THE NEW AGE MYSTIC: DIFFERENT PATH, SAME GOD?
Chapter 5 of The Unicorn in the Sanctuary: The Impact of the New Age on the Catholic Church published by Tan Books and Publishers, P. O. Box 424, Rockford, IL 61105, 1-800-437-5876.
That Eastern concepts have pervaded much of the West should be apparent to all but the most superficial observer. We have holistic health and holistic medicine. Transcendental Meditation and other mind control courses are multi-million dollar businesses. Due to the popularity of Shirley MacLaine's mystical books and her movie, Out on a Limb, Americans are becoming increasingly familiar with altered states of consciousness, past lives and reincarnation, and the contact of spirits through "trance channelers."
It comes, then, as no surprise, that the Church has felt a tug toward the East. There is a Catholic magazine called Praying: Spirituality for Everyday Living. The articles are, of course, concerned with prayer but unfortunately the emphasis is on New Age forms of prayer. One feature in the May-June, 1987 issue was a humorous piece, showing ten cartoons depicting various prayer types. Seven of the ten dealt with Oriental or occult techniques.
Since the sixties there has occurred a surge of popularity in what is billed as the "revival of ancient Christian prayer" techniques. These techniques are so nearly identical to Eastern (or "pagan" in the West) meditative systems that the proponents of these methods generally feel compelled to make some apology in order to answer the objections of the uninitiated.
Typically, the argument develops one of two possible lines of defense. The more orthodox meditator will insist that what he is doing is in some way essentially different from Hindu meditation and is therefore "Catholic." The second sort is far more bold and even arrogant. He doesn't care that the only thing Christian in his prayer is the name he gives it. His belief is that all paths lead to God. But do they?
One Way to God?
Is the Christian path the only way to achieve eternal life with God? Or are other religions valid prescriptions for other peoples? Are Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism and African Religions valid paths to God? Let me be clear that when I speak of a Hindu, I mean one who practices orthodox Hindu religion. In the same way, a Mormon is one who follows the teachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. If a person calls himself a Mormon, claims allegiance to Joseph Smith, but doesn't believe that God the Father is a flesh and blood man or that Jesus and Lucifer were brothers, then that person is not an orthodox Mormon. If instead, he ignores these doctrines, and begins to believe that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God who came to die for his sins, but still calls himself a Mormon, then it would be arrogance for us to judge. The question I am raising concerns not this fellow in the middle but the true follower of other creeds.
A child in a religion class once defined "faith" as believing in something that you know isn't true. I have a friend who once repeated to me the old saw that the reason he believed in God was because "people need to believe in something greater than themselves." Some psychologists might agree that belief in God can be mentally healthful (although most would merely advise belief in oneself), but surely there can be only one valid reason for believing in anything, including belief in God. We believe in something because we think it true. This may seem obvious, but to a New Ager nothing is objectively true. What is truth for me may not be truth to him. He would say it is my truth, not his. You may recall that Jesus once had a discussion with this sort of person:
Pilate therefore said to him, "Thou art then a king?" Jesus answered, "Thou sayest it; I am a king. This is why I was born, and why I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice." Pilate said to him, "What is Truth?" (John 18:37-38).
Good question! If Hindus worship the same God as the Christian, then maybe they have something to teach us. But when Hinduism contradicts the Bible by teaching reincarnation and promising godhood for mankind, what shall we think? When Buddhism denies that Jesus is the one and only Christ, is it the Holy Spirit of God that inspires Buddhist doctrine? If God's Spirit is not behind the pagan religions then which spirit is?
Now someone might reasonably protest that there is much good to be learned from non-Christian religions and that we ought to be more open minded. True enough. That pagan religion has some good in it is not only observably true but one can go even further, saying that Satan himself has many "good" qualities. What we call evil started out as something good, but was then twisted and perverted. C.S. Lewis wrote:
[E]vil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things-resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself.
The mere fact that a religion holds to an attractive ethical system is nothing. The New Agers like to say that all truth is God's truth. That's right. But whatever good baggage they have collected along the way-they got it from Him. If it upholds beauty instead of ugliness, kindness over cruelty, what does it prove? It may only show another good trait of the devil, that is, his intelligence. If one wants to lure another into some thing that may be harmful in the end, then paint a beautiful picture to trap the foolish. If a belief system is 99% true, but the remaining 1% is a fatal error then it will serve the devil perfectly. "For Satan himself disguises himself as an angel of light. It is no great thing then if his ministers disguise themselves as ministers of justice. But their end will be according to their works." (Corinthians 11:14,15).
About Himself, Jesus spoke, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me." (John 14:6)
St. Paul says, "Let him who takes pride, take pride in the Lord.... For other foundation no one can lay, but that which has been laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:31; 3:11). The Apostle goes much further in the same letter. After explaining the true way of salvation he continues by distinguishing the Eucharist from pagan sacrifices:
[T]hey sacrifice to devils and not to God; and I would not have you become associates of devils. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils; you cannot be partakers of the table of the Lord and the table of devils. (1 Corinthians 10:20-21)
Such strong words are not easy to take. It is easy to find individual Hindus who display more charity or patience than some individual Christians. Many teachers are convinced that we have much to learn from the East, especially when Eastern meditation offers techniques and experiences which traditional Christianity apparently lacks. Does Oriental religion really offer value which Christianity does not?
Did the God who created the universe become a man and suffer a slow death by torture because Buddhism was already sufficient? Wouldn't some other less drastic means suffice? If a Hindu guru has the answer then Christianity is a cruel, inhuman hoax. Instead, we understand Christ's sacrifice and are confident that God has left nothing we need out of the Church He founded 2000 years ago.
Jesus offered no guaranteed techniques for those seeking experiences of God. The pattern Jesus gave stands out in sharp contrast to Eastern methods:
When you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites who love to pray standing in the synagogues and at the street corners in order that they be seen by men. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But when thou prayest, go to thy room, and closing thy door, pray to thy Father in secret; and thy Father, who sees in secret, will reward thee.
But in praying, do not multiply words as the gentiles do; for they think that by saying a great deal, they will be heard. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. In this manner therefore shall you pray: "Our Father...."(Matthew 6:5-9)
To be a Catholic means, among other things, to have a hunger for God. The yearning for His presence is so strong, that Christians, even though aware of their complete unworthiness, can have no greater pleasure than to have fellowship with Him; to enjoy Him. It is this desire that makes many people receptive to teachers who promise to "teach us to pray."
Let's explore the writings of one of these teachers to illustrate what has been passing for "spirituality" in the Church in recent years. I have not singled out this author/lecturer because he is alone in what he teaches or because he is the most "Eastern." He is merely representative.
Father Anthony de Mello was a Jesuit from India. An internationally noted speaker until his sudden death in 1987, he led workshops on the subject of Eastern and Western prayer experiences and wrote the "How to do it" book: Sadhana: a Way to God. Subtitled "Christian Exercises in Eastern Form," Sadhana is published in the U.S. by The Institute of Jesuit Sources, St. Louis, Missouri. The cover of the book shows Jesus upon the cross. At his feet sits a meditating figure, legs crossed in the traditional lotus position.
Sadhana's Foreword to the North American Edition suggests to the reader that trendy Catholics ought to jump onto the meditation bandwagon or risk being left behind. After all, it must be good, considering how many important people are helping to drag this pagan idol into the church.
The 700,000 American practitioners of Transcendental Meditation (TM) are cited approvingly as one indication of the growing interest in Oriental religions and techniques for achieving the contemplative (read "altered") state of mind. It says that TM can be either Christian or Zen Buddhist prayer. Continuing, the foreword cites Father William Johnston from his book, The Still Point: Reflections on Zen and Christian Mysticism:
[N]ot only Zen but all forms of Buddhism are going to make an enormous impact on the Christianity of the coming century.... [T]here is every likelihood that the future will see the rise of an Oriental Christianity in which the role of Buddhism will be incalculably profound. Indeed this process has already begun.
Before giving instructions de Mello gives two caveats. First, he explains that the reader will not master the material by reading it. It is necessary to "experience" the things taught. Secondly, he gives the first of several veiled warnings about possible dangers that could arise from the practice of his exercises.
The author takes the seeker through a number of exercises beginning simply enough with the preparatory stage of stillness:
Close your eyes once again. Get in touch with sensations...of your body.... You will gradually feel a certain stillness in your body. Do not explicitly rest in the stillness.
I repeat, do not explicitly rest in the stillness.... If you do so, you run the danger of inducing a mild trance....
Soon though, de Mello allows that if the stillness overpowers you, let go and surrender to it. Enjoy! Soon the novice learns that only through achieving altered states of consciousness is he able to understand reality. By the time the seeker reaches exercise number three, he has already learned reluctance to answer foolish questions about his experience. De Mello writes:
What is the benefit of all this...? The only reply I shall give you for now is: Don't ask questions.
You will also experience a disinclination to answer the questions, even seemingly practical questions, of others on these matters.... [T]he only worthy answer to them is, "Open your eyes and see for yourself."
Before the novice can progress very far into the depths of the mind he must become the mind's master. A key to mind control is correct body posture. As in the traditional Hindu meditation the most effective position is with the back and head erect. Fr. de Mello writes:
The ideal posture for this is the lotus posture that students of yoga are taught: legs intertwined with feet resting upon opposite thighs and spine erect. I am told that people who manage to attain this posture have such little difficulty with distractions that they actually have trouble thinking and getting their thinking mind to function at all.
Once the mind and the posture are right it is time for breathing exercises. The novice is to concentrate on the air flowing through the nostrils; its temperature, its volume. He is to keep his awareness on the breath for only ten to fifteen minutes. De Mello cautions against using this exercise for extended periods, at least not without a competent "guide." He mentions possible hallucinations from the practice, and warns that it may dredge up unspecified "material" from the meditator's unconscious which he may find uncontrollable. The dangers are real, not only spiritually but mentally as well. For a more forthright explanation of the "Perils of the Path" here are a few excerpts from the (non-Christian) book by Eknath Easwaran, Meditation: Commonsense Directions For an Uncommon Life:
Please do not, in a burst of enthusiasm, increase your meditation to an hour or longer, because such a practice exposes you to dangers.
What dangers?...a few [people] have an inborn capacity to plunge deeply inward. And once you break through the surface level, you are in an uncharted world. It is like a desert, but instead of sand there are latent psychological tendencies, terribly powerful forces. There you stand in that vast desert without a compass. You have tapped forces before you are prepared to handle them, and your daily life can be adversely affected by them.
You may see lights, perhaps brilliant ones, or hear sounds.
Entering deeper consciousness is like descending into a cave. There are bewitching experiences, and there can also be awesome, even disorienting ones.
One last warning: please do not try to connect the passage to a physiological function, such as heartbeat or breathing rhythm. Such a connection may seem helpful initially, but it can cause serious problems later. Trying to synchronize your mantram with physiological processes, such as heartbeat or breathing, also divides your attention. No harm will result if this happens by itself, but do not try to make the connection. Actually, it can be quite hazardous to interfere with vital functions that are already operating smoothly without our conscious intervention.
What is being implied here? That one can kill himself doing Yoga? Understandably, modern writers hoping to promote the practice are loathe to dwell on the subject, but ancient Yoga texts are more forthright. The writer of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika warns "the breath is controlled by slow degrees, otherwise [by being hasty or using too much force] it kills the practicer himself."
It is impossible to read very much about meditation without receiving such warnings. Even openly Luciferic publications contain dark admonishments against "opening doors on to the astral plane which the student may have difficulty in closing."
Hopefully, these red flags may tend to warn off some potential seekers. The authors of meditation guides advise exercising extreme caution unless accompanied by a "competent guide." Such books would perform a more valuable service if they plainly warned against monkeying around with these practices at all.
In Sadhana we are told that, "Our Hindu masters in India have a saying: One thorn is removed by another. By this they mean that you will be wise to use one thought to rid yourself of all the other thoughts.... The mind must have something to occupy it...an ejaculation that you keep repeating ceaselessly to prevent the mind from wandering.... [O]ne thorn is just as good as another." Later though, de Mello adds that when engaged in group chanting the Sanskrit word OM is a great help. Also helpful is the regular striking of "a pleasant sounding gong.
The mantra has a place in most of the popular eastern oriented systems. Some writers emphasize it more than others. Some, trying to seem less pagan will advise using it only as often as needed to drive out distractions. For some mediators, this means constant repetition, while for more adept "contemplatives" the altered state of mind is maintained with minimal use of the mantra.
The mantra may be any sound, although certain sounds are considered more effective for particular purposes. OM is considered especially powerful. While it may or may not have meaning for the meditator, the mantra should consist of a single word. Whole sentences or scripture verses-which incidentally might be contemplated to very worthwhile ends-are not usually advised because they might provoke thoughts. The Catholic seeker is often advised to use a "Christian" mantra such as:
Jesus...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus... Jesus...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus... Jesus...Jesus...
It would seem that the thrust is to "baptize" non-Christian behavior with sacred trappings in order to make them acceptable to Christians. Occult practices cannot be so sanctified, but rather the Holy Name is profaned instead. Also, how many times can one repeat thoughtlessly any single word without recalling the command of Jesus quoted above when he forbade praying with vain repetitions.
It is reminiscent of the triumph of Elijah over the Prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). Elijah challenged the Baal worshippers, pitting the God of Israel against the pagan god. As the heathen called down fire from heaven they repeated endlessly from morning till noon: "O Baal, Hear us! O Baal, Hear us! O Baal!" etc..... Well, they worked up quite a lather dancing and chanting and slashing themselves with swords but they got nothing but taunts from Elijah for their efforts. Contrast this with Elijah's brief prayer:
"Lord, God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Israel, show us this day that thou art the God of Israel, and I thy servant, and that according to thy commandment I have done all these things. Hear me, O Lord, Hear me: that this people may learn, that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart again."
Then the fire of the Lord fell. (1 Kings 18:36-38)
Now that's effective prayer! This is not to say that repeating a mantra is not effective at inducing the thoughtless state of mind. In fact, this is the chief defense made by the typical Christian guru against charges of "multiplying words as the gentiles do." He answers that the "prayer word" is used to facilitate union with the Lord. In other words, it works, so how can it be "vain?"
What is the Difference Anyway?
It is important to further distinguish between occult meditation, which is the foundation of all New Age beliefs, and Christian meditation which is basic to true spiritual growth. First, what New Agers call meditation is nothing like Christian meditation. Meditative (or discursive) prayer, for the Christian, consists of a rational examination of God's truths, commands, mysteries or events from Holy Scripture. Notice how the psalmist uses meditation:
I will meditate on your precepts, and consider your ways. Make me understand the ways of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous deeds.I have more understanding than all my teachers when your decrees are my meditation. (Psalm 119:15,27,99)
How I love your law, O LORD! It is my meditation all the day. (Psalm 119:97)
Happy the man who . . . delights in the law of the LORD and meditates on his law day and night. (Psalm 1:1,2)
Beyond meditative prayer, there is the genuine mystical experience of contemplation. Contemplation is the absorption of the soul into a partial vision of God. While various Catholic traditions employ differing practices to prepare for contemplation, the Divine vision is a gift God gives as He wills. Neither human reason nor the mindless techniques of bearded gurus have power to produce visions of God. Yet here, at the level of such a towering gift, Satan best earns his title, the "ape of God." The practice of contemplation is dangerous because, as a gift independent of reason, the impact is upon the senses and the emotions--fertile ground for counterfeiting by the devil. The Catholic tradition is one of great caution and the need for proper spiritual direction and the discernment of a good director. Otherwise, we are easily fooled by the fraudulent offerings of spiritual quacks in their imitation of contemplation.
Unlike occult meditation, whose goal is an opened and emptied mind, Christian prayer has God as its object. The object (or mantra) of occult meditation is a mere mental device, which when properly employed, results in an empty and open receptacle. This emptying and inversion into self gazes at nothing and waits for what it doesn't know. This should be contrasted with the Christian at prayer: he knows his object and turns toward God, not self. It is not the glory of the god within, but the magnificent goodness of the transcendent God which strikes most palpably. The meditator is intent upon God and His Word; not as a means to an end, but as the end itself.
Not only is Christian meditation different in its method, it is different in its result. Occult meditation strives toward realization of oneness with the universe or ultimate reality or whatever it calls its god. The Christian too, wants union with God; that is, to have God's mind, His heart, and His presence, but not identification with Him. True, our destiny is to be glorified and "conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29- 30), but this is not equivalence or identity with God. We shall have His spiritual nature and shall be with Him. How can any Christian wish for more? The perfect picture of eternity is given us in Revelation:
Behold the dwelling of God with men, and He will dwell with them. And they will be His people and God himself will be with them as their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3-4)
It is impossible to reconcile these eastern teachings and practices with either the Bible or the traditions of the Church. Tradition consists of the teachings handed down through time as developed by the whole body of Christ. Of course, the absolute truths of Scripture never change but tradition is steadily enriched. What is so amazing is that these gurus feel it is their position, even their duty, to single-handedly enrich the tradition. In this way, their definition of tradition justifies the eastern embellishments. One popular teacher writes:
This gift of life has been handed on through the ensuing centuries, sixteen or so, till it has come down to us today. In our own time it has been gifted with a new name, Centering Prayer, and a new packaging, the impress of our hands as we pass it on to other, younger eager minds and hearts. They too, as they receive it, mold it and, we hope, will pass it on in a fruitful and life giving way.... I have not separated East from West, for, as I have indicated, the Jesus Prayer in its purest form is but another expression of the same tradition springing from the same source.
Unfortunately, the legitimate development of tradition is used as an excuse for meddling beyond the limits of tradition and into areas where Scripture has warned us away.
Another aid to successful meditation that Fr. de Mello suggests is to have the correct location for meditation. It is a common occult/eastern belief that places have their own vibrations. Good "vibes" enhance meditations and bad "vibes" inhibit. He recommends:
[Y]ou make your contemplation each time in the same place, the same corner, a corner or a room that is reserved for this purpose only.... [I]t helps to pray in 'sacred' places that have been sanctified by the frequent practice of contemplation.
Father Basil Pennington, the father of modern "centering prayer" and admirer of Anthony de Mello adds to the "vibes" discussion:
We in the West are not so sensitively aware of vibrations. Yet they inevitably take their toll on us. A room that has been very full of busy activity or loud, hard music carries its charge long after. It is well to be aware of this when we have a choice of places to meditate.
This concept of vibrations is purely an eastern/occult idea; it is not of Christian origin. In comparing the way of Sadhana to the techniques of occultist meditation one must look very hard to find any differences. Most methods will advise reserving a room (or at least a corner) for meditation. It is to be used for no other purpose. Gradually the room or corner becomes "sacred." Some say it helps to have a picture of your favorite mystic hanging on the wall somewhere.
Visualization and Spirit Guides
When I was nineteen years old I had the unfortunate experience of spending some time with a fellow who introduced me to the concept of visualization. Bob was ten years older than my friends and me. When he moved into our small town and opened up what was called a "head shop," many local teens, including myself, were drawn to this peculiar stranger. He was different from most other 30 year olds and seemed to enjoy our "hanging out" at his shop as well as joining us at our weekend parties. Bob's hair was long and over his ears, as was common at the time, a fact which made it all the more eerie when I saw an oil portrait of him in his home. His hair was pulled back in this painting and I remember wondering to myself why anyone would want to portray themselves with pointed ears like the devil.
One weekend evening, my friends and I were out talking with Bob in a quiet park. Only those in our small group were present and Bob chose that night to reveal to us that he was a witch. He explained (and demonstrated) to us his use of hypnosis, an important part of his "craft." Most important though and the real source of his power, he told us, was the technique of visualization.
"I killed a man once," he said. Everyone squirmed at his statement but not one of us said a word in the darkness. Bob sensed our discomfort and explained:
He was very bad and deserved to die. I would never use my power for evil purposes. The way I did it was like this: I sat on the floor in my room with my feet facing this guy's house. Then I went into a trance and began to visualize, over and over, this man having his brains beaten out with a hammer. I just kept that picture happening in my mind again and again.
That night while driving, he lost control of his car on a curve. He was thrown out and had his skull crushed on the pavement.
It was a sobering and disquieting story to hear. I and most of my friends stayed away from Bob after that. That brief association with this self-proclaimed witch still makes me shudder and I thank God for pulling me away from him even at a time when God did not seem so important in my life.
It was this story which came back to my mind as I began to study the New Age movement. Without any doubt visualization is the foundation and basis for witchcraft, so-called "mind powers" and pagan shamanism. It is found in African and Native American religion in the practice of the witch doctor or medicine man.
Visualization is the attempt to manipulate the physical world or contact the spirit world by use of the imagination. Tony de Mello, in Sadhana, teaches visualization as a technique for contacting Jesus:
Imagine you see Jesus sitting close to you.... Now speak to Jesus.... If no one is around, speak out in a soft voice. Listen to what Jesus says to you in reply. . .or what you imagine him to say. People sometimes ask me how they can meet the Risen Lord in their lives. I know of no better way to suggest to them than this one.
In another exercise, he asks the meditator to pick a symbol for God. It may be anything, a flower or a star (since the symbol doesn't matter, presumably even a golden calf or a Swastika would do):
Having chosen your symbol, stand reverently in front of it.... Say something to it... Now imagine that it speaks back to you.... What does it say?
Getting the chance to personally meet Jesus (short of heaven) would seem to be appealing but such efforts are not in accord with Scripture. Regarding this issue of seeing Jesus, compare the above exercises with an epistle penned by St. Peter:
Him, though you have not seen, you love. In him, though you do not see him, yet believing, you exult with a joy unspeakable and triumphant; receiving, as the final issue of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8,9).
What is going on when the Christian goes into the reaches of the mind to get in touch with God? What harm can come from it and besides, if the vision helps then doesn't that prove the validity of the experience? It should be plain that the fact of the experience is no indicator of its source. Just because the image speaks is no evidence that God has been contacted. Anyone who finds themselves able to "call up" God is either being fooled by his own imagination or worse, is in touch with a deceiving spirit.
At other points Fr. de Mello directs the reader to visualize a meeting with an old hermit, or conversing with statues and even one sick exercise where you see your own cold corpse turning blue and rotting as the decomposed flesh falls away. Contrast these techniques with the sort of meditation defined in the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius (from which de Mello claims to draw much inspiration):
Meditation consists in calling to mind some dogmatic or moral truth and reflecting on or discussing this truth according to each one's capacity, so as to move the will and produce in us amendment.
Similarities between the Ignatian exercises and Sadhana are few. While St. Ignatius' exercises do sometimes require the picturing of biblical scenes upon which the student meditates, these are exercises of the thinking mind. There is no altered state of consciousness by which the meditator empties himself and invites the "spirit" to speak to him.
Sadhana is clearly a different beast; one that correlates well with eastern/occult sources and hardly at all with the Christian tradition. Some of these exercises are merely strange, others are probably harmless, but many (such as recorded here) move into realms through which no human can safely travel.
Rewriting the Scriptures
Another recently popular technique is Ira Progoff's Intensive Journal method. In workshops, retreats and in tape series Catholics and others are taught that keeping the journal will enhance their spirituality. Of course there is nothing wrong with recording and reflecting upon insights gained in one's spiritual life. The question is more about which religious insights will be reflected upon and from what source they will be gained. The assumption seems to be that our Scriptures are no longer relevant and that we can do better rewriting them based on our own life experiences and meditations.
Dr. Ira Progoff, psychotherapist, professor and author, studied with psychiatrist/occultist C.G. Jung and afterward with Zen master D.T. Suzuki. He clearly presents his journaling method in his book At a Journal Workshop. The back dust jacket should be quite inviting for Roman Catholics. Among the glowing reviews is one by a Catholic university professor and another by a priest who calls Progoff's workshop "the greatest single breakthrough in my spiritual life.... I would like to see every pastoral person get a chance to experience this."
Part of the journaling experience is called Twilight Imaging, done in what Progoff calls an "intermediate state of consciousness" somewhere between sleep and waking. In this altered state we "behold" inward "perceptions" which present themselves unasked for. In another lesson the image gets clearer with an exercise which is wholly occult and nearly indistinguishable from the spirit guides of the Silva Mind Control method.
The "Inner Wisdom Dialogue" begins with the student entering the meditative state. A being chosen by the student arrives to impart the inner wisdom (although an unexpected figure may appear instead). Progoff narrates:
We let our thoughts come to rest. Our breathing is slow. It becomes slower, softer. We are still. In the stillness we feel the presence of this person, this wisdom figure, this being. They speak to us. We speak and we are spoken to. And we let it be written through our pen.
As usual, the communications are automatically assumed to be valuable. In time, the meditator can expect to make contact with a number of these spirit guides. Add to this the common demonic device of dictating written material through a medium and the whole picture should be clear enough to warn off even the half-asleep Christian. Incredible as it may seem though, "thousands of priests, nuns and lay people, as well as official Catholic 'spiritual renewal' institutions are enthusiastically embracing this method." I have copies of the annual schedule for the Intensive Journal workshops and retreats. Recent years show dozens of Catholic retreat houses and colleges sponsoring the method each year.
One might think some of the advice as doled out by the visualized images would be questioned, but this is never given any serious thought. The opposite sentiment is actually the rule because the experience is always considered self-authenticating. One writer explained why only good can come to those who open themselves up to this experiential religion. Although the excerpt below refers to "centering prayer," the author has admitted that the prayer experience produces the desire for closer contact with non-Christian practice:
[W]e need have no fear of the deceptions of the Evil One, because he cannot touch us at that level of our being. He can only affect those images and feelings that are influenced through the body. He cannot himself penetrate into our spiritual being. There is a danger...in active prayer, in which we are using our imagination and feelings, for he can influence these. But in Centering Prayer we ignore these faculties. . .so the Evil One cannot touch it. We are engaged at a level that the Lord has made his own.... We are out of the Devil's reach. Only God can penetrate this level of our being. So we are completely safe....
Thus everything is turned upside down. The danger is in our bedtime prayers because there we pray under the influence of our thinking minds and tired bodies. But safety is in the brainless opening of an empty mind with the solemn assurance that Satan cannot function in the spirit realm. Is Satan really unable to "penetrate our spiritual being?" If we mean "Can he control our intellect and will?, then no. Even the demoniacs of the New Testament were not acting out their own will but rather that of the possessing demon. But that is no comfort when the victim's own will has voluntarily opened the door to the spirits. The simple fact that these practices appear to grease the skids for more advanced occult practices should warn us from taking even the first step. We must remember with whom we are dealing. It is St. Paul who reminds us that the spiritual realm is the devil's natural element:
For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the Principalities and Powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness on high. (Ephesians 6:12)
May God keep safe the unwary souls who venture there.
1. Praying: Spirituality for Everyday Living, May-June, 1987, "Favorite New Ways To Pray" by Kathleen Hightower.
2. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, 1979), pg. 35.
3. Anthony de Mello, Sadhana: a Way to God, Christian Exercises in Eastern Form (The Institute of Jesuit Sources, St. Louis, 1978) pg. x.
4. Ibid. at 14,15.
5. Ibid. at 16.
6. Ibid. at 20.
7. Eknath Easwaran, Meditation: Commonsense Directions for an Uncommon Life (Nilgiri Press, Petaluma, CA, 1978) pg. 43, 53, 54, 71.
8. Hatha Yoga Pradipika, at 15 (emphasis added).
9. Alice A. Bailey, Externalization of the Hierarchy (Lucis Publishing Co., New York, NY, 1982) pg. 18.
10. Anthony de Mello, Sadhana, at 28-29.
11. <Ibid. at 45.
12. M. Basil Pennington, Centering Prayer, at 200.
13. Ibid. at 22.
14. Anthony de Mello, Sadhana at 55.
15. M. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O., Centering Prayer: Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form (Doubleday & Co., Garden City, NY, 1980,) pg. 4.
16. Eknath Easwaran, Meditation at 45.
17. Anthony de Mello, Sadhana, at 72-73.
18. Ibid. at 80.
19. Anthony de Mello, Sadhana, at 81, 92.
20. Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (Frederick Pustet & Co., New York, 1914) pg. 54.
21. Ira Progoff, At a Journal Workshop (Dialogue House Library, New York, 1975) Dust jacket.
22. Ibid. at 77-79.
23. Ibid. at 281-84.
24. Ralph Martin, A Crisis of Truth (Servant Books, Ann Arbor, MI, 1982) pg. 63.
25. M. Basil Pennington, America, February 28, 1987, pg. 171.
26. M. Basil Pennington, Centering Prayer at 191-92.