Friday, August 13, 2010

Being a "Contemplative" and a "Mystic" Is "Satanic"?


I had posted some suggestions for American Literature books on a homeschooling forum several weeks ago, and someone posted today, claiming that a contemporary poet--and a dear friend of mine--was "New Age" and "satanic" and "occult" because of the words "contemplative" and "mystic"--I'm not sure where this person even unearthed these words; they certainly were not part of my original post which I posted merely to recommend some contemporary poetry readings for high school American literature.

This person linked the words "contemplative" and "mystic" to the "New Age" movement--which this person apparently believes is both "occult" and "satanic." I suppose that one can make that (mostly wrong) assumption, but to level such inflammatory accusations publicly on a Christian forum crosses the line--bounds across it, actually--in my opinion. If this person was curious, then why not e-mail me any questions privately? Why make public accusations, both regarding my friend and, indirectly, myself, as right here on my blog I refer to myself as both as a "contemplative Christian" and as a "mystic."

I think this poster who maligned my friend has such a narrow, "in the box" view of Christianity that it's just plain scary. It's the brand of Christianity that gives Christians such a bad name among non-Christians: judging others, labeling others, and mostly without adequate information to make such sweeping judgments. This kind of judgment both maddens and saddens me. Why are some Christians so willing, so eager, to draw lines in the sand and attempt to define what Christianity is and is not with sweeping generalizations and wildly out-of-context Scripture verses?

This person quoted from Genesis about Eve and the serpent...I don't understand why in the slightest when the context of the post was about New Age beliefs...in response to a poetry recommendation I made for a literature program. What?????

So yes, one can definitely be a "contemplative" and a "mystic" and a Christian. Just look to the past 2000 years of Christianity...oh, wait! Most evangelicals (not all, mind you) have no concept of Christian history...or at least of Christianity preceding 1517 and Martin Luther.

But there are modern Christian contemplatives--Eugene Peterson being one, Richard Foster another. I've also discovered much information about contemplation in the materials of The Navigators as well as in Charles Swindoll's little gem Intimacy with the Almighty. And there are many, many more out there, thankfully, among both evangelical Protestants and Catholics.

In 2006 I led a women's retreat for Lake Murray Community Church on contemplative spirituality, teaching the meditational mode of Lectio Divina ("Holy Reading") for meditating on Scripture, along with the spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence to help us to truly hear God in the midst of our busy lives, using almost exclusively Swindoll's book and materials from The Navigators who also teach Lectio.

Just because the meditation form of Lectio Divina was first formulated by catholic Christians (small "c" catholics, not necessarily Roman Catholics, but including them as we all were One Church for at least 1000 years before the schism with the East and 1500 years before there even was a Protestant Church) is no reason to ignore this valuable mode of meditating on God's Holy Word. If evangelicals kept to such standards, we Protestants wouldn't celebrate Communion because catholics did first, read and study Scripture because catholics did so first, etc. It's a ridiculous reason to disregard a fully Christian and Scriptural practice.

In fact, one of my favorite verses is Jeremiah 6:16: "Thus says the Lord: 'Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls'" (ESV). And there indeed we can find the rest in Him that our sould thirst for--this truth is the value of contemplative prayer and study, of allowing outselves to remain open to His mystical revelation through Scripture and prayer--of quieting our minds and listening to Christ Jesus our Lord.

Here is a secular definition of "contemplative" from the secular information site Wikipedia--and here's the secular definition of "Christian mysticism" from Wikipedia as well. There's nothing New Age about either of these terms--although mysticism can refer to many shades of religious practice but definitely includes traditional Christianity.

Thanks for allowing me to let off a little steam tonight after having to respond to what I consider an inflammatory attack by someone I don't even know regarding a dear friend and including myself, since this person was directly responding to a post I wrote that had nothing whatsoever to do with the subject at hand--which was the supposed to be the study of American poetry.

Sigh.

Signing off now, I hope in peace,


PS I found that this person who wrote these comments on this particular homeschooling forum took them from reviews of my friend's work. So my friend never penned these words; reviewers did. Even if my friend had called herself "contemplative" and "a mystic," I don't see why those labels should brand her as a "satanist" and "occultist." But she didn't. This person never read her work, never asked about my friend's faith and practice; this person leveled accusations and slander instead, based on the words of others taken waaaay out of context, rather than trusting my opinion of my friend, sister-in-Christ, and Christian mentor. I merely reiterated my experience of my friend's faith and wrote that I would not continue the conversation in public.

6 comments:

sarah said...

I'm sorry this happened to you (and indirectly to your friend) and I'm also sorry for the person who has such fear and uncertainty that they see dangers in anything that does not conform to their rigid view of religion. I always think when I see such judgements that the person is disconnected from the spirit of love that is true Godliness, and I pray for them to rediscover that connection.

Brian said...

Susanne, I too am both maddened and saddened by comments such as you have written about. Unfortunately those who believe they have the truth, and the absolute truth at that, don't need to consider any new thought or alternate idea, nor understand the ebb and flow of history. They can simply draws those sandy lines and then decide authoritatively who is one one side and who is on the other. I breaks my heart to hear such comments, as it robs them of the inestimable bigness of God in Christ, having bunged him a box. It also breaks my heart that many of my friends have been so put off by such exclusivist comments that they appear to heading further and further away from the sound of the Gospel. I truly hope and pray that when they have journeyed far enough that they will find the Christ still seeking and saving the lost and the outcast.

Blessings on you in your faith,
Brian Pember
Australia

Susanne Barrett said...

Thanks to both of you, Sarah and Brian. This person responded to my post defending my friend with huge sections of Scripture that have nothing to do with the issue at hand, ironically using The Lord's Prayer as part of her support--which of course is part of contemplative prayer practice of the Rosary and Anglican prayer as well.

You phrase my frustration and sadness so well, Brian--this is exactly the brand of evangelical Christianity which makes me want to run to liturgical worship and never return to evangelical churches. Saint Paul claimed that he became "all things for all people" (a rough paraphrase, I know) in order to further the spread of the Gospel. So we need to be open to God's revelation, to be gracious and curious regarding non-Christians and Christians who may practice their faith differently than we do.

I found that this person took these words "contemplative," etc., from reviews of my friend's latest book. So my friend didn't write any of these words; they are simply observations by reviewers.

I would like to think of Christians as being people of love and grace, but bashing other Christians over words on a website taken out of context and thus declaring other Christians as "occultists" and "satanists" because of the words "contemplative" and "mystic" is so far beyond logic, reason, and the grace of God that I'm stunned. It's one thing if someone has legitimate questions, quite another if someone levels accusations regarding the faith life of someone he/she doesn't know personally.

Besides, even if my friend were not a Christian, is that a reason why we should not read her work? There is no way that even conservative homeschoolers can read the works of Christians exclusively and still gain the proper scope and sequence of the literature of any culture.

Thanks again for your words of support and understanding.

Still mad and sad,
Susanne

soma said...

Susanne you are being guided. When we are silent in contemplation, meditation or deep prayer, God speaks. thinkunity.com

Rosario said...

Wow, this has left me in shock. Where did that person get such information? I am a Catholic, and I have been reading a book by Thomas Merton on Contemplative prayer. In now way do I think that been a contemplative suggest that one is "satanic". I am glad you clarified this point to that person.

Susanne Barrett said...

Rosario--I'm a *HUGE* Thomas Meron fan; in fact, I have a book in which one reads a short selection of his writings each day. I think it's called The Contemplative Reader.

Many evangelicals walk in fear--fear that anything they can't see, feel, touch will lead them away from God. It's fairly ironic, since walking with Christ requires faith in the unknown. But many evangelicals fear Catholics, New Age, Eastern Orthodoxy, etc.--as if these different practices, Christian or otherwise, will lead them away from God. I think this living in fear is indicative of a lack of faith in the Christ who loves and saves us. And because they fear, they lash out at anything outside of their own practice, Christian or not.

I have many godly Catholic friends who help me to love God more each day, something that some evangelicals regard with fear and distrust, unfortunately. I only hope that this person does listen, but at this point, I am not hopeful as this person seems very closed off and is more interested in proving me wrong than in learning from another Christian.

But with God all things are possible.

Thank you again for posting, Rosario. Your words are very soothing and helpful. :)

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