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M. Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating are very influential in the centering prayer movement which is sweeping through evangelical and Baptist churches. Their writings have helped popularize monastic retreats among evangelicals.
Both are Trappist monks and priests in the Roman Catholic Church. They co-authored Finding Grace at the Center: The Beginning of Centering Prayer. First published in 1978, this book has had a wide influence.
PENNINGTON (1931-2005) entered the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance in 1951 at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. This Order is also called Trappist after the name of the location of their founding, which was the Abbey of Notre Dame de la Grande Trappe.
The Order is dedicated to contemplation. The monks dedicate themselves to silence and solitude and meditation under the Rule of Saint Benedict. This Rule teaches salvation and sanctification through asceticism. Chapter 7 of the Rule presents a 12-step ladder of virtue and asceticism that “leads to heaven.” These include repression of self-will, submission to superiors, confession, stifling laughter, and speaking only when asked a question. Under the Rule of Benedict everything is regulated, including sleeping, waking, meal times, quantity and quality of food, clothing, work, and recreation. The Rule forbids the ownership of any private property or the receipt of letters or gifts without permission of the abbot.
Pennington became professor of Theology at St. Joseph’s in 1959, professor of Canon Law and professor of Spirituality in 1963, and Vocation Director in 1978.
In 2000 he was elected abbot of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. This was founded in 1944 by 20 monks from the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky where Thomas Merton lived.
Pennington returned to St. Joseph’s after his retirement in 2002, and died in 2005 in a car crash.
Pennington believed that hell is separation from God and a feeling of isolation in this present life.
“Separation from God is the essential suffering and we call it hell. Many people don’t know that much of the emptiness or longing desire that they suffer from is because they are not in touch with God or whatever name they give Him. Separation is a very real form of suffering in this life” (interview with Mary NurrieStearns, “Transforming Suffering,” 1991, Personal Transformation website, http://www.personaltransformation.com/Pennington.html).
Pennington was a universalist who taught that man shares God’s divine nature.
“We are united with everybody else in our human nature and in our SHARING OF A DIVINE NATURE, so we are never really alone, we have all this union and communion. Getting in touch with that reality is the greatest healing. We can adopt meditative practices which enable us to begin that journey of finding our true inner selves or transcending our separate selves and leave behind some of the pain and suffering” (Interview with Mary NurrieStearns)
Pennington said, “... the soul of the human family is the Holy Spirit” (Centered Living, p. 104).
Pennington taught that the meditative practices of all religions bring one into the experience of the same God:
“It is my sense, from having meditated with persons from many different [non-Christian] traditions, that in the silence we experience a deep unity. When we go beyond the portals of the rational mind into the experience, there is only one God to be experienced” (Pennington, Centered Living, p. 192).
In fact, there is also the “god of this world” who assumes the persona of an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Pennington promoted a radical interfaith ecumenism. He called Hindu swamis “our wise friends from the East” (Finding Grace at the Center, p. 23). He said, “We should not hesitate to take the fruit of the age-old wisdom of the East and capture it for Christ. Indeed, those of us who are in ministry should make the necessary effort to acquaint ourselves with as many of these Eastern techniques as possible ... Many Christians who take their prayer life seriously have been greatly helped by Yoga, Zen, TM and similar practices” (p. 23).
THOMAS KEATING (b. 1923) entered the Cistercian Order in 1944 and was appointed Superior of St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, in 1958.
In 1961 he was elected abbot of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. The centering prayer movement began at St. Joseph’s in the 1970s. Trappist monk William Meninger found a “dusty copy” of The Cloud of Unknowing, and he and Keating and Pennington began developing a system of contemplation based on that as well as the writings of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila.
Observing that this type of Catholic contemplation is very similar to that of Buddhist and Hindu mystics, they invited pagan meditation masters, including Zen Buddhist Roshi Sasaki, to teach at some of the retreats.
They also began writing books. In addition to co-authoring Finding Grace at the Center, Keating has written Open Mind, Open Heart (1986), The Mystery of Christ (1987), Invitation to Love (1992), Intimacy with God (1994), The Human Condition (1999), Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit (2000), and St. Therese of Lisieux (2001).
By 2004, St. Joseph’s had become a full-fledged Zen center. This was the fruit of interfaith contemplative dialogue. In April of that year Jesuit Robert Kennedy installed Trappist monk Kevin Hunt as the first American Trappist instructor of Zen (National Catholic Reporter, July 16, 2004).
“Under the ‘protection’ of a Buddha statue and filing in to the cadence of a Japanese drum, the procession reached the Abbey’s Chapter Room. There the installment was made: after the imposition of hands whereby Kennedy made Hunt his successor, the latter received the ‘Robe of Liberation’ -- a black Japanese kimono -- and his teaching staff.
“Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, General Superior of the Jesuits, wrote a letter praising Hunt’s achievement as ‘one that we can all celebrate in thanksgiving to God.’ According to Kolvenbach, it is through Zen meditation that Catholics can become aware of the loving presence of God. HUNT PREDICTS THAT BUDDHISM WILL CHANGE CATHOLICISM” (http://www.traditioninaction.org/RevolutionPhotos/A082rcTrapistZen.htm).
Keating combines contemplative practices with humanistic psychology, eastern religion, and New Age, and he has been deeply influenced by his pagan associations.
He believes that man has a “false self” built up through one’s life experiences and this false self is filled with guilt because of a false sense of sin and separation from God. The guilt supposedly is not real and the false self is “an illusion.” The objective of contemplative techniques is to reach beyond this false self to the true self that is sinless and guiltless and already in union with God.
This is a universalistic doctrine that denies the fall and salvation through faith in the substitutionary atonement of Christ.
“As we evolve toward self-identity and full self-consciousness, so grows the sense of responsibility, and hence guilt, and so grows the sense of alienation from the true self which has long ago been forgotten in the course of the early growth period. This whole process of growth normally takes place without the inner experience of the divine presence. That is the crucial source of the false self. ... THERE’S NOTHING BASICALLY WRONG WITH YOU, it’s just that YOUR BASIC GOODNESS has been overlaid by emotional programs for happiness which are aimed at things other than the ultimate happiness which is your relationship with God” (Keating interview with Kate Olson, “Centering Prayer as Divine Therapy,” Trinity News, Trinity Church in the City, New York City, volume 42, issue 4, 1995).
Keating describes thoughtless meditative prayer in Hindu terms as being united with God in a mindless experience.
“Contemplative prayer is the opening of mind and heart, our whole being, to God, the Ultimate Mystery, BEYOND THOUGHTS, WORDS, AND EMOTIONS. It is a process of interior purification THAT LEADS, IF WE CONSENT, TO DIVINE UNION” (Keating interview with Kate Olson, “Centering Prayer as Divine Therapy,” Trinity News, Trinity Church in the City, New York City, volume 42, issue 4, 1995).
Keating describes centering prayer is “a journey into the unknown” (Open Mind, Open Heart, p. 72).
Keating wrote the foreword to Philip St. Romain’s strange and very dangerous book Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality (1990). Keating says, “Kundalini is an enormous energy for good,” but also admits that it can be harmful. He recommends that kundalini “be directed by the Holy Spirit.” He postulates that the meditative prayer practices of Catholic mystics such as Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross might have been associated with kundalini energy. Keating concludes by saying: “This book will initiate Christians on the spiritual journey into this important but long neglected dimension of the transforming power of grace.”
Kundalini is a Hindu concept that there is powerful form of psychic energy at the base of the spine that can be “awakened.” It is called the serpent, is purely occultic, and has resulted in many demonic manifestations.
Its own practitioners warn repeatedly about its dangers. The Ayurveda Encyclopedia says, “Those who awaken their kundalini without a guru can lose their direction in life ... they can become confused or mentally imbalanced ... more harm than good can arise” (p. 336). The book Aghora II: Kundalini warns many times that “indiscriminate awakening of the Kundalini is very dangerous” (p. 61). It says: “Once aroused and unboxed Kundalini is not ‘derousable’; the genie will not fit back into the bottle. ... Those who ride Kundalini without knowing their destination risk losing their way” (p. 20). In fact, the book says “some die of shock when Kundalini is awakened, and others become severely ill” (p. 61). It is likened to a toddler grasping a live wire (p. 58).
Keating retired as abbot in 1981 and co-founded (with Gustave Reininger and Edward Bednar) the Contemplative Outreach to promote centering prayer.
Keating is heavily involved in interfaith dialogue and promotes contemplative practice as a tool for creating interfaith unity.
He is one of the founders of the Snowmass Conference at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. This organization sponsored contemplative interfaith conferences for 20 years. They met “to meditate together in silence and to share our personal spiritual journeys.”
At the conclusion of the dialogues they published The Common Heart as an expression of their conviction that the things that unite them are greater than the things that divide. Contributors included Keating, Roshi Bernie Glassman (Zen), Swimi Atmarupananda (Hindu), Ibrahim Gamard (Islam), Pema Chodron (Buddhism), Netanel Miles-Yepes (Sufi), and Rabbi Henoch Dov Hoffman (Judaisim).
The foreword to the book was written by New Ager Ken Wilber.
Keating and the Snowmass Conference published eight “Guidelines for Interreligious Understanding,” including the following.
* The world religions bear witness to the experience of Ultimate reality to which they give various names: Brahman, Allah, Absolute, God, Great Spirit.
* Ultimate Reality cannot be limited to any name or concept.
* The potential for human wholeness--or in other frames of reference, enlightenment, salvation, transformation, blessedness, nirvana--is present in every human person.
* Prayer is communion with Ultimate Reality, whether it is regarded as personal, impersonal or beyond them both
This is blatant universalism, and it is fruit of contemplative spirituality and interfaith dialogue.
Keating is past president of the Temple of Understanding, founded in 1960 by Juliet Hollister. The mission of this New Age organization is to “create a more just and peaceful world” by achieving “peaceful coexistence among individuals, communities, and societies.” The tools for reaching this objective are interfaith education, dialogue, mystical practices, fostering mutual appreciation and tolerance, and promotion of the contempt of global citizenship.
Keating is also past president of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (MID), which is sponsored by the Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries of North America. Founded in 1977, it is “committed to fostering interreligious and intermonastic dialogue AT THE LEVEL OF SPIRITUAL PRACTICE AND EXPERIENCE.” This means that they are using contemplative practices, yoga, Zen, and Sufism to promote interfaith unity and to help create a new world. The MID works in association with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Consider one of the objectives of the MID:
“The methods of concentration used in other religious traditions can be useful for removing obstacles to a deep contact with God. They can give a better understanding of the oneness of Christ as expressed in the various traditions and CONTRIBUTE TO THE FORMATION OF A NEW WORLD RELIGIOUS CULTURE. They can also be helpful in the development of certain potencies in the individual, for THERE ARE SOME ZEN-HINDU-SUFI-ETC. DIMENSIONS IN EACH HEART” (Mary L. O’Hara, “Report on Monastic Meeting at Petersham,” MID Bulletin 1, October 1977).
In January 2008 the MID web site featured Thomas Ryan’s book Interreligious Prayer: A Christian Guide. It contains “resources from eight religions that might be used in varying kinds of interreligious services.” The religions are Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Baha’i, and Native American. A review of the book at the MID site web says:
“It is as one human family ... that we are called to live in harmony and to bring about justice and peace in our one world; and, as the author points out, FINDING ONE ANOTHER IN GOD IN PRAYER ‘is the shortest way between humans’” (Katherine Howard, “Book Review: Can We Pray Together,” MID Bulletin 80, January 2008).
The Monastic Interreligious Dialogue is associated with the North American Board for East-West Dialogue (NABEWD). At its first meeting in January 1978 at a monastery in Clyde, Missouri, Robert Muller, a New Age leader at the United Nations, was selected as the organization’s advisor (Pascaline Coff, “Bridging Millennia through Dialogue,” MID Bulletin 71, Sept. 2003). Muller believes in the divinity of all men.
Beginning in 1982 the NABEWD has sponsored exchanges between Catholic and Buddhist monks and nuns. The Buddhists visit Catholic monasteries in North America, while the Catholics visit Buddhist monasteries in Asia. This was done with the approval of the Dalai Lama, who was approached in 1981 while he was participating in a Buddhist-Catholic interfaith symposium at the Naropa Buddhist Institute in Boulder, Colorado. David Steindl-Rast and Thomas Keating also participated in the symposium. When the Catholics asked the Dalai Lama if he and his monks would be willing to participate, he replied, “Yes, but I have no money” (Pascaline Coff, Ibid.). The Catholics volunteered to pay the expenses, and the exchanges began the following year.
The above is excerpted from our new book CONTEMPLATIVE MYSTICISM: A POWERFUL ECUMENICAL BOND. See bottom of report for details.Contemplative mysticism, which originated with Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox monasticism, is permeating every branch of Christianity today, including the Southern Baptist Convention. In this book we document the fact that Catholic mysticism leads inevitably to a broadminded ecumenical philosophy and to the adoption of heresies. For many, this path has led to interfaith dialogue, Buddhism, Hinduism, universalism, pantheism, panentheism, even goddess theology. One chapter is dedicated to exposing the heresies of Richard Foster: “Evangelicalism’s Mystical Sparkplug.” We describe the major contemplative practices, such as centering prayer, visualizing prayer, Jesus Prayer, Lectio Divina, and the Labyrinth. We look at the history of Roman Catholic Monasticism, beginning with the Desert Fathers and the Church Fathers, and document the heresies associated with it, such as its sacramental gospel, rejection of the Bible as sole authority, veneration of Mary, purgatory, celibacy, asceticism, allegorical interpretation of Scripture, and moral corruption. We examine the errors of contemplative mysticism, such as downplaying the centrality of the Bible, ignoring the fact that multitudes of professing Christians are not born again, exchanging the God of the Bible for a blind idol, ignoring the Bible’s warnings against associating with heresy and paganism, and downplaying the danger of spiritual delusion. In the Biographical Catalog of Contemplative Mystics we look at the lives and beliefs of 60 of the major figures in the contemplative movement, including Benedict of Nursia, Bernard of Clairvaux, Brother Lawrence, Catherine of Genoa, Catherine of Siena, Dominic, Meister Eckhart, Francis of Assisi, Madame Guyon, Hildegard of Bingen, Ignatius of Loyola, John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Keating, Thomas a Kempis, Brennan Manning, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Basil Pennington, John Michael Talbot, Teresa of Avila, Teresa of Lisieux, and Dallas Willard. The book contains an extensive index. 482 pages
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