Teresa of Avila: An Ancient Mystic Who Helped Shape Today’s Spiritual Formation Movement
By Carolyn A. Greene
Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2017, 19 pages, $1.95
Within the evangelical church, we see trends and gimmicks come and go. Others stay around for awhile. Some hip pastor dreams up a new, “cutting edge” spirituality technique and then appears on TBN hawking his new book and the next thing you know “progressive” pastors all over the country are climbing on board so they don’t get left behind at the “last year’s news” station.
Such is the case with the “contemplative prayer” (aka “spiritual formation” and “centering prayer”) movement. It wasn’t enough just to read God’s Word and go to the Lord in simple prayer. No, as Christianity in America began moving farther and farther away from doctrine-based faith to subjective experientialism, “cutting edge” pastors began looking into methods for their congregations to “deepen” their prayer/worship “encounter.” But there was no need to reinvent the wheel. “Hip” pastors read accounts of the old Roman Catholic mystics and discovered exactly what they were looking for.
Cloistered monastic religious orders encouraged their monks and nuns to practice forms of extreme asceticism including self-mortification (flagellation, chronic fasting, sleep deprivation, etc.). Under these conditions, the mystics often fell into deep swoons and trances and claimed to experience ecstasies and the miraculous phenomena of levitation, bi-location, and stigmata as well as being visited by Jesus and/or the “Blessed Virgin.”
One such Catholic mystic was the celebrated “saint,” Teresa of Avila, Spain (1515-1582). In this pamphlet, Carolyn Greene refers to some of the writings of Teresa to illustrate her “otherworldly” experiences. This short pamphlet is not a thorough exposé of “contemplative prayer” or of the alleged experiences of Teresa, but serves only as a brief introduction.
Many “hip” pastors and church leaders have jumped onto the “contemplative prayer” band wagon. They extol the writings of Teresa and other Catholic mystics as guides for their followers to experience a deep, subjective, often trance-like “encounter” while in prayer/meditation. This technique began in the “emerging church” with people like Brian McLaren and Richard Foster and has since spread into mainstream “evangelicalism” through people like Sarah Young, Rick Warren, Dallas Willard, Tim Keller, Beth Moore, and Priscilla Shirer.
Contemplative/centering prayer promotes emptying the mind and experiencing a self-induced trance similar to the TM trancendental meditation practices taught in Hinduism. I believe voluntarily surrendering control of one’s mind exposes an individual to demonic influences. In contrast, God’s Word commands that we are to be ever sober and vigilant rather than slaves of hypnotic euphoria.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8-9
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” – Galatians 5:22-24
The other great danger of the contemplative prayer movement is that it serves as a bridge between evangelical Christians and Roman Catholicism. Teresa of Avila was a faithful follower of Roman Catholicism’s false gospel of salvation through sacramental grace and merit. If your pastor proposes a contemplative/centering prayer initiative, it’s definitely time to find a new church.
For many resources that examine the dangers of contemplative spirituality and Roman Catholicism, see the link to Lighthouse Trails Publishing below.
Lighthouse Trails Publishing