Thursday, April 19, 2007

Q&A on Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina

1. How different is the centering prayer from New Age meditation and how can we be sure that it is not a "slippery slope" to New Age meditation?

This is a valid and very important question. Many people are wary of centering prayer because of its superficial similarities with New Age meditation.

Yes, there are some similarity between centering prayer and New Age meditation. Both require
*sitting still and be quiet
*both begins by relaxation exercises like a breathing exercise
*both involving quieting and stilling our busy minds
*both try to still our restless mind by focusing on a word

These are spiritual tools that we use. New Age also have sacred books which they study like we study the Bible. They also pray like us but unlike us, pray to others. They also seek to extend mercy to the poor and needy, like us. Thus, just because the spiritual tools are the same, it does not mean that we cannot use them.

But here the similarities ends. The important thing we must be aware of is the context. We are Christians and centering prayer is our desire to be quiet, to center ourselves so that we can be aware of God's presence within us. God is transcendent and immanent. It is His immanence we seek here. It is to seek to be with God in a 'quiet or sacred' place. Such a place can be within us. It is here that we rest, be in His presence and be aware that we are His beloved. The word that we use to help us focus our mind is not a magic word. Its only function is to help us focus and still our wandering mind. That is why centering prayer is a prayer. We seek communion with God.

New Age meditation however is done in a different context. Its purpose is to empty the mind so that in the emptiness they can be one with the universe or attain another astral plane of existence. The word they use is a sacred word, one with power. Hence they often keep to the same word and it is a secret word. It is totally different from centering prayer where instead of emptying our minds, we seek to fill it with the presence of God.

Can centering prayer be a 'slippery slope' that leads us into New Age meditation? As I have mentioned the context is different. We seek to fill not to empty. And we have to believe that the Holy Spirit will protect our minds in its time of rest. So, personally, I do not think it represents a 'slippery slope' that is dangerous to those who practice it.

2. The students have been taught in their biblical interpretation classes that "context is king." (when interpreting a passage). How does this fit in with what is advocated in Lectio Divina, the concept of imagining we are one of the characters, just allowing one word to "jump out" at you, etc ?

In hermeneutic classes the students have been rightly taught about the essential tools for the right exegesis of the text. That is reading for information while lectio divina is reading for formation. Lectio divina is reading with the heart and being open to the Holy Spirit. We must realise that we are not pure intellect but also emotional beings. Hence our spiritual life must have a balance between the intellect and the emotions.

Textual criticism can led us only so far. Sometimes we can be so involved cognitively that we cannot hear what God is saying to us. Hence a session of lectio divina is very helpful for us as we are focusing on what God is doing in our lives. I agree that there is always the fear that this free flowing meaning from the text may lead us astray.

This is where our intellect and theological knowledge comes in. If what we receive or perceive is against the teaching of the Bible, common sense, and the counsel of our discerning brothers and sisters, then it cannot be from God. Hence lectio divina must be done in a community of faith setting where there is check and balance. Lectio divina is where the Scriptures speak into our lives.


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Blogger Bob K said...

I have been asked these questions before and am thankful that you have taken the time to provide some answers. Perhaps some practical suggestions on how to move forward now that the preliminary questions have been dealt with?

4:33 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi Bob,

That is the major obstacle most evangelicals faced when confronted by the contemplative side of Christian spirituality. They are wary with the 'pre modern' process which goes beyond propositions, something Eugene Peterson calls 'prepositional'. Hence I believe they have lost a major part of their rich Christian heritage.

How do we proceed? There are no fixed rules. I can only share from personal experience.

I practice centering prayer twice a day, each session lasting about 20 minutes: lunch time and about 7pm after I reach home.

I do lectio divina once a week on Sunday. I like to use the Gospels and Psalms for that.

10:26 AM  
Blogger lilian koh said...

Am very glad that you have addressed some questions evangelicals have about lectio divina. I think some are cautious of anything that does not directly involve the intellect. But we have to find God in the context of our lives. Our experiences do tell us something about ourselves, and if we listen to our lives honestly, we will be led to God. I wonder if you have any 'answers' for those 'uncomfortable' with the imaginative contemplation that was taught by St Ignatius.
Would also like to add for bob k that lectio can be done in a group. I find group lectio a helpful practice in group spiritual formation.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Lilian and Bob,

No, I do not have 'answers.' Personally I tell them that if they are not comfortable, don't practice it.

However I will also ask them whether they have watch the Jesus movie (CCC), The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibon), or The Ten Commandments (Charleston Heston)? How did they feel when they watch these movies? Did they learn anything about Jesus, Moses, and God after they have watched and reflected on the movies?

Isn't these movies result of the imagination? Although it comes from the Bible narratives, it comes through the imagination of the producers and the actors.

While watching them, we do not believe we are seeing what actually happened. But it does give a a depth in our our prayers and connection with the Scripture.

9:56 AM  

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