Is Centering Prayer a New Age fad?
Fr Finbarr Flanagan OFM,Pretoria -While I have learned a lot from Fr Rolheiser’s columns, I beg to disagree with him on Centering Prayer (October 19).
Centering Prayer is a syncretistic New Age tool: “It is simply transcendental meditation in a Christian dress” (Fr Emil Lafranz SJ). The founder of the Malawi Poor Clares, Mother Veronica Le Goulard PPC, who taught transcendental meditation for years, said: “Centering Prayer is transcendental meditation and nothing else.”
I still have a letter from Abbot Thomas Keating, in 1979, who told me he and others had decided to work on a new programme based on transcendental meditation as the abbot’s colleague Fr Pennington had praised Hindu transcendental meditation as “an authentic method of contemplative prayer” and that it “corresponds step by step to classical Christian teaching”.
This is certainly not true as there is no equivalent to transcendental meditation/Centering Prayer in classical teaching.They are not suitable as “meaningless shields to ward off thoughts” as in Eastern forms or for inducing altered states of consciousness.
Traditional Christian prayer consists of meditating or mulling over scripture like Mary in Luke 2:19 until we feel our hearts burning within us (Luke 24:32). God can then intervene with infused contemplation — a gift, not a technique.
Our mind and imagination are still, and in darkness, but our heart launches out towards God by loving desire, as a laser beam cuts through all obstacles like cloud and turbulence, to reach its goal — God.
So contra Fr Rolheiser, there are feelings in true contemplation, feelings for God: “Heart speaks to heart.” Christianity is a religion of the heart as well as the mind.
In New Age and Eastern meditation, there are no thoughts and no feelings. The Jesuit William Johnston says: “The heart of Christian mysticism is a mystery of love, whereas both in Hinduism and in Buddhism, it is primarily a transformation of consciousness.”
So Christian meditation is more holistic than Eastern kinds, which tend to be very cerebral and do not require a good moral life.
Eastern and New Age meditation use mantras but there is no such word or concept in Christianity.
But what of the Jesus prayer, John Cassian and the Cloud of Unknowing prayer? These are not mantras. They are not suitable as “meaningless shields to ward off thoughts” as in Eastern forms or for inducing altered states of consciousness.
Altered states of consciousness and mind-voiding, especially in children, are dangerous and can lead to depression, madness and openness to the demonic.
So Centering Prayer or the Christian meditation of John Main or Laurence Freeman can be a form of child abuse if taught to children.
Traditional Christian prayer and meditation, as exemplified by the work of St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross, is best — and safest.