:Tim. 4:3-4: “For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears:And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables.” If we cling to our Catholic traditions of prayer we will not fall prey to what are obvious machinations of the devil.
Great reflections, Barb. I think one of the draws is that people think they can become instant contemplatives, and it doesn’t work that way. We must work hard and do lots of mortification, especially of the will, to grow in intimacy with Christ. Theses false types of contemplation would have us believe that God responds to a technique rather than our gift of self.
Thanks, I always worried that my prayers were not as good as what others said it should be. I tried so hard to be able to meet expectations from books about prayer and could never manage it. You have confirmed my thoughts, prayer is humble and full or love. Nothing else is required but the trinity, my beads and me.
Georgia, I’m so glad you’ve realized this. We could spend our whole lives trying to live up to others’ expectations of what our spiritual lives should look like. God created all temperaments and does not bar anyone from intimacy with Him. If we can’t do a certain method of prayer, the solution is to try a different method.
I don’t disagree with anything you say. Except, if you believe that meditation is about “an altered state of consciousness” or about achieving “peaceful feelings”, you don’t understand meditation.
Well, I think for many Christians who are pursuing it, the peaceful feelings that they get from, say, yoga, are in their view a sign that they are experiencing contemplation. That’s not one of the signs of contemplation, as Teresa and John use the word. Now, I would not in any way say that I’m an expert on eastern meditation, so if you can point me to a resource (online preferably) that explains it in a simple and accurate manner, I’d appreciate it. My intent is not to misrepresent what other people believe and practice, but to help Catholics understand and practice their own traditions.
I understand your purpose. And I appreciate your tolerating a non-Catholic listening in on your conversations.
In the Tibetan tradition, there is a word “nyam” — which means meditation experiences. Specifically, it refers to what we would generally think of as positive experiences — such as bliss or clarity. There is nothing wrong with these experiences but they become real obstacles if they become the object or focus of meditation. Whenever spiritual practices become a basis for pride or pleasure, we call that “spiritual materialism” — and it becomes an obstacle to realizing compassion and awakened mind or heart.
I realize that, at the very least, we use different words for these experiences and that our traditions are very different and shouldn’t be blended. But an analogy might be someone who prays and takes personal pride in the peace that “passes understanding” that comes from prayer and considers themselves a saint or spiritual person. The experience is beautiful and not a problem. But the attachment to it can be a temporary problem.
The Tibetans say that you should have no more attachment to bliss or clarity than you should have to spit on the sidewalk.
Thanks, Alyosha. I remember your talking about something similar before. BTW, I always wondered if your nickname was a reference to The Brothers Karamazov?
That’s exactly it! I loved that novel — and the more spiritual of the four brothers seemed a good choice for a nickname.
Alyosha is my favorite for the same reason. He kind of reminds me of my brother who became a Carmelite monk.
Thank you Alyosha, I appreciate ecumenical conversations and open discussions. It is wonderful to concentrate on what we share, and there is frequently more than we think. Bless you.
I’m sorry for butting in Kathryn, but I felt I had to say something. Alyosha is sharing something that is not even close to Catholicism. She should be gently reminded of that and pointed in the right direction, which is Catholicism.
Reese, Alyosha is one of my earliest and most faithful subscribers. I am thankful to him for sticking around, reading my posts, which are always implying–if not saying outright–that Catholicism is the one true way to God, and always engaging me and other readers with respect and charity. I appreciate your concern for his soul, and I’m sure he does likewise. We will keep praying that one day he crosses the Tiber.
How easy we find conversing with one another to be. Sadly, just enter my church before Mass or after and you shall find plenty of conversing between people. But how is it that we find conversation
with God to be difficult. We don’t look for methods when we speak with one another, so why would we do so with God. I don’t pretend to be some expert when it comes to prayer, for I know I am not,
however my prayer seems to consist in simple conversation with God, about anything and everything. I simply share my day with Him, as it is taking place, no matter where I am or what I am doing.
Yes I love to spend time with Him in the Blessed Sacrament, but so too do I take Him with me throughout the day and share everything with Him. I remember once Mother Angelica speaking on how
she ran to chapel to show Our Lord a new pair of shoes. I remember how impressed I was with that, for I am inclined to do the same, simply share everything in my day with Him. It is not, however
a one way street, for when I least expect it, suddenly Our Lord is sharing something with me. It will come out of the blue, and have nothing at all to do with what I am doing at the time or thinking.
I am suddenly just aware of some aspect of Himself, something He wants me to understand or learn about Himself. It last but a moment, but leaves a lasting impression. I am filled with an
understanding of things I did not understand before, or even thought of. Then as if to confirm what He has shared with me, I suddenly will find the same thing in a spiritual book I am reading, or
coming from a priest in a sermon, or by watching something on EWTN. I think Our Lord wants to share everything in our day with Him, and not just at certain times but all the time. Who could be
closer to us than He is, He Who dwells within our very soul. Yes I believe in formal prayer, the Mass first and foremost, the Divine Office, the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, meditation, etc.
but outside of these prayers, would not Our Lord delight in our conversing with Him about everything else in our day, and all during our day. If so, then our whole day can become prayer,
conversation with Him Who loves us so much. I find I can not get through my day without this informal, if you will, prayer, as well as the formal. Please tell me if I am all washed up in my prayer
which I believe to be simply a loving conversation with Him, anywhere and every where. Oh if we but look around us, we can see His love for us in so many ways. Our heart can soar to Him at
any and all moments if we would but let it. It may not be so easy in the painful moments as it would be looking at a beautiful sun rise, but He is still there, in all of His beauty, for His cross is
what will lead us to see Him face to face, if for love of Him we accept it as He did for love of us. I love the words of St. Therese when she says, “Everything is grace, everything is the direct effect
of the Father’s love. Everything is grace because everything is God’s gift. What ever be the character of life or its unexpected events to the heart that loves, all is well.” Only in sharing my day
with Him can I see this, otherwise I would be totally over whelmed and not able to go on. Please forgive my going on and on like this. I have no right to do so.
Sharon, rather than being “all washed up,” I suspect you’re on your way to a deep relationship with God. Keep going.
Thank you for saying this, so clearly and so well.
You’re welcome, Nancy. It’s always encouraging when other writers I respect say good things about my work.
I’m SO thrilled you are covering this topic. Several years ago, any time you would look up contemplative prayer online you would find techniques of centering prayer being touted, or told that centering prayer was contemplation, which it isn’t. It was very frustrating. It wasn’t until websites like Dan Burke’s Catholic Spiritual Direction http://spiritualdirection.com/ were created, books from wonderful masters like Fr. Thomas Dubay, and blogs like yours, that people started to be able to get the true Church teaching. With Eastern methods of prayer they don’t think of God as someone to have a loving relationship with, and the whole altered states of mind thought really confuses many, including me, as to what real prayer is supposed to be like. I look forward to your upcoming posts.
Thanks, Lydia. I don’t hear about Centering Prayer quite as much as I used to. And the proponents of it have changed the way they talk about it to make it sound more Christian. But the essence of what they’re promoting is the same, and they still do retreats all over the place. I find it very sad that when children ask for fish, some people hand them a snake, if you know what I’m saying. People are hungry for a deep relationship with God, and they are being fed a method instead.
Pingback: The Not So New Age Nonsense | The Next Right Step
Please, as contemplatives, can’t we get beyond judging others, knowing from our own deep experience that God is beyond our words, techniques, and yes religion?. As contemplatives we meet the inner mystic in all, including those of other religions! As contemplatives we experience God as a vast love and only love and service are our response in gratitude for this life, the life of our soul.
I suggest you read: The Love Letters: St. Francis & St. Clare meet Pope Francis about the potential of contemplative living….
I pray for the day when we find the spirit, the holiness which binds us together instead of the hard words which create division….love is love,,, if people are finding love and service, truly opening their hearts this is good!
thanks and many blessings,
Bruce, this has nothing to do with judging others and everything to do with truth. I admit it makes me angry when people who are hungry for God (what Jesus called children asking for a fish) are told that repeating a mantra will make them contemplatives (they are given a snake instead). Only Jesus satisfies. Only Jesus saves and redeems us. Our religion has been revealed by God Himself.
We cannot become contemplatives (in the Christian sense) by repeating a mantra. Christian contemplation is a deep personal immersion in the love of the Trinity through Jesus Christ. If some people in other religions experience this, it is only because they are seeking the truth to the best of their ability and God reaches down to them in love to bring them close to Himself. The method of eastern meditation used does not get them there. If you ask Buddhists and Hindus the purpose of their meditation, they will not tell you that it is union with and love of a personal God, because they don’t believe in a personal God. In fact, their type of meditation is designed to help them lose their individuality and as such is anti-personal. I find that non-Christians tend to recognize the difference between their meditation and true Christian prayer quite easily. It is on our side that people are mistaking one for the other, and this shows an ignorance of the Christian tradition which is sad. I do not blame the average Catholic for being deceived, but I think those who continue to teach these methods after the Vatican has warned against them are to some extent culpable. Here is how the Catechism defines meditation: “Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking” (2703). It quotes Teresa of Avila when defining contemplation as “a close sharing between friends…” It also says, “Contemplative prayer seeks him ‘whom my soul loves.'” (2709). This is opposite to the way Centering Prayer teaches meditation (getting rid of all thoughts and concepts), and completely foreign to non-Christian forms of contemplation. Using the same word for two different realities does not make them the same thing.
God bless you on your quest.
Good point. Even though I believe the fullest of the revelation on God has been through Jesus Christ [i.e. we know who God really is through Jesus Christ], God is above religions. We are all his children and as the Fathers of the Church say, there are seeds of the Word [in Greek philosophy, the Word was what created the universe, and Saint John refers to Jesus as being the Word of God, through him all things were made and as Saint Athanasius say He is maintaining the universe all together] in other religion [before the full revelation came through Jesus-Christ]. Of course their interpretation of reality [both material and spiritual] might be erroneous, however I truly believe their mystical experiences are authentic and christian mystics can meet other mystics and that deepest level. I encourage people to visit http://www.dimmid.org/ .
Please also visit this link which is similar to the previous one http://monasticinterreligiousdialogue.com/
Connie, just wanted to let you know I have been reading your website a lot these last few days and have come to deeply value it. You are doing wonderful work – straightforward, simple, direct. I think very much you are living the next right step and being a sign of real hope here. May God continue to bless your marvelous work!
I really appreciate that, Charlie. Please pray for me to stay on the narrow road myself, “lest after I have preached to others, I myself may fall.” I continually need to work on humility, especially as my writing reaches a wider audience.
Good job Connie. Teresa John and Therese have been my traveling companions for the past 35 years. How many times in the past decades was I asked about a method? Too many times. Thank you for making such a clear statement about this topic. Unfortunately too many parishes promote the above “methods”.
Thanks, Mari Kate. If only as many parishes really taught about the Interior Castle!
I have been writing on this topic for years. I sometimes feel like a lone voice in the UK, defending what is true Christian prayer from the counterfeit. Many years ago I added the following to my website. Connie please have a look at http://www.davidtorkington.com/Mystical-Theology.html
It is wonderful to read your article. Thank you.
I appreciate you’re blogging on the contemplative life, David, and I’ll try to post more of it on CSBN soon. It’s such a shame that we have this rich tradition sitting there unknown and unused! I have a little different take than in your NB1. While yoga, etc. can bring a calming of the mind, I would advise all Christians to steer clear of it. There are many others ways to calm the mind in keeping with the Catholic tradition. Too often, people are led towards syncretism or at least confusion when they use eastern meditation techniques.
Connie thank you. I don’t actually promote yoga for calming the mind as preparation for prayer. I am aware that it is used in health programs to help anxiety and I don’t oppose that. But as a preparation for prayer certainly not. I must have another look at what I put on my website as I would not like to give that impression. When I gave my Lenten talks in London I specifically spoke out against it as I have for years. But I am a lone voice in The UK as Centering prayer retreats and John Main inspired retreats seem to have had a massive influence.
Keep up your good work.
Thank you for a well-written article. I am reminded of the words of another saint on prayer — “The great method of prayer is to have none.” (Saint Jane Frances de Chantal 1572-1641)
That’s a great quote, Paul. Of course, as I wrote, we shouldn’t just sit there and do nothing either. That’s the subject of an upcoming post (God willing). It’s not so much having a method as being attached to it or equating it with supernatural contemplation that is the problem.
I appreciate your article and your clear explanations. We certainly need such guidance these days. St. John, St. Teresa and St. Therese are wonderful guides. Here is a way of visiting with Jesus as taught by Our Blessed Mother to St. Catherine Laboure. St. Catherine was told by Our Lady that when she was visiting Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, to “tell Him your joys, tell Him your sorrows. And then listen. If He speaks to you, thank Him. If He doesn’t speak to you, thank Him.” Simple but very very profound. At least for me. Thanks for your blog.
You’re welcome, Ann. Yes, prayer can be very simple. We don’t have to spend all our energy on a method. But on the other hand, we can’t be lazy in prayer if we want to grow. i find myself doing that some times. God bless.
Thank you for this article. I recommend your readers Google the story of Father
J. Verlinde who tells his personal story of leaving his Catholic faith as a student and
embracing and later teaching eastern practices throughout the world. This one 30
minute video does more to help people in understanding the vast differences between
these teachings and Christianity than anything I have previously encountered.
Thanks, CW. I hadn’t heard of him before.
Hopefully will come back to ponder better what was written. Personally ( I’m a convert to Catholicism, been catholic for 30 years now, gulps, how time flies) I didn’t know what the problem was with centering prayer until I started to read online, and here and there, stuff about it, pros and cons etc… as well as with a lot of other things in the Catholic faith. I thought, and this is what the two words “say” to me, that centering prayer was just like, prayer that would help you center. Like, I don’t know, calming your thoughts while you’re in the church, addressing your thoughts/feelings to God, etc… Sorry but I can’t comment a lot right now. I’m jobhunting and have been online enough already. Only saw your blog through the post on SpiritDaily. But yes, one thing I do know, yoga IS NOT prayer. God bless. Tanya
Yes, it sounds innocuous, Tanya, but that’s not where the term “Centering Prayer” came from. Fr. Thomas Keating once wrote, “Our basic core of goodness is our true self. Its center of gravity is God …. God and our true-Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing.” This is too close to pantheism and too confusing. Keating and the others who first promoted Centering Prayer had studied Hinduism and seem to have been influenced by its theology, not just its practice of meditation. These are the exact types of errors that the Vatican condemned when Cardinal Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I have not found anyone who says with certainty whether Fr. Keating, et. al. were orthodox in their theology of the relationship between God and the soul and just imprecise, or were actually teaching heresy. But I know two serious errors that they promote about prayer: 1) that anyone at any point in the spiritual life can be a contemplative, even if they are not striving to live a virtuous life; and 2) that contemplation is the result of practicing the right technique. Both these ideas are completely foreign to the Christian tradition. Centering Prayer cannot make you a contemplative. Only God can.
Hi Connie, thanks for your thoughts. I wanted to share some comments in a friendly manner as I am one who practices and teaches centering prayer. I am not aware of any literature that claims centering prayer will make you a contemplative. Nowhere do I read or hear Fr. Thomas Keating, or any others, saying contemplation is the result of a technique or that anyone anywhere can be a contemplative except in the sense that all are called to contemplation and can begin the journey through centering prayer, which is only one prayer practice among many others. Moreover, while Keating may have studied eastern thought the original inspiration for the method of centering prayer comes from the Cloud of Unknowing. There is always the emphasis that centering prayer is not contemplation, but that contemplation is God’s gift. Perhaps some other points could be clarified, like what we mean when we say centering prayer stands in the tradition of Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Therese, etc. Of course they didn’t practice centering prayer – this contemporary method didn’t exist yet! The point we want to make is that it is both faithful to Catholic tradition and also an updating for our times done in the spirit of Vatican II. Thank you for listening, I appreciate the opportunity to comment.
Thanks for your comment. The Document found here: http://www.cpt.org/files/WS%20-%20Centering%20Prayer.pdf says Centering Prayer is not discursive meditation or affective prayer. So what kind of prayer is it? If it is not infused contemplation, in your mind/the teaching of Fr. Keating, et. al. is it acquired recollection? Teresa of Avila, the doctor of prayer, places such prayer in her third or fourth mansion. So what about people who do not have an established prayer life, yet come to retreats on Centering Prayer? Are they supposed to just jump ahead a couple of stages? And what about Teresa’s injunction not to try and rid the mind of all thoughts until God Himself starts leading us to do so? What makes the “sacred word” of such importance that any other thought–even thoughts about Christ Himself–must be placed aside? You cannot “stand in the tradition” of the teaching of the saints, yet at the same time teach something contrary. As the document from the CDF says clearly, (Letter to the Bishops…) prayer is a relationship between God and the soul. There has to be a movement of the soul reaching out to God, rather than closing in on oneself and the word one has arbitrarily chosen.
Are you familiar with Freeing The Spirit and Sr. Elaine MacInnes. http://www.freeingspirit.com
What are your thoughts on this?
I hadn’t heard of it before. Eastern meditation and yoga can bring people a certain level of peace and relief of stress, and I can see why prisoners would desire that. But ultimately, they need Jesus! Jesus will transform their lives, give them hope, help them repent if they need to, and to reform their lives. He’ll give them a reason to live and to act virtuously.
I see that Sister lived in Kamakura. I also spent time in Japan and knew some missionary priests who practiced Zen. Zen cannot get a person to Heaven. It can’t save souls. I have no criticisms for Japanese people who have never heard the Gospel (and few of them have), seeking truth in a traditional Japanese way. They may be doing the best they can and I leave that to God to discern. But a Catholic nun (presumably from the US) should know better. Jesus saves, not Zen.
Thanks for this article. It’s true that God is a living person and we should talk to him the most natural way as we talk to a friend. However, I would like to specify that Centering prayer, or the Christian meditation developed by Fr. John Main, are based on a spirituality initially developed by the desert fathers which dates back to the 3rd century. These monks were trying to be constantly in prayer and because, since the fall of Man, our mind is constantly wandering from one thought to another they started to focus their mind on a short sentence from the Scriptures, repeating it continuously by following the natural rhythm of breath [some would even use breathing techniques but this is for the more advanced and surely not necessary in order to follow this path]. This would help them to constantly think about God and this would eventually wound their hearts with a burning love for God. Over the years these spiritual masters discovered that repeating the name of Jesus was more efficient to remove wandering thoughts from their mind then by using other sacred words from the Bible. The reason for this is that, as St-Paul says, Jesus is the most powerful name and is above all names. Moreover, according to Jewish theology, God is present in his name and this thought was kept alive in the first Christian communities. Everything was done in the name of Jesus and especially all miracles done by the Apostles.
This form of prayer was part of the Catholic Church up to the Great Schism in 1054. After that, it was maintained alive only in the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church till it’s rediscovery in the Western Church during the past century.
Many books have been written on the subject so I will not go into the details. I would encourage you to read “The Way of a Pilgrim” which is a short story about a Russian pilgrim who discovers this method of prayer. For the more serious readers I would encourage you to read authors of the Philiokalia [which means “Love of Beauty”] like Saint John Cassian, Saint Isaac the Syrian, Saint John of the Ladder, Saint Maximus the Confessor, Saint John Chrysostom [bishop and Doctor of the Church], Saint Symeon the New Theologian [one of the greatest mystics of the Greek Orthodox Church] describing this method of prayer called in the Eastern Orthodox Church “The Prayer of the Heart” or “The Jesus Prayer”. It is called the prayer of the heart because it’s supposed to bring the mind into the heart. You can also read modern authors on the subject like Saint Silouan of Athos, Bishop Kallistos Ware, Saint Joseph the Hesychast, or Saint Seraphim of Sarov who was repeating endlessly the name of Jesus and who was transfigured, like Christ, before his disciple Nicolas Motovilov. That same Saint Seraphim was saying to his disciple, find Silence [inner silence of the mind] and you will experience the Holy Spirit.
Of course God does not need any method to reveal himself to us and we can never force God to make himself present by using a method of prayer. However, we can help ourselves to be more focused on God by using a method to quiet the mind in order to be more receptive to the Holy Spirit. This is what all the great saints of the Orthodox Church have declared.
I want to apologize if my English is not good, but it’s not my native language!
To summarize, Centering prayer is a method of prayer as much as “lectio divina” or the “rosary” are methods of prayer. Perhaps the correct word to use is “spirituality” more than “method”. There are many different forms of spirituality in the Church and that is because we have many different callings or personalities among Christians. Some are called to contemplative life, others to serve the poor or to be in charge of a Christian family and raise children in the Christian faith.
I could continue more on the subject but since I’m not a specialist I would suggest you search articles or books on “The Prayer of the Heart” or the “The Jesus Prayer” [called the Royal Path in the Orthodox Church].
May God bless you in your prayer life.
Nicholas, thanks for your comment. Although the promoters of Centering Prayer like to claim that they are following ancient tradition, this is not the case. Centering Prayer and the prayers taught by Fr. John Main originated in Hinduism. They are an attempt to Christianize the Hindu mantra. After the Vatican under Cardinal Ratzinger’s CDF cautioned against this practice, the promoters began to say it was the same type of prayer the ancients practiced, and claimed that Ratzinger was talking about someone else, not them. Unfortunately, this is not true. The Jesus Prayer is a legitimate Christian prayer from Eastern Orthodoxy, but Centering Prayer is not the Jesus Prayer. Because of the confusion brought into Christianity by these new types of prayer, just at the time when Transcendental Meditation, etc. were becoming “cool” in North America, many people are now confused when they read the ancient Christian writers on prayer. They misinterpret what is being said by aligning it with Centering Prayer, etc. If the ancients had really taught this method, we would not have had to rediscover it via Hinduism. Instead, we would have rediscovered it by reading the ancients. I would caution anyone interested in this subject against reading the fathers you mentioned, unless they do so with a trusted guide who is known to be both orthodox and learned and who does not have connections to the Centering Prayer movement. I know the book The Cloud of Unknowing, for example, is often cited as evidence for Centering Prayer’s authenticity. In reality, The Cloud of Unknowing teaches the same doctrine as the Carmelite saints, but those who are not schooled in authentic contemplative prayer often misunderstand its meaning. I believe that Dan Burke of Catholic Spiritual Direction is working on a book on this subject. I look forward to its publication. In the meantime, I will try to post more on this topic soon. I find it significant that every Catholic source I know to be reliable cautions against these practices, while promoting other types of Christian prayer, especially Carmelite and Ignatian.
Thanks Connie for the reply. I don’t know too much about the link between the Centering prayer [or christian meditation] and yoga. All I can say is that the Jesus Prayer [or Prayer of the Heart] started initially with a small phrase from the Book of Psalms where monks were repeating the short sentence continuously following the natural rhythm of breath and often sitting in a low position closing their eyes for few hours in a dark room [some monks even stay still for 6 hours a day with their eyes closed trying to remove any thoughts, good or bad, from their mind]. This is pretty much the method made popular by John Main. From the outside, this looks similar to meditation as it is practiced in the East. However, we know that, theology wise, this is all different in a Christian perspective. The goal here is to empty all worldly thoughts to leave space to the Holy Spirit to fill us [this the teaching of the Fathers.]
You are correct in saying that if someone wants to follow the path of the Prayer of the Heart they need to find an experienced guide, especially if they start using the breathing techniques practiced by Orthodox Monks on Month Athos. The problem is that many orthodox hesychast masters do not want to teach the Jesus Prayer to non-orthodox people. I have a friend who is an Orthodox priest and monk [higoumen in charge of a monastery] and refuses categorically to teach the Jesus Prayer to Catholics. This was very painful and frustrating when I was trying to learn the Jesus Prayer. Fortunately, I met a Catholic priest who had gone to Mont Athos and thought me the Jesus Prayer. Both him and another Melkite priest and monk told me that there was no problem to pray the Jesus Prayer if you are practicing 30 min each day. There are good books which have been published lately and can serve as guides for beginners. They told me that only if you start praying for 4 hours in a row or more that you need a spiritual father who will lead you on the correct path.
I think a lot of people from the west were thirsting for a deep spiritual life and have gone to Hinduism or Buddhism without knowing that a deep spiritual tradition is present in our Church from the very begging [starting from these Desert Fathers, the first christian monks, and in the West with the Benedictine or Carmelite masters]. So people might easily find similarity between the Christian meditation prayer, or Centering prayer, and yoga or Buddhist meditation but they have to know that this started a long time ago with the Desert Fathers and is part of our Christian heritage and this has no direct link with Hinduism even though, outwardly it looks similar.
I just want to add that I don’t know too much about the theology that is proposed in the Centering prayer movement or Christian mediation and it might be heretic at some points [or maybe not, don’t know too much about the subject]. All I want to say is that the way of praying, by repeating a short sacred word or sentence from the Bible, following the rhythm of breath has been present in the Church for 1,700 years. Of course, this has to be done following the church teachings and participating in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, otherwise the Jesus Prayer would have no great effect [the Fathers say that the Jesus Prayer is a continuation of the Eucharist that we receive on Sunday to keep the grace with us during the week]. Gob bless.
This is precisely where Fr. John Main’s practice and Centering Prayer depart from the tradition. Anyone can practice these “new” types of prayer and get the same effects, whether Christian or not. Authentic Christian contemplation comes through a life of love and repentance. The Jesus Prayer “works” precisely because it ia an outgrowth and an expression of an authentic life in Christ. In contrast, the Centering Prayer movement focuses on producing the peaceful feelings and calls these contemplation, making no reference to the need for repentance or detachment. John Main’s organization seems to promote even a fuzzier kind of meditation than Centering Prayer.
The CDF cautioned against the methods used by Fr. John Main and Centering Prayer. I just wrote a post for tomorrow on another aspect of the issue, and I invite you to come back and comment on it. In the meantime, I found this helpful post on the differences between Centering Prayer and the Jesus Prayer on the blog Eastern Catholic Spiritual Renewal: http://easterncatholicspiritualrenewal.blogspot.com/2010/08/jesus-prayer-vs-centering-prayer.html and here’s a second post on the Jesus Prayer vs mantras http://easterncatholicspiritualrenewal.blogspot.com/search/label/new%20age
Thanks for these links! They are very informative. It seems then that the problem with Centering prayer is the theology behind it, not the practice. Therefore, there is no problem if someone is following Christ commandments, the Church teachings, participates in the sacraments and prays using a small word from the Scriptures, as the Jesus Prayer initially started [the name of Jesus was not used at first and all the theology behind the Jesus Prayer developed over the centuries], and has a life of repentance [metanoia which is a transformative change of heart; especially : a spiritual conversion (from Webster dictionary)].
Of course, I believe using the official form of the Jesus Prayer [Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me] is better because of the use of the Holy Name of our Lord and also because of all the theology behind the Jesus Prayer [it’s a summary of the whole Bible as the Fathers say] and because of the “Baptism of tears” that this prayer leads too which might not be present if someone is repeating the word from the New Testament “Maranatha”. It’s unfortunate that the Roman Catholic Church has lost it’s sense of the “Theology of Tears”, which opens the heart, so present in the Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Church.
I have tried for sometime to use “Maranatha” but always felt it did not produce the same spiritual fruit as when I was using “Lord Jesus have mercy on me a sinner”. In my own experience I always felt that using the Jesus Prayer reminded me of me being a sinner [by nature, ontologically] and of my constant need for the mercy of God. Using “Maranatha” does not produce the same fruits and that’s why I always stick to “Jesus have mercy on me the sinner”.
Thanks again for your post.
I would just add, regarding yoga, that this practice is wrong for a Christian no matter what; even it is pursued merely as an exercise program.
I think that gets a little stickier, Daniel. I would say rather it is dangerous, because its roots are Hindu and as one advances in its practice, teachers and other practitioners tend to make more of the Hindu aspect of it. The exercise (i.e., certain body positions) is not in and of itself a bad thing. But why practice something that’s spiritually dangerous when you can get similar physical benefits doing something that’s not dangerous? And there is also the question of causing scandal–leading others into sin because your behavior can easily be interpreted as approval of Hindu spirituality. Because of these concerns, I always advise people to stay away from yoga completely.
It might be that “dangerous” would be a better diagnosis.
But I’m still not sure I’d stop at “dangerous.” If all of the yoga positions and motions were specifically designed to be intrinsically connected to pagan worship (and this seems to be the consensus of even the promoters and experts of yoga), then our intent in undertaking them – though not irrelevant – nevertheless would not be sufficient to render them acceptable. Likewise, no pagan would believe that genuflecting before the tabernacle is okay for him because it is a good hamstring workout.
Culpability of course is another question entirely, but when it comes to accurately diagnosing the nature of the act itself, it is difficult for me to stop at “dangerous” instead of “objectively disordered” regarding yoga even “intended merely as an exercise routine.”
Well, if people just stay away from yoga, it won’t matter which of us is right. 😉 Let’s stick with our own traditions, especially when things get fuzzy.
Pingback: Should we sit quietly during prayer? (Part 1 of 3) - Contemplative Homeschool
Pingback: Demons Tremble before the Real Presence - BigPulpit.com
centering prayer did not exist in that time period. the cloud of unknowing an english prayer form. wheather Saitn Thersa knew about would not know. people maybe calling lectio divinia centering prayer. interior castle is discription of St Thersa prayer life. centering prayer comes from cloud of unknowing.
Sorry, Gary. The Cloud of Unknowing teaches the same doctrine as St. Teresa. Centering Prayer is a 20th century invention. Not just the name, but the method. If you can show me a passage from The Cloud of Unknowing where it seems to promote Centering Prayer, I’d be happy to discuss that with you. But Fr. Thomas Keating and Fr. Basil Pennington say openly in their books that they created Centering Prayer as a way to attract people who were interested in eastern meditation to the Catholic Church. A laudable goal, but the wrong way to go about it.
I agree with what you say here, but chapter 26 of St. Teresa’s WAY does provided at least some suggestion of a method that can educe one into prayer. And are you familiar with Lectio Divina and the Practice of Teresian Prayer by Fr. Anthony Morello, OCD, in which he shows how the tradition of lectio can assist us in following the Teresian way of prayer, and how in turn Teresa’s insights and attitudes can enrich our contemporary practice of lectio. So I guess it depends on what you mean by method of prayer. The only purpose of any “method” is to dispose us for or open us up to the only one who can teach us how to truly and authentically pray, God’s Holy Spirit.
Gerald, you’re right that Teresa does give some specifics about how to pray in that chapter. But it seems to me that she is making suggestions on how to be recollected and then begin a conversation with Christ, rather than recommending a certain method. She gives, I think, three different ways of going about it. The first is to use one’s imagination to picture a scene from the life of Christ. The second is to use a picture made by someone else to look at and meditate on. The third is to read prayerfully about the life of Christ. Then in the following chapters, she shows how we can also use the Our Father as a springboard for mental prayer. So while she does give many practical suggestions, for her it is the engaging Christ in a heart-to-heart conversation that is essential, not the means by which one gets there.
By the way, I noticed with dismay that Centering Prayer apologists liken their method to Lectio Divina. But they see themselves as skipping the first couple of steps and going right to the “contemplatio.” Lectio Divina used as it was meant to be is very human, guiding us to use our minds and hearts in conversation with God. Lectio Divina is thus a kind of picture of the whole life of prayer in miniature. And the fact that Centering Prayer skips over the first steps reveals also how it tries to skip over the early stages of one’s prayer life and jump in at a higher stage. That’s precisely why it fails.
I have not read the book you mentioned. I’ll have to take a look at it. Thanks for your insights.
Well, I guess it all depends on what you mean by method. To me as a Christian that is all method is, a suggestive path of disposing one for prayer. When you think about it that is all a so call active “method” can do for a Christian when it purports to be a method for praying – bring us into a disposition for authentic prayer to “happen”. So what St. Teresa does in chapter 26 and in other places is provide means or a method for doing that. For authentic prayer, we do not know how to pray as we ought, it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us to pray and transports our efforts into true prayer. You mentioned Fr. John Main elsewhere I think, well I would like to say a good word about him and his teaching. It is true that prior to becoming a Benedictine he learned from an Indian monk a method of meditation, it was a method reminiscent of the way of the early desert fathers with an emphasis on the importance of silence and stillness. However, Fr. Main’s teaching always pointed to a teacher beyond himself a la St. Paul. It was Fr. Main’s firm conviction that the Spirit was the primary teacher. For some years I used a collection of short readings from his books because I found them so evocative in disposing me for prayer. True, he did recommend a mantra as a means to recollection and sustaining one in recollection. St. Teresa suggested the use of an image to draw us into and sustain our prayer, but neither the word mantra or the image were meant to be an end, but a means. By the way, the mantra suggested by Fr. Main was one of the most ancient of prayers, “Maranatha” , “Come Lord Jesus”. For him it was only the means to effecting a disposition of prayer, a stillness where the whisper of God could be experienced, not necessarily or primarily sensorially. And that leads me to a final word – about centering prayer. I understand the danger of that “technique” as taught and proposed by some, but all true prayer is centering. Its purpose is to center us on God. In doing that St. Teresa would say that we never out grow our need for Christ in his humanity as the one who can lead us in our humanity to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. Let me finally end with a quote from Fr. Main that manifest where he truly was relative to prayer: “…there are no methods of prayer. There is only one prayer and this the prayer of Jesus – not words He addresses to His Father but the overflowing plenitude of His relationship with the Father. To talk then of methods of prayer or ‘our prayer’ at all is to miss the essential Christian dimension of prayer revealed to us that we ourselves do not know how to pray. We have to learn by following the teaching of our Master and He teaches us by taking us into the creative and liberating mystery of His prayer, the stream of love that flows between Him and his Father that is His Spirit. ‘Our prayer’ is simply our entering into this stream of divine love….” (from Letters from the Heart)
I won’t quibble with you on the St. Teresa bit, because I think we are basically in agreement about that. But I do want to address Fr. John Main.
Here are a couple of quotes from the website of his organization, The World Community for Christian Meditation:
1. “Meditation is a universal spiritual wisdom and a practice that we find at the core of all the great religious traditions, leading from the mind to the heart. It is a way of simplicity, silence and stillness. It can be practiced by anyone from wherever you are on your life’s journey. It is only necessary to be clear about the practice and then to begin – and keep on beginning.” Is Christian prayer essentially the same thing as eastern meditation? No, it is not. Just ask my loyal reader Alyosha, who practices Tibetan Buddhism. The goal of eastern meditation is completely different from the goal of Christian prayer. And since the end is different, so are the means to reach it. Yes, all major religions have some kind of meditation and mysticism. But they are not the same thing. Buddhists use prayer beads too, but that doesn’t mean they are praying the Rosary. There are similarities, and it’s interesting, informative, and promotes mutual understanding when we discuss our similarities with non-Christians. But as in Ecumenism with our Protestant brothers and sisters, we need to be clear about our differences.
2. Here’s part of Fr. Main’s method of meditation (for Christians): “Let go of all thoughts (even good thoughts), images and other words.” This is the exact same problem with Centering Prayer. What if God wants to speak to us in our hearts? Do we ignore His voice in order to continue our mantra? If that’s the case, then we have made the mantra more important than God. It is now an idol. Also, how does repeating a word, without any thoughts about it, help us get to know Christ? That is the purpose of true Christian meditation. Teresa of Avila said we should never let go of making Christ the focus of our prayer, even in the later stages of the spiritual life. If you want to repeat the name of Jesus, for example, as a way to help you focus on Him and stir up your heart to make acts of love for Him, that would be authentic Christian prayer. But that is not what Fr. Main’s website teaches people to do. The mantra is the beginning, middle, and end of his meditation, as detailed there. The fact that he says somethings about prayer elsewhere that sound orthodox do not change this. Of course, if his book completely contradicts what the website says, that brings up other questions.
3. “Silence means letting go of thoughts. Stillness means letting go of desire. Simplicity means letting go of self-analysis.” How can we overcome the sin in our lives if we never reflect on ourselves and our behavior? Traditional Christian prayer includes an examination of conscience. “Letting go of desire” is a Buddhist/Hindu concept. It is not the same as Christian detachment. We give up our disordered desires for things other than God, but we always cling to our desire for God. To do otherwise would be to fall prey to the heresy of quietism.
I believe that in a previous comment or two to this post I linked to a good article about the differences between Centering Prayer and the Jesus Prayer. The desert fathers most certainly did not meditate as Fr. Main or Fr. Keating, et. al, would have us do. I have not found one trustworthy source that states otherwise.
A further problem with these attempts to Christianize eastern meditation is that many people mistake the peace it produces, which is completely natural, with infused contemplation.
I hope this isn’t too hard-line. I’m just trying to help people have an authentic encounter with Jesus. There are right ways and wrongs ways to go about it. Perhaps you would say right methods and wrong methods. 🙂
Pingback: Prayer in the second mansions - Contemplative Homeschool
What is prayer?
It can be “a simple look turned toward heaven” See CCC #2558
Simply directing one’s life toward God (paraphrased from lay apologist Frank Sheed)
Just “be still and know I am God” from Psalm 46
How can one be still? Physical stillness during prayer seems easy enough, but what about being mentally still?? Centering Prayer (CP) does just that. In this information age of constant text & tweets I think CP is a very practical way to do “be still” and surrender in God’s presence; it’s helped me to detach from negative thoughts & feelings since 2008 as part of my regular morning prayer routine. Have you ever tried it?
Of the three signs from St. John of the Cross to help one identify if one is being called to this kind of a prayer form, I most relate to the third one, which describes a positive attraction or taking pleasure in being alone with God, without making any particular meditation.
In “The Cloud of Unknowing”, the cloud is a metaphor for a privation of knowing that stands between us and God. The unknown (and ancient) monk speaks of “the exercise” which can help one to “smite upon that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love.” In modern language I think one could interpret “the exercise” as Centering Prayer.
All this said, I don’t think it is (necessarily) for everyone, but anyone can do it because it is so simple and may be very helpful, provided one already has a good understanding of their catholic faith.
Ben, I wouldn’t want to say your personal experiences in prayer are inauthentic. Only a good, orthodox spiritual director could speak to that.
A few points:
Being detached from negative thoughts and feelings is a fine thing, but that’s not the purpose of prayer nor a sign of infused contemplation. Non-Christians can also be detached from these.
No, I have never tried Centering Prayer, just as I have never tried Buddhist meditation. I have no desire to do either. My desire is for intimacy with Christ, not peaceful feelings or detachment from negativity.
St. John of the Cross never speaks of Centering Prayer. He knows nothing of it. So he can’t be talking about signs of being called to it. He talks about signs that your prayer is truly infused by God, not signs that you should practice a certain type of meditation. As I said elsewhere, Teresa of Avila specifically says that we are not to force our minds to be still. She experienced a wild and active imagination during prayer even in the 4th and 5th mansions–i.e., during infused contemplation. We need to be careful that what we feel drawn to is not just the good feelings we are getting out of our prayer practice, but to God Himself. The most authentic sign of this, according to both John and Teresa is a complete surrender to god in our daily lives, being completely careful not to offend God in even the smallest thing.
Any good student of Carmelite spirituality will tell you that the Cloud of Unknowing teaches the same prayer as Teresa of Avila, and that it is not the same as Centering Prayer. Keating and Pennington themselves wrote that Centering Prayer grew out of their dialog with Hindus and Buddhists. It did not come from studying Catholic saints and their teachings.
Your last sentence says it all: anyone can do it. Yes, anyone can practice Centering Prayer, no matter what stage of the spiritual life he is at. That is a sure sign it is not infused contemplation. Infused contemplation is a pure gift of God, which He gives to souls who have prepared themselves–not by meditation techniques–but by faithfulness to prayer and the virtuous life.
Again, I don’t want to say your personal prayer is inauthentic. But I would not recommend anyone ever practice Centering Prayer. It gives practitioners the impression they have a relationship with God that they may not necessarily have. It can easily take their focus off of obedience to God’s will and onto consolations and prayer methods that make them feel good. God bless!
Whereas I am not as well read as most of you appear to be I have always felt an attraction towards knowing God and living as a good person praying for Gods guidance and support to do the right thing. As I grew up though I felt my prayers were repetitive and a constant rota of Our Fathers and Hail Marys that didn’t necessarily feel like they were connecting me to God; and then there’s the repetitive ‘I’m sorry, forgive me and have mercy’ alongside the ‘help me and save me’. This lead me to distancing myself from prayer as I felt ashamed my prayers were one sided… never asking how God was, where I can be better for God and where I can be an example to others – therefore bringing joy to God.
In my endeavors to connect with God I have read St Teresa of Avila’s book on contemplative prayer. Never did St Teresa say that contemplative prayer is better than any other prayer; but she did say it gave a connection to God whereas you could be in a more direct spiritual communion with God. To me this would be an airing out of your conscience so that you would know God on a deep level. St Teresa gave an example where by a fellow nun who was very pious could only pray through litneys of prayers i.e. Our Fathers and Hail Marys, reading the Bible etc. St Teresa said that this is very good and for some people is all that is needed but she did say contemplative prayer brings you into Gods presence. In other words you are speaking to God as a friend feeling confident in Gods presence with you.
(Knowing this I would imagine St Teresa (a mystic) would not be able to entertain the question “Is there such thing as God?” when she feels God presence when she prays. Due to her contemplative praying her faith would be rock solid).
Bearing in mind St Teresa’s way of praying was surprising to her spiritual advisor which is the reason she was encouraged to write about it. It was different – and not something everyone can do. I think it was also questioned whether how she was praying was right or wrong.
Regardless of the words ‘meditation’ or ‘prayer’ they are both good – I personally (lately) like to breath deeply and ask the Holy Spirit to guide me in prayer so I say what I need to say and so that it is good to God.
St Francis De Sales writes a lot on how to meditate and even speaks about how unfortunate it is that too few people in his day know of how to pray internally (interior prayer). He continues by saying to prepare yourself for interior prayer we should
1) Put yourself in the presence of God
2) Ask for Gods help/inspiration
Then to proceed to meditate on Gods love or Creation or Gods Purpose for us, etc. This is very similar to meditation by other faiths.
****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ******
I don’t understand people’s dislike to yoga? I have heard various things – as well as what one person mentioned here in this thread – yoga body contortions etc being of pagan origin. If there is a link to what the problem with yoga is I’d appreciate it If someone posted it – although it’s hard to find info that doesn’t come from a source that’s crying out fire and brimstone if you do yoga.
My confusion specifically is that yoga is pagan considering there are so many pagan traditions in the Catholic religion. For example holy water comes from the Celtic Pagan tradition of crossing water (Rivers/streams) in order to purify yourself of bad spirits (as spirits cant cross water). The Catholic religious preachers took this and said all you need to do is dip your hand in water (blessed by the priest/monk) and make the sign of the cross on your forehead.
Another example is the Celtic tradition of Samhain or Hallowe’en where the veil between the living and dead grows thin so the dead can visit their families for a brief moment of time – Catholic religion took this tradition to create All Souls Day and All Saints Day.
Another – Christmas trees are decorated in order to appease the spirits of the forest.
Let’s not forget that Jesus was Jewish which is why he is always seen with a loincloth on. Circumcision is not a catholic thing and is not necessary unless you are of a faith that promotes it.
I am glad that someone also posted a very valid point here – God does not follow a religion. It is my personal opinion that religions are the many faces of God – we learn so much about God from all of them.
And for some of the very staunch Catholics that commented above – I don’t know if you believe or agree with the stories of apparitions of Our Lady that take place in the world but one that I found very interesting was when the visionaries of Medjugorje asked Our Lady to tell them who the most holiest person in Medjugorje was. Our Lady answered with the name of an elderly lady living in the village. The visionaries were surprised by this and said that this can’t be correct because this elderly lady is a Muslim. Our Lady replied ‘you asked me who the most holiest person in the village was – not who the most religious was’.
Another interesting account I heard was the friendship of Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta/Kalcutta and Princess Diana. Princess Diana was inspired by Mother Theresa and her good works but didn’t believe so much in Jesus. Mother Theresa said she didn’t understand why Jesus kept a distance from Diana but that it must be part of the greater plan that Diana didn’t know Jesus like Mother Theresa did. (In no way is she saying Jesus didn’t love Diana or keep himself away from her – but that Jesus was more proactive in Mother Theresa’s work is all).
That’s just my two cent – I hope I made some valid points.
Hi, Philip. Your comment is rather long and contains numerous points. I only have time to reply briefly to a few.
1) Teresa of Avila definitely believed that everyone was called to contemplation and that it was the highest form of prayer. Fr. Thomas Dubay explains this point in detail in his excellent book Fire Within.
2) The CDF included cautions about yoga in the 1989 document On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation.
3) The idea of holy water is universal in religions and did not come to Catholicism via paganism, but via Judaism — as did Jesus Himself. Halloween was meant to replace Samhain, not incorporate it into Christianity. In our traditions, Christmas Trees are not religious objects, simply decorations. There’s nothing pagan about decorating a tree. None of these is relevant to the question of yoga.
FOR SOME REASON MY COMMENT APPEARS HERE RATHER THAN AT THE BOTTOM AFTER ALL PREVIOUS COMMENTS – SORRY
I really don’t mean to sound critical or confrontational – I only wish to share my own thoughts on this subject. I do know I wrote a lot and I do hope the other posters on this thread understand my points.
I don’t really know of Fr. Thomas Dubay or his book (I might check it out). I would be surprised though if he did say St Teresa of Avila’s contemplative prayer was the best way to pray because she certainly did not say that. In fact she mentions that prayer should be a habit formed and that contemplative prayer can come from this habit. St Teresa Of Avila was very careful to point out that anyway of praying to God that is consistent is pleasing to God.
*** I will admit I did not appreciate the comments made by some posters Who say they represent the Catholic faith by highlighting that another poster is not Catholic and therefore should be reminded to follow the Catholic faith. This is very arrogant and unenlightened. Jesus himself was Jewish and recommended a way of life – he never said you need to be Catholic and he followed a lot of Jewish customs. This might be a good time to highlight that according to St Teresa of Avila’s contemplative prayer practice – she would have felt Gods presence which would transcend her from any notions of religion. Religion is something humans have – God does not have a religion. Whether we want it or not everything is as God wills it to be – regardless of your religion.
— My reference to Medjugorje apparitions of Our Lady are relevant here (if you take to apparitions) where she mentioned the holiest person in Medjugorje was a Muslim (not Christian) old lady.
*** Regarding yoga being bad for Christians to do (I’m not promoting yoga either) – my points that I made (which I do hope the other readers of the thread understood) refer to the fact that there are a lot of traditions that we (Catholics) use that don’t necessarily come from a Christian tradition. As mentioned Hallowe’en or All Hallows’ Eve comes from the Celtic pagan tradition of Samhain and is on the Catholic Calendar as two days which are All Saints Day (Nov 1st) and All Souls Day (Nov 2nd).
Christmas trees are not religious objects yet they are positioned and decorated in most Christian religious homes every year to remember the Birth of Jesus Christ. Complete with Angel or star atop the tree. (In my home we put a miniature manger complete with Virgin Mary, St Joseph, guiding star, Angel, Shepard’s, Animals and Three Kings – beneath our Christmas tree until Christmas Day when we add the Baby Jesus). However the Christmas tree is a pagan tradition and is not Christian. Bad practices?
I do appreciate the enlightened response by Bruce Davis who I feel is an example of good Christian compassion. I hope i will some day be as enlightened as you Bruce Davis.
And thank you so much Aloysha for your input – it’s a treat to hear the view point of someone of non Catholic perspective and yet knows of Gods love enough to be a part of conversations even of other faiths – you are truly someone who recognises God in all places, people and faiths.
God bless all.