Friday, September 11, 2015

Is Fr. Keating's "Centering Prayer" Catholic?

As my passion for prayer has increased and I have learned more about Christian prayer (see recent post), I have become more and more concerned about the popularity of "centering prayer" among Catholics and even in Catholic parishes. Fr. Thomas Keating is a leading Catholic proponent of centering prayer, and yet what he says and promotes is not in line with the very clear teachings of our Church (through the Catechism and the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith) and her saints (especially prayer master and Doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila).

If you are Catholic, stay away from centering prayer. You will not advance to supernatural, infused contemplation using the techniques, methods, and philosophies promulgated by Fr. Keating and his followers.

If you have any doubts, then you need to read what our very own Connie Rossini has written in her latest book, Is Centering Prayer Catholic?: Fr. Thomas Keating Meets Teresa of Avila and the CDF.

I had the privilege of reading this short, clear, and concise work when it was still just in e-book form (it is now available in paperback), and here is the review I wrote on Amazon:

I came to this book looking for a clear understanding of the Catholic position on centering prayer. I had heard good things about Fr. Thomas Keating from several Catholics of good will, and I had also been warned by other good Catholics to steer clear of his writings and methods. More than anything, I strive to be faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church, and for that reason, this book is a godsend.

With the utmost charity and detached consideration, Connie Rossini has given us a simple, clear, and practical way to compare authentic Catholic prayer and centering prayer. She places the words of St. Teresa of Avila (Doctor of the Church and prayer master) and the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the office which spreads and defends sound doctrine) side-by-side with Fr. Keating's words on centering prayer.

The results are astonishing and, frankly, frightening for anyone practicing or considering centering prayer.

While Fr. Keating and his supporters claim that centering prayer is compatible with Catholic prayer traditions, it becomes clear early on in the book that such a claim is impossible. In fact, true Catholic contemplation stands in stark contrast to the methods and goals of centering prayer, which is simply eastern transcendental meditation under a "Catholic" label.

For example, Fr. Keating "states repeatedly that one should ignore every thought during prayer, and every type of communication and inspiration coming from God himself. He urges his followers to use a 'sacred word' during prayer, but not only can that word be something completely secular if one chooses, Fr. Keating says that 'the less the word means to you, the better.'"

Contrast that to what we read about prayer in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. This mobilization of faculties is necessary in order to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt the conversion of our heart, and strengthen our will to follow Christ. Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ..."

And St. Teresa utterly contradicts Fr. Keating's directive of "letting go of every kind of thought during prayer, even the most devout thoughts” when she says:
"Taking it upon oneself to stop and suspend thought is what I mean should not be done; nor should we cease to work with the intellect, because otherwise we would be left like cold simpletons and be doing neither one thing nor the other."

Chapter by chapter, subject by subject, we see clearly how Fr. Keating's centering prayer theologically confuses almost every aspect of Catholic meditation and contemplation. By the end of the book, we have seen that...
"...Centering Prayer proposes an unorthodox relationship between God and the soul. It speaks of the spiritual life as coming to a greater consciousness, rather than conquering sin and learning to live according to God’s will. It misconstrues the place of the intellect and will in prayer. It sees no real distinctions between Catholic theology and Eastern religions. It denies the real change that takes place at death, sees growth in emotional freedom as the primary sign of spiritual growth, tells practitioners to ignore thoughts of God or inspirations from him during prayer, and urges the use of a 'sacred word' that might as well be gibberish. Centering Prayer takes Buddhist and Hindu meditation techniques, adds a few Christian terms, and calls it a new expression of the Catholic contemplative tradition. Its focus, its purpose, and its practice are all out of step with the teachings of Teresa of Avila, the unrivaled master teacher of the contemplative life." [And the teachings of the CDF and the Catechism as well.]
The phrase "accept no substitutes" comes to mind when I think of those tempted to centering prayer. If you desire to move through the stages of holiness and prayer and to achieve true spiritual union with God through infused contemplation, stay on course with Catholic tradition and teaching presented by the masters of Christian prayer and by the Church herself, and stay far, far away from the New Age philosophies and emptiness of centering prayer.

Learn more about prayer, learn how to pray, and you will find union with God while still on this earth. The peace and joy that comes with that union is not an emptiness or a loss of ourselves, but rather a personal and intimate relationship with the Beloved, a relationship for which we were all made, and without which we can never be satisfied.



  1. Thanks for the review, Leila! Prayers for your friends.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to educate all of us on this, Connie. Seriously, I ate your book up. It's fascinating and so clear (you know how I love clarity.)

    And thank you for prayers for my friends. The baby's father is a classmate of my son (he was in their wedding last Feb), and his mom is one of my best friends. Great Catholics, so faithful. They were so looking forward to a lifetime of love with this little boy, but God has His plans and we trust!

  3. Thank you for sounding this alarm - I've long been very uncomfortable with this type of prayer, as well as labyrinths and other meditation practices. I do believe people are well-meaning, but sometimes I don't think we truly appreciate the dangers we face from the enemy.

    I'm sorry for the loss of that precious child; I will pray for his family.

  4. I totally agree that most people who try out Centering Prayer are people of good will. That's why it's so sad that they are led into error! Meditation techniques can't lead you closer to God. Real spiritual growth takes hard work, and usually a long time, besides of course the grace of God. Anything that promises quick results or that divorces the prayer life from the life of virtue should be suspect.

  5. @Connie--according to Leila's post The Cathecism of the Catholic Church states : "meditation.... Strengthen(s) our will to follow Christ" so why would it not lead you closer to God?

  6. Johanne, the "enemy" is the devil. He tries to lead souls away from God, away from Christ, away from a deep and intimate prayer life.

    As for "meditation", yes, in the Christian understanding of the word (like when we meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary, the life of Christ), not the eastern understanding of the word. Very different things.

  7. Interesting.
    Centering Payer has been a part of my morning prayer routine for about 8 years now. It’s not about creating a mental void. It is not about erasing or emptying the mind of all thoughts & feelings; it’s about detaching from thoughts & feelings (interior noise) to have a greater awareness of God’s presence.

    I only have one book, by Fr. Keating, the 20th anniversary edition of the book “Open Mind, Open Heart”. Page 22 says, “Your purpose is not to suppress all thoughts because that is impossible.” It goes on, “CP is not a way of turning on the presence of God. It is a way of saying ‘Here I am’. The next step is up to God.”

    I can see how the similarities to meditations in eastern religions can cause suspicion. I think it was JP2 that alluded to finding at least some good or truth in all religions. CP takes some aspects of eastern meditations and applies them in a more perfect way. It reminds me of how Rosary beads are similar to Buddhist prayer beads that existed long before the Rosary.

    In the modern age of information and image bombardment, CP helps to lead one to that “gaze of faith, fixed on Christ” that the Catechism mentions (#2715).

    Since we know a tree by its fruits, I could not say Centering Prayer has had any real meaning unless fruits were evident in my everyday life. I’ve had a heighted awareness of both the presence of God as well as my own sin. I’m more able to let go of negative thoughts, feeling and emotions, even something as simple as a bad mood.

    So sorry about little Daniel Elijah...

  8. Ben, but Connie compares the words of Fr. Keating with the words of Teresa and the CDF. They are incompatible. For example, with Christian prayer, we do not seek to "detach from thoughts and feelings". Mental prayer is meditating on the life of Christ, thinking about Him and His life and His sacrifice. And we feel many things when we focus on Him.

    I am truly interested in your take on the Truth of Christian prayer and the warnings that have been given about New Age prayer. A calming of the mind and thoughts is simply a natural feeling that can give us "peace", but it's not contemplation. It's not a conversation between persons.

    Please stay with me, because I think this is a conversation worth having. Especially addressing specific points, and rebutting what Connie (and the CDF and St. Teresa) are saying. Do you find anything alarming in the words of Fr. Keating? (It would be helpful to get the book or the ebook, because the book is mostly comparative quotes from Keating vs. the CDF and St. Teresa. It's pretty disturbing actually.

    1. Sorry for the lack of a second parenthesis, and thank you for your condolences on Daniel.

      One more thought: I admire your work and I know you are a good Catholic who loves the Church and Christ. But something like "letting go of negative thoughts, feelings and emotions" is not the point of prayer. This is why I think you would benefit from really reading St. Teresa's words, the words of the CDF and the three stages of holiness (three stages of prayer). What you describe does not fit in there.

  9. Ben, yes Fr. Keating says it's impossible to suppress all thoughts. But he stills says that you should try to ignore all thoughts. That is still a problem. For example, on p. 21 he says, "“The method consists in letting go of every kind of thought during prayer, even the most devout thoughts.” He also says that we should ignore every communication from God during our prayer time, saying that God can speak to us later instead (p. 81). So, could you explain to me how this is focusing on Christ? If we don't think about God, we don't speak to Him, and we ignore Him when He communicates with us, how is that prayer? (I'm going to stick with the Bubble's way of debating, which is to take one issue at a time). Thanks.

  10. Anyone else have a question about Centering Prayer or about true contemplation?

    1. Yes, please ask Connie if you do. She has written on the spiritual life of St. Therese, and is well-versed in Carmelite spirituality and the writings and teachings of St. Teresa of Avila and the seven mansions. She is an excellent prayer resource for the Bubble! We are blessed!

  11. Just a (hoping to someday be truly) humble servant, Leila. But I have studied the Carmelite saints in depth, both as a Secular and Carmelite for 17 years and on my own as a writer on the spiritual life. So I'm happy to help where I can.

  12. Well, it's late in Minnesota and I have to give a talk on trusting God in another town tomorrow morning. So I'm off to bed. But I'll check back her around 1 PM Central tomorrow to catch up on anything I missed.

  13. Connie,

    Would you care to comment on the difference between meditation and contemplation? At one time, I, like many people, used to imagine they were the same thing. However, I've learned only too well that insights into the Divine Mysteries (the types with significant transforming power, which become quickly internalized) aren't something we can gain by our own study or intellectual effort or even intense meditation on revelation or concepts or texts - let alone by mental or physical contortions. It is more infused wisdom than learned intelligence.

    Such contemplation of the Mysteries comes directly from the Spirit, and is given, I think, only after one has happily devoted regular time to prayer and meditation and has learned to live consciously in the presence of God at all times (ever "watching" and "praying"). For me, personally, such insights come at random, (i.e., often "out of the blue"), invariably give me pause when they do, and are, more often than not, quickly confirmed by something authoritative that I might never have noted before but "co-incidentally" stumble across in the very next day or two! This has happened so many times to me, I've lost count of the number of instances!

    What is intriguing - and perhaps to illustrate that the knowledge was not acquired of my own searching - is that the insight/understanding always comes first, and then comes the confirmation!

    Also, I have difficulty sharing such insights widely. More often than not, I really struggle to express (the depth of) it adequately in words. This used to frustrate me because I'm the sharing type, and I used to wonder why it was so difficult, but now I'm inclined to believe that some spiritual insights are tailored for the growth of the particular recipient - what one person might "get" today, someone else mightn't be ready to get until another day.

    Here's a little Carmelite commentary on (the difference between) meditation and contemplation: Meditation and Contemplation: What is the difference?

    1. When I say "something authoritative" above, I mean from the Church. I actually wrote that in the comment, and even bolded it, but in the posting the three words intriguingly disappeared!!!

  14. @ Leila
    ""letting go of negative thoughts, feelings and emotions" is not the point of prayer.

    What does it matter? Prayer is not the only thing a person does to live a devout life, right? What can possibly be wrong with letting go of negativity? Why can't a person pray in the Catholic sense but also try to let go of negativity? Makes no sense.

  15. @Johanne - I think "letting go" of negative thoughts which we may need to feel or analyse I order to grow from, is probably not a good idea. They're obviously in out heads for a reason in the first place. Pretending its not would be...fake. The emotion is still there - you'd just be acting like it wasn't. Doesn't sound very intellectually honest to me.

    This doesn't mean we allow ourselves to be controlled by negative feelings - we'd still need to put it into perspective through introspection, etc. But simply to ignore? That's just seems like a person would be taking the easy way out.

  16. Letting go of something and ignoring it are not the same thing at all.

  17. For example, Fr. Keating "states repeatedly that one should ignore every thought during prayer, and every type of communication and inspiration coming from God himself. He urges his followers to use a 'sacred word' during prayer, but not only can that word be something completely secular if one chooses, Fr. Keating says that 'the less the word means to you, the better.'"

    A few thoughts on Fr. Keating’s suggestions after looking at this paragraph above…
    (I hope Ben can color what he has experienced, because I, too, admire his blog and his intelligence.)

    This opinion above says that we basically need to shut off every faculty available in us in order to “center” ourselves.

    Hold on. Catholic life is all about using God given faculties of the mind, not turning them off. For heaven’s sake, we created the school system of the western world… We turn off nothing, mind-wise, like, ever.

    Method question: What are we even centering on? What is the object? When I hear “center”, I think, “focus”. So what is being focused on?

    From this paragraph above, nothing is being focused on. We’re in a state of half-sleep almost-- what else could it be if we’re ignoring thoughts, not having thoughts, and not really responding to anything that pops to mind?
    What exactly is the point - relaxation?

    In prayer, one primes oneself to be in a calm state of mind, yes. Maybe that takes 30 seconds to a minute - the time it takes to offer an Our Father (as suggested by St. Ignatius of Loyola). Ok.

    But to do as this man suggests, i.e., ignore every type of communication … then what exactly is the point? To me that = taking a nap.

    To turn off our faculties, to ignore thoughts, means to disengage.
    To disengage means that we do not center on anything; then we’re like mental blobs. Isn’t that something we actively try not to be in our daily life? It’s not prayer (it’s not even ‘thought’) because it’s not engaging with the one who taught us to pray, interactively, with Him. “Interactively” is the operative word.

    Methodically, if this man encourages us to use a “sacred word”, what difference can that make, since, according to his method, we’re ignoring what it conjures to mind anyway?

    It can be a secular word, he says. Okay, so I chant, “Groceries… groceries… groceries.” and, what? I am supposed to ignore the list that God brings to mind? I am being facetious to make a point. It’s about being redundant for the sake of … redundancy?

    Praise and worship (prayer) is an active focus on God. Not a de-focusing on anything.

  18. Johanne,
    Being Catholics, we strive to pair with God, we don’t strive to decouple. We strive to touch Spirit, not become numb to all possible interaction. It’s a positive application, you could say.

  19. Nubby, Fr. Keating does compare CP to sleeping in his book, so you're not far off!

    Francis, meditation, in the Catholic sense, is something we do ourselves. We ponder the Gospels or the lives of the saints, thinking about what God is saying to us through them, then we talk to Him about it. It always begins with content. We learn through our activity to know and love God. As you have demonstrated, contemplation brings a knowledge and a love that is initiated by God. St. Teresa, who was schooled as much as the average girl og the 16th century, would come away from prayer with theological insights that would stump her poorly educated spiritual directors. Later she would find them to be true. They didn't come from any reasoning on her part, but directly from God.

    Here's where a lot of people mess up. They think that if in infused contemplation we are knowing and loving God beyond concepts, then if we get rid of all concepts that will bring is into deeper knowledge and love of God. But that's doing thins backwards! We have to get to know and love God first.

    Johanne, if someome wants to practice (an eastern type of) meditation to de-stress or something, he should at least be clear that he is doing something other than praying. Prayer is a conversation with God, not a de-stressing exercise. It actually is ABSOLUTELY essential for spiritual growth. No exceptions. I have to go get ready for my talk now. I'll be back.


  20. "What can possibly be wrong with letting go of negativity? Why can't a person pray in the Catholic sense but also try to let go of negativity? Makes no sense."

    Johanne, there is nothing "wrong" with letting go of negativity. But that doesn't mean one is praying. One could be exercising, one could be in therapy, one could be practicing hypnosis or getting a massage to let go of negativity. It's not synonymous with prayer, so it's not how we know whether or not we are actually praying. I hope that makes sense.

    Here's an analogy -- if a woman makes love to her husband in order to "let go of negativity" but she ignores her husband and acts as if he is not there, then she is not in intimate communion with her husband at all.

    Prayer is intimate communion and communication with the Lord. Person to person.

    Hope that helps!

  21. I just got this on fb from Mary Ann, my dear friend of many years, and the grandma of Baby Daniel who passed away:

    I tried to post on your blog, but either I'm too tired/worn out or my IPad is stupid. Could be both.

    Thank you, Leila, and everyone for your prayers for baby Daniel, my son Joshua & his sweet bride, Mary-Frances. We are shattered, but sustained by your prayers.

    Connie, I look forward to reading your book. When I was in third grade, my mom took me to a TM "class". To this day I still remember the "word" I was given. I can see the dangers in the practice, having lived it and dressing it up as "Catholic" does not make it better.

  22. I mean, if Keating's point is to be silent to listen better, he's not doing a very bang-up job of explaining that through his method.

    It says, "I'm chanting a word to bring thoughts to mind, only to dismiss those thoughts in order to listen." Wha-?

    We think of the gospels (meditate) in order to engage with the story, the Person of Christ.
    We get to know a friend with everyday interaction, like conversation and instances of bonding. We try to listen to her better by taking what she gives us and working with that. It can't just be about attaining interior silence for silence's sake. That's pretty meaningless when trying to relate to another person.
    Agility of mind. That's where God is at. He's active. Not passive.

    Anyway - enjoy your talk, Connie. I'm sure it will benefit many.
    Leila, I'll pray for your friends at mass.

  23. I would have to agree that Eastern style meditation isn't prayer in the Christian sense. But, I wouldn't dismiss it outright. I have family members who suffer from OCD/Anxiety disorders who have used those eastern meditation techniques as cognitive therapy to get rid of intrusive thoughts. So it does have its place and I don't believe it's from the devil.

  24. I would agree with ONG here. For folks with good mental health, it might be hard to see how ignoring bad thoughts is good, because "aren't they there for a reason?" Yes, and the reason is depression/anxiety. Take it from someone bombarded by unwanted thoughts: if I took them all seriously I would never work or eat or go out. Seriously, it is that debilitating. With regards to the spiritual life, those afflicted by scrupulosity know this well. In fact, Leila posted on that before with a Ten Commandments for the scrupulous, which included not obsessing on your thoughts. (This is distinct from the centering prayer question, but I wanted to make sure it was addressed. Meditation which is not prayer can be a valid medical tool for depression/anxiety/OCD.)

  25. Sarah, yes, but your clarification means everything here. We are discussing prayer, not tools for treating anxiety, or methods of cognitive therapy. Those are not prayer.

    Fr. Keating is claiming that his centering prayer is the same as or compatible with Christian prayer. Yet it is absolutely not, and that is so, so important to understand. Prayer is not about medical treatment or mental health treatment (although true prayer can improve everyone's lives) -- prayer is an intimate conversation with God, and in the latter stages, it is nothing we can bring about by our own efforts, so there is no "technique" to even be had.

  26. It depends on what is meant by technique though. One could argue that the Rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet or lectio divina are techniques. I would agree that it's important to understand that prayer is not rubbing a genie's lamp, but I see that problem with many kinds of legitimate prayers too, even extemporaneous ones. As long as we are praying to "get something out of it" (emotional peace included) we're missing the point. Perhaps you could clarify what you mean by technique, because I'm still unsure that that alone makes centering prayer different from, say, an Orthodox Christan using a prayer rope.

  27. Here's a brief history of Centering Prayer. The monks at a Benedictine Abbey in the 70s had a series of retreats with a Zen master, to see what all the talk about eastern meditation was about. Then an ex-monk who had left the Church to practice TM also gave them talks. They saw that many people were interested in TM and Zen, so they thought, "There's gotta be a way to draw people into the Church who start out with an interest in this stuff." They began to search Christian writings about prayer.

    Now Fr. Keating says that the Catholic contemplative tradition had been lost in the 17th c. until the CP folks revived it. That's not quite true. When Quietism arose in the 17th c., people did begin to hold contemplation suspect, so it wasn't talked about any more. But I'm convinced that the saints continued experiencing it. Then in the early 20th c., there was a revival of interest in the contemplative life, especially among Dominicans. The best-known of these was Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, who wrote "The Three Ages of the Interior Life." This is a modern classic for orthodox teaching on intimacy with God, but it's a little heavy for the average person. So there was already this revival in scholarly circles decades before Keating et. al., but the CP folks didn't know about it, because they were not really interested in theology. They were interested in practice. (That posed a problem.)

    The second mistake they made was to misinterpret a handful of early Christians (some of whom were orthodox, many others who were criticized for lack of precision or whose teachings were condemned by Church councils) as teaching the same thing they had learned from the Zen and TM masters. Then Fr. William Meninger read a 14th c. book called The Cloud of Unknowing and thought it was teaching the same thing. So he began teaching a method he called the Prayer of the Cloud, which was eventually renamed Centering Prayer. Problem is, The Cloud of Unknowing doesn't teach that at all. Meninger misunderstood it. But to this day, the CP promoters say it is a revival of the Catholic contemplative tradition.

    Here's my opinion: the Holy Spirit was already bringing about a revival of the contemplative tradition through the Dominicans, and Satan wanted a way to quash it before it did his kingdom too much harm. So he used these monks, who were probably all of good will, to promote a counterfeit practice. The result is that once again when you talk about contemplation, some people are suspicious of it, because they think it is synonymous with CP.

  28. Sarah, you're right that all those orthodox prayer methods can be misused, prayed badly, etc. The difference is that these prayers on their face have the goal of intimacy with Christ. They are all about meditating on His life. There are many, many good orthodox methods of meditating on the Scriptures, and every person does it a little differently. The difference with CP is that the method becomes primary. You do A, B, C, and no matter what--even if Heaven is opened before you (I think Fr. Keating uses that exact example)--you keep doing the method. The method then becomes an end in itself, not because it is being done badly, but because it is being done "correctly."

  29. A person doing CP is told to ignore any inspirations or communications with God. Well, St. Teresa says that it's impossible to ignore the Prayer of Quiet, an early form of infused contemplation, so the directive itself doesn't make sense. And if you could ignore God's communications, why would you? Doesn't this mean you would try to shy away from contemplation itself, since that it God's self-communication to the soul? But then, what is the point of the prayer? The point of true prayer is to ENTER INTO a deep communion with God through infused contemplation. All legitimate Christian prayer is ordered to that end.

  30. Prayer that isn’t centered firmly on (and indeed initiated by the grace of) God isn’t (Christian) prayer at all. Indeed, no matter what old or new prayer techniques we might use, we don’t even know “how to pray as we ought”, hence the Spirit, Who is gifted to us by Christ in the Father, “himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (cf Rom 8: 26). Every legitimate form of prayer must therefore be focused on and open to the action of God Himself.

    What alarms me most about this strange new concept of “Centering Prayer” is its recommendation to empty one’s mind of all thoughts - as opposed to simply shifting one’s focus away from worldly distractions to concentrate on the things of God. In this “all”, lies the hidden rub, because it defeats the entire purpose of prayer, rendering it meaningless and purposeless!

    In prayer - and most particularly in sacrifice - man trysts with his God. (Indeed, the very word “God” is derived from an ancient Germanic term meaning “to invoke with sacrifice”.)

    The object of (meditative/contemplative) prayer is not to clear our minds of everything, but rather to “bring to mind” the Divine Mysteries, to “remember” the mighty and saving words and works of God.

    But wait, there’s more! In Judeo-Christian understanding, to “bring to mind” or to “remember”, is more than to merely “think back” on something. God is eternal. His word and His saving works are also eternal, transcendent across all time. So, in “remembering” them, we actually become contemporary to them! When, at the Last Supper, for instance, Christ, knowing that He would soon be going to His death, commanded, “Do this in memory of me”, what He was really saying was, invoke My (real and substantial) Presence with you through this sacramental sacrifice.

    In prayer and meditation too, it is the Lord Himself Who we are seeking with “all our mind”. The high point of God’s presence to us is, of course, in the Sacrificial Liturgy of the Church (recall: “to invoke with sacrifice”). In the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, God becomes entirely present to us in the Eucharist – in body, blood, soul and divinity. However, we also invoke His presence, albeit not physically as in the Eucharist, through communal or personal prayer, meditation and contemplation. In a mystical way, the insights/enlightenment we receive in contemplation is the Word of God, and the Word, as we know, is none other than God!

    Warning about the dangers of some New Age types of prayer, St John Paul II wrote: “… it is not inappropriate to caution those Christians who enthusiastically welcome certain ideas originating in the religious traditions of the Far East—for example, techniques and methods of meditation and ascetical practice. In some quarters these have become fashionable, and are accepted rather uncritically. First one should know one's own spiritual heritage well and consider whether it is right to set it aside lightly. Here we need to recall, if only in passing, the brief but important document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “on certain aspects of Christian meditation” (10/15/1989). Here we find a clear answer to the question “whether and how [Christian prayer] can be enriched by methods of meditation originating in different religions and cultures”” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope).

    Here’s the document St John Paul II was referring to:

    Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation - Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

  31. Francis, I quote from that letter 10 times in my book. Another document I quote a lot is Jesus Christ: the Bearer of the Water of Life, which was written by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue & the Pontifical Council for Culture. Both clearly identify the teachings of CP as New Age.

    One thing in your post, CP folks (see Ben's comment above) say they do not try to empty the mind of all thoughts. In fact they say this like a mantra (haha), or like a cheat sheet that they have all been given with the same talking points. But ignoring all thoughts is explicitly taught by Fr. Keating, et. al., and I fail to see how the criticism of emptying the mind of thoughts doesn't apply to ignoring thoughts as well. It seems to me more a of a word play than anything else. Either way, CP teaches you NOT to think about God during prayer.

  32. Connie, you need to write a follow-up book, on the history of CP and true Christian mediation/contemplation!

    And I would love for Ben and Johanne to jump back in the conversations now that these clarifications have been made. Thanks!

  33. Connie,

    I’m sort of casually tabling my spiritual life where it stands right now next to what St. Teresa explains in her experience and methodology. Feel free to respond to any of these random questions:

    Can you expound on your experience or knowledge of passing through the various thresholds of prayer as we come closer to God during prayer?

    Would you describe it as a matter of intensity? Is it completely experiential in starts and stops? Or does it surface as a more peaceful outlook, a deeper joy, etc.?
    Is it a matter of more frequent inspirations?

    Does it require a proving ground of sorts before we ascend to another level? And how do we know we’ve attained a new level?

    Does it become a completely different mindset for the believer?

    I know that some of us never leave the mental prayer level, and per her book, that isn’t discussed as a bad thing. In your opinion, what should a soul do when it feels handicapped by one level or another, or do you think we should not strive after more at all?

    How does this union with God play out differently or look differently than, say, staying in God’s presence throughout the various tasks and duties of any ordinary day?

    I’m currently reading the life of Fr. Solanus Casey (very interesting) and one thing that’s very attractive about his spirituality is how simply he lived, prayed, and coached others on communing with God.

    There was nothing too intimidating about his whole approach to God or his philosophy on how we can do so. Very simple: be bold, be willing to do something active for God, be strong in your belief, God will give Himself to you. Very straight forward.

    When I read of the more complicated approaches, they don’t resonate with me as much, because there seems to be so many compartments in each step of the way, if that makes sense.

    So many details to contend with at each level, it seems.

    Maybe if you can summarize a bullet point list, it would give a better snapshot of what can be expected if we go the route of St. Teresa of Avila, etc. Thanks in advance.

  34. And when I do, I'll tell everyone, "Leila made me do it." Seriously, I've just been reading a book I got from my in-laws, that was part of a library of their parish that was closed. It's by Jordan Aumann, O.P., best known for "Spiritual Theology." This companion book is about the history of Christian spirituality. Very interesting read! Did you know Christians were already dividing the spiritual life into 3 phases by the 5th century? Apparently, Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote extensively about how infused contemplation is for people in every state in life! I have his writings on my shelf, but have never dug into them. Oh boy, too much to read, too little time...

  35. Connie, my experience of prayer is exactly the opposite of an empty mind! Whenever God - Who the entire universe cannot contain - deigns to respond with even the teeniest tiniest bit of Himself in communication/communion, my mind virtually seizes up with an overload of wonder and awe! Especially after Holy Communion these days, I find myself unable to pray at all. Yes I know, we are supposed to say prayers of thanksgiving and the like, but truly, I am so completely arrested/possessed/overwhelmed by His presence, my faculties all seize up! I can hardly think of a word to say to Him, so I simply sit and rest, totally sated, peaceful and blissful, in His mind blowing intimacy! It's almost like if I did try to force myself to say anything at that moment, He might quickly interrupt and say, "Shoosh, child, shoosh!". :)

  36. Nubby, I will try to do my best here. Here is a breakdown of the 7 mansions. Please note that people wander throughout the mansions, so until you reach the heights you will probably be in more than one at a time (in different areas of your life).

    1. Just barely living a Christian life. Trying to avoid mortal sin. Praying once in a while, usually vocal prayer.

    2. Suddenly excited about God. Avoiding venial sin. Working on establishing a prayer life. Beginning to try meditate on the Scriptures.A battle ground--flesh against spirit. See Romans 7.

    3. Avoiding the near occasions of venial sin and working on detachment. "Love to spend hours in recollection," says St. Teresa. Prayer has simplified to affective prayer or acquired recollection. May sometimes mix with infused recollection, but the soul may not be aware of this.

    4. Beginnings of infused contemplation. Some people experience infused recollection first, others start right off with the dark night of the senses (which is really the same thing, just experienced differently). This becomes the prayer of quiet, which is simply a more sustained loving gaze upon God.

    5. Prayer of union. Spiritual writers say we can almost all reach this point, given enough time, if we persevere. Consolations. Desire for God alone.

    6. Raptures, ecstasies, etc., which are physical manifestations of a growing union. Dark night of the spirit, when the last desires for anything other than God are stripped from the soul.

    7. The transforming union/spiritual marriage. The closest we can get to God on earth. The soul lives continually in God and for God. Any sins are very small and usually committed out of ignorance or weakness, rather than lack of love for God. No more ecstasies, as the body is used to union. The soul would do anything for God.

  37. Thanks for the list. I appreciate it. I can see a ratio of where I'm at in a few of the mansions. I can also look back on the earlier mansions listed and remember exactly when God started taking me through those in my life. Wow. Interesting.

  38. Francis, that's exactly right! But the CP folks tell us to "Shoosh," when Jesus is saying, "Speak to me." Two people dating don't start out being silent in each other's presence. They get to know each other, and through that to love each other (or not). Later, being in love, they don't need words, and sometimes, "the words get in the way," as a mediocre song used to say. The gaze of love goes beyond words. At that point--but not before--words, and even at times specific thoughts--become a hindrance.

  39. (Sorry for the duplicate; I had been signed in under my son's name. He started a Doctor Who blog, ha ha.)

    Francis, that is awesome!

    Connie, thank you for the summary! I know there is so much to it, and so much to learn. Nubby, I am like you in that I love the simplicity. The mansions and phases of prayer may seem complicated, but those are the road map (so you can take a look around and see where you are, if you wish), but they are not about "methods" per se. That is why I love, love, love the way St. Teresa talks about prayer. It is a conversation! It is for simple people, it is for non-educated people, for all people. And yet all people can, with perseverance in prayer and the virtues, advance to those latter mansions. :) So incredible, and that's why the last post I did on prayer was so exciting for me, because it's all quite simple and one needed live a complicated life or pray complicated ways, or jump through complicated hoops to get to God.

    I just love that we have a map of the journey!!

    And Connie, that book you got your hands on sounds like a wealth of information and wisdom! Wow!

  40. John, exactly! The method is not the important thing--although Teresa does say briefly that we should be meditating on the Scriptures. She assumes her sisters are doing that, and that is foundational. But she also says that practicing vocal prayer as it should be done can also be a preparation for infused contemplation. Good vocal prayer is very little different from good mental prayer. What matters is getting to know and love God, so that we are ready to give up everything for Him.

    1. Haha, I guess I was talking to Leila then.

    2. And my sentence should have said:

      " need not live a complicated life, nor pray in complicated ways, nor jump through complicated hoops to get to God."

  41. @ Leila, Nubby & Connie,
    Sorry, I won’t have time to respond to everything. :-(
    First thing I’d like to say is “be not afraid” of Centering Prayer. :-)

    Now, a few other things…
    People often get lost with over-generalizations on one hand and/or lost in the arcane details on the other hand. I’ll clear up what I can.

    Conflicts with a Saint(s):
    I see Centering Prayer (CP) as one tool in the “prayer tool box”. We are not to throw away the other tools. Is a hammer incompatible with a screwdriver? In some ways yes, in other ways no. Catholics should also remember that the writings of the saints are not “infallible”. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that Mary was conceived WITH original sin. It’s in the Compendium to Suma Theologica, chapter 224: Shall we “stay way” from St. Thomas?

    What is it?:
    CP is not contemplative prayer, but could lead to contemplation. CP is a method of silent prayer, that’s it. Don’t over complicate it. I don’t believe they even refer to it as a technique or mediation at all.

    The Sacred Word:
    It is merely the symbol of the consent to God's presence and action within, based on faith in Divine Indwelling (God can dwell within us). That’s it. This is also the point of it, consenting to God's presence and action within. What else can I say? It’s like allowing yourself to be clay in the hands of the Master, like sitting quietly in your Daddy’s lab.

    A sense a lot of confusion about the “no thoughts” thing. The following analogy helped me. Imagine God as the ocean, and a thought as a boat. You are sitting on the beach contemplating a calm and beautiful ocean view. A boat then comes into your view from the right side. Instead of engaging thoughts about the boat like…
    Where is that boat going?
    What’s in the boat?
    Where did it come from?
    How much is it worth?
    You simply acknowledge the boat, but let it pass by calmly, and go back to being in the presence of the beautiful ocean. It doesn’t matter if it is a “good” boat or a “bad” boat. You can think about boats later.

    Hope this helps.
    Peace to you all!

  42. Okay, saints are not infallible, but St. Teresa is a Universal Doctor of the Church precisely for her teaching on prayer. That means that the Church recommends her teaching to every Christian, and has included it in the Catechism and other documents. So let's not dismiss her so quickly just because she's not "infallible." I'll have to reply to the rest after dinner.

    1. Of course she should not be dismissed. I did not say she should. That would be silly.

  43. Leila-
    It still doesn't make sense why a method of reducing negativity in oneself (which in no way prevents connection with God but allows for a fuller connection with God) is bad just because it isn't prayer? If someone uses prayer in the Catholic sense as the Church states they should, what does it matter if they also use techniques that help them stay more positive--more open to God? Think of all the things you do during the day that foster a positive frame of mind that aren't prayer. Is there anything wrong with doing them? If someone doesn't mistake meditation for prayer, and it helps them be more open to God I can't understand what's wrong with it.

    If centering prayer (which I know little about) was just called "centering," would you still object to it? Or is it only because people might replace real prayer with centering prayer that is a problem?

    "Here's an analogy -- if a woman makes love to her husband in order to "let go of negativity" but she ignores her husband and acts as if he is not there, then she is not in intimate communion with her husband at all."

    I agree with this statement and it has nothing to do with my understanding of meditation and Ben's description of centering prayer.

    Making love with one's husband is not ordinarily what a person would do to let go of negativity. And having a lot of negativity would make it harder for someone to be close to their spouse if they are making love. But if the woman has been consciously working on reducing her negative thoughts, then when she does make love with her husband she will be more involved with him and pay more and better attention to him.

  44. A sense a lot of confusion about the “no thoughts” thing. The following analogy helped me. Imagine God as the ocean, and a thought as a boat. You are sitting on the beach contemplating a calm and beautiful ocean view. A boat then comes into your view from the right side. Instead of engaging thoughts about the boat like…
    Where is that boat going?
    What’s in the boat?
    Where did it come from?
    How much is it worth?
    You simply acknowledge the boat, but let it pass by calmly, and go back to being in the presence of the beautiful ocean. It doesn’t matter if it is a “good” boat or a “bad” boat. You can think about boats later.

    But why am I chanting a word that may or may not be about the ocean, in order to do this? Would I chant about boats only to ignore the passing boat? Not clear to me.

    Or another example:

    When I sit in the presence of an incredibly gorgeous person, I don’t want to ignore thoughts as I contemplate their beauty. I think thoughts, even if they momentarily distract me; I admire the person, I engage, I listen and react. I talk to this person, I don’t merely sit there and dismiss my own thoughts.

    Is Keating recommending thought dismissal as a way to listen?

    Or just “to be present”? It’s not clear to me what the centering part really is. Centered on beauty, ok. But is there any engagement that follows? Is there a deepening of conversation? And why the word to be chanted?

  45. Johanne, I'm at the airport so this will be brief. Fr. Keating is calling it prayer. Ben is calling it prayer. But relaxing, chanting, freeing one's mind is not prayer. Prayer is conversation with God, Person to person. If people are convinced they are praying, but in fact they are NOT praying at all and are NOT having a conversation with God, can you see how this would be misleading and even dangerous, from a Christian perspective?

    Ben, truly, it's still not clear to me because you did not actually address the words of Fr. Keating. And you did not really answer the questions. If you don't mind just answering a few of the questions? And addressing the things that Keating has said that we are objecting to? Thanks! I know you are a faithful Catholic so I'm trying my best to see how you could be OK with the things that Father Keating is literally, actually saying.

  46. Just to clear something up on the CP side: it does not involving chanting. They don't even call it a mantra. They only focus on their "sacred word" periodically, when their thoughts begin to follow an idea. Then they try to get back to silence. I think we should be clear about what the method is.

  47. Connie, thanks for the clarification. That makes more sense now, and I'm happy to stand corrected.

  48. Ben, you really haven't answered the question I asked you at first. If you were contemplating an ocean view, you would be looking at it and appreciating it, maybe even thinking about how beautiful it is. So that the boat passing is getting in the way of your contemplation. But if you are sitting and not thinking--even devout thoughts--not listening to God when He speaks to you, not addressing Him in conversation, how are you "contemplating" Him? Another way of putting it: what is the passing thought distracting you from?

    In traditional Christian prayer, we think about God in order to be moved by the love of God. Then we respond to that in conversation. After we have practiced this kind of Christian meditation for some time--usually years--the meditation begins getting simpler. So, instead of spending five minutes reading a Gospel passage, reflecting on it, then afterwards responding, a person might look at a holy card for a few seconds and then be moved in his heart to sit in silent praise of God. The first movements of this simplification are known as affective prayer. When the sitting silently in God's presence grows longer, it is known as acquired recollection (some people call it acquired contemplation, but recollection is St. Teresa's term). There are some similarities with CP, BUT... acquired recollection is really just a simplified form of meditation. It ALWAYS begins with some content, never with ignoring all thoughts, concepts, etc. The point is not to be silent. The point is to commune with God. Like the couple I mentioned above, we can sometimes commune with God--for a very brief time--without words. But this is a development in the prayer life that usually comes after years of prayer and service to God. The silence lasts a few minutes, and then we can return to the holy card, etc., or another type of content. This is different from CP, since Fr. Keating says it's best if the "sacred word" doesn't mean much to you. In other words, you are not to THINK about the sacred word more than about anything else. You're just using it as an anchor. In acquired recollection, the holy card (or other material) is the very thing that moves the mind and heart towards God.

    And this is still not infused contemplation. You keep practicing meditation--sometimes it will be more involved, as when you were a beginner, sometimes it will be simpler--until it is clear something beyond your control is happening, that God is taking over and giving you the gift of Himself. Then you follow the inspiration of the Spirit, and you probably at first act very similarly to the way you did in acquired recollection. Infused recollection is usually very brief at first. And usually most people experience the dark night of the senses before they are lead to a more sustained contemplation, which is the prayer of quiet.

  49. From Teresa's life, Ch. 12:

    "Taking it upon oneself to stop and suspend thought is what I mean should not be done; nor should we cease to work with the intellect, because otherwise we would be left like cold simpletons and be doing neither one thing nor the other. When the Lord suspends the intellect and causes it to stop, He Himself gives it that which holds its attention and makes it marvel and without reflection it understands more in the space of a Creed than we can understand with all our earthly diligence in many years. Trying to keep the soul’s faculties busy and thinking you can make them be quiet is foolish."

    To me, the difference between suspending thought and ignoring thoughts seems trivial. The obvious meaning of St. Teresa is that we are to USE our thoughts to brings us to Christ in prayer, until we become contemplatives.

  50. Hi Leila
    It sounds like the problem, as you see it, is that some people are mistaking "centering prayer" for real prayer. I understand that. But I'm curious--if a person prayed regularly in the proper way but practiced the centering technique because it helped them be less negative while not mistaking it for prayer, would you see a problem with that ? Thanks.

  51. Johanne, I guess if it's like a breathing technique or a relaxation technique, with no intent to "find God" or become spiritually enlightened, then I don't really care if people do it. But isn't the point of it spiritual?

  52. Hi Nubby,

    “But why am I chanting?”
    There is no chanting. Not sure where you get this. The sacred word is normally not verbalized at all and only used when needed.

    Is Keating recommending thought dismissal as a way to listen?
    I think that is a pretty good way to put it, but discern what you may have heard at a later time.

    “Or just “to be present”? It’s not clear to me what the centering part really is”
    You got it! Be present. Think of the Psalm 46, “Be still and know I am God”. So not only physically still, but mentally still. Have you ever been “lost” in the embrace of a loved one with no specific thoughts, just fully present? It’s supposed to be like that, simple & beautiful.

    Take care.

  53. Hi Connie,
    “What is the passing thought distracting you from?”

    Nothing if you don’t let it. Engaging the passing thought distracts you from just being in God's presence. “Be still and know I am God” is not just about physical stillness, but also mental stillness. We are human. Our thoughts tend to wander and mix with our imaginations.

    “This is different from CP”
    Agreed. It’s different. It may not be for everyone. It works for me as one type of prayer.

    “Fr. Keating says it's best if the "sacred word" doesn't mean much to you.”
    The book Open Heart, Open Mind, it recommends words like Jesus, Love, Silence, Peace, Abba, etc. I use “Father” a lot. It means something to me. I don’t use all of Fr. Keating's recommendations. I’m sure we can agree that there is nothing “infallible” about Fr. Keating.

    Take care.

  54. Ben, would you care to describe, first hand, how you - personally - practice CP? Step by step, what do you do/not do? What are the movements, if any, going on in your body, heart, mind and spirit during the time that you're in this mode of "meditation"? How has it served to permanently increase your love for God and man, and your humility and surrender to God's will - these things being the end goals of contemplation?

  55. The Catholic (and increasingly Protestant) mode of meditation par excellence, present in the Church from her earliest days and promoted by none other than the one who most pondered the divine mysteries in her heart, is of course, the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As St John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Letter on the Rosary, Rosarium Virginis Mariae:

    "The Rosary belongs among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation. Developed in the West, it is a typically meditative prayer, corresponding in some way to the “prayer of the heart” or “Jesus prayer” which took root in the soil of the Christian East.


    With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of His love. Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer."

    The "body" of the Rosary consists of the beads which one holds, not just to count the Aves, but also in the way one dons a prayer shawl or a veil, to enter into the "tent" of God's presence.

    The "heart" of the Rosary is comprised of the formulaic prayers, which give it its framework and quieting rhythm.

    The "soul" of the Rosary is however, the meditations on the Word and works of God. Through them, as St John Paul II said, "the principal events of the life of Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul. They take shape in the complete series of the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries, and they put us in living communion with Jesus through – we might say – the heart of his Mother. AT THE SAME TIME (read: during the meditation) our heart can EMBRACE in the decades of the Rosary ALL THE EVENTS that make up the lives of individuals, families, nations, the Church, and all mankind. Our personal concerns and those of our neighbour, especially those who are closest to us, who are dearest to us. Thus the simple prayer of the Rosary marks the rhythm of human life”.

    What the good Pope was saying was that far from escaping into some thought-free/stress-free rarefied prayer realm to tryst angelically with God, this method of proven powerful meditation/contemplation consists precisely of actively (re)viewing even the most humdrum events and activities of our everyday lives through the lens of God's vision, Word, and will for us, which Christ lived, died and rose again to draw us ever more deeply into.

  56. Ben, Fr. Keating and the CDF/Catechism/Teresa have contradictory advice and beliefs about Christian prayer. Do you see that (honest question)? If not, I will personally will buy you a copy of Connie's book, so that you can see each point laid out and we can discuss.

    Keating is not infallible, it is true. Which parts of his teaching on prayer do you disagree with or find problematic?

    He says even to ignore God should God try to communicate with one during these moments of silence. Do you agree with that?

    And how do you reconcile Keating's words with the words of the CDF and the catechism? And Saint Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross?

    Thanks. Sorry, I'm traveling and working on my phone not a regular computer so I can't go back and look at all the comments easily.

  57. Ben, before you can sit in God's loving embrace, you have to know Him and be learning to love Him. That's what authentic Christian prayer helps you do. That's why the Church and the saints tell us we should meditate on the life of Christ. My concern is that you are really sitting there doing nothing (except altering your level of consciousness) and calling it prayer.

    What I do not understand AT ALL is why you would ignore all thoughts about God. It seems to me like CP places man-made interior silence above any real communication between God and the soul. You cannot tell God, "Please don't talk to me now, I'm trying to sit quietly in your presence." God will act as He wills when He wills. And if He wants to communicate with me and I refuse to listen, where is the communion with Him? This is not the same thing as deciding, under the direction of a spiritual director, not to act on locutions one has received, or something of that nature. This is trying to ignore God right while He is speaking to you. St. Teresa says this is impossible if God is really speaking. Yes, I know, Teresa is not infallible...

    As far as Psalm 46 goes, that is not talking about a prayer method at all. If you read the whole thing, it is about trusting God in the time of calamity (specifically war). God tells us that when we are in a crisis, instead of running around anxiously trying to find a way to help ourselves, we should just peacefully acknowledge that He is in control. He is God. There is no need to fear. It certainly is not telling us to put aside our thoughts about God.

    I find it interesting that this same verse was (infamously) used by Yogi, the TM master. (Sorry, I am not going to take the time to look up the spelling of his first 2 names.) He said, "Be still and know that YOU are god." That was the essence of TM. Why do I bring this up? Because the CP method is almost exactly like the TM method, only some of the terms used are more Christian in sound. And, Fr. Keating also teaches that "God and our true Self are the same thing." (Open Mind, p. 51)

    Now, I don't know why you would practice a prayer method that was created by someone who taught (and still teaches) such grave errors about God and the soul. Fr. Keating is not infallible, okay. But doesn't it raise any red flags for you? Here is a YouTube video where he says this too:

    I identified 25 errors in Fr. Keating's teaching which I addressed in my book. I didn't even include everything, just the ones that I thought were most serious. Frankly, it astonishes me that any orthodox Catholic could read Open Mind, Open Heart and not be seriously concerned. There are errors on almost every page--even if there are also some orthodox sentences sprinkled throughout. This doesn't concern you at all?

    1. To clarify, TM repeats a mantra, CP does not endleseely repeat the "sacred word," but most other aspects of the practice are the same. It's no wonder, since Paul Marechal, a monk who left Christianity for TM, gave Fr. Keating and his abbey TM instructions before they created CP.

  58. The Path of Centering Prayer

    “realizing that the mystery (of) God is that there is no mystery”
    (Voila! God solved!)

    “shatter the false self or the separate self sense”
    (In the Christian narrative, union comprises precisely of intimacy with the other. Service comprises of laying down one’s life for one’s friend. In the theology of “centering prayer”, however, there really is no (separate) other. God, man, neighbor and even inanimate things are assumedly all the same.)

    “the contemplative service is God in us serving God in other people”
    (In other words, it’s not I, an individual person created in the image and likeness of God who is called to freely serve God and neighbor, but rather it is God Himself within me who is serving Himself in others… Go ahead, Lord, serve Yourself, while I take a little swing on this here blue hammock...)

    “maybe in another generation there will be western Buddhism and maybe a more developed Christian contemplative path”
    (Yep. Syncretism will save us as never before.)

  59. Francis is quoting from an interview with David Frenette, who is Fr. Keating's top student and a leader of Contemplative Outreach. So it's not just some oddball with a blog who doesn't know what he's talking about.

  60. Francis and Connie, those quotes from Keating's top disciple are frightening! Ben?

  61. Thanks, Ben. So there is no word being chanted, but there may be a word used to draw a person back to stillness before God, right?

    So it sounds like a matter of making ourselves still before God to be better disposed to what He would bring to our mind. Yet the method asks us to ignore thoughts. So, again, I'm not quite clear there.

    To your example of being lost in the embrace of a loved one, yes, I can relate to that. But when being embraced, I'm aware of this person, it's impossible, really to try and ignore thinking of this person. Further, why would we ignore these good thoughts in this moment of embrace? Maybe the person has something important or intimate to say during the embrace. What if I ignored him? Seems contrary.

    Using CP, how long does a person sit in this embrace dong/thinking nothing?

    I go by the St. Ignatius of Loyola recommendation: I gather myself before God quietly for as long as it takes to say an Our Father or two – 30 to 60 secs? Then I begin the meditation on a reading and reflection which leads to deep prayer and interaction/praise. Not much time is spent sitting and ignoring or just being. I’m there in His presence to be active with Him.

    Just as in the embrace of a loved one, I'm still and quiet, but I'm active on some level, it’s impossible not to be (imo). Something has to fill that mental void (maybe it's just me, I'm too mentally hyper?)

    Anyway, thanks for the reply. I know you have a lot of questions coming your way from others.

  62. All,
    A couple of last things on this.

    For myself, I separate the man from the method.

    I'm not a disciple of Fr. Keating. I don't know the man. I have one book
    and have read some articles. If he is teaching things that directly
    conflict with Catholicism I would think his superiors would discipline
    him, but as far as I can tell he has been in good/active standing with the
    Church for about 70 years. You'd think they would be on to him by now
    if there was a serious problem. I'll let the proper authorities in the
    Church judge him, not me.

    As for the method, I'll try one last explanation. God is omnipresent.
    We cannot, not be in God's presence. We are human and in our fallen
    nature we have difficulty having an awareness of God's presence. In terms of "ignoring God" I think there is a misunderstanding. CP the precise opposite of ignoring God in my experience. CP helps one to be fully present to God's presence and helps maintain an awareness of his presence. The sacred word is just a tool help one detach from "background noise", which could be the wandering thoughts of the minds imagination or even the sound your neighbors lawn mower.

    That's all for now.
    God bless

  63. Well, the CDF has addressed the issue of New Age theology, including some of the very things Fr. Keating teaches. They just haven't called him out by name. Unfortunately, as we all know, there are many teachers, especially priests, who have taught errors and have not been corrected, or only disciplined after decades. All I can say is, Fr. Keating and his companions created this method. I would not trust the method of someone who has promoted the errors he has. I would stick with the methods of prayer that both the Church and the saints recommend. To do otherwise is to make oneself vulnerable to error. I get what the method does. As the CDF says, quieting the mind may be a good preparation for prayer, but it is not prayer itself. I'll get the exact quote a little later. I have to get back to homeschooling now.

  64. Thanks for the reply, Ben. I get that you’re mainly using an idea of a sacred word to turn to God during prayer time. In fact, the book on St. Teresa of Avila by Rohrbach goes into the same idea -- that when a person is trying to move from vocal to mental prayer it requires silence and our minds can wander, so it does help if we speak a phrase, a scripture, or a word of praise to bring us mentally back into focus.

    But the bird’s eye view of Keating’s method goes beyond that and that’s the obvious danger people here are warning against.

    If his total idea is that we somehow empty our minds and get into a type of self-hypnosis to go inward and inward only, that makes the whole idea too much like transcendental meditation and not like meditative Christian prayer at all.

    Obviously, God isn’t just part of something to meditate on while we really search ourselves inwardly. He is the Creator of it all, the relational One. So the whole context of Keating’s approach is very Eastern Religious, not Catholic sounding at all.

    I get that you’re most likely not going to go this deep with Keating’s ideas, but the original post here is to compare the two methods in totality, side by side. And this is the result of what we’re seeing: Keating is promoting something non-Catholic.

  65. Here is the CDF's positive statement about eastern meditation techniques:

    "That does not mean that genuine practices of meditation which come from the Christian East and from the great non-Christian religions, which prove attractive to the man of today who is divided and disoriented, cannot constitute a suitable means of helping the person who prays to come before God with an interior peace, even in the midst of external pressures." (Letter to the Bishops, No. 28)

    And here's a more thorough analysis from Jesus Christ: the Bearer of the Water Life (by the Pontifical Councils for Culture and Interreligious Dialogue):

    "The tendency to confuse psychology and spirituality makes it hard not to insist that many of the meditation techniques now used are not prayer. They are often a good preparation for prayer, but no more, even if they lead to a more pleasant state of mind or bodily comfort. The experiences involved are genuinely intense, but to remain at this level is to remain alone, not yet in the presence of the other. The achievement of silence can confront us with emptiness, rather than the silence of contemplating the beloved. It is also true that techniques for going deeper into one's own soul are ultimately an appeal to one's own ability to reach the divine, or even to become divine: if they forget God's search for the human heart they are still not Christian prayer." (No. 4.6.1)

    Now, one could argue that these documents are not infallible, but the CDF document in particular (written under Cardinal Ratzinger) does hold weight and should not be easily dismissed. Both documents deal extensively with different aspects of the New Age, and both criticize many elements found in both the theology and practice of Centering Prayer. They do not mention CP by name, but neither do they mention the names of other New Age practices. They refer instead to "eastern meditation techniques" in general. There are so many New Age errors that have come into the Church, that the Vatican is probably not even aware of all of them. I am sure they are aware of CP. And since these documents do criticize the practice CP uses, it's not accurate to say they are not speaking about CP as Fr. Keating's Contemplative Outreach does.

    It's possible for some people to take the basics of CP and make it into an authentic prayer method by adding more to it from the Christian tradition. But if their practice truly reaches the level of Christian prayer, it is not really CP any more. CP can help you "come before God with an interior peace," but it does not itself lead you to God. It only quiets the mind so that you can come before God without any distractions when you pray. If nothing more is done, you end up with emptiness. You do not end up with a communion between God and the soul. You need to add some genuine act of prayer to it. That is my understanding when you take the teaching of both these documents together.

    There is a much easier, less dangerous way to come before God in prayer--the meditation on the Scriptures that the saints practiced and the Catechism recommends.

  66. I haven't read through all the comments, so I may be repeating something, but I found this article to be incredibly helpful:

  67. Yes, Becky, that's a re-post from an article by Fr. Dreher on the Catholic Culture website, which is 100% reliable for Catholic teaching. It was one of the first things I read about CP myself.

  68. I'm going to address a few more points in Ben's last comment, because I want lurkers to fully understand what the problems with CP are, even if Ben is no longer following the discussion (I hope he is, because I have some really important points he should think about).

    Ben wrote: "God is omnipresent. We cannot, not be in God's presence. We are human and in our fallen nature we have difficulty having an awareness of God's presence. In terms of "ignoring God" I think there is a misunderstanding. CP the precise opposite of ignoring God in my experience. CP helps one to be fully present to God's presence and helps maintain an awareness of his presence."

    Ben's post is a mixture of truth and error, and actually demonstrates how his own understanding of theology may already have been warped by CP, without his realizing it. Sorry, Ben, but you are repeating some things Fr. Keating teaches, which are theological errors.

    1. "God is omnipresent." Granted. He is in everything as its Creator and Sustainer. But this is not the same way that He is present to the baptized or will be present to us in Heaven. When we pray, we are acknowledging His omnipresence, but seeking a deeper presence as well.

    2. "in our fallen nature we have difficulty having an awareness of God's presence." This sounds like something Ben got from Fr. Keating. Our fallen nature has nothing to do with our awareness or lack of awareness of God's presence--or at least, only in a secondary way. The problem is that sin, really and actually, separates us from God. Now sin at the same time blinds us, so we don't recognize God in creation. But the primary problem is not blindness. The primary problem is disobedience. Someone in mortal sin--that is, objectively speaking, separated from God--can be aware that God is omnipresent. But if he wants to meet God in prayer, he needs to repent and be reconciled to God and the Church. His problem is not blindness. This thinking shows well how CP replaces the Christian idea of sin and repentance with focus on consciousness. Fr. Keating, for example, says that Original Sin means we no longer have consciousness of God, and that baptism brings an awareness of Him back to us. Truly, I know many baptized people who seem little aware of God's omnipresence, even when they are not in an objective state of mortal sin. And I know non-Christians who see the divine everywhere. This is not what separates Christians from non-Christians. It's great to be aware of God's presence everywhere and throughout the day. But being aware that God is everywhere does not make everything we do into a prayer. Nor does it make it prayer when we sit silently without trying to think or feel anything, just because God is there. It's not an AWARENESS of God that brings us into communion with Him. We need an actual exchange of some kind. I can be aware, for example, that my husband is in the room with me, but if I plug my ears when he speaks and clamp my mouth shut, it would be ridiculous to contend that I am communicating with him, just because I know he's there. Or, if I am communicating anything, it is that I don't want to talk to or listen to him, which isn't the way to build a relationship. Continued...

  69. Continued from above...

    3. Maintaining an awareness of God's presence. The practice of the presence of God is not the same as Buddhist/Hindu mindfulness. People who practice eastern religions might have an awareness throughout the day that the divine is all around them, but they don't have a RELATIONSHIP with the divine as something other than themselves. Christianity is ALL about relationship. So when we practice the presence of God, we do more than just remind ourselves that He is omnipresent. We SURRENDER to him as a Bride surrendering to the Bridegroom. We adore Him as transcendent and Other, as One who knows us and loves us and died in order to have a relationship with us.

    4. So, "ignoring God." When we say that you are ignoring God in CP, we don't mean that you are unaware of His presence. But we mean that you are not relating to Him as Other. This is why the Church warns us that eastern meditation methods throw us back on ourselves. They were designed by people (I'm talking about Buddhists and Hindus here) who don't believe God is Other. They believe God and the soul and everything else are just different ways of looking at the same reality. So, if you commune with yourself, you commune with God. If you commune with nature, you commune with God. This is completely different than Christian theology. When the Trappists created CP, starting with eastern meditation methods, they tried to Christianize something that was never designed for communication with a transcendent God. Why should we be surprised to hear it doesn't bring us into contact with God? We need to use the right tool for the right job, and CP is not the right tool.

  70. Connie, thank you! Ben is all about reason and logic (which I've always admired in him), and therefore I hope he will comment, and at least acknowledge that Fr. Keating's theology is quite askew. And as you said, there are many priests who hold bad theology and do not get corrected. I think of Richard Rohr as well, who is a priest in good standing somehow.

  71. Hindu and Buddhist meditation are very different--just FYI

  72. Hindu and Buddhist meditation are very different--just FYI

    And neither connects a person with Jesus Christ. The point is that Catholic prayer time shouldn't be simply a journey inside a person's consciousness. We don't use poses, postures, mantras, controlled breathing techniques or go inside ourselves to seek nothingness, so any method that would suggest that we do so is way too eastern religious and not the way Jesus taught us to pray.

    He taught us to interact with the Father without mindless repetition (or certain controlled bodily or mental stillness) and to carve out a sacred place for doing so.

  73. Thanks, Nubby. Johanne, I don't claim to be any kind of expert on eastern religions. What I'm really interested in (at this time, anyway) is the differences between Catholicism and New Age religion, which tends to be a mishmash of eastern practices and beliefs, together with theosophy. The originators of CP were influenced by both Zen and TM.

  74. Oddly enough I find myself in some agreement with you. I read Fr Keating’s book and decided that CP was not for me. It claims to be based on ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’, I am not qualified to judge whether that is correct, I don’t doubt Fr Keating’s integrity and his scholarship, but it just not for me.
    There are other well known Christian forms of meditation with a clear Christian pedigree, ‘The Jesus Prayer’, Lectio Divina, the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius Loyola and so on. All these are aimed at mindfulness of God which is ‘a source of prayer and a school of contemplation, where the Christian speaks heart to heart with God’.
    Then there are the practices of other religions. I certainly don’t see these as wrong or of ‘the enemy’, but whilst the practice might be similar to Christian practice the purpose is different. The purpose of Zen meditation is to still the ‘monkey mind’. It is not aimed at bringing one closer to God, Buddhists don’t believe in God.
    I see no problem Christians practicing Zazen, the problem is pretending to oneself that this is Christian and that it is a form of prayer. It is not and does not pretend to be.

  75. The idea that sin causes a lack of awareness or unconsciousness of God sounds very Calvinist actually. It reminds me of my Calvinist teachers in childhood who said that fallen man cannot see or want God at all. Even as a child this struck me as nonsense, since people in cultures throughout time and space have sought the divine. Obviously Keating isn't Calvinist, but that idea is similar, and wrong for the same reasons.

  76. I know I need to get back to the abortion and shame conversation. I started homeschooling this year and not in a good groove yet. I'll get there!

    Connie's book is available on Amazon Unlimited right now. I downloaded it the other day. It's full of great information.

    I do a lot of yoga for exercise. Meditative yoga is not an interest of mine mostly because of time. I'm interested in exercising my body during that time I have carved out. If I make a mistake and attend a meditative class (sometimes they are not labeled correctly), I do pray during that time. When "trying" to meditate my mind goes all over the place. I make grocery lists, plan transportation for the kids and all sorts of stuff. It's not relaxing or useful. I end up more anxious than when I started.

    Here's the point of my comment: When teaching my two older kids to drive, I often found myself saying the Rosary in my head. I stopped doing it because it seemed like I was chanting a mantra instead of praying. It didn't feel the same as when I would pray the Rosary other times. To me, there's a big difference in saying/chanting a mantra than praying. I don't think it's wrong, just not the same.

    If we have time, I do like to have "quiet time" before family prayers or my own. I think it helps settle everyone down and makes prayer time serious. I don't consider that as meditating though.

    This is an interesting discussion!

  77. Lisa, you packed a lot in one comment! Thanks for the tip on my book.

    That's one of the problems with yoga--even if a person only wants to use it as an exercise program, some teachers emphasize the Hindu aspects of it. Some even display Hindu idols in the room. There are a couple of Christian alternatives that use similar stretches but connect it to our faith. One is called Praise Moves. I think that is Protestant in origin. The other is stretches along with praying the Rosary. I can't remember the name. Dan Burke at recommends both. But it sounds like neither of these is necessarily for you, either. Too bad it's so hard to just go to an exercise class these days.

    We should, of course, be thinking about God when we say vocal prayers. But when your kids are learning to drive, your mind is otherwise occupied! I think what you were doing was perfectly okay in that instance. You were probably genuinely crying out to God for help and protection, even though you couldn't think much about the mysteries or the prayers at that time. That's very different from purposely not thinking about them, or being lazy in prayer.

    It's a great idea to have that transition time before prayer. I often read a bit before I do mental prayer, especially if I've been on the computer a lot. Reading even a little fiction acts like a "palate cleanser" for my mind. It's similar to reading just before going to sleep.

  78. Off topic:
    Liza, If you're worried about the yoga, drop it for pilates. Any pilates routine blows yoga away. Add some simple resistance bands in there for some firewalks, too. You'll have no worries about weird spiritual aspects that conflict with the faith, and no worries about the physical aspects or potential injuries because there is no transition from posture to posture in pilates like there is in yoga.

    Pilates routines consist of exercises that lengthen and strengthen and burn calories. You can do them at home without any pilates equipment, even. Course if you're going for broke, toss in some sprint/hill workouts with some weight lifting, and you'll be ripped in 4 weeks flat. ;)

    Seriously, yoga leads to more neck and back strains, pulled hamstrings, slipped discs, etc.... not to mention the spiritual no-no's involved when you get into the breathing techniques/mantras, etc... there's no way to really Christianize these more meditative techniques because the objective is not Christian at the core.

    Always ask ur doctor about physical changes with exercise, first, of course...

    1. Couldn't agree with you more on this, Nubby! I love Pilates and it's pretty much the same thing as Yoga, but better and w/o the weird meditation stuff.

  79. Hi Connie:

    Maybe I am misunderstanding you but I'm not sure I agree with the following statement:

    "The primary problem is disobedience. Someone in mortal sin--that is, objectively speaking, separated from God--can be aware that God is omnipresent. But if he wants to meet God in prayer, he needs to repent and be reconciled to God and the Church."

    That doesn't make any sense to me. God can meet sinners in prayer. In order to grow spiritually and become the people we are meant to be we need to repent and avoid sin. How and why would any of us ever repent if God never responses to our tentative "hello" when we are in sorrow?

    I think I understand what Ben is talking about. There are times when you feel the presence of God and respond on a more emotional level. It is like you are dumbstruck with awe for our Lord and King. You quite your mental chattering just like you would be silent if you knelt before him. It is a sign of respect, it is being in awe of His Glory at the same time it is a quite, personal moment full of love.

    It is a moment of adoration. Ben is right, "Be still and know I am God." sums it up perfectly. Aren't the psalms suppose to teach us how to love and pray? I remember a priest talking about that in class. The psalms are there to aid us in becoming closer to God. There is no way you can sit in the presence of God and _know_ he is God and not be aware of the fact He is in control, that He is our creator, He is our savior.

    In those wonderful moments I am fully engaged in the moment and I suspect Ben is as well. That we aren't going through a mental dialogue doesn't mean we aren't engaged.

    Now should that be the whole of our prayer life- no. But that's not really a danger for me because those moments don't last forever.

    Just a note- I'm not saying anything about CP because I know nothing of it. It is just from Ben's description, I think it is a valid form of adoration.

  80. It seems to me that there is a very simple question (If its already been asked I apologise). Has Centering Prayer been condemned by the Vatican? It has been around long enough for the powers that be to do. Have they done so? I don't know the answer to this question.
    If they have its fairly simple, obedient Catholics should not practice it.
    If it has not then what we have is a set of people offering opinions based upon what they think CP is and what their own interpretation of what the Vatican seems to be saying about things like CP.
    It seems to me that these are private opinions of individual Catholics who have no more authority than Fr Keating.

  81. (Please ignore post that I deleted; too many typos... Still out of town and working on my phone)


    I will let Connie answer specifically, but generally, if this is what you're asking, of course you are right that God can hear all prayers, but the point is that God will not *advance* a mortal sinner in prayer and holiness. Someone who has severed a relationship with God through mortal sin cannot move through the stages of holiness, and in those latter stages is where God and the soul reach greater degrees of union (due to the supernatural action of God).

    Marcus, in the Vatican has clearly condemned New Age practices, even if not condemning CP by name. You would have to read Keating's words and his understanding of prayer and Original Sin, God and self, etc., and put those words comparatively, side-by-side with the Catechism and the CDF. That is exactly what Connie has done in her book. The book is not simply one layperson's opinion, it is mostly quotes. When you read them side-by-side, it is extremely clear that what Keating teaches is not prayer. And there are videos on YouTube of him speaking about all of this, and basically saying that this is just eastern meditation with a "Christian" label.

    As we read earlier, if one wants to use eastern techniques as PREPARATION (relaxation) for true prayer, that could be licit. But the problem is that millions of Christians are led to believe that Fr. Keating's techniques are *actual* prayer, when in fact one is not praying if one uses his techniques as he lays out. That is, obviously, dangerous for any Christian who is hoping to advance in prayer or attain union with God.

    And yes the Vatican has condemned those practices disguised as prayer.

    I hope that makes sense.

  82. Leila, I would agree with that. There is no way we can advance unless we do our part.

    I'm curious though, it sounds like a lot of you don't really see a place for mental silence in your prayers. Maybe as time goes on the need for silence is less and less? I often use silence to gather myself and to change my focus from my .....ahem....narcissistic tendencies to talk to God about all my problems and give him a laundry list of things to fix. :-)

    Not to say we shouldn't give God our concerns but that can't be the whole of our prayer life either.

    I consider myself at the beginner level, maybe as you get more practice that tendency dies off. I do want to say, I think it is important to keep those moments of mental silence brief as possible.

    But I agree "zoning out" is not prayer otherwise TV would be the greatest invention other.

    If anyone is curious St. Francis de Sales has some great instructions for contemplative prayer in his Introduction to the Devout Life. He has some good ideas for keeping the fruits of your prayers with you throughout your day.

    1. ever not other.

      Autocorrect is NOT the best invention ever. :-)

  83. Edit:
    Leila, I will have to read Connie's book. It just seems odd to me that there can be many catholic religious and clergy who more conservative Catholics might question.
    I am thinking of people like Fr Bede Griffiths, the later Thomas Merton, Fr Cyprian Consiglio. I am currently reading Sister Elaine MacInnes book about Zen these are the ones that come to mind. (Please don't get me wrong, I have no problem with any of these writers and have found them helpful). What I do not understand is why, if they are so dangerous, they are not disciplined by those in authority. It is not as so that has not happened, Leonardo Boff was silenced for a year by CDF. Matthew Fox is no longer in the Catholic Church. (I am not saying the Vatican was right or wrong just using those as examples)
    That is why I wonder there is an over interpretation of the Vatican's words here.
    Perhaps the issues of centering prayer is not quite so simple.

    //As we read earlier, if one wants to use eastern techniques as PREPARATION (relaxation) for true prayer, that could be licit. //

    Personally I think that that is a much better way. Which is why I do Zen, and then I pray.

  84. Marcus, what do you mean when you say you "do Zen"?

  85. StarFireKK, absolutely I totally, utterly, believe in silence during prayer! And I believe in quieting distractions, focussing only on the Lord. So, forgive me if I didn't make that clear. Yes, silence, to listen, is part of the communication between the soul and God.

    But that silence is still part of the communication and conversation. It's not prayer unless it's a conversation, and that is where Keating goes terribly wrong. He is saying that even if God wants to talk to us in the silence, we are to ignore Him! The method becomes the "end" unto itself, not the communication with God Himself. It's warped. It's not prayer. Silence in prayer: YES. Silence for the sake of silence (and ignoring all devout thoughts and communications from God: NO!

    Hope that helps clarify my thoughts. :)

    1. I wish I would close my parentheses more often, ha ha. And perhaps reading through my comments first would help! :)

      One more thought: For those who would follow Keating's work, I would encourage them to go further than just his thoughts on silence or stilling the mind. I would encourage them to read his ideas about God and self (he has grave errors there) and about Original Sin (more errors) and about his idea that the thing that separates us from God is our simple lack of awareness that we are already One with God (ugh), not there there might be something called sin that we must flee from (Catholic teaching)! He has bad theology in addition to bad prayer advice. :(

  86. StarFire, well I am no expert, so treat my words with caution. But to answer your question.
    My usual practice is to rise at 6.00, sit and the breath for 15 mins and then say Vigils.
    However I think it is also an attitude. Someone once said 'Zen is not peeling potatoes and having holy thoughts, Zen is peeling potatoes.'

    In other words it is being where you are, doing what you are doing, and placing your mind in that.

    Thats all about technique. I think that the purpose of Zen is different to purpose of prayer. There may be coincidences of technique and even experience but metaphysically their aims are different.

    But all that is my opinion, I am no master either of prayer or meditation.

  87. StarFireKK, your comment shows why dialog is so helpful! It helps to clarify things, not just for you, but for many lurkers who may be asking the same questions as well. Certainly, repentance cannot happen without grace. God draws the soul in mortal sin back to Him. How grace and free will intertwine is one of the great mysteries of life. I would encourage all people to pray, no matter what they have done. But they must be open to the grace of God in order to be changed by the grace of God and to come back into a real relationship with Him. God does not force Himself upon someone who really doesn't desire Him, as shown by a lack of willingness to repent. My point above is that a person in mortal sin can acknowledge that God is everywhere. He can also practice CP with no problem. CP is purely natural. It doesn't involve the grace of God. Again, it is not awareness (doesn't the Devil know that God is omnipresent?) that brings union with God, but the surrender to Him. I hope that helps clarify.

    This is a beautiful paragraph: "There are times when you feel the presence of God and respond on a more emotional level. It is like you are dumbstruck with awe for our Lord and King. You quite your mental chattering just like you would be silent if you knelt before him. It is a sign of respect, it is being in awe of His Glory at the same time it is a quite, personal moment full of love."

    What you are describing is affective prayer. But Ben said above that his CP practice was different than affective prayer or acquired recollection. For Fr. Thomas Keating, the word "thoughts" includes emotions as well. He tells us to ignore all these things: "a concept, a reflection, body sensation, emotion, image, memory, plan, noise from outside, a feeling of peace, or even a spiritual communication." (Open Mind, Open Heart, pp. 20-21) So what is left? Fr. Keating would say that what is left is God in His essence, beyond all these things. I would say what is left is a big blank.

    We are humans, not animals or angels. We have bodies, intellect, and will. God uses our human nature to draw us to Him. Only when nature, acting together with ordinary grace, has done all it can does God begin to communicate Himself to us in a deeper way. Traditional Christian prayer uses the mind and the heart to get to know and love God. CP rejects the use of the mind and heart. So how does one get to know and love God through CP?

    Again, if Ben is doing what you describe, he is doing everything right. But he is not doing CP then. We want our prayer to simplify and become mostly a gaze of love. But we must use our minds and hearts to get there. We can't get there by ignoring our thoughts and feelings about God.

  88. I tend to go the Saints if I have a question about how sound something is. I know Keating's words contradict both St. Teresa and St. Francis de Sales who are both Doctors of the Church. I really don't see how anyone can say Keating's opinion can outweigh those two.

    I was raised by a rather old-fashion Catholic woman so I probably have more conservative viewpoints on some things than others. But I think part of the problem with using eastern rites even just for preparation or relaxation is it can give rise to scandal.

    If someone watches you use those techniques right before or as part of your prayer they are going to think that is part of prayer. They might not understand you are separating it and how. They are going to think- He/She is Catholic and they are doing that so it must be okay/good/something worth doing.

    Why risk it? There are plenty of ways to relax that have nothing to do with the Eastern Religions. Breathing techniques, exercise or a quick walk, even stretching (not yoga- yoga didn't invent stretching) can all help us relax so we can focus on our prayer.

    As my mother would say- Is the value you are getting out of this worth someone misinterpreting your actions.

    1. StarFireKK, yes! Great point.

      And just a clarification for the readers that by "eastern rites" you don't mean "Eastern Catholic rites" (the eastern liturgical rites of the Catholic Church are good and valid) but rather non-Christian eastern religious practices.

    2. Yes, of course! Thank you!

      Sorry for any confusion.

  89. Marcus Small,

    Sometimes we forget that world wide there are probably thousands of different false teachings and false teachers within the Catholic Church. Many times it has taken decades for people teaching error to be called out by name and disciplined. For every Matthew Fox, there are dozens like him who are teaching the same thing and have not been addressed by name. CP is only one of many, many aberrant practices that has entered the Church with the New Age. Two Vatican documents have now addressed New Age errors. They don't mention CP by name, but they don't mention ANY New Age practice by name, just pure eastern practices such as yoga. The rest are included in the general term "eastern types of meditation." By your reasoning, we could not say that any New Age practice is wrong, because none of them were condemned by name. But then what is the purpose of the documents?

    When Arius, for example, taught heresy in the early Church, he was condemned officially. But many teachers came after him promoting his doctrine, and not all of them were officially condemned by name. That's how it usually works.

    I do think that CP will be addressed by name, probably before too long, because the more general cautions have been ignored. But the 2000-year-old Church moves VERY slowly, sometimes to our consternation. If the Vatican says we should not practice A, then we should not practice A, no matter who promotes it.

  90. StarFire I think I need to respond to that. Sitting and breathing is just that sitting and breathing, without effort and without intention. Have you ever read Saint Romuald’s Brief Rule
    'Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms—never leave it'.

    and at the end

    'Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God'.

  91. Thank you, Connie. And thanks for such a graceful reply. I was worried my question/comment came across as argumentative which really wasn't the intent.

    I'm also happy to know there is a name for the prayer I described and I'm not bonkers.

  92. StarFireKK, my whole hope in this and my last post on prayer is that Catholics would become familiar with the traditional stages of prayer, and get excited to learn more and improve their prayer lives so as to become holy and united to God! It's amazing how much we Catholics were never taught about prayer, and even many priests are unfamiliar with the mansions, or the stages of prayer! It's absolutely thrilling and life-changing!

    Connie, thank you for answering Marcus so eloquently. It's all so true. I would not expect the Vatican to call out every author with bad theology, by name. It would be logistically impossible.

  93. In Ben's defense, he talked to only one particular aspect of CP’s technique (the dispelling of distracting thoughts), which is not unlike what St. Teresa of Avila’s book explains. It says the exact same thing (I can give the page #’s, as I have the book here). He explained that he only used the sacred word to bring his mind back to God. So I don't personally think it serves the conversation to assume he's "doing prayer wrong". He's a bright guy, he's a strong Catholic. He just spoke to one aspect of the prayer technique. I don't think it ‘potentially gives rise to scandal’. That's a bit strong and it assumes that people aren't thinking for themselves. A strong Catholic like Ben knows his faith.

    Sometimes people fly off handle when the topic of prayer comes up and this alarm sounds, like “danger, danger”. We’d fare better giving Ben the benefit of the doubt. He didn’t advocate for Keating, he said the opposite (he’s not a disciple of his). Let’s breathe easy.

  94. Nubby, I agree. However, Ben did bring up Keating and how helpful his book was in a previous post a few months back. I guess my assumption was that he does admire and recommend that book (and not just the parts that echo the Saint -- in which case, ditch the New Age stuff and go straight to the saint). It's precisely because Ben is such a good Catholic and that he appeared in the previous post to recommend the work of Keating, that could be seen as scandal. I don't want to accuse Ben, as I am a great admirer of his writing (I believe he is on my blog roll, and I don't take that lightly!). So, I guess I will just ask Ben (if he is still reading): Do you recommend the work of Fr. Keating to others? Would you recommend his book if Catholics were wanting an aid to a deeper prayer life?

    Thanks, sincerely.

  95. I think I was the only one that said scandal and I wasn't referring to Ben or anyone else. I was trying to respond to some general questions as to why there might be a danger to using some techniques even if it is not for prayer.

    What I meant is a well-meaning Catholic might decide to use techniques that are easily recognized as something from a New Age movement not as prayer but just to relax. Yoga is the easiest example.

    It is hard to tell others "I am using part of this but only in a very specific way." So to others it looks like you are affirming/promoting a practice that you don't want to promote.

    People do think for themselves but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be wary things can be misinterpreted.

  96. So are the stages of prayer and the mansions the same thing?

  97. Connie thank you for that. I see what you are saying. May I respond by citing two other heretical examples.
    Some of the teachings of Origien were condemned, yet he is often quoted, even in the catechism. The church has distinguished between the orthodox and the non orthodox. The same is true of Evagrius Ponticus.
    Some of the Teachings of Meister Eckhart were seen as suspect, he retracted them and the rest of his teaching stands.
    CP may well have suspect aspect. In time these may be condemned. As yet they have not been, and so no defence or retraction of that which is suspect can be made.
    I think what I am trying to say is that its not quite as black and white as saying 'This person is a heretic, all his teachings are heretical don't listen to him.
    Another example from our own time. There are those who have questioned Thomas Merton's thoughts and writings, and yet someone like Bishop Robert Barron is happy to quote him with out fear of causing scandal. Its never that simple.

  98. You're right, Marcus Small, that we should not as individual Catholics call someone a heretic that the Church does not call a heretic. That's not our place. I have never used that language of Fr. Keating, and I certainly don't judge his heart. But since both the (bad in the) theology he teaches has been condemned in many places, and the practice he promotes has been criticized, it would be imprudent for anyone who is trying to grow in prayer to read and follow Fr. Keating's teachings. Instead, look to the Doctors of the Church that have been recommended by the Magisterium as teachers of prayer. Are there some good things in Fr. Keating's teaching? Sure. There are good things to be found almost everywhere. But if we are starving and we have a choice between a garbage dump and a feast, why would we choose the garbage dump, just because we know that somewhere in there is something edible? Let the Church start quoting Fr. Keating positively, and then we can debate this again. Personally, I would never quote Merton, because it brings the possibility of scandal, just as StarFireKK was saying about yoga. And Merton wrote a lot more than was orthodox than Fr. Keating.

  99. Nubby, I did not want this to become a personal attack on Ben or his prayer practice. That's not the purpose. In a previous conversation I told him that he may actually be praying in an orthodox manner and I just couldn't see that clearly from his comments. I suggested he talk to an orthodox and learned spiritual director. But he has already said here in this thread that his practice of CP is different from affective prayer and acquired recollection as taught by St. Teresa.

    If you read my book (I'm not just out to get the huge royalty that comes with the $2.99 price tag; I can't rewrite all 20,000 words at the Bubble), I compare St. Teresa and Fr. Keating on this very point. They are not the same. CP tells us to ignore ALL thoughts and say the "sacred word," not to bring our minds back to Christ, but to keep us from thinking about ANYTHING, even Christ. That is not what St. Teresa says. St. Teresa says we can use a word like the name of Jesus to be a little puff on the candle, to help refocus our mind and heart on Christ, so we can again sit in loving silence before Him. So they are almost the opposite. Am I 100% sure that Ben is doing the former, not the latter? No. But he doesn't seem to be arguing that he is doing as Teresa recommends. In fact, he was quite dismissive of her teaching, saying that after all, Teresa isn't infallible. But again, this post is not about analyzing Ben's personal prayer practice. It's about pointing out the errors of CP. Ben will have to discern for himself whether he is truly doing CP or traditional Christian prayer.

  100. But I think part of the problem with using eastern rites even just for preparation or relaxation is it can give rise to scandal.

    Ben is included in this summation, because Ben is the one who is using one aspect of 'being still in God's presence' from Keating's CP. Give rise to scandal for whom? Scandal implies a public discredit or wrongness. It's private prayer time. He's not putting on a show.

    He said he’s not a disciple of Keating and that the one aspect (stilling the mind) works for his focus/concentration on God.

    Hopefully he'll chime in and clear up the confusion. It's like his feet (personally) are being held to the fire and he needs to pass our judgement or something. Not my judgement.

    He uses the same type of technique recommended by other saints (even though he took it from a book we all agree is not Catholic). So putting him on the spot Congressional Committee-style serves what? To say to another (faithful) Catholic, “Well, why would you do that? Scandalous!” We’ve gone from looking at the method to looking at Ben. Is that the ultimate point of the comparison from the onset?

    After reading Ben’s replies to everyone here, we all agree Keating’s complete method is erroneous and could be harmful. But Ben hasn’t written a dissertation defending Keating’s approach at all.

    The only relevant part left to question, in my opinion, does Ben think the stillness of mind is prayer? No. He obviously does not. Yes, the saints are the way to go. Ben never said he doesn’t follow the saints. I’m defending him, and I don’t even practice CP. Anyway...

  101. Thank you that is a very helpful reply.
    Couple of things in response,
    I began reading Open Heart Open mind and quickly gave up. I did not ring true for me. I find Anthony Bloom and Kallistos Ware far more conducive. //Personally, I would never quote Merton, because it brings the possibility of scandal,//
    I think that that is a great shame. I read the Seven Storey Mountain and was surprised by it orthodoxy. Indeed whilst reading his account of the Stations of the Cross whilst staying in a Trappist Monastery, I felt encouraged to do the same, before that moment I had never had such a powerful encounter with the crucified.
    One should always read critically and with and discernment thats true.
    On Merton Bishop Barron offer wise counsel I think.

  102. Marcus Small, my take is that a lot of average Christians are unable to discern for themselves the errors in Merton's work. If I quote Merton, that may send some people off to read him who otherwise never would have. Then they may be led into error. I know others disagree with me. I am always very concerned about innocent people who don't know any better being led astray. Much as i respect him, Bishop Barron is not infallible, LOL.

  103. "Neural theology": the investigation of (permanent) changes caused by the practice of Centering Prayer (or consumption of psilocybin mushrooms) on the orientation/attention areas and language center of the brain:

    Neuroscientist Explains The Similarities Between The Brains Of Praying Nuns And Psychedelic Drug Users

    [Personally, I think I'll just stick with the scriptures and the Rosary! -:)]

  104. Nubby:

    "The only relevant part left to question, in my opinion, does Ben think the stillness of mind is prayer? No. He obviously does not."

    It's not obvious to me. Maybe I'm dense.

  105. Nubby, I promise you, I am not attacking Ben. He was out of the conversation before I entered it. The only reason I ever mentioned Ben was because the way he described his prayer seemed similar to some of my own.

    And we do pray in public, we pray in front of our families, we pray in front of friends and roommates, we pray in Church, etc. Even if we go to a private place those close to us still may see us pray.

    I've restated my position on this several times so I won't do so again. But I have no idea what Ben or anyone else here does or doesn't do. I'm not judging them or calling them out.

    I don't consider stilling of the mind or even breathing techniques to be anything other than relaxation techniques. They are used in eastern religious but they are also used in lots of other things.

    I think we might be talking past each other here.

  106. Connie
    //Much as i respect him, Bishop Barron is not infallible, LOL.//

    I don't always agree him either but probably for different reasons. :-) I like his videos though.

  107. Oh Goodness, Ben is a big boy and I'm sure he knows no one is attacking. ;) He, of his own accord, defended Keating's book here, not only on this post but on a previous post. It's the very book that he said helped him so much in his prayer life, and it's the same book that Connie compared to Church teaching in her book. So questioning his defense of the book and Keating and CP is fair game, no? That was sort of the point of this post. He engaged. I'm still curious. I became more curious when he said that Saint Teresa of Avila is not infallible. True, but she is a doctor of the church precisely because of her teachings on prayer, which contradict the book that has been instrumental in Ben's prayer life. I respect Ben's intellect which is exactly why I wish he would have stayed here and gone further. I still hope he will answer my questions, not as a grand inquisitor, but as a fellow Catholic who respects him. I thought that was clear, lol.

  108. It is probably a bigger concern to me because I am surrounded by lukewarm Catholics, non-practicing Christians, atheists and agnostics. Many of them are somewhat taken with the ideas and practices of the eastern religions.

    I'm always trying to battle against that and it is much more difficult to do so when they find a Catholic who says they use some of those techniques and ideas in their prayer. Because my friends and family don't make the distinctions we are making here. It is an uphill battle.

  109. Connie Rossini:
    // my take is that a lot of average Christians are unable to discern for themselves the errors in Merton's work.//
    I just wonder, is that not just a little condescending? I understand what you are saying even as I disagree. but is not the answer to educate, that is mould and draw out the ability to think critically and indeed freely.

  110. Starfire
    //It is probably a bigger concern to me because I am surrounded by lukewarm Catholics, non-practicing Christians, atheists and agnostics. Many of them are somewhat taken with the ideas and practices of the eastern religions. //
    Are you suggesting, you might not be, I may be misreading you, that eastern religions are somehow un holy? That seems to be against the teaching of the council.

  111. I don't mean the Eastern Catholic Church or any of the eastern Christian Churches. I mean non-Christian religions. I don't believe they are necessary "unholy" I just don't believe they are the way to God which as a Christian I believe is through Christ.

  112. Marcus Small, I'm all about education. But we also have to be realistic, that not everyone is as discerning as everyone else, not everyone has the background as everyone else, not everyone has the same level of intelligence, etc. So if I were to write a book explaining what was good and what was bad in Merton's writings, or just a commentary on one of his works, I could be educating people in a deep way that might help them with the rest of his books. I do not have any plans to do that. To quote him in a positive way in a blog post, article, video, etc. about the spiritual life, isolated from deeper education, is not helpful IMHO. And that is what usually happens. Not everyone who reads the article (etc.) has the time or the access or the capacity for the deeper education. I can also see using Merton as a way to build a bridge with people who have fallen into CP, for example, a starting place to bring them back to the truth about prayer, because they may already respect him. But i would only do that in a limited context, probably one on one with people who were practicing CP, so that by trying to build a bridge with some people, I would not at the same time be leading others astray.

  113. Connie Rossini:
    I will continue to think about what you have said. Thanks for answering.
    So you would not disagree with this.
    // Thus in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust. Again, Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination. Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing "ways," comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself
    The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.//

  114. Quick commentary on Thomas Merton. By Dan Burke. Do read both parts.

    Can I Trust Thomas Merton? (Part I of II)

    Can I Trust Thomas Merton? (Part II of II)

    P.S. In his Catholicism series of videos - in an episode dedicated to Merton - Fr Robert Barron highlighted his earlier writings , which, I think, can be reasonably said to have been orthodox/without blemish. I have to say, though, that I was a tad surprised when watching the series, that Fr Barron didn't include any cautions in his presentation, about Merton's later works and theologies.

  115. I don't disagree with those statement and I do believe Non-Christian religions and non-Christians do get thing right and do have a relationship with God.

    But, why would I advocate for my family and friends to be a part of a religion that only has part of the Truth when I believe the Christian Church has the whole of the Truth?

  116. Marcus, The Catholic Church is not advocating for eastern religions. When she says what she says, she is saying that we take the truth from those religions, meaning the stuff that coincides with Truth itself, and we are grateful that that Truth exists in those religions. Those are points of commonality. But the Catholic Church also teaches that there is a grave error in other religions as well. I don't think you're suggesting that the Catholic Church believes that religions without Christ are to be pursued?

    Where other religions *deviate* from Christianity is where we begin to reject those tenets.

  117. Leila and StarFire:
    //The Catholic Church is not advocating for eastern religions.//
    I don't take that from Nostra aetate either. The church recognises the truth where it sees it, even if it comes from outside. How else would thoughts of Plato and Aristotle been incorporated into the church's thinking.

  118. StarFire:
    //But, why would I advocate for my family and friends to be a part of a religion that only has part of the Truth when I believe the Christian Church has the whole of the Truth?//
    But maybe all Keating et al are saying that what they have found in the practice of non Christian religions already has its cognates in Christianity. Their concern is that many in our own generation chase after non Christian spiritual practices precisely because they don't know what already exists in Christianity. Their point is that these practices can be found in the Desert Fathers and Pseudo-Dionysius right through to the Rhineland mystics and beyond. In effect what they are saying is that you don't need to look in Hinduism or Buddhism, we have it right here in Christianity. So it could be argued that they keeping people in the church who might otherwise leave.

  119. I fear we keep talking past each other. Marcus, if Fr. Keating is teaching something that is not compatible with the idea of Christian prayer, then how is it keeping people in Christianity?

    Most Catholics have not been educated about prayer, at all. Everyone his searching. So why aren't we teaching Christians about true mysticism, true contemplation, real union with God? Why are we throwing out a substitute? Believe me, true Christian prayer is the most exciting and compelling thing on the face of the earth, and next to that, next to what we have to offer, eastern meditation is a very pale substitute, not even approaching what the Church offers those who are seeking! So I'm very confused as to what you think we should be offering people. I might be misunderstanding you.

    Remember, most Catholics and most Christians are incredibly ignorant of their own faith, so why don't we teach them their own faith before we start teaching them about other religious practices?

  120. Marcus, whoa, wait. I just saw your previous comment. Plato and Aristotle were pre-Christian philosophers who accessed much truth from the natural law, but were not privy to the revelation of Christ.

    Eastern religions continue on today, and the Church was addressing (in your quotes) those religions today. Of course she speaks of the good of finding some of Christ's Truth in other religions -- right before she reminds everyone that the fullness of Truth can only be found through Jesus Christ and his Church. Anything that contradicts that Truth is to be rejected. The Catholic Church could not be more clear and her writings about this, over and over and over again.

    Are you actually saying that the Church is okay with and even promotes Buddhism and Hinduism? I'm stunned; I must be misunderstanding.

  121. Marcus Small, you are correctly stating the CP position, but the CP position is false. The Desert Fathers, and everyone who has taught in an orthodox manner about Christian prayer throughout the centuries, teach the same thing as St. Teresa. She just expounds it in greater detail and precision than anyone before her. That's why we can't just go a different way in prayer, saying that Teresa isn't infallible. Or as Fr. Basil Pennington once wrote:

    "Are we bound to accept John of the Cross (a great mystic but a man of his times -- post-reformation rationalist period in the Church) as the norm for all our philosophical and theological thinking about prayer? There were fifteen centuries of tradition before him. He belongs to a particular school or tradition, the Carmelite. Centering Prayer comes from the Benedictine-Cistercian tradition, a more ancient, beautiful and simpler tradition."

    Yes, there are different traditions, particularly concerning meditation on the Scriptures/lectio divina and vocal prayer. But John and Teresa aren't talking about methods of meditation. They're talking about the process of spiritual growth and intimacy with God as it relates to the prayer life. Their teaching has been proclaimed universal by the Church. Teresa gives a lot of leeway for individual differences in the way God leads us. But shunting her and John aside and saying, "Oh, but we follow a more ancient tradition," doesn't work.

    It would be more believable if Keating, et. al. had dived into the Christian tradition on a quest for a deeper relationship with God, rather than how they did do things, which was starting with eastern meditation techniques and trying to connect them back to Catholicism. Their interpretation of the Desert Fathers, etc., was colored by their prior experience of Zen and TM.

    We can certainly learn things from Buddhists and Hindus, but not a prayer method.

  122. Leila maybe we are talking past each other. I would rather not make any kind of negative statement other religions(not saying you are doing that). I would rather be positive.
    However on the substantive issue of CP, I thought when reading it, well I already practice the Jesus Prayer and Lectio Divina, CP seems like an imitation and I did not have the time or resources to check out its claim to originate in The Cloud of Unknowing. Perhaps I should. But in a way why when one already has Jesus Prayer and Lectio Divina and the Office?
    But you have to remember those of us who are members of those Christian communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century can be rather independent of mind. Moreover I have great affection for the Cistercians of whom Fr Keating is a member. The ruins of its abbeys litter the rural parts of my country and I have retreated to an existing abbey on many occasions. Fr Keating is in good standing with his order which itself is in good standing with the church. Maybe one should read his book in parallel with his source text, which was also written in my country.

  123. //Are you actually saying that the Church is okay with and even promotes Buddhism and Hinduism? //

    No I am saying it will find cognates of its own practice in the practices of other religions.

  124. Connie Rossini
    My initial reaction to the quote from Pennington is one of scepticism, but I would be equally sceptical of just dismissing it. I would want to investigate it. Check the claim against the evidence.

  125. It's from a book, posted free online by the author, a scholarly work in which the author dialogued with the creators of CP, Fr. John Main, and many others within the Church who were proposing new types of prayer. It's a fascinating read. The exchange with Pennington is down a bit, so you might want to do a search.

  126. Later Pennington objects more succinctly, "Is everyone to be burdened with squaring with John of the Cross? Let the scholars of John of the Cross worry about this and let us contemplate in peace."

  127. I haven't read all the comments. I'm interested in this because I practiced centering prayer for several years. It was offered at my parish. It was only after a couple of years that I heard anything suspect about it. I read up online, trying to find out what the church actually teaches and prayed about it because being faithful to the church is more important to me than any particular way of praying. I was frustrated because those criticising it didn't seem to understand what it actually was - attacking strawmen. And the statements I found from the Vatican were so vague and only claimed to be about centering by its detractors. (If centering is what the detractors say it is - then bad, but in my mind they hadn't shown centering to be that.) I still don't know. I stopped centering prayer a few years ago because I disagreed with the direction my group was going, however I'm still not sure about whether centering itself is bad. I saw fruit in my life while I practiced it.
    I also wanted to comment to Connie in reply to her comments about we need to know Jesus first before being quiet with him. It's usually not advocated that centering be the ONLY kind of prayer one does. It was very common in our group (and suggested in talks, videos, books) for it to be paired with Lectio Divina either before or afterward so that knowing Christ in scripture is not forsaken.
    And about ignoring communications from God... my understanding is that that requires some discerning and it's more about having a receptive attitude. So for example, while we are spending time with God, suddenly we are given a vision or revelation or whatever. Now it may be from God. If it is, it will accomplish its purpose. If it's not, it may have just distracted us from God - who we were paying attention to. It is easy to hold tightly to supposed "divine revelation" and to have more faith in them than in God. So centering just suggests treating them as another thought. Does that make sense? I have also heard from my spiritual director that generally a sense of urgency or "you have to pay attention/do this right now" is not from God.

  128. Connie Rossini
    Thank you for the link I will check it out in the morning. It is rather late here now.

    But what I meant was not whether or not Pennington made the claim, but whether his claim, i.e. that CP is rooted in the practice of the Benedictine-Cistercian tradition, is correct. I do not know whether that is true or not. It seems worthy of inquiry.

  129. Deanna, thanks for your comment. I'll try not to repeat too much of what I've already said, for those who have had a chance to read everything.

    1. I agree that many of the critiques (but certainly not all) online are superficial.

    2. I don't think the Vatican statements are vague at all. But they are generalized. (I think that's different.) They were written to cover many types of New Age practice. When you put quotes from these documents next to quotes from Fr. Keating, they line up surprisingly well (or badly, if you will).

    3. In the document I just linked to in my comment to Marcus Small, Fr. Basil Pennington indicates that one can practice CP from the beginning of the prayer life, alongside lectio divina. He says they never judge the stage of the spiritual life that people are in when they come to be taught CP. I think this is a mistake. Traditional Christian prayer never recommends prolonged silence in prayer for absolute beginners.

    4. You're right about locutions, etc. calling for discernment. But if they are real, acc. to St. Teresa, you simply can't ignore them. Real locutions won't make you anxious--that's probably the main point your spiritual director wanted to make. But they will demand your attention. They are not at all like our own imaginings, which we can easily put aside.

    The Holy Spirit sometimes does lead us gently to recognize sin or to pursue some virtue, or toward an important decision. I don't understand the purpose of ignoring these things when they come. It's true that you cannot say absolutely that the Lord is speaking to you. These are inspirations, not locutions. Of course you have to be discerning. But I think we're missing out on a major part of prayer if we don't pay any attention at all to these prompts. St. Ignatius, in particular, encouraged people to make use of them.

    5. I don't understand what CP practitioners are referring to when they say they are "paying attention to God." In what sense? How do you pay attention to Him with no thoughts, feelings, images, or words--unless you are receiving infused contemplation? This is something no one has been able to explain to me.

    6. Unfortunately, Fr. Keating's writings are filled with a multitude of errors in theological matters. There are errors on Original Sin, Baptism, the purpose of prayer, the centrality of Jesus, the relationship between Christianity and eastern religions, etc. I have documented all this in my book. He says something really odd about the Eucharist. He hardly ever mentions Jesus. He puts more focus on levels of consciousness and becoming aware of God than on turning away from sin and submitting to God.

    7. I am glad you continued growing while practicing CP. Perhaps your growth was due to the lectio divina or other practices you were also doing. I have had others tell me the opposite happened to them, so it's very subjective. No two people are exactly alike and it's hard to say what else in someone's life may have been helping or hindering them.

  130. Deanna, thank you for sharing your experiences!

    A couple of questions pop up in my mind. What direction did your prayer group go that you disagreed with? And, if CP is about a receptive attitude, then what are we receiving? If it's God, then why are we supposed to be indifferent to God if and when He comes to us in prayer? (I understand that we can be deceived in prayer and I appreciate that you brought that up. I am just wondering what are the "good things" that we are to be receiving? I thought we were supposed to deflect all thoughts and feelings?)

    Marcus, I think you implied that you are Protestant (I could be reading that wrong: I just woke up from a nice nap, and I'm now using a strange computer, so nothing is conducive to my being "all here" right now. :) ). If so, what denomination? And what nation or region if you don't mind my asking?

    I feel terrible that some folks (even Nubby!) are hearing my comments and questions as accusatory or offensive rather than clarifying or questioning (just the regular ole stuff we usually do here), so if I'm coming off like that (since I am not at home and mostly have been using my tiny stupid phone), please forgive me. Hopefully everyone will give me the benefit of the doubt and read these comments with the image of me smiling, and not snarling. :) :)

    Let's keep learning together. I love this subject and I wish that Ben had stayed. :(

  131. Hi Leila,
    I have read your blog for a while but this might be the first time I've commented. I'm looking forward to hearing about what you've hinted about from last summer and I always like the prayer posts. :) I like the other posts too - as I'm one who like truth as well. response to your questions: The group, well the leader really, just started changing a few practices - replaced the Our Father that we normally ended centering with, with some other prayer that I didn't feel comfortable saying "amen" to. And we started watching some talks by Richard Rohr. I disagreed with some things he said about the Eucharist. So after a while I just decided that all the extra stuff around centering prayer was not stuff I wanted to be involved with. That may be confirmation for those of you who think it's bad. I'm still undecided. I don't want to judge its worth based on the way some people practice it. Or by the other things they do as well.
    We are not supposed to be indifferent to God during centering. As an analogy, imagine you've invited a friend over and are enjoying just being in their presence even if you aren't talking. Suddenly, you hear your phone buzz and notice you've received an email from this friend. It's not that the email is bad, it's a good way of communicating, but when they're right there with you there's no need for email. It's not a perfect analogy, but maybe you get the idea.
    Thoughts and feelings are normal and we're not supposed to deflect them. We're just not supposed to engage them - thinking about thoughts. Like what Ben described with the boat. Once we notice that we're thinking about a thought we use the sacred word to re-iterate our intention to be with our God and our consent to his presence and action in us. The idea is that God is in control of the prayer rather than us. It's his agenda, His will, not ours. So the good things we receive are whatever God wants to give us without necessarily expecting that He will give us anything other than Himself.
    One of my favourite quotes about this is: "The ultimate answer to every prayer, dear friend, is God's response: 'Here I am.' Our difficulty often is that we prefer something less than God." - William Meninger (The Loving Search for God)
    I hope that makes sense. Like I said - I'm not sure what I think about it all, I'm just trying to explain it a bit (as I learned and experienced it) as there are so many misconceptions about it. We may as well talk about what it actually is.

  132. Connie,
    I don't have anything to disagree with in your first 3 points so I'll skip to 4.

    4. I think you said it perfectly well - if it's from God we can't really ignore it, or if we do He'll gently bring us back to it again and again. That's pretty much exactly my point. If whatever "God inspired" is really of God we can trust that it will be there when we're done centering. It's not a matter of ignoring them. Sometimes too, if some thought or feeling surfaces and we are unable to let it go then it needs to be dealt with as perhaps God is healing something in us or bringing something to our attention. That's fine. The prayer is really not rigid and involves a lot of gentleness with ourselves which is very hard to do!
    Maybe think of it as one kind of exercise - like working on your leg muscles. Just because you aren't working on your arms or your cardio at that particular moment doesn't mean that you think they don't need work or that exercising them is bad. You just exercise them in a different way at a different time. Just because we aren't doing all possible good things during centering doesn't mean that what we are doing is bad or that we are neglecting those other things. As I said before centering is not a stand alone way of praying - it is just one of many ways to pray.

    5. This is just really hard to explain. Do you know that quote about Mother Teresa where someone asks her how she prays and she says she just listens and then they asked "well, what does God say?" And she said: "He listens too." That's probably the best answer I can give. It is being with God. Noticing His Presence and giving some of our time to Him. I know that probably won't satisfy you but it's something that needs to be experienced. Not everything can be explained in words and concepts.

    6. I have only read Open Mind, Open Heart, and The Better Part by Keating. I have also watched several of his talks. I don't know enough about this to comment. Thinking back - it's probably true that he doesn't talk so much about sin. I remember one analogy about a bathtub being filled with junk (which may or may not have been sin) and that the Holy Spirit can't fill us up if we're full of junk, so first we have to empty the bathtub (God helps with this) so that we can have some space for the Holy Spirit to fill us.
    I seem to remember him refering to Jesus quite often as The Divine Therapist (in that He Heals), but maybe he was just refering to God in general. I probably need to read your book to see exactly what you're talking about.
    7. That is true and quite possible. I am no longer practicing centering prayer at this point and I don't mean to advocate for it. Like I said, I don't know what is true about it right now. I've just been trying to explain a bit what it was like for me.

  133. Thanks, Deanna. I still have to ponder what you said, because I still don't get it. It's not that I don't get sitting quietly in God's presence, just loving Him beyond words. I don't get how you can do this while letting go of every thought and feeling. It seems to me that feelings are absolutely involved in sitting lovingly in God's presence--at the very least, before we receive the gift of infused contemplation.

    The second thing I don't get is, it sounds like a contradiction to me to say "God is in control of the prayer time," but also set aside everything God may communicate for another time. If I am not dealing with what the Holy Spirit brings up in prayer, it seems to me that I am in control of the time, not God. St. Teresa teaches us, in contrast, to follow the Spirit's leading as to when we should speak (in our hearts) and when we should be silent.

    The email analogy you made for Leila doesn't really work for me, because in prayer, God "sends you the email" right then. How do you know He doesn't mean for you to also read it then? Fr. Keating says to let God talk to you at other times, not during CP, but of course, we can't control God. I would think if I were enjoying a friend's presence and he sent me an email at that time, it would make me smile--"Hey, you just sent me an email!" And then we would laugh together as I read the words my friend presumably intended me to read. Now, of course if I heard the little ditty that indicates an email just came, I wouldn't know if it was from my friend or not. So I could be interrupting our together time by checking. And I see how the email would still be there after my friend left. But I don't get why he would send it then, if he only meant for me to read it later. So it seems to me that "whatever God wants to give us" is qualified--only if He wants to give it in the way that CP has predetermined.

    I also don't get the sacred word. Because acc. to Fr. Keating, you aren't supposed to think about what it means. Although he encourages people to make it something truly sacred, he says in another place that the less it means to you, the better. So it becomes just a tool to get rid of distractions. I don't see how a tool to get rid of distractions--which is the only content in the whole CP time, and whose content is ignored--can bring you into contact with God. So I am back with my original way of looking at CP, that you are entering a different level of consciousness (by ignoring all thoughts and feelings and impressions), but not really connecting with God.

  134. This comment has been removed by the author.

  135. Leila:
    //Marcus, I think you implied that you are Protestant (I could be reading that wrong::)// No you are correct.
    // If so, what denomination?// Church of England
    //And what nation or region if you don't mind my asking???
    No I don't mind. I live in the United Kingdom.

  136. I suppose the reason why this does not sit entirely well with me is the notion that some intermediary, be it a body of doctrine, an institution or another individual seeks to come between the one praying and God in such an authoritative, and sometimes authoritarian way, and throw an stumbling block on someone’s pathway to prayer.
    I am sure that there are good ways of praying and bad ways of praying, and of course there is a place for advice especially from those who have great experience.
    But in the end our prayer is not perfected by our own efforts by God.
    When I was small child my mother taught me to pray. The prayer went something like this.
    Ich bin so klein
    mein Herz ist rein
    daß niemand drin wohne
    als Jesus allein

    which roughly translated means
    I am so small
    my heart is pure
    that none shall dwell in it
    but Jesus alone.

    I prayed that prayer before I knew any doctrine, it taught me to pray, because I prayed it every night.

    Now when the adult thinks about it, it becomes immediately clear that there is some doctrinal error there. 'My heart is so pure' well no it is not, and it never was.

    The essential thing to me here was not soundness or not of the prayer, but the instilling of the habit of prayer, just praying, however imperfectly.
    Change the words slightly and it becomes orthodox.
    I am so small
    and my heart would be pure
    that none shall dwell in it
    but you, my Jesus, alone.

    In prayer 'The principal thing' according to St Theophan the Recluse 'is to stand with the mind in the heart before God, and to go on standing before Him day and night until the end of life'.
    Perfection is brought about God, not by our efforts and following some divine check list.

    My prayer is one of a sinner, the prayer of someone of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips. It will not ever be perfect because I can make it perfect. I can’t. It is made perfect by grace, and grace is sufficient for God's power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses (and my smallness), so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father."
    I fear that if we get knit picky about prayer we will stumbling upon people’s paths to prayer and they may never begin to prayer at all. They won’t start if they fear its too difficult.

  137. Popping in and out of the conversation here...regarding silence/mental prayer and vocal prayer, but you can do this (and automatically do so) in Adoration. It's where I learned silence and mental prayer without even meaning to. Just surprised it hasn't come up yet in discussion, but again, I haven't read through every comment, so I may be wrong.

  138. Marcus, thank you! Actually, what your mother taught you was beautiful. And it is truly a prayer. A conversation with God, and yes, a small baptized child would be pure, no? Anyway, it is simple, and lovely. It does not seek to do away with all thoughts and feelings; quite the opposite, the heart is fully engaged.

    As Catholics, we believe that Jesus Christ himself founded the Catholic Church and imbued her with the authority to keep us from error and to teach us the best and surest ways to get to union with our Lord. So, the Church's teaching on prayer or any other issue of faith and morals would not be an imposition but a blessing and gift. And utterly trustworthy. Any false teachings or, yes, rabbit holes, should be flagged and even condemned.

    As for simplicity, a beginner in prayer should be doing just as the Saints advise, not trying something as unnatural as attempting to clear one's mind of *all thoughts and feelings*. If someone had told me that was the way to begin, I'm sure I would have quit before I started. That said, that's still aassuming CP actually fits the definition of Christian prayer, which, as Keating describes it, certainly doesn't appear to be prayer at all, but rather a way of altering the consciousness and feeling a natural peace --not being in conversation with God, no matter how many lovely moments of silence might come.

    Anyway, I fear now that I am simply repeating myself, although I believe this thread is important and full of good information for people to make a decision.

    If one wants to know how simple and uncomplicated it is to begin the journey of prayer, even with no prior experience, I suggest Saint Teresa, who, though she is the greatest prayer master, is adamant that prayer is simple to begin, and what a relief that is to a soul starting out! Here is more about what she says:

  139. Becky, yes! I believe adoration was mentioned, and it is a beautiful way to listen to God in silence! But not by using a meaningless "word" to empty one's mind of thought and feeling (even "devout thoughts" and communications from God), but rather by looking upon Jesus Himself, and being in an intimate relationship where the silence is actually filled with feelings of love and affection, and thinking of our Lord would not be something we try to squelch. It's an experience of *communication* between a soul and our Eucharistic Lord, and that is prayer.

    I just hope and pray that before anyone goes to centering prayer, one looks to the treasures of the Catholic Church on prayer, to find the riches and wisdom there. There is no need to go to eastern religious practices when we have all of mysticism and infused contemplation and communion and union with God right here at home. And it is mind-blowing and life-changing.

    I would just warn everyone to be careful, as the devil set traps in anyway that he can to get you further away from God, or to make you stall in your spiritual journey. There is always a little bit of truth interspersed with lies. Trust the Catholic Church; Jesus left her with His authority for a reason, for our good, and because he loves us.

  140. Thanks again for the post and discussion, Leila! I too have been repeating myself a lot now. As you said, Christian prayer means a conversation between God and the soul. In the discussions with people who have tried CP, I have seen how CP teaches them that God is present everywhere, which is a good thing. But this is not yet prayer. A Hindu can be aware that God is everywhere, but for him, God is not something Other than himself or the natural world. In other words, God is everywhere, because God is everything.

    A Christian needs to relate to God, come into contact with Someone who created him, loves him, and died for him. A Christian needs to get to know and love God in prayer. Growth in intimacy with God through Jesus Christ is the purpose of Christian prayer. This is why traditional Christian prayer uses the mind and the heart until, as St. Teresa put it, "God gives them a better office" in infused contemplation.

    Sometimes descriptions of CP can sound very close to authentic prayer. If we are confused or doubt that it's a problem, we can look at the theology taught along with the method. We find that the theology is New Age, not Christian. This helps confirm that the method too is one of eastern religions, not Christianity.

  141. "If we are confused or doubt that it's a problem, we can look at the theology taught along with the method." <------ This!!!

    That is the surest way. Thank you, Connie!

  142. Leila:
    //Actually, what your mother taught you was beautiful. And it is truly a prayer. A conversation with God, and yes, a small baptized child would be pure, no?///
    You know I never thought of it like that, so thanks for that.
    //Anyway, it is simple, and lovely.
    It does not seek to do away with all thoughts and feelings; quite the opposite, the heart is fully engaged//
    I shall need to spend more time with that prayer. It is simple.
    Thats what I like about the Jesus prayer, very simple, yet contains so much, it can be prayed very consciously, and can continue almost unconsciously, underneath everything that is going on under our daily lives.

  143. Yesterday morning, StarFireKK asked, "So are the stages of prayer and the mansions the same thing?" Sorry this didn't get answered.

    Yes, the seven mansions are St. Teresa's way of talking about the different stages of prayer. As I said in another comment, the divisions between them are not rigid. In fact, it's more accurate to say "first mansions," etc., than "the first mansion." There are many "rooms" in each mansion. Everyone experiences growing intimacy with God in his own way, but there are some general characteristics by which we can figure out approximately where we are. It's important to know where we are, because different stages call for different types of prayer and different focuses in our spiritual life. Notice I didn't say different METHODS of prayer. There are many methods of vocal prayer, Christian meditation, etc. CP claims to be one method of Christian prayer, but it does not fit into any of the TYPES/classifications of prayer Teresa (and the Catechism) speak of.

  144. Sorry I can’t follow all this so closely. Very busy moving my mother-in-law into assisted living. A difficult situation.

    What is prayer?
    “CP claims to be one method of Christian prayer, but it does not fit into any of the TYPES/classifications of prayer Teresa (and the Catechism) speak of.”

    “What is prayer? ‘For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven,…’” From CCC #2558

    I think CP fits pretty well with the most basic definition of prayer the Catechism speaks of.

  145. Ben, how do you have "a surge of the heart," while setting aside all emotion? To me, those two things contradict each other.

    1. As I understand it (and I don’t claim to be a CP expert)…
      We acknowledge thoughts, feelings and emotions and do not try to suppress them, at the same time try not engage or dwell on them (stay detached from them); otherwise the thoughts and emotions themselves become a preoccupation during the prayer time. So a “surge of the heart” fits fine with CP, but not a fixation or obsession with “a surge of the heart”.

      Prayer is a mystery like "love". I don’t think prayer can be defined very strictly, just like “love” cannot be defined very strictly (with hard lines). If we do, we risk becoming “the prayer police”.

  146. Leila asked me to be a bit more specific about the different types of prayer. I included them in an early comment on the 7 mansions, but I will list them alone here for ease. This is the order found in such books as The Three Ages of the Interior Life by Garrigou-Lagrange and Spiritual Theology by Jordan Aumann (with the saints as their guide).

    1. Vocal prayer.

    2. Meditation on Scripture or the lives of the saints.

    3. Affective prayer, when the "surge of the heart" comes with less reflection.

    4. Acquired recollection, when the "surge of the heart" predominates, but there is still an image, a thought, a picture, a word used with attention to its meaning, or a reflection at the beginning of prayer and throughout it now and then to sustain the gaze of love.

    These 4 we do on our own with the aid of ordinary grace.

    Then comes infused contemplation, which is completely the work of God. This is when the soul becomes passive in prayer (but still must work hard to overcome sin and detachment throughout the day).

    5. Infused recollection. Subtle, intermittent, at times manifesting as the Dark Night of the Senses.

    6. The prayer of quiet. The first sustained contemplative prayer that is not dark.

    7. The prayer of union. Union deepens through the 5th to 7th mansions, and is associated with various physical manifestations (such as ecstasies) in the 6th mansions and the Dark Night of the Spirit. The highest state is called the Transforming Union or the Spiritual Marriage.

    These stages are normative. We can progress, regress, go from one to the other and back again, until we reach the heights.

  147. Methods of prayer, in contrast would be, for example: the Rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours (both vocal prayer); Ingnatian meditation or the method laid out by St. Francis de Sales in Introduction to the Devout Life. There are many methods of prayer in the early mansions that prepare a soul for infused contemplation. All traditional methods engage the mind and the heart. We don't become thoroughly passive in prayer until God gives us infused contemplation.

  148. Leila you wrote earlier
    //For example, with Christian prayer, we do not seek to "detach from thoughts and feelings". Mental prayer is meditating on the life of Christ, thinking about Him and His life and His sacrifice. And we feel many things when we focus on Him. //

    I could not find the reference at the time, but it seems to me that that statement completely disregards a major part of the Eastern Church's tradition of prayer.

    'The rational mind cannot rest idle' says St Mark the Monk, for thoughts keep filling it with ceaseless chatter. But while it lays beyond our power to make this chatter suddenly disappear, what we can do is to detach ourselves from it by 'binding' our ever-active mind 'one thought, or the thought of One only ' - the Name of Jesus.
    According to Evagrius of Pontus 'Prayer is the laying aside of thoughts.'
    'Keep your intellect free from colours, images and forms', urges St Gregory of Sinai.

    In this regard the Jesus Prayer is to be distinguished from methods of discursive meditation popular in the west since the Counter Reformation.

    Are you really saying that the Eastern Church especially the tradition of the hesychastes, have got it wrong.

  149. I can't speak for Leila (not that it ever stopped me before, LOL). But the Jesus Prayer is a revered, ancient prayer of the Church, which can satisfy people's longing for a meditative practice that is simpler than western methods. Since many points of Evagrius' teaching were officially condemned by the Church, I can't speak to that particular sentence of his. I'd have to do some research to see if it was one of his condemned teachings, the context in which he wrote it, etc. There are many similarities between the Jesus Prayer and CP, but there are also significant differences. For example, the name of Jesus is not just a randomly chosen word, it (really, He) is the whole focus of this method of prayer.

    In my studies I came across a website that does a great job of distinguishing between CP and the Jesus Prayer. I have had several conversations with its author, Ric Ballard, who is an eastern Catholic. He is completely orthodox and he also knows what he is talking about. I recommend readers who are interested in this question to visit Ric's site and ask him for clarifications of anything you don't understand.

    Here is the post most relevant to this discussion:

  150. Marcus, of course I'm not saying that the eastern Christian Saints got it wrong. I am saying that they did *not* practice centering prayer. They would not have agreed with his theology or his method. Context is everything. Theology is everything.

    Connie's comments above should be helpful, provide context, and are grounded in sound theology. Keating's theology and methods? Not so much.

    Detachment from chatter and distraction is important, but in order that we would *attach* to God, our Beloved. To communicate with Him, not simply achieve an altered state of consciousness to feel a natural peace.

    Why does Fr. Keating recommend his method to beginners?

  151. Marcus, let's try this angle: why do you suppose that the Catholic Church warns against New Age prayer practices?

    And Ben, if you have a chance at a later time, I would love to know your opinion about Fr. Keating's theology. And I'm very sorry to hear about your struggles with aging parents and in-laws. That is always hard, and I understand. Prayers for you and yours!

  152. Sorry, Ben, I thought that was Marcus talking to Connie! So all of my previous comments are for you.

    Are you OK with the Catholic Church being "the doctrine police"? I am. ;)

  153. Leila and Connie thanks for the responses
    All my quotes above were sourced from Kallistos Ware, an Orthodox Bishop.
    I will respond perhaps on Saturday, Friday's are internet free days for me.

  154. Ben, I hate to be nit-picking. I am not trying pry into people's personal prayer practice to see if I can find any secret heresy. But when someone posts on the Bubble about a questionable practice, we need to clarify things for others. I don't hope to convince you of anything, but I do hope to keep other people who are following this discussion from falling into error.

    So, I think this is my last post on this thread unless anyone has a NEW point that hasn't been touched on.

    Fr. Keating writes, "Your only activity is the general attentiveness that you are offering to God, either implicitly by letting go of all thoughts or explicitly by returning to the sacred word." (p. 80)

    I think "a surge of the heart" implies that one is moved by feelings of affection for God, thanksgiving, adoration, etc., and is lifting one's heart up to Him. It implies some kind of reflection, and it implies some kind of activity. If one realizes that one's heart is full of affection. but sets it aside and doesn't pay any attention to it, how can one equate one's prayer with a surge of the heart? It seems to me that one is instead turning away from that surge to go back to one's sacred word. This is not how Therese or the Catechism describes prayer.

    We don't turn away from our thoughts about God in prayer. Our thoughts about God and our feelings for Him are the way that we relate to Him in prayer. To say, as Fr. Keating does, that paying attention to these thoughts and feelings will make us attached to them instead of to God just doesn't make sense. It's as if we advised a man in love not to talk about his loved one's beautiful hair because he might get attached to her hair instead of her. We start with these things when we are getting to know someone, when we are falling in love. They help us to desire a deeper knowledge, a deeper love. A man cannot turn away from thinking about, talking about, or looking at his love and expect to get to know her better or love her more. Same with the relationship between man and God.

    The end. :)

  155. Thanks, Connie! It has been an interesting discussion. I'll have to think more about these matters and spends some time reading up on them.

    Ben, I am sorry to hear about your mother-in-law. We had to move my dad several years ago and I think the family is just now recovering. I think in some ways it was harder emotionally on my older siblings than on my father. Good luck.

  156. @ Leila,
    Thank you for any and all prayers for my mother-in-law, Loretta.

    Your question: “why do you suppose that the Catholic Church warns against New Age prayer practices?” Because Christ’s Church will always protect Christ’s sheep from error.

    CP is not New Age. At this point I’ll suggested the The Contemplative Outreach Website FAQ’s:
    “How is Centering Prayer rooted in the Christian tradition?
    Centering Prayer is a traditional form of Christian prayer rooted in Scripture and based on the monastic heritage of Lectio Divina. It is not to be confused with Transcendental Meditation or Hindu or Buddhist methods of meditation. It is not a New Age technique.”
    …..They go on to explain this (and many other things) much better than I can. I find their explanations to be reasonable. You may want to look over the FAQ’s sometime.

    As far as Fr. Keating, like I said, I've only read one book and a few articles (I'm no Keating expert). Nothing struck me as outrageous. Even if there is error, which I think is certainly possible, I won't necessarily reject everything.

  157. Ben, thank you!

    Fr. Keating is the founder of Contemplative Outreach.

    Here is a one-minute video of Fr. Keating explaining his basic theology, and it brought the hair up on the back of my neck:

    This is not Christian theology. This is Eastern religions/philosophies.

    I would not trust Contemplative Outreach, because Fr. Keating's theology is so faulty.

    Where does Fr. Keating talk of sin and the need for repentance in order to grow to union with God? Instead, he says that all we need to understand is that "there is no Other" -- that the soul and God have always been "one".

    This is not Catholic.

    Readers, please do your homework. Please go to Fr. Keating's words themselves, and there are plenty. Do not take my word for it.

    Again, take one minute to watch that video and you will start to understand that the theology of Fr. Keating is in grave error. Why would we follow this man, when we have enough in our own Christian tradition on prayer?

  158. I'm sorry, I just can't stay away. These FAQs from Contemplative Outreach are so bogus. Many of them are contradicted elsewhere on CO's own site or in the writings of Fr. Keating or his top disciple (and co-founder of CO) David Frenette. I just want to address one point:

    "Centering Prayer is a traditional form of Christian prayer rooted in Scripture and based on the monastic heritage of Lectio Divina."

    Lectio Divina involves prayerfully reading Scripture, reflecting on what God is saying to you through it, then talking to God about it. There are few prayer practices that are more different from CP than Lectio Divina. CP involves no reading, no pondering, and no conversation. The final part of Lectio Divina is called "contemplatio," and some places CO seems to equate this engagement between God and the soul at the end of Lectio Divina with CP. But David Frenette has written that "the contemplation of Lectio Divina is not the same as CP." I quote this in my book. How then are the two methods alike? They are not. Not in the least detail.

    CO's FAQ page is imply not reliable. Of course they are going to say that the method of prayer that is their whole raison d'etre is not New Age! But their "facts" to show that are anything but facts! If I were to take a cynical view, I would say that the FAQS page is more concerned with calming people's fears so that they will not reject CP as New Age, than it is with truth.

  159. Nubby said: "He (Ben) didn’t advocate for Keating"

    I just am such a stickler, as you know. Yes, he did advocate for Keating. He suggested that we go to Contemplative Outreach for our resource. Contemplative Outreach is Keating's site.

    Ben said:

    CP is not New Age. At this point I’ll suggested the The Contemplative Outreach Website FAQ’s:
    “How is Centering Prayer rooted in the Christian tradition?
    Centering Prayer is a traditional form of Christian prayer rooted in Scripture and based on the monastic heritage of Lectio Divina. It is not to be confused with Transcendental Meditation or Hindu or Buddhist methods of meditation. It is not a New Age technique.”
    …..They go on to explain this (and many other things) much better than I can. I find their explanations to be reasonable. You may want to look over the FAQ’s sometime.

    But then goes on to the next paragraph, not seeming to realize that Contemplative Outreach is Keating's site.

    When Nubby appears to get frustrated with me, I take note. I have been going over everything that was said for two days. I can't figure out what the problem is. I have done this for five years, basically a stickler for Truth, and trying to dispel error wherever I find that it is presented on this site. I am equal opportunity, and if a devout and wonderful Catholic is in error, then I will call out the error and I hope we can discuss it. I am not sure why good and wonderful Catholics are off limits? No one here is infallible, and I pray that we can always have a vigorous discussion.

    I know that Ben has been occupied with family transitions and his mother-in-law's move. I totally get that. I do hope one day he will address the theology that we are talking about, and the problems that are still just "hanging there". It's not unimportant. At least not to me.

    Anyway, I love you all, and yet I will not ever shy away from a discussion that is digging for truth. I am convinced by Fr. Keating's own words (his own mouth/videos/writings/interviews/books) that his theology is very warped, and his directives should be ignored and even called out. I believe they are enticing, and that is precisely why they can lead good people away from authentic prayer and into New Age practices.

    Ben, the door to this discussion is alway open, and I hope you will comment on the fact that CO is a Keating website, as well as reconcile his one-minute video (above).

    It's precisely BECAUSE you are a smart and devout Catholic that I am pressing you on this. If you were weak in your faith or not a sharp intellect, I would have let it pass long ago.

    Thanks for understanding what we are all about here! :)

    1. And to be even more accurate, the recommendation of Keating's site came after Nubby's comment, so he may not have known (and still may not) that he is advocating Keating's work. I tried to find the older post with his comments on Keating, but I couldn't find it (searched my emails for those comments). I thought he had recommended Keating's book to others. If I am wrong on that, I am happy to stand corrected.

  160. Leila I looked at the video that you posted. It was short but informing. I don't see it as coming from outside of the Christian tradition. It is not very different to the thought of the German Dominican School of the 14th Century, particularly the work of Meister Eckhart.
    Unlike today, where many have at east an intellectual acquaintance with eastern thought and practice, and therefore might influenced by it, that is far less likely with German Dominican School of the 14th Century. Its 'wesen mystic' (the mysticism of being) arose from within Christianity. Fr Keating's statement is not dissimilar to Meister Eckhart's 'The eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me. My eye and God's eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love'. or again 'A quiet mind is one which nothing weighs on, nothing worries, which, free from ties and from all self-seeking, is wholly merged into the will of God and dead to its own'.
    Now its true that Eckhart is often seen as being on the edges of orthodoxy, in his words will, I suspect, be troubling for the conservatively doctrinaire. That said Eckhart is not seen by the church as unorthodox.

  161. Marcus, to my knowledge (sorry, I don't have the exact quote handy, so I'll paraphrase), Meister Eckhart stated unequivocally: Wherever my teaching may be at odds with the Church's, the Church is right and I am wrong.

    I think it's useful to keep that in mind.

  162. Sebastian, That maybe true. According to Oliver Davies, ' 13th February 1327 Eckhart protested his rejection of heresy and stated that he was prepared to retract anything in his teaching which might be shown to be erroneous.' However it is never stated which of his teaching was suspect.
    " In the spring of 2010, it was revealed that there was finally a response from the Vatican in a letter dated 1992. Timothy Radcliffe, then Master of the Dominicans and recipient of the letter, summarized the contents as follows:
    We tried to have the censure lifted on Eckhart [...] and were told that there was really no need since he had never been condemned by name, just some propositions which he was supposed to have held, and so we are perfectly free to say that he is a good and orthodox theologian".
    So there you have it.
    It seems to me that Fr Keating is in a similar position. Yes there are those who claim his thought are heretical. He remains un-condemned, and therefore in no position to offer any kind of apologia or clarify his theology. To say that CDF have not yet got round to him yet. Well he has been around a long time, and there are plenty of bishops, who after all are the local up holders of orthodoxy.
    It seems to me, and I am not a Catholic, so I could be wrong, those who make themselves judge and jury with regard to doctrine and spiritual practice, are exceeding their authority. If one is a catholic, I could be wrong here, surely part of being a Catholic is to accept the teaching authority of the Bishops, who so far, to my knowledge, said nothing. They have not said that CP is something Catholics should not do.

  163. Marcus, I agree with you - the bishops, in union with the Holy Father, are the proper authority to follow.

    I am reminded of Medjugorje: It has not been declared an official pilgrimage site, and there are no official pronouncements that the apparitions of Our Lady are authentic. In fact, the statements from the then Yugoslav bishops' conference appear somewhat skeptical. And yet, as long as you just go there to pray, together with so many other faihful Catholics from all over the world; as long as you direct your prayers to Our Lord, or ask His mother to intercede for us; as long as you don't hold something true that has not been declared true - you are fine to go. Our own Cardinal Schönborn - co-author of the 1992 Catechism - has celebrated Mass there. But he has not led an official pilgrimage. Even if Medjugorje were one day to be declared not authentic, it would not detract from the real conversions, the confessions, the prayers, the deepening of the faith so many have experienced there. Whatever the Vatican declares would not trouble me, and I would, of course, wholeheartedly accept it.

  164. Similarly but not unconnected, I remember a few years ago many of my Catholic friends were rather excited about a lady called Vassula Ryden. Then suddenly they were told that her teachings and writings were not to be read. According to wiki, 'In 1995, the Catholic Church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) published a Notification (a message from the Holy See) on the writings of Rydén, saying her communications should not be considered supernatural, and calling all Catholic bishops to prevent Rydén's ideas from being spread in their dioceses. In 2007, Cardinal William Levada confirmed that the 1995 Notification was still in effect; he recommended that Catholics should not join prayer groups organized by Rydén',
    One cannot get clearer than that.
    If CP were consider so dangerous, why has it not been dealt with in the same way?
    I realise that that is an argument from silence, but its a pretty big silence.

  165. Marcus, you said:

    Fr Keating's statement is not dissimilar to Meister Eckhart's 'The eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me. My eye and God's eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love'. or again 'A quiet mind is one which nothing weighs on, nothing worries, which, free from ties and from all self-seeking, is wholly merged into the will of God and dead to its own'.

    Actually, it's totally dissimilar. Eckhart's words are not problematic as far as I can tell, as it's true that union with God is uniting our will to God's perfectly, seamlessly. This is perfectly orthodox and correct! We want to become one with God (union) and unite our will to His.

    But Keating is not saying that. He is saying (and says often) that all that is keeping us from "discovering" that we are already "ONE" with God (meaning there is no "Other", because "the Other" is us) is the awareness that we are already one!

    But that's not true at all. We become one with the Trinity by repenting from our sin and living a life of virtue, by an act of our will! Not by "realization" that we were One with God all along! No, we weren't. No, we aren't.

    That is not Catholic, that is not Christian.

    And if that were the only aberrant theology coming from Keating and his followers, it still would be enough to give pause, but it's not the only one.

    The Vatican has absolutely condemned pantheism and TM and all sorts of bad theology that Keating proposes. Again, if the Vatican called out everyone by name, they would not have time to do anything else. Very few are called out by name. The Vatican's words and warnings about New Age practices, combined with what we already know and understand about prayer and its progression, is enough to send up plenty of red flags.

    Take it or leave it.

    But any Catholic who hears the words and reads the words of Keating and his students/disciples and doesn't feel some distinct discomfort -- well, it makes no sense to me. Where is his talk of sin and repentance? Why are his views on Original Sin so unorthodox? Why do his closest colleagues (and yes, he himself) admit that what he is proposing is the same as eastern religions' prayers, just that we can call it "Christian"?

    The Vatican has most definitely spoken out on those issues.

    And even for something like Medjugorje: It's true that nothing "definitive" has been said by the Vatican yet, and that real and true conversions have happened there. But if it's a false apparition (and there are big signs that it is, that the faithful are clearly able to discern), then all those good fruits happened despite the ungodly happenings with the false apparitions, not because of them. Yes, God can bring good out of things that are unholy. For sure.

    But that does not mean we cannot and must not discern for ourselves, based on the doctrine and teachings of our Church.

  166. In other words, we become "one" with God by leaving our own wills behind and turning from our sin, not by simply "discovering" that we really were already "one" all along!

    Huge, huge difference! Scarily different.

  167. You are totally right, Leila. Just for clarification for how a day at Medjugorje is typically structured (I have been 3 times, and it may not always be the same). You attend Mass in the morning. If you are physically able, you ascend one of the two mountains with your group, praying the Stations of the Cross. On top of one mountain is a statue of Our Lady in the place where she has allegedly first appeared, and towards the back a Cross. You pray there again (the only thing that bothered me there is that most people turn towards the statue praying, not the Cross). On top of the other mountain is a huge white Cross that was erected long before the first alleged apparitions.

    At 5 pm, everyone is invited to pray the Rosary together. At 6, Mass with simultaneous translations. At 7, Adoration for one hour. It's absolutely magical (not literally, of course). Then dinner and bedtime. Pretty orthodox, me thinks.

    There has been some funny business of course, such as a glowing statue that turned out to be a fake. But not even the local priests ever claimed that it was real. I was there when the statue started "glowing", some thought it was a miracle. None in my group of about 30 even had a need to go check it out for themselves. None came for miracles. All came for prayer. I'm not saying that some poor souls are not misled, and the devil is certainly trying all he can to discredit a prayerful place. But I have seen and experienced lots of great stuff coming out of Medjugorje. And of course that is all the Lord's work. As to the seers, I am not particularly interested in any of them or their stories. I heard one, and have no need to hear another. If Cardinal Schönborn says Mass there (and he is in good standing with Rome), it is good enough for me - until the Vatican declares otherwise.

  168. Oh, and as to sin:You wouldn't believe how many priests hear confession and long queues of people of all ages waiting to confess. Mostly outside of church, in the open, to accommodate all the people wanting to confess. A pretty strong sign of the Holy Spirit, no? All this in ultra-secular Europe, in the former atheist Yugoslavia. Deo gratias!

  169. Sebastian, thank you! Yes I will not deny a good fruits that have come! As long as people have not lost sight of Christ and his atoning sacrifice, the need for repentance, and reliance on God's grace through the sacraments, good fruit will come!

    As long as people have not lost sight of Christ and his atoning sacrifice, the need for repentance, and reliance on God's grace through the sacraments, good fruit will come!

    I've been thinking that I would like to read or hear anything that Fr. Keating has said about the Cross, redemptive suffering, the absolute need to turn from one's sins and repent, I would love to hear his words about Christ and his passion. I would love to hear what he says about our obligation to God, and the struggle to conform our will to God's by embracing virtue and leaving sin behind. If anyone can point me to those things, I would appreciate it and I will give it a full hearing. I just think of Fulton Sheen or any of the Saints, or our Popes, and they speak of the Cross, of redemptive suffering, of the need to repent of sins, and I would like to hear that from Keating. Anyone who does not point us to the Cross and its necessity in our lives is suspect in my opinion.

    1. Sorry, I am speaking into my phone at a cross country meet, and clearly I haven't mastered how to comment via my phone!

  170. On Eckhart I am not sure, its a translation from, I think, middle high german which I don’t understand. I do think he saying something similar to Keating, which is a trying to articulate what happens when the subject object divide is transcended in mystical prayer. That is difficult because our language does not provide us with adequate means to express this. Whilst we remain subject God is not and cannot be object.

  171. Cardinal Schoenborn

    Once a close and favored contemporary of Pope Benedict XVI, helped to author the Catechism, etc... But now? Sending up prayers to God, attached to balloons, during the Most Holy Sacrifice of Calvary? People chewing communion bread with Christ in crumbs all over the place? All I can do is shake my incredulous head at the devastation. I can't even begin to imagine what "Father Benedict" might feel if he had to watch this horror. Here's an idea: throw some CP into the mix as well! After Communion perhaps? That would be neat! Union with the Other Who isn't really Other - just the alter ego of divine ole me.

  172. Francis, respect for what you manage to dig up from Down Under! It's not representative for Cardinal Schönborn's beliefs, and he has little control over the "choreography" of every youth Mass he officiates at. My hunch is that he cringes at that himself. I also wouldn't be surprised if Cardinal Ratzinger himself had to endure suchlike when he was still in Munich. I believe that Cardinal Schönborn is completely orthodox, but is extremely wary of being seen to rebuke officially and causing a media scandal. It has to do with Church history in Austria, and probably also his personality. But I do not see him at all as a liberal. He was appointed by Saint JP II after his predecessor was accused of child molestation, starting the biggest Church scandal for ages in Austria.

  173. I watched the video of the Cardinal. I am speechless. Sebastian, I totally understand what you are saying, but wow, that was so far beyond the pale. I don't even know what to say. I'm not even close to being the liturgy police, but wow. I think even liberal Catholics in America would be horrified. I don't know how this type of liturgy doesn't simply add to the scandal? Sigh....

  174. Some thoughts on Christianity vs pantheism.

    Many saints, especially the eastern fathers, have talked about God and the soul becoming one. This is to be taken as a sort of nuptial union. Even within the Most Blessed Trinity the personalities do not merge into each other. How much less so in the union between God and the human soul!

    What I have never seen from an orthodox person is saying that God and the soul are already one and we just have to realize it. If Marcus Small or anyone else can find me such a quote that has not been condemned, from a saint or father, let's discuss it. Otherwise, I would say that even with Eckhart's vague formulation, he and Fr. Keating are talking about 2 different things.

    The central message of Christianity is that man was separated from God through sin, so God became Man, in order to unite man with Himself. Reaching out, seeking, redemption, repentance, and a movement of man back toward God. I do not see this in either the theology or practice of CP.

    Lex orandi, lex credendi. The law of prayer is the law of faith. In other words, our prayer practice forms the foundation of our faith, and is in turn fortified by it. You cannot separate the two. That's why you cannot just practice CP and ignore anything in CP's theology that you don't like. They are intertwined.

    Zen Buddhists, TMers, and New Agers meditate in a similar way to CP without being Christian. Their practice supports their own faith or philosophy. Christianity is supported by Christian prayer. Jesus is central to the Catholic faith and central to Catholic prayer. We go to God through Him and in Him. We seek union with Him. To the extent that our lives are not conformed to Christ we are out of union with Him. No "awareness" or "consciousness" can change that.

  175. I don't know if the bread was the consecrated Body of Christ. As for the balloons, not my type of thing, but scandal? I've seen much worse, and I believe it breaks the Cardinal's heart more than anybody else's. He cannot always find the courage to speak up, and that is sad. But I won't condemn him.

    Are you familiar with blessed Franz Jägerstätter? He was decapitated by the Nazis for refusing to serve in the Wehrmacht, for reasons of faith. An incredible man (no, he was no pacifist, it was specifically Hitler's army he couldn't serve). He left behind his wife and 5 small children. His wife, deeply devout herself, died a few years ago of old age. I happened to attend her funeral. Along with the Cardinal, 24 priests and bishops co-officiated (the Church's representatives pretty much abandoned and betrayed Jägerstätter at the time...). To my horror, I also saw 3 women in liturgical gowns and stolas walking in with the priests and bishops. This is in the ultraliberal diocese of Upper Austria. I was aghast, and I am sure to this day that it was an ambush on the Cardinal. And a complete betrayal of Jägerstätter's widow. Yes, the Cardinal could - and perhaps should - have refused to officiate. But here he was, invited to celebrate Mass at beloved Franziska Jägerstätter' funeral, and then the ambush. Perhaps he arrived at the last minute, perhaps he didn't see the women with all the other people around. This is, in part, the state of the Church here. Of course there are orthodox parishes as well (and they are full). But they are a minority. As shepherd of the whole flock, what do you do? Everyone will find a different answer. I admire the courage of Saint JP II, and Pope Benedict. But not all are from the same cloth. And we are the Catholic Church. It's a big place, full of sinners. It's a hospital for all of us, Cardinal Schönborn would be the first to admit his own weaknesses and sins. But as long as he does not teach error, I shall obey him and be thankful for him. The Holy Spirit put him in his place, and as Our Lady herself said - obey your bishop. Obedience, humility, charity. Isn't this what we are called to? Let him who is without sin throw the first stone.

  176. If God is infinite, in what way are we separate from God?

  177. Sebastien,

    I have no desire to indulge here – or anywhere else – in a bout of mud-slinging against a Prince of the Church, but as far as I'm concerned, Cardinal Schönborn does have a lot to answer for, in the matter of giving/allowing gross scandal.

    The Rector of his Cathedral in Vienna - Father Anton Faber - has been holding annual services (in the Cathedral) “blessing” the “love” between homosexuals. The Cardinal himself, while not promoting same sex "marriage”, has long been pushing (as though it were his job) for civil unions for same sex “couples”. Now, echoing Cardinal Kasper, he is pushing the Synod on the Family to recognize/accept the “positive elements” in same sex relationships, and also the “elements of truth and sanctification” in co-habitation by couples.

    Cardinal Schönborn: At Synod, Church should embrace ‘positive elements’ of gay unions and other sexual sins

    For the past three years, this same Rector of the Cardinal's Cathedral has also been presiding over an annual, open-air, so-called ‘Western Mass’ at the Danube Island Festival. At this particularly innovative event the “congregants” merrily sit around at tables, and smoke and drink beer while the “Mass” is in progress. After receiving Communion, they sing “We Are The World” by Michael Jackson as a Communion Hymn. Witness it all for yourself in the video linked in the article below. And yes, Fr Faber has specifically stated that this “liturgy” has the direct and personal approval of the Cardinal.

    Liturgical Abuses -- Wild West Theme Mass and Michael Jackson

    I can only imagine the pain good Pope Benedict XVI had to bear over all the tomfoolery in the Church, led/endorsed even by some of his most trusted lieutenants, before he finally decided he’d had enough and quit. Anyone can find out more about Cardinal Schönborn and the state of the Church in Austria by simply Googling these subjects. As for me, this is the last I’ll be saying about the Cardinal and these unbelievably horrible matters. Que sera, sera.

  178. Francis, I agree with you. Especially as regards Fr. Faber and with regard to pronouncements concerning cohabitation of homosexuals. I disagree with the Cardinal over these issues. But I haven't had an opportunity to be educated by him on why exactly he holds these positions, and how they line up, in his view, with Church teaching. Some people say his biggest weakness is his need to be liked, though personally being completely orthodox. Of course, it's not a Cardinal's first job to want to be liked.

    Enough said, this is not the topic of Leila's OP. We should pray for him, as for the Holy Father, who always asks for it. May his visit to the US be fruitful. Bless you all.

  179. Marcus, we belong to a particular genus (human being) just as all created things belong each to their own genus. God is indeed omnipresent but He is still Other to us in this way: He does not belong to any genus at all. God just "is" - He is the very ground of all being itself. We may be divinized by sacramental grace, in the sense of being subsumed into God's Trinitarian life, but we will never be God. IMHO, therefore, it is heretical to say that God is not Other, or that there is no Other than ourselves. There was/is an Other from all eternity, long before you and I ever came to be.

  180. Marcus Small, we are separated from God to the extent that we sin against Him.

    "We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: 'He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.' Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell.'" (CCC 1033)

    "By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam's sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God." (CCC 1263)

    "God's free initiative demands man's free response, for God has created man in his image by conferring on him, along with freedom, the power to know him and love him. The soul only enters freely into the communion of love. God immediately touches and directly moves the heart of man. He has placed in man a longing for truth and goodness that only he can satisfy." (CCC 2002)

    "Spiritual progress tends toward ever more intimate union with Christ." (CCC 2014)


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