Friday, November 14, 2014

Pay Attention to Leighton Ford's The Attentive Life (A Book Review)

Pay Attention to Leighton Ford's The Attentive Life (A Book Review)

"Pay attention" is the watchword of this book.  And "pay attention" is what I would like to challenge the reader to do.  Pay attention and awaken to who Ford once was.  Pay attention and awaken to who Ford now is.  In addition, pay attention to "the hours of our lives, " and to the "ones who pay attention."  Finally, pay attention to the poets, authors, priests, and contemplatives Ford champions.

Pay Attention to Who Ford Once Was

Many of you, as did I, recall Billy Graham's familiar radio program "The Hour of Decision."  As a  child part of our Sunday afternoon ritual consisted of listening to Billy.  I can still hear the ending of the program, "That's all the address you need, 'Billy Graham, Minneapolis, Minnesota.'"  I can further remember that, now and then, rather than Billy preaching, a young evangelist named Leighton Ford ably proclaimed the gospel in Billy's place.

Pay Attention to Who Ford Now Is

So imagine my complete shock, when reviewing the Ruth Haley Barton book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership I read Leighton Ford's foreword which he was writing, from a Roman Catholic oratory garden, while seated beside a pagan labyrinth. 

How did Ford get to such a place as an oratory?  Ford tells us, in this book, in his own words.  Ford begins, "My work has largely focused on evangelism- 'making friends for God.' ... But a shift has taken place."  "But now," Ford relates, "is a time to pay more attention to my own heart, to deepen my own friendship with God, and to walk with others who want to do the same."  Ford also shares, "The deepest longing I have is to come home to my own heart ..."  (p.10-11)

Ford goes on, "If the first part of my own journey involved longing, the second has encompassed mainly looking --coming to important parts of my soul, bring my real self before the real God, and discovering prayer, as Simone Weil put it, as 'absolute attention.'" (p.12)  To achieve these goals Ford writes, "It has meant exploring other ways: silence, stillness, art and poetry, reading Scripture not by going through great chunks but by meditating on smaller portions, listening carefully to God and my own heart, having a trusted spiritual companion as a friend on the journey." (p.14)

Pay Attention to the Benedictine Hours

Ford introduces us to "The Benedictine Hours" and to Benedict who became, according to Ford,
"a shepherd of souls."  This soul shepherd became "St. Benedict" to whom Catholics now pray and worship.  Consider this "Novena to St. Benedict" which begins "Glorious St. Benedict, sublime model of virtue, pure vessel of God's grace!  Behold me humbly kneeling at your feet.  I implore you in your loving kindness to pray for me before the throne of God. ... I therefore invoke your powerful intercession, confident in the hope that you will hear my prayer and obtain for me the special grace and favor I earnestly implore (name it). ..." (p.20)

Pay Attention to David Steindl-Rast's Connection to The Benedictine Hours

Ford tells us that his first experience of the hours came at a retreat at the lovely monastery--Mepkin
Abbey in the low country of South Carolina.  But, it wasn't just from Mepkin that Ford learned about the hours.  It was from a book-- The Music of Silence:  A Sacred Journey through the Hours of the Day by David Steindl-Rast and Sharon Lebell.

In his notes Ford records, "It's well worth reading The Music of Silence to understand 'the canonical hours.'" (p. 213)  Yes, it is well worth reading, not to note the canonical hours however, but to examine precisely who Steindl-Rast and Lebell really are, and what they are all about.

Preview the book at books.  Pay close attention to whose endorsement is front and center below the book image--prominent mindfulness proponent Jack Kornfield.  Then read Kornfield's comment, "Music of Silence shows how to incorporate the sacred meaning of monastic living into everyday life by following the natural rhythm of the hours of the day.  The book tells how mindfulness and prayer can reconnect us with sources of joy ..."

Steindl-Rast writes The Music of Silence with Sharon Lebell.  Lebell is best known for her philosophical book: The Art of Living by Epictitus Transaltion.  Endorsements on the back by Jack Kornfield, Slyvia Boorstein, and Huston Smith tell us more about Lebell.  Korenfield says, "A treasury ... of good advice, wise as a grandfather, earthy as Tao."  Smith writes, "This ... classic -- is the West's counterpart to Buddhism's ... Dhammapada-- ..."  Boorstein notes, "Epictitus sounds like the Buddha."

In the introduction foreword writer Kathleen Norris (p.XVII) enthuses, "Brother David Steindl-Rast challenges us to recognize that this appreciation of time is available to anyone willing to see what Buddhists term 'beginner's mind' and simply pay attention."

In Music of Silence the authors write, "From the monastic perspective, time is a series of ... encounters.  We live in the now by attuning ourselves to the calls of each moment ... "  The authors also state, "In the monastery everything in space and time is so arranged that it fosters mindfulness ..." (p.5)

Spirituality and Practice's Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat in their review of The Music of Silence say, "The text is designed to speak to the monk in each of us, tapping into our yearning for a full appreciation of the present moment ..." 

At the end of the book its publishers' Seastone/Ulysses Press advertise such titles as Einstein and Buddhism; The 7 Healing Chakras, What Would Buddha Do? among other similar titles.

Now, Ford references Steindl-Rast fourteen times in The Attentive Life  with much of his work built round The Music of Silence.  How very sad that someone with Ford's background and history would use such a book--what a total travesty!

Pay Attention to Steindl-Rast's Past Connections to Buddhism

Who is Steindl-Rast really?  To begin, he's been a Benedictine monk of the Mount Savior Monastery in Elmira, New York for over fifty years.  And as a Vatican endorsed delegate he's been  into Buddhist-Christian dialogue.  Besides, as a recipient of the Martin Buber Award, he's been a bridge builder between religions.  He's also studied with well-known Zen teachers such as Shunyru Suzuki Roshi.  He's also co-authored The Ground We Share: Buddhist and Christian Practice  with Robert Aiken Roshi.

Pay Attention to Steindl-Rast's Present Connections to Mindfulness

Presently, reports, Brother David serves a world wide Network for Grateful Living.  Some of Brother David's recent events have included: "The Greater Good Gratitude Summit" with mindfulness advocate Jack Kornfield (June, 2014); "Wisdom 2 Conference" with conversations in yoga and mindfulness with speakers as Arianna Huffington, Eckhart Tolle, Roshi Joan Halifax, Jon Kabit-Zin and more (February 2014); and "Beyond Religion" with the Dalai Lama and Fr. Thomas Keating (October 2012).

Pay Attention to the Rock Hill Oratory

I first read about Ford at The Oratory in Ford's foreword to Ruth Haley Barton's book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership  (2008).  In that foreword Ford describes The Oratory like this, "... I'm at: The Oratory, a retreat and ministry center in Rock Hill that has become for me a regular sacred place of listening and renewal for my own soul." (p.9)

Is "The Oratory" just a retreat, a ministry center as Ford relates?  The answer would be no; for The Rock Hill Oratory is a Roman Catholic religious society of secular priests who live in religious communities but do not take vows.

Pay Attention to the Oratory Story

The Rock Hill Oratory was founded in 1934, and is part of a federation of sixty independent houses across the United States.  Rock Hill has the distinction of being the oldest and largest house in the United States.  Rock Hill also serves other churches including Our Lady of Grace, St. Mary Catholic Church, St. Philip of Neri Catholic Church, and four others.

This religious society was founded by St. Philip of Neri in Rome who was canonized in 1622 along with St. Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Isidore the Farmer.  St. Philip is known for his catacomb prayer time when it's recorded that the Holy Spirit descended into his heart as a fire ball.  From that time Philip felt his heart had dilated and filled with heat.  After his death, it is said, an autopsy showed his heart was enlarged and that two ribs were broken to make room for it.

Pay Attention to the Oratory Spiritual Director

In The Attentive Life in chapter three "Daybreak" Ford introduces us to "my friend David, whom I was asking to be my spiritual director." (p.66)  Ford also relates that David is "my spiritual companion." (p.67)  Exactly who is "David?"  Ford's "In Attention to Gratitude" (p.224-225) unlocks a bit more when Ford acknowledges that "David Valtiera, a special companion on my journey, has helped me to pay attention."  Where did these meetings take place?  "at The Oratory, Rock Hill, South Carolina."

Further information as to how often he frequented the Oratory can be found  in his 2011 booklet "The Mentoring Community of Leighton Ford Ministries" by Leighton Ford.  He states, after a period of dark times, and dark waters, "I eventually discovered a small community called The Oratory, the center of a Christian ministry to the city and nearby university (Winthrop University).  David Valtiera was their spiritual leader and became my own spiritual companion.  Several times a year for over a decade I spent a day at The Oratory, in quiet reflection and prayer, and in conversation with David."  Ford does not tell us that David was a Catholic priest, nor that The Oratory is a Catholic organization.

With a bit more digging into The Oratory Story one can read that "David" was Fr. David Valtiera, CO who served as the Winthrop University Newman Apostolate Director; he was also a sacramental priest of St. Mary's.  Fr. David also directed The Oratory's Center for Spirituality.

It's quite interesting to note that Ford, upon launching his present "Mentoring Community," mentioned that " ... it was fitting ... that a small group of us met at the  Oratory to plan and to pray for his new initiative." (p.11)

Fr. David had a special admiration for Cardinal Newman.  Ford, too, seems to have adopted this admiration for he features John Henry Cardinal Newman's prayer from A Catholic Prayer Book in
The Attentive Life Appendix.  (p.210)

A Discernment Memo:  In many contemplative books the true identity of various people such as monks or priests is hidden.  And this is one reason why one should always take time to check into the backgrounds of people, places, and practices named in current books.  To be an earnest contender requires one, as Proverbs 2:3 says, to cry out for discernment-- to want to go the extra mile to ferret out truth!

Pay Attention to "The Qualities of Attentiveness"

Ford writes, in chapter one, "Poets, writers, artists, naturalists all help us to understand what it means to "attend" and to think of attentiveness in many ways."  Ford, I might add, should also name contemplatives, mystics, and priests and nuns which he frequently uses.  In fact, of the lengthy list of persons that he considers models of attentiveness few could be considered genuine born-again Christians.  Over, and over I am struck by the kinds of people Ford uses as examples; and by the potential paths they lead naïve readers down.  (p.37)  Colossians 2:8 sounds a warning to each of us to "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world and not after Christ."

Note Ford's first quality of attentiveness--"Being fully present to the moment."  Speaking of "attentiveness" Spirituality and Practice* has an ABC list of spiritual practices starting with "Attention" which is defined like this, "Attention is also known as mindfulness, awareness, concentration, recollection.  It is a primary practice, and not just alphabetically."

*Spirituality and Practice is a New Age, or Spirituality multi-faith site filled practices/spiritual teachers that discerning Christians can immediately red flag as pursuits/persons we must steer clear of.  Very sadly, many of the people and books Ford quotes can found at this site warning the reader that if Spirituality and Practice sanctions them run!

Other attentiveness qualities listed by Ford include: looking long enough; looking freshly at what is familiar; being available; becoming aware; waiting with expectancy; being mindful; and being wakeful. (pp.37-39)

Ford follows his attentiveness qualities with a section entitled "Stepping into Attentiveness" where Ford writes "attentiveness" certainly is a call of God, and he hopes to awaken more and more to it.  Here he suggests we pay attention to the words of professor emeritus of the University of St. Mary at Mundelein Seminary, Sr. Agnes Cunningham SSCM.  Cunningham is the Mother Superior of the Holy Heart of Mary Convent in Champlain, Illinois.  Sad so sad, Ford uses words from  a Catholic nun to teach us how to be attentive. (p.44)

Pay Attention to Some Who Practice Mindfulness

Belden C. Lane

Ford quotes Dr. Belden C. Lane, Presbyterian pastor and professor emeritus of Theological Studies at St. Louis University, in an article "Desert Attentiveness, Desert Indifference: Countercultural Spirituality in the Desert Fathers and Mothers from Cross Currents as saying, "No one lasts in the desert without constant attentiveness to exterior and interior landscapes alike.  One must keep an eye out for landmarks." (p.44)

In his notes (p.215) Ford adds more of Lane's quote where Lane stresses the importance of staying attuned to one's inner condition, or as the desert fathers and mothers called it agrupnia, the spiritual discipline of 'wakefulness' ..." (p.215)  Ford also includes a Belden Lane story from his book:
The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality.  (p.105/p.218)

Who is the real Belden Lane you may ask?  "Mindfulness at Moonshine Hollow," (September 16, 2014) from Tricycle magazine will enlighten us.  In it Lane explains how he hikes into the Moonshine Hollow glen to practice mindfulness.  He also says he comes to practice contemplative prayer-- that kind of prayer that "gets you out of your head entirely."  This prayer is a deeper practice of mindfulness instructs Lane.  He writes, "The mindfulness that wild terrain evokes is actually a sort of 'mindlessness,' an end-run round rational analysis that seeks an immediate presence."

Lane continues, "The mindfulness that wilderness provokes is able to draw me out of the buzz of my incessant, internal conversation with myself.  Like Vipassana meditation in Buddhist practice, it urges my seeing reality as it truly is."  This article was printed from Lane's soon to be released book: Backpacking with Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice.  In short, Lane is just another in Ford's long list of those we must not pay attention to!

David G. Benner

Ford quotes Benner positively (as well as his wife Juliet Benner) in his book. (pp. 84/97) Ford also names Benner/Crabb's book: Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction, IVP, 2004 as a resource one would find helpful in spiritual mentoring. ("Some Frequently Asked Questions from online booklet The Mentoring Community of Leighton Ford  Ministries.  (p.52)

If you've read my previous Benner blog book reviews you'll be familiar with how dangerous and deceptive Benner is. Presently, Benner has deepened his deceptive writings by delving into mindfulness and heartfulness.  In "Heartfulness" (August 1, 2014) Benner notes, "Interest in meditation has introduced many in the West to an extremely valuable spiritual practice--mindfulness.  However, there is another closely related practice ... I call it heartfulness. ... To be heartful means ... to have brought your mind down into your heart."

How can one become heartful and practice heartfulness?  "Just release the egoic mind," writes Benner, "and with deep exhalation, sink into your center--a place where you-in-God and God-in-you cannot be easily teased apart.  This is the place ... Centering prayer ... takes you.  It is already within you. ..."  This comes from a new book Benner is writing which is provisionally entitled:
Human Being and Becoming.  Reader, beware of mindfulness and beware of so called 'evangelicals' as Benner.  Beware of The Attentive Life/The Mentoring Community that will lead you onto dangerous paths.

Linda Stone

In chapter five, "The Active Life," Leighton Ford begins with a Linda Stone quotation: "We live in an age of continuous partial attention." Dr. Stone, however, is an advocate of mindfulness to counteract "continuous partial attention."  Mindfulness Training Toronto states, "Linda Stone, a successful business professional coined the phrase 'Continuous Partial Attention' ... the way many of us spend our time and use our ability to attend to our task on a daily basis. ... Daily mindfulness practice, both formal (sitting) and informal (being mindful on a moment-to-moment basis during any task) offer us an alternative to this state of being always- somewhat there ..."  Stone's quote, you might note, is above one from "Dallas Willard" and  "Jesus." (p.100)

Fr. Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O.

Ford refers to Father Thomas Keating six times.  In "Practicing Attentiveness: Guard of the Heart" Ford writes Thomas Keating recommends a practice he calls "guard of the heart" which could simply be called "mindfulness." (p.160)

Ford writes Keating practices "guard of the heart" as "a way to note and release emotions that weigh us down."  According to Keating one way to deal with these emotions is to turn back to whatever we are doing.  Ford expresses it this way, "So I pay attention to the feelings.  Accept them.  Let them go.  And turn my attention to what comes next." 

Spirituality For Life "Contemplative Path" commented on the "guard of the heart practice" like this.  "Practice mindfulness.  Keating uses the words, 'practice guard of the heart.' This is the practice of releasing upsetting emotions into the present moment."

The Garrison Institute, Garrison, NY, of which Keating is one of the institute's founding spiritual advisors, and a co-founder of the international Centering Prayer movement, published an interview (2008) entitled "Mindfulness and Heartfulness: An Interview with Father Thomas Keating."  Keating was asked to give similarities and differences between Centering Prayer and mindfulness meditation.  Keating replied, "Mindfulness is a wonderful practice and has been refined and honed over the ages. ... Mindfulness meditation is about consciousness, it emphasizes the mind.  Christian contemplative practices emphasize the heart and Heartfulness."

Keating's definition of heartfulness was: "Heartfulness is the cultivation of interior silence in relation to ultimate reality, what in the Abrahamic traditions is called God."  The interviewer asked what the relationship was between "mindfulness" and "heartfulness?"  Keating replied, "According to my understanding of Hebrew religion and mindfulness, they are meant to include both mind and heart in the deeper seat of human consciousness. ... Contemplative traditions are moving toward the integration of both sides--mindfulness and heartfulness."  So says the interviewer, " ... do you see a convergence between 'meditation' and 'contemplation?'"  Keating answers, "What the Eastern traditions call meditation is called contemplation in the Western tradition called contemplation.  They are basically the same thing."
Discerning reader:  Beginning with David Steindl-Rast, and throughout the book pay attention to the mindfulness threads that are woven into this book.

Pay Attention to the Portable Prayer Labyrinth

In chapter two, "The Birthing Hour" we find Ford introducing the reader to "The Labyrinth."  This particular labyrinth was canvas with an embroidered rose in its center, and modeled after the labyrinth embedded in the floor of the ancient cathedral in Chartes, France.

Ford indicates this "prayer walk" was held at a local church --perhaps Myers Park United Methodist Church, Charlotte, NC-- of which Ford is quite familiar having spoken there.  Ford's own home church, by the way, is Myer's Park Presbyterian (U.S.A.)   Find details of Myers Park UM's labyrinth
under its "Spiritual Formation" section.

Ford says the labyrinth leader of the day explained that labyrinths weren't "a fad," nor were they "New Age."  The labyrinth, Ford informs us, "is a spiritual tool, a prescribed path, a sort of 'embodied prayer' meant to help us put aside our chattering and cluttered mind, and walk deeply in the presence of God." (p.51)

Not "New Age?"  Carl Teichrib in The Labyrinth Journey states otherwise. (p.4)  Teichrib writes, "'s been  (the labyrinth) part of the esoteric world for a very long time.  Which is why, today, labyrinth walks and 'prayer journeys' are being promoted by Rosicrucian groups, at New Age festivals and celebrations and throughout the neo-pagan New Age World ..."  Even "the Pagan Spirit Gathering at Wisteria, OH, holds a nighttime Summer Solstice Labyrinth ritual, ..." (pp. 4-5)

Ford's labyrinth definition mentions "embodied prayer."  What is this?  According to S. McArthur, of
First Presbyterian Church, Silver City, N.M.: "it is connecting with our bodies as instruments of prayer, and opening to the Spirit who resides both within and beyond our bodies."  Jon M. Sweeney also writes of embodied prayer from such spiritual traditions as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.  And Daniel Wolpert says, "Embodied prayer is about awareness and listening, in this case the body."  Fr. Thomas Ryan even suggests "Yoga Prayer."  Bottom line, beware of "embodied prayer"-- do not embrace it!

In this same labyrinth explanation Ford says this prayer path will "help us put aside our chattering and cluttered minds."  Similar meditative terminology can be found in Nancy J. Napier's Sacred Practices for Conscious Living chapter "Mindfulness" where Napier talks about the monkey mind that scampers here, there, and everywhere distracting our meditation.  Most assuredly, Leighton Ford is leading his readers and mentees down dangerous paths.

Pay Attention of Two of Ford's Favorite Poets

Mary Oliver

Ford is enamored with Unitarian Universalist poet Mary Oliver who partnered with literary agent Molly Cook for forty years.  Oliver's "Instructions for Living:" really move Ford.  In fact, they made such an impression he shared them with readers of The Attentive Life, as well as with an incoming Gordon Conwell Seminary president. 

Isn't it a pity that someone whom Ford so admires and quotes is a lady who says she doesn't know how to pray, writes of the Buddha, states salvation is unknowable, and hopes one can have faith.  Besides, she's a poet that's often featured on Buddhist and Mindfulness web pages.

Check out "The Only Chance to Love This World" from Buddhist Mindfulness in Mary Oliver Poetry by Gisela Ullyatt.

May Sarton

Seven times Ford names May Sarton's poem: "Now I Become Myself" as something he especially relates to.  Reminiscent of Ruth Haley Barton, and David G. Benner, Ford, as he reads the poem, ruminates about his deepest self, his true self, and his own heart.

May, like Mary, was a Unitarian Universalist. For more about the real May Sarton read Dr. Mark K. Fulk's 2012 lecture "Sarton as Poet and Secular Contemplative."  Spirituality and Practice also has a Sarton review.

Discerning Reader Note:  To find out more information about Universalist Unitarians see:

Pay Attention to Ones Who Paid Attention

Simone Weil

Leighton Ford has been wowed by activist, French philosopher, and mystic Simone Weil.  Ford records in capital letters, "I OWE A DEBT TO SIMONE WEIL ... this remarkable French woman ..."  Why?  Ford informs us that it was Simone's definition of prayer as "absolute attention."  But was Simone Weil a true "apostle of spiritual life" as Ford suggests in "Simone Weil on a Postage Stamp?" (p. 48)

Just who was Simone Weil?  History records that she was raised in an agnostic Jewish family in France.  In "An Encounter with Simone Weil" trailer Weil was named as a philosopher, labor activist, teacher, factory worker, journalist, revolutionary, soldier, anarchist, mystic, jew, and catholic.

Ford purports Weil became a "believer in Christ" most likely referring to Weil's ecstatic experience she had at Assisi where for the first time in she prayed.  This was followed by a greater revelation while she was repeating George Herbert's  poem "Love III" during which she said, "Christ came down and took possession of her."  Ford also wrote that this time "when the presence came" she understood prayer was a special kind of attention.  This kind of "attention" sounds a lot like St. Teresa of Avila's ecstatic encounters.

Ford said, "Weil never became a baptized Christian," or should we say a baptized "Roman Catholic."  Ford went on, "she believed she could witness to her faith ... as a follower of Christ, as a bridge between the official church who was not enamored with formal religion."  Ford would have us surmise that Weil was someone who was truly born again, and was a genuine believer. (p.48)

However, Wikipedia tells more of Simone's story.  It says, "She was  attracted to Roman Catholicism, but declined to be baptized; preferring to remain outside due to 'the love of those things outside Christianity.'"  It goes on to say, "Weil did not limit her curiosity to Christianity.  She was keenly interested in other religious traditions--especially the Greek and Egyptian mysteries; Hinduism (especially the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita); and Mahayana Buddhism.  She believed that all these traditions contained elements of genuine revelation ..."  Sandra Lipton posted a "Simone Weil Bibliography" entitled "Simone and Buddhism" listing some articles and books on this topic.

A (David Steindl-Rast's site) article "Simone Weil: Philosopher and Mystic" by Robert Ellsburg relates Simone's saga.  Speaking of the fact she had chosen not to be baptized Ellsburg wrote, "There were other reservations that held her back from formal conversion.  At heart she was attracted to the pure spirituality she perceived in Greek philosophy ... she was equally repulsed by everything contaminated ... by the spirit of Imperial Rome-- ..."  Caryl Johnson in "Starvation of a Witness" adds, "She became ... --a convert--almost.  The heritage of Rome--and that of the Old Testament--held her back ... The Old Testament remained for her a 'tissue of horrors'..."  Johnson goes on saying, " ... She could not make it to the Resurrection: '... if the Gospel omitted all mention of Christ's Resurrection, faith would be easier for me. The cross by itself suffices me."

While Weil very well may be a fascinating figure, was Weil someone we should be paying attention to?  I think the answer ought to be evident!

Hwee Hwee Tan

Hwee, Hwee Tan is, writes Ford, --someone who pays attention--and some one, Ford says, we must pay attention to.  Should we--pay attention to Hwee?  Why not?  For starters, the 2008 copy of  The Attentive Life (pp. 198-199) said Hwee Hwee Tan was a "he."  However, research reveals that Hwee Hwee Tan is very much a "she."  Discovering this, I wrote to the IVP editor.  I received a reply stating yes Tan was a she; and these errors were being corrected in the latest edition.

Next, in the notes I saw the essay title "In Search of the Lotus Land" from the Image Journal from which Ford took this example.  Intrigued I read it.  In it Tan speaks of traveling about searching for God in such places as a Safari Spiritual Quest, or a Feathered Pipe Ranch.  But if one, like Tan, lives in the icky city we must learn like Christians and Zen Buddhists to see God in all things.  That's why Tan says, "the artist is like a mystic."

Now, Tan's most regenerative trip, according to the essay, was taken in Rome, Italy.  Here she learned the truth, "You are what you contemplate."  From this experience we learn how Tan hops about from Christianity to Zen and back again.  Also, we learn that Tan embraced mystical experiences.

Back in NYC, inside the Statue of Liberty, or the "copper lady" as Tan describes her, Tan is once again sightseeing when she has an "ecstatic epiphany."  Tan mourns she is always desiring another fix, but maybe she ought to just be like a Zen monk happy in any place.

Hwee Hwee's Facebook pages, and blogs further show Tan as someone who is into positive thinking, and the prosperity gospel.  She venerates such men as Joel Osteen and Joseph Prince.  She quotes
Jesus Calling.  At the same time, the "Eckhart Tolle Silent Group" is highlighted on her page.  Is this woman someone we should pay attention to?

This example alone underscores how very important it is to do your homework--get into the notes, the quotes, and the background of such persons discerning whether they are Biblically sound!  Remember as Jude asserts, we need to earnestly contend for the faith!!

Pay Attention To These Ford Favorites

Father Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I.

Just like Ruth Haley Barton, Ford quotes Ronald Rolheiser.  But Rolheiser, as you can read in "Have I Been Saved" mocks the gospel, and does not see the need for salvation through faith alone.  Rather Ronald Rolheiser asserted, Theresa (incorrectly spelled) of Avila suggests that we're mature in following Christ if our questions and concerns no longer have a self-focus: Am I saved? Have I met Jesus Christ? ... Our real question needs to be: How can I be helpful?"

Rolheiser in Pope Francis' "Ten Secrets to Happiness" synthesized the Pope's points in his own words.  For point seven, "Respect and take care of nature." Rolheiser relates, "Christ came to save the world, not just the people in the world.  Our salvation, like our happiness, is tied to the way we treat the earth."  For point nine, "Don't proselyte, respect others beliefs." Rolheiser writes, "What we cherish and put our faith into grows 'by attraction, not by proselytizing.'"  For point ten, "Work for peace." Rolheiser states, "Waging peace ... is to accept in God's house there are many rooms and that all faiths, not least our own, are meant to be a house of prayer for all peoples."

Ford calls Rolheiser's The Holy Longing  a "fine book."  A fine book- I think not!  Further ponder these Holy Longing quotes from "Spirituality and Practice: Living Teacher's Project: Ronald Rolheiser" to understand why this work is decidedly unbiblical. (p.146)

The Meaning of Being Catholic

"What does it mean to be catholic?  Jesus ... said: 'In my Father's house are many rooms.'  This is not a description of a certain geography in heaven but a revelation of the breath of God's heart. ... God has a Catholic heart--in that catholic means universal, wide, all-encompassing.  The opposite of a catholic is a fundamentalist, a person who has a heart with one room.  Thus, any spirituality of the church needs to emphasize wide loyalties and inclusivity."

But, Matthew 7:13-14 reads, "Enter ye in at the strait gate, for wide is the gate, and board is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."


"Heaven, the scriptures assure us, will be enjoyed within the communal embrace of billions of persons of every temperament, race, background, and ideology imaginable.  A universal heart will be required to live there."
Scriptures do not assure us that a universal heart will be required for entrance into heaven, but scriptures do say that there is but one way--for in John 14:6 Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me."

Deborah Smith Douglas--Camaldolese  Benedictine Oblate

Ford mentions Deborah Smith Douglas in both chapters six, and seven.  In chapter six "The Noonday Demon," Ford uses Deborah Smith Douglas' term for the midpoint of the day as well as the midpoint of one's life "the noonday demon" as his title.  Notice, just above the Douglas reference Ford says that David Steindl-Rast refers to "high noon" as "the hour of the noonday devil."  (p.116)

Ford also notes that Deborah Smith writes that as we enter midlife that we must stay awake, and remain faithful.  Douglas reiterated this in her interview (below) by saying we must be present, and be faithful.  (p.122)

A good overview of who Deborah Smith Douglas is can be heard on "The Student Life," a radio interview (2009) done by Judy Alexander.  During the interview Douglas declares she would have been a Jesuit in another life.  But, for now she is a spiritual director; retreat leader and speaker; Episcopal lay leader; Calmaldolese Benedictine oblate; Ignatian Spiritual Exercise follower; St. Benedict's "Rule of Life" proponent; essay writer for Weavings; The Praying Life author; Commonweal (Catholic magazine) author; "Friends of Silence" member; and Gratefulness practitioner.  Interesting to note, too, that as a Gratefulness practitioner, Douglas quotes, David Steindl-Rast in her March/April 2008 article: "Thanks Be to God."

Douglas is someone who clearly values Benedict's "Rule of Life" and Ignatian Spirituality.  In fact, oblate Douglas frequents New Camaldoli Immaculate Heart Hermitage in Big Sur, California regularly.  Douglas, along with oblate Paula Huston, and spiritual writer Pico Iyer, even spoke at the 1000 year anniversary at a Calmaldolese World-Wide Assembly.

Pay Attention to Ford's Mentoring Programs

Ford shares that the loss of his college age son, Sandy, in 1981 changed his life dramatically.  In memory of Sandy, Ford and his wife established scholarships for younger Christian leaders.  A spiritual mentoring community known as the "Arrow Leadership Program" was also started.

Now, as Ford has grown older, this program, still very much in existence, has been given over to others, and Ford has developed a smaller mentoring program known as "The Mentoring Community of Leighton Ford" under the Leighton Ford Ministries.

Ford details the founding of the initial Arrow Leadership Program as "a new ministry of spiritual mentoring for young leaders." (p.10)  He further details this program in his booklet The Mentoring Community saying, "This new chapter was one of identifying and developing the emerging leaders of the world."

Ford recalls that although Arrow was teaching about leadership, evangelism, and communication as time went on the need for one on one time with the young leaders became more evident.  "So," writes Ford, "our ministry -- in evangelism, and of developing evangelism leaders--has flowed quite naturally into the ministry of spiritual mentoring." (pp.15-16 The Mentoring Community)  Ford calls his smaller groups by a Parker Palmer phrase: "circles of trust."

Here again, Ford mixes in a man like Parker Palmer who is on the board of Spirituality and Practice, and whose teachings are suspect.  Read my older Ruth Haley Barton blog here where I write about who Parker really is.

It seems Ford began his mentoring program with the best of intentions to further leadership and evangelization, but as time went as the focus changed to spiritual formation and spiritual direction Ford departed into Catholic and contemplative pathways.  And as you'll read The Attentive Life is a testament to that departure filled with references to Catholic saints, priests, nuns, and practices as well as references to secular persons of all stripes. 

Pay Attention to These Long Time Mentees

Pete Scazzero

One very prominent mentee, heavily influenced by Ford, is Pete Scazzero author of the
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality  and the Emotionally Healthy Church.  Pete is the former
lead pastor of New Life Fellowship Church, Queens, NY.  Pete presently travels widely pushing programs centered round his books.  It's also interesting to note that Pete is also now an adjunct professor for the Alliance Theological Seminary, Nyack, NY.

And as Pete noted in his January 2014 blog he had just made a trip to North Carolina to visit his esteemed mentor of thirty-two years--Leighton Ford.  During this visit Pete also presented his Emotionally Healthy Spirituality program to a group at Myers Park United Methodist Church, Charlotte, NC.  Be aware too that Scazzero's latest updated book has a foreword written by Ford.

In his February 2014 blog Pete penned in "Finding Your Voice" that one of our tasks is to find our own voice.  To help with this Pete suggested we prayerfully read Mary Oliver's lovely poem: "The Mockingbird" which Leighton had shared with him.  When we know exactly who Oliver is, and what she practiced and believed how could we use her poem that mentions "his true self" as a jumping off point for a devotional?

Knowing that Scazzero (his wife too--she recently stated The Attentive Life was a gift that kept on giving) was so influenced by Ford for such an extended period of time one can't help but see how deeply Scazzero is into contemplative spirituality; and how very much like Ford Scazzero is with his daily offices, contemplative prayer, silence, and Catholic connections.  Surely, Scazzero is part of Ford's legacy.  This is sad indeed.

Ken Shigematsu

Shigematsu, currently a pastor of Tenth Avenue Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, in Vancouver, BC was first mentored by Ford through the Arrow Leadership Program.  Presently, he's part of the Mentoring Community's Sigdor Group.  As Shigematsu wrote October 12, 2014 he just recently met with Ford for Sigdor's annual meeting.

Shigematsu, author of God in My Everything (Zondervan, 2013), based on his doctoral work on Roman Catholic St. Benedict of Nursia who developed a basic "rule of life."  And as Shigematsu
shares in his book it was all because of a ten-day pilgrimage with Ford to the holy places of Ireland--namely its monasteries--that he had a "second conversion" when he observed the simple habits of the monks practicing this "rule of life."  From that journey he came home to take up his own practices, and in sharing these experiences he then wrote the book.

Shigematsu, Leighton's special disciple, can only be following his revered mentor for Ford in
The Attentive Life based his book on St. Benedict's rule: "Pray and work;" and St. Benedict's "Divine Hours.  (p.21)  It was on a retreat at the lovely Mepkin Abbey Monastery that Ford discovered these hours.  In his book he issues an invitation to his readers--ala Brother David Steindl-Rast--to practice the hours and to pay attention to God throughout our days. (p.22)

Of his own version of the Benedictine Hours which Ford practices, he wrote, "It is becoming (this practice) a way to rein in my wandering mind and to weave together the inner and outer threads of my life."  (p.23)

Ford's referral to "my wandering mind" reminds me of Shigematsu who says he is so easily distracted with his "chimpanzee mind" with its thoughts rushing about through his head.  So, how does Shigematsu tame his bothersome thoughts?  His answer, "I practice meditation."

You can view Shigematsu's demo of this meditation here.  Watch Shigematsu sit on the floor.  Watch him hold out his hands, and close his eyes.  Watch him as he breathes deeply.  Next he uses the mantra "Wait!" or "Jesus!" over and over.  Shigematsu demonstrates this during an interview podcast he did while he was at an Arrow Leadership gathering in June 2014.

And where was Ken Shigematsu this fall?  Shigematsu was at New Life Fellowship Church, Queens at a leadership conference once more sharing his book and continuing the Ford legacy. For much more on Shigematsu look for my upcoming review of his book on this blog.

Pay Attention to Leighton Ford Now

Just what is Ford doing today?  This short list of the past few years gives a little window into Ford's world today.

Oct. 2014:  Met with Mentoring Community's Sigdor Group for a retreat.

August 2014:  Ford, along with other Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders,  signed on to a Presby-terian Church USA statement calling for renewed negotiations for a two-state solution between Israel and Hamas.

January 2014: Ford shared his five most important life lessons with his long time mentee Pete Scazzero.  Number two said: "Listen to the voice most true to your heart."  Three was: "Be willing to listen to other voices too (secular novelists, ... theologians that differ from you.)"  Most certainly,
Ford's book The Attentive Life follows this lesson filling the book with numerous voices, that we as evangelicals, should not be paying attention to at all.

February 2013:  Ford along with Miroslav Volf, and Enuma Okoro spoke at Myers Park, UM's "Mission to Ministers."  Ford spoke first--and what a stirring talk this was--full of stories, anecdotes, and quotes mixed with scripture with many referrals to Billy Graham and the Billy Graham Organization.  But, just as the discerning reader of The Attentive Life will uncover red flags every where, so will the discerning listener detect red flags as Ford quotes for example: Thomas Merton, Bernard of Clairvaux, Dallas Willard, and Richard Rohr.

June  2013:  Ford highlights the Unitarian Universalist poet Mary Oliver's "Instructions for Living a Life" in his remarks to Dr. Hollinger at his inauguration as the fifth president of Gordon Conwell Seminary.

May 2012:  Leighton Ford, Dr. Gary Benedict (11th President CMA), and Dr. John F. Soper
spoke at the Mid-Atlantic District Christian and Missionary Alliance Conference-- "Impassioned for Jesus"-- at Emmanuel Alliance Church, Frederick, MD where Ford did two presentations on The Attentive Life.

March 2011:  Ford spoke at a Charlotte, NC YMCA Tribute Breakfast where he said that the letters "YM" in "YMCA" used to stand for "young men" but now many more were older, and many were women.  And says Ford, "There are as many women as men at the Y, and especially in my Saturday morning A.M. yoga class." (From the Lausanne World Pulse)

2011:  Publication of The Mentoring Community booklet by The Leighton Ford Ministries.  Read this booklet on line.   Note "The Mentoring Community" was launched in March, 2006.

Pay Attention to the Leighton Ford Legacy

Finally, recalling the Ford of the past--evangelist for the Billy Graham Association; and considering the Ford of the present--spiritual leader for The Mentoring Community one must ask what legacy will Ford leave behind?  A second question, in light of this review, would be what impact will this book have on all of the future leaders it was designed to influence?  After much reflection, and much research it would seem that although Ford may have once been an evangelist for souls, he now is an evangelist for contemplative spirituality--mentoring men and women onto paths of Catholicism with threads of mindfulness woven in.

Understandably the unsuspecting reader, and the naïve listener will be lured by his passionate prose, and oratory.  Because of his charisma, and Billy Graham associations many will want to give Ford a pass; but be warned just about all of the ones Ford asks us to pay attention to in this book do not hold to the Word of God, nor to the simple gospel "by grace are ye saved through faith, and not of works."

We would do well to heed the words from Proverbs 2:1-6: "My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thy ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding: If thou seeketh her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.  For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding."

Learn to Discern Granny Verses:  Proverbs 5:1,2 

Pay attention to these verses!  "My son, attend unto my wisdom; and bow thine ear to my understanding: That thou mayest regard discretion, and thy lips may keep knowledge."

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Georgi Vins' Story: The Gospel in Bonds (A Book Review)

The Georgi Vins' Story: The Gospel in Bonds (A Book Review)

The Gospel in Bonds by Georgi Vins is a riveting book that you won't be able to put down.
This astounding story tells how persecuted U.S.S.R Baptist pastor Georgi Vins survived eight
years in Russian gulags.  Now, if you're supposing this to be a depressing tale, be ready to
be uplifted and blessed by Vins' vibrant faith which he demonstrated day after day.

Siberian Sparrows

Vins' prison saga begins with a little chapter simply entitled "The Birds" telling of some small
Siberian sparrows to whom Vins fed a few crumbs.  These "dear little birds" reminded Vins that
even at a remote Siberian prison he was not forgotten for as the words of the Lord Jesus say, "...
ye are of more value than many sparrows." (Matthew 10:31)

Mini-Gospel Stories

Of all the wonderful stories in this awesome book those about the treasured mini-Gospels touched
me the most.  For some "mini descriptions" of these episodes please read below.

Vins Meets Victor

In the course of his imprisonment Vins met Victor.  Victor had a mini-Gospel.  Victor hid it
beneath his pillow, but not before Vins saw the mini-Gospel.  How Vins rejoiced that a Gospel had made it into one of the darkest places in Russia. (c.4)

The Mark Mini-Gospel

Vins' family came to visit.  They brought a mini-Gospel of Mark.  Vins wondered exactly how best
to hide it.  He then decided on sewing it into his undershirt.  Amazingly, the little palm-sized Gospel, published secretly by the Christian Publishing House, was not found by the guards.  And it was this
miniature Mark Gospel that was preserved throughout the remainder of Vins' incarceration. (c.10)

Bible Book in Boots

At the same time the mini-Gospel was smuggled in, some other Gospel of John pages were also
secreted in holes that Victor had previously placed under the heels of Vins' boots.  These precious
pages too escaped the prying eyes of the guard.  Later on, Victor retrieved the boot pages, smoothed them out, bound them, and even fashioned a cover for them. (c. 10,11)

Mini-Gospel for Mikhail

Victor was so excited about the Mark mini-Gospel that as soon as he could he borrowed it to give
it to a young man named Mikhail.  Before his imprisonment Mikhail's wife had had a Christian up-bringing.  Mikhail at that time had had no time for Gospels, but now Mikhail gladly read that little mini-Gospel for himself. (c.11)

High Voltage Room Gospel

For a time the mini Mark Gospel was borrowed, and hidden in the high voltage area by Vins' fellow electrician Yahov.  Yahov, too, was most interested in Vins' Lord.  And so during Yakov's year in prison he would isolate himself in the high voltage room to read and read.  After Yakov's year was
up Vins gave him an address of believers in his home town fervently praying young Yakov would soon accept the Lord as his Savior. (c.12)

Stephan's Invincible Truth

Stephan also got to read the little Gospel.  After reading it all Stephan remarked, "Truth is defenseless, but it is invincible."  Asking him what he meant by that Stephan told Vins, "Jesus
Christ lived, was crucified, and died.  But ... he arose.  And ... there are Christians who love and believe Him and are willing to suffer for His teachings.  That confirms that truth is invincible.
... Jesus Christ cannot be destroyed!  Faith in God is great power!  That's why I say truth is
defenseless but also invincible." (c.13)

Gospel in the Garbage

Riding along in the prisoner train corridor several, including Vins, were to be searched.  Just ahead
of Vins the guard were especially harsh with a frail old man.  Saddened, Vins intervened knowing because of this action his own life could be at risk.  Startled by his audacity the guards stopped harming the old man, and turned on Vins.  Rifling through Vins' bag a guard came across his mini-Gospel.  Sneering the guard tossed the tiny Gospel into the garbage.  Vins retrieved it.  Enraged the guard vowed to rip it apart until another officer rescued Vins' beloved Gospel.  Once more the mini-Gospel had been preserved!  (c.14)

The Murderers Read the Mark Gospel

Cursed, and mocked Vins stood among "the murderers" having been thrust into their cell after a lengthy transport.  It you're a Christian someone shouted, "Prove it!  Let's see your Bible!"  "Should
I reveal my little Gospel?" Vins wondered.  He did!  The murderers murmured, "It's so tiny!"  Soon a skinny man, and others were seated at a table listening to a man in a black sweater read aloud from its pages. And so began Vins' week with "the murderers" who were in awe of that holy book.  Vin, also, was in awe how a Gospel had touched and changed them. (c.15,16)

Little Gospel Left in Prison

Before Vins left Novosibirsk the man in the black sweater pleaded, "Give us this gospel.  Your God will give you many more Bibles and Gospels ..."  Some time later in America Vins wrote, "Today I have many Bibles, many Gospels, but my little Gospel of Mark remained behind bars in Siberia.  What became of my Gospel in bonds?  What became of those men in the murderers' cell? ... I won't learn about that until I get to heaven." (c.18)

These stories were so compelling I composed a little poem about Vins' treasured Gospel.


Vins' treasure book
Fit in the palm book,
Sewn in the shirt book,
Hidden from sight book-

Vins' treasure book
Hidden in nooks book,
Shared with murderers,
n' crooks book-

Vins' treasure book
Better than gold book,
Never grow old book,
Best story told book-

The Rest of the Story

Read the rest of the story about Georgi--his rescue from prison, his relocation to the United States, his restoration with his family, his return to the homeland, and his relentless proclamation of the gospel.
His final poem titled: "Christ and Russia" summarizes Vins' heart--forever sharing and forever caring for his beloved Russian people.

Great Tool for Church School

What a terrific book for children/youth--be it for church school, or homeschooling.  As a teacher
I can imagine giving each student a miniature Bible after telling, or reading the story.  How very
easy it would be also to assemble a Mini Vins Book complete with small objects/photos/drawings to illustrate the story episodes.

Filled with Photos

This book comes alive with its wonderful photos showing Vins' family, as well as various prison
sites.  Even the "Epilogue" includes intriguing photographs of Alexander and Natasha (Vins) Velichkin's present work serving the Lord in Siberia.

Georgi's Prison Poetry

Highlighted throughout the book, and especially in "Prison Poems and the Stories Behind Them"
(c.25) are many of Georgi's poems.  A favorite of mine would have to be the poignant poem
"Obstacles."  Stanza two reads:

Storms shrieked of death and destruction,
And there seemed no appeasing their lust;
Then, I heard from those pages so sacred,
Whispers, "Trust" and again "Only trust."

A Faith-Filled Read

Would I recommend you purchase this book?  I would answer in one word-yes!  For through its pages you'll be inspired and moved by Vins' great love for the Word.  And hopefully, you'll be challenged to rely on the Word in a greater measure in your own walk. Vins' final "Obstacles"
stanza says it all:

O the Bible--God's good news from heaven,
A celestial, inspired melody;
I don't know of a Book more amazing
And how precious its song is to me!

One Last Thought

What an amazing testimony!  How Vins loved his Bible.  How Vins loved his Gospel.  How Vins loved his Lord.  May we too, learn to treasure the precious holy word of God for as Psalm 19:10 says its words are, "More to be desired ... than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb."

Learn to Discern Granny Verse:  Psalm 119:72

"The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver."

Terrific Lighthouse Trails Resources

Just like this book, Lighthouse Trails Publishers offer more really powerful reads--books that will truly enrich and encourage you in your spiritual growth.  To order Vins' book, or any of the other many inspiring books click here.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Mark This Book -Mansions of the Heart- As Deceptive!

Mark This Book -Mansions of the Heart- As Deceptive! (A Review)

Filled with monks, monasteries, mystics, mentors, meditations, methods, and imaginations Mansions of the Heart  by R. Thomas Ashbrook is a dangerously deceptive work; for while its author mentions and discusses salvation, many scriptures, and maturing spiritual growth he mixes in mega doses of Catholic mystical prayer practices centered round the Teresian mansions and John's dark night making this book a virtual gold mine of contemplative resources.

Mark the Foreword: Meet the Two Mystic Masters of Spiritual Life

From the get-go the foreword endorser, author of the famed Message "Bible" Eugene Peterson, says we'll be immersed in the idea that "that good thing" the Bible was just not enough and that we need something more; and "those good men" as Luther or Calvin were not enough but we need something more.

And who can give us that something more?  Why it is two master mystics, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, who will introduce us, according to Peterson, to "matters of the soul," and to the "sweet mysteries of prayer."  So, says Peterson, just as I was introduced to Teresa and John by a long ago friend, so likewise today Thomas Ashbrook will immerse you in the holy wisdom that you too can learn from these mystics!

Mark the Preface: More in the Mansions

Frustrated and confused Ashbrook claims there has got to be something more!  And the place to go for this something more is through the many doors of the Teresian mansions which will lead you into a new and wonderful life with our Lord.  So, come explore!

Mark the Acknowledgments: Ashbrook Meets a Monk

It is in his "Acknowledgments" that Ashbrook mentions "Brother Bon" not only as the one who taught him to "be still and know God," then simply to "be still," and finally to just "be;" but "Monk Bon" as the one who had also introduced him to Teresa showing him what the seventh mansion looked like.  And says Ashbrook, "I will be eternally grateful to him for calling out the monk within me."

Mark Chapter One: "Is This All There Is?"

Chapter One, "Is This All There Is?" is the crux of Ashrook's theme tracing Ashbook's mission to find more.  And where did Ashbrook find his answers.  Ashbrook found them in a monk, in the monastery, in the Renovare movement, in spiritual direction, in spiritual formation, in the Spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, and in various contemplative practices.  Still this was not enough, until he
discovered that "ancient yet timeless roadmap" --Teresa of Avila's "Seven Mansions!"

Mark Ashbrook's Monastery Story

Ashbrook began his monastery getaways with visits to the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity* in Utah just to find a quiet place to work.  And, as Ashbrook described in his story, almost immediately he was worshipping with the monks in their two-story Quonset church.

*Note Ashbrook identifies the monastery this way "The Holy Trinity Abbey" rather than using its full name with "Our Lady" in it. 

During his second monastery visit while sitting next to Brother Bon for the "Choir" Ashbrook arranged to meet him at the chicken coop.  From that time forward Bon became Ashbrook's special confidante and monk mentor.

Now, as these "monastery scenarios" usually seem to go Tom began visiting again and again.  Besides his periodic visits, he began meeting with his very willing monk mentor many more times.  Soon Bon began sharing "listening prayer."  This followed with Bon teaching him to be still, and later just to "be."  Bon followed this up with teaching him about St. Teresa and her Interior Castle.

Along the way Ashbrook expanded his explorations teaming up with Renovare acquainting himself with such "contemplative greats" as Richard Foster and Dallas Willard.  He even formed his own Renovare covenant group.  From there he went deeper into reading mystics known as the Desert or Church Fathers/Mothers.

Eventually things moved on even more-- just as it does for all who immerse themselves in monastery meetings--for now he writes, "As I began experimenting with Christian meditation and contemplation, I found that God entered the prayer closet of my heart with words, thoughts, feelings, and more profoundly, a sweet silence."

As time went on his monastery contemplative leanings spilled over to his Good Shepherd Lutheran church, and then to his staff.  Soon his entire staff headed to the Abbey to retreat.  There they "miraculously" became of "one mind" returning back to Good Shepherd with a report entitled: "Reflections From the Monastery."

Mark Ashbrook's "Imago Christi" Ministry

As Ashbrook became more enamored with contemplative prayer methods, he left the pastorate to form Imago Christi where as a spiritual director and coach, he now, through his writing and retreats, brings many more bored, and frustrated fellow travelers into the contemplative camp.

Of Imago Christi, Ashbrook shares , that one of its significant contributions is a three-day guided retreat "Spiritual Formation Discovery for Leaders."  This discovery process makes the use of Teresian Mansion method enabling participants to understand God's goals in their lives.  The process ends, asserts Ashbrook, with the development of a "personal spiritual formation plan."  I might also add this process also ends with leaders imbibing a muddled mixture of all kinds of contemplative methods, in addition to shelling out all kinds of money for Imago products which one needs to purchase to better practice this plan!

Mark Father Thomas Dubay, S.M., Mansion Man Mentor

Father Thomas Dubay, was a Marist priest mentor, of whom Ashbrook has an evident admiration mentioning Dubay at least fourteen times in the book.  Dubay wrote Fire Within, and Gospel on Prayer.  In addition, Dubay was an expert on the two mythical doctors of the church: St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.

As an ardent retreat leader, Ph.D., seminary teacher, spiritual director, traveler, EWTN participant, and expert on St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross in his book Fire Within, Dubay says,   "...the contemporary Church, in her liturgy, in Vatican II, and in the new canon law repeatedly takes it for granted that 'contemplation,' 'mystical treasures,' ... and 'an assiduous union with God in prayer' are meant for each and every person in the Church.  In the official liturgy of the Church places on the lips of all the faithful ...  that we should be fed with her (Teresa's) 'heavenly teaching' and that all of us would 'imitate John' (of the Cross) always.  These two saints have been Doctors of the universal Church precisely for what they have to say about contemplative prayer and the way to reach it ...  Teresa and John present the Church's mind about mystical prayer ... about a complete love immersion in Him."  (p.3  Fire Within)

Discerning Reader note exactly whom we are to be fed by, and whom we should imitate. Note too the Catholic church's position on "contemplative prayer."  However, none of this is biblical, nor "evangelical." 

Mark James Wakefield, Mansion Man Friend

Another man mentioned in Mansions of the Heart is James Wakefield, who is touted by Tom as someone whose Ignatian "Protestant" revision's "Five Journaling Steps That Help Us Become Attentive to God," will make us better prayer listeners. (p.103)  Ashbrook, in his "Imago Christi Annotated Reading List", describes Wakefield's Sacred Listening this way: "An evangelical adaptation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius ... These 24 weeks/units have been taken from the 19th annotation of the Exercises."

Gary Gilley, in his insightful paper "Ignatius," commented on Wakefield's revised exercises. Pointing out the two major dangers of using these exercises as elevating a man-system of Scripture, and using subjective "imagination" methods to add to Scripture Gilley wrote,  "In this process, the Scriptures become a mere by-product, utilized to engage the imagination. ...  Ignatius' word, therefore supersedes God's Word. We should take seriously the words of Jesus in Matthew 15:9: 'But, in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'"

Wakefield's adaptation filled with its "imaginative" exercises from start to finish can hardly be termed "evangelical!"  For even a brief look at Wakefield's copious notes, and quotes show that is saturated with "Jesuit" priests' works/references.  In addition, Wakefield himself did his doctoral studies at Jesuit Marquette University.

Note, too, that an endorser of Sacred Listening is none other than Gordon T. Smith (closely associated with Roman Catholic Canadian CMA ecumenicalism).  Wakefield also cites Father Thomas Green's Jesuit works. And Father Green, in turn, was Gordon Smith's former Jesuit Philippine instructor, and workshop partner.

Wakefield relates how he's worked closely with Ashbrook.  As Wakefield began to adapt Ignatius' exercises Ashbrook aided Wakefield in compiling a manual by allowing him to work with parishioners from his churches.  Wakefield (p.10 Sacred Listening) writes, "Tom Ashbrook and I have become life long friends and collaborators.  He continues to use Sacred Listening, and has made many helpful suggestions."

Mark Father Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R., Another Mansion Man

Once again, Ashbrook is suggesting we can learn more from a Roman Catholic retreat master who written on the interrelationship between psychology, spirituality, and human development with application to the three-step-ladder understanding of spiritual formation: purgation, illumination, and union (contemplation).  Ashbrook speaks of Groeschel's suggestions on healing that occur as one enters "the illuminative way."  Ashbrook wrote, "Groeschel's insights come close to a correlation with the Seven Mansions."  (pp. 140, 142, 229)

These insights however do not come from the Bible, but from a priest active in the Catholic church on many fronts.  Additionally, in researching him I found this Mary prayer in his book After This Life (p.129) which reads, "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us... O refuge of Sinners, ... And let Your own Body be my food, and Your Blood be my sprinkling, and let my Mother Mary ...."   Surely, this alone is a red flag that Groeschel's insights would not be what a true Christian would read.

Mark The Seven Mansion Model of Teresa of Avila

In chapter three "Your Journey into the Love of God" Ashbrook contends we all need a roadmap for our spiritual development, and that that roadmap or model should have certain attributes.  At the top of these attributes Ashbrook lists "Biblically faithful to the clear teaching of Scripture (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16)."  (p.36)

However, Ashbrook continues it may be surmised that there are a number of models for our growth on our spiritual journey.  However, the best model he has ever found comes from The Seven Mansions of Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle for that meets all his criteria.  But, think exactly where would we go to find the clearest roadmap ever written? Yes, it would the infallible Word of God.  It's the book of books that can make us wise unto salvation, and that can show us how to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Mark The Seven Mansion Castle Imagined by Teresa

Teresa, a Carmelite nun who had vivid visions, mystical meditations, and even rapturous levitations imagined the heart as a Crystal Castle with many rooms with the "Sun" at the center.  Further she imagined these rooms being seven in number.  She also imagined that the first three dwellings were "The Active Mansions," and that the last four dwellings were "The Infused Mansions."  She imagined, too, that one would progress through these dwellings with the final goal of obtaining union with the Trinity in the seventh mansion.  See a depiction of these imaginations on p.48 that Ashbrook has titled "Figure 3.1 The Seven Mansions of the Interior Castle.  See the Seventh Mansion--"Mystical Union with God."  Clearly biblical?  Not even a shred of scripture supports this!

Mark the Imaginative Mansion Stories of Abigail and Michael

Chapter four is the start of more "imaginations''--this time Ashbrook's composite tales of two imaginary people Abigail and Michael-- based on clients and friends Ashbrook knew plus projections based on Teresa's explanations.  Thus, beginning at chapter four "New Beginnings: The First Mansion" through chapter eight "Longing for Oneness with God: The Fifth Mansion;" and then
through chapters ten and eleven: "The Passion of God's Love: The Sixth Mansion and "The Life of Love in the Trinity: The Seventh Mansion" Ashbrook paints such vivid portrayals of the spiritual lives of these two "persons" that the reader begins to feel that they are real. Through these innocuous vignettes the author skillfully implants even more meditative techniques into the reader's mind spinning a web of contemplative confusion and deception.

Mark "The Long Dark Corridor: The Dark Nights of the Soul"

Ashbrook takes time out from the Teresian Seven Mansion imaginations to introduce us to one of the great mysteries of the Christian life: long dark corridors of our spiritual growth called "The Dark Night of the Soul" written about by St. John of the Cross.  "This ... poem," according to gotQuestions?org, "outlines the soul's journey from the distractions and entanglements of the world to the perfect peace and harmony of union with God."

Before attaining this union, St. John of the Cross, believed that we must pass through a personal experience akin to Christ's passion.  S. Michael Houdmann of gotQuestions?org states, "This time of testing and agony is accompanied by confusion, fear, and uncertainty, ... but on the other side are Christ's glory, serenity, and a mystical union with God."  Ashbrook also comments that people experiencing dark nights felt stuck, backslidden, and dried up. They felt as if during their prayer life God wasn't showing up any more. 

The question Ashbrook asks is, "Why the Dark Nights?"  And the answer, relates Tom, is that as we pursue this union of love for God one must purge or strip away weaknesses thus transforming ourselves to love and trust God more fully. (p.153)  To help us understand these times Ashbrook notes that John divides the dark nights into: "Dark Night of the Senses and Dark Night of the Spirit."  Tom then plods on, quite tediously I must add, describing these two nights.

In the end the central question must be is this teaching biblical?  Houdmann gives a clear answer in "What is a 'dark night of the soul?'" when he writes, "From a theological standpoint, the concept of the dark night of the soul fits with the Catholic teaching of the necessity of purgatory and of earning God's favor through penance and other works.  However the idea ... of self-denial and affliction culminating in glory is not taught in Scripture.  Jesus predicted his followers would face persecution (John 15:20), but He also gives His peace to the same followers (John 14:27).  A believer has God's peace now, he doesn't have to experience a 'dark night' first (Romans 5:1). ... Neither Jesus nor the apostles ever taught a 'dark night of the soul.'"

Mark These Mystical Contemplative Prayer Paths

Teresa tells us that the door of entry to the mansions of the heart is prayer and reflection. (p.54)
In the first three mansions, Ashbrook shares, the first prayer paths are primarily discursive or intercessory in nature.  In the third mansion prayers of reflection, or as Teresa said, prayers of "recollection" also begin.  But after these prayer paths, remarks Ashbrook, " ... the fourth mansion marks the wonderful beginning of 'infused prayer,' ..."  (p.115)

An article entitled "Christian Contemplation" (Wikipedia) provides an enlightening window into the world of contemplative prayer paths.  It's especially helpful in contrasting what is known as "natural or acquired contemplation" or "the prayer of the heart" as opposed to "infused contemplation or mystical union."  Here "infused contemplation or higher contemplation" is defined as: "a super-natural gift by which a person's will and mind become totally centered on God.  It is a form of mystical union with God.  ... This union ... may be linked with manifestations of a created object, as, ... visions of the humanity of Christ, or an angel or revelations of a future event etc.  They include miraculous bodily phenomena sometimes observed in ecstatics."

The article also named the four degrees of Teresian mystical union as: incomplete mystical union; full or semi-ecstatic union; ecstatic union or ecstasy; or transforming or deifying union, or spiritual marriage of the soul with God.

Mark Imago Christi's Abiding Prayer

After introducing "infused prayer" (p.115) on the following page Ashbrook says, "This infused prayer is new to us ....  Our mind finds it almost impossible to be simply still and focus on God; ... like an undisciplined child who can't stop talking or running around.  We have to learn to become still ... letting distractions pass us by."

A little farther on Ashbrook reveals that "In Imago Christi, we use the term abiding prayer to describe the relational dimension of simply being in Christ."  Ashbrook also adds (p.120) about our changing focus in prayer at the fourth level.  He writes, "We just want to behold Him; words almost get in the way.  Abiding prayer is just that: focusing on God alone. ...  When we turn our attention to God alone, ... we call this form of prayer contemplation."  Right here, Ashbrook proves that "abiding prayer" is "contemplative prayer."

Changing "contemplative prayer" to "abiding prayer" is a deceptive tool to make one believe it is something else.  A few other examples come to mind as "Soul Care" becomes "Soul Shepherding," "Theophostic Counseling" becomes "Theophostic Prayer," and "Stillness" becomes
"Stilling" and so on. 

Ashbrook further defines abiding prayer (p.244) describing it like this: "'Abiding prayer' is a spiritual conversation, in the heart, ... expressing thought too deep for words and intuiting the mind of Christ.  Abiding prayer includes listening to God in scriptural meditation, contemplation, and silence."
He goes on to suggest scriptural meditation can be furthered using James Wakefield's adaptation of Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises.  Or, recommends Ashbrook, we might want to research Basil Pennington's Centering Prayer which gives a good overview of contemplation and silence. (p.245)

Soul Shepherding's Bill Gaultiere, in his article "Abide in Prayer," outlines exactly how to enter into "abiding prayer."  He suggests the pray-er get settled and centered in Christ, sit comfortably and relax, breathe in and out, hold out your hands to the Lord, and continue sloooowly to pray a "Simplifying Breath Prayer" as: "Be still and know that I am God" until you get to "be."

Mark The Mystical Contemplative Term Ecstasy

Ashbrook, in chapter ten, "The Passion of God's Love: The Sixth Mansion," relates, "Now, this silent abiding ... has become the very nature of our prayer life.  In this wonderful 'silence' we may experience ecstasy, rapture, locutions, transport, and flight of the spirit."  Tom then comments, "These terms were certainly new to me as I began reading about spiritual experiences in prayer. ..."
Let me explain ... what they mean." Notice Tom also inserts a little warning note saying, "these experiences can be unnerving and even frightening." (p.181)

What is ecstasy you might ask?  Is it scriptural?  To get an answer, beginning with Tom, read the descriptions given below:  Tom says, "Ecstasy is an experience of intense joy."   And the online "Catholic Encyclopedia" says, "... ecstasy: when communications with the external world are severed or nearly so (in this event one can no longer make voluntary movement nor energy from the state at will).

St. Teresa says, (Catholic Answers Forums: "What exactly is an Ecstasy?") "Now when the body is in rapture (ecstasy) it is as though dead, frequently being unable to do anything of itself.  It remains in the position it was when seized by the rapture, whether standing or sitting, or whether with the hands opened or closed.  Although once in awhile the senses fail (sometimes it happened to me that they failed completely), this occurs rarely ... "  Teresa continued, "... At the height of the rapture the faculties are lost to other things because of their intense union with God, for then, in my opinion, it neither sees, nor hears, nor feels."

Father Thomas Dubay, in Fire Within says, "In ecstatic prayer one's inner life of knowing and loving is so intensely increased that the sense of perception of the outer world is proportionately lessened, even to the point of disappearance.  What Teresa calls the bodily energies, that is, seeing, hearing, and touching lessen and fade away. ..."

Tessa Dawson, a character in Castles in the Sand says, "Ecstasy... It's what the Hindus call a state of higher consciousness, a 'blissful' or euphoric state that mystics experience during meditation.  Like the state of rapture where St. Teresa of Avila saw visions into the spiritual world.  Definitely not of God.  I know that now."

James W. Goll, New Apostolic Reformation Prophet, in "Three Stages of Prayer," says, "The third phase of contemplative prayer is spiritual ecstasy. ... Ecstasy is contemplative prayer taken to the nth degree. ...  Another way to describe the ecstatic state is to be 'inebriated with God's presence.'"

And Jeffrey S. Brooks (Jhanananda), a contemplative recluse monk, in "Absorption States (Jhanas) Within a Theistic Context" says if we examine mystical states in various religions including Christianity, Buddhism, Sufism, and more that we'll find that all these "ecstatic conditions" are the same.  Brooks remarks, "It is not that insight and absorption are different practice paths, but they are simply the natural consequence of any contemplative tradition ....  "... in Christianity ... there is a record of their mystics experiencing various absorption states, which are often referred to as 'ecstasies.' Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross actually articulated 7 levels of absorption ..."  Brooks goes on to explain, "Each mystic tradition has its own names and ways of describing these ... states.  In Christianity, it is often referred to as a marriage with the Holy Spirit or Christ.  In the Kabbalah it is called devukutt with the Shakina.  In Sufism it is called fana or annihilation, and in Hinduism it is called union (yoga) or absorption (samadhi)." Brooks' words alone should be a warning to any one wanting to enter the Teresian mansions, via contemplative prayer, to seek union that such ecstatic experiences are unscriptural period!

Mark the Seventh Mansion Union with the Trinity

Mark the Seventh Mansion Definition:

Tom describes the seventh mansion like this, " The seventh mansion represents the ultimate degree of intimacy with God that one can experience in this life: spiritual union with the Trinity." (p.190)

A bit later Tom asks, "What might it mean to live fully and freely in the life of the Trinity...?  Impossible?  Absolutely not."  Tom adds: "Scripture promises it.  God wants it... and many followers of Jesus have experienced it."  So, instructs Tom, "Maybe a final look at (imaginary)* Michael and Abigail will help us grasp what lies ahead." (p.191)

*  My insert!

Mark Michael's Mysterious Mansion Meeting:

Michael, writes Ashbrook, was catapulted into the seventh mansion one Sunday while cleaning up after communion as he stared at the bread and cup.  Mesmerized he mumbled, "In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."  After he was never the same again.  Gone was dryness in prayer.  Gone were dark nights.  In his journal he noted, "I saw You, Father, loving your Son Jesus.  I saw You Jesus, loving our Father.  I saw You, Holy Spirit loving them Both and wrapping me, like a cloud of light, in the love of Your Trinity."  A few months later as Michael sat gazing at a large cross suddenly Jesus was physically before him. Jesus then pulled Michael to him as Michael felt Jesus' blood rushing through his veins.  At the same time he sensed the Lord's thoughts-- maybe millions of them.  (p.192-193)

Reading this preposterous tale makes me want to shout, "How can evangelicals be captivated with such a book as this?  How can they believe this heresy?"  I recall Dr. Rob Reimer, CMA pastor and Alliance Seminary professor, relating that this very book took him places he had never been.  Discerning reader, mark this book!  Yes, mark these imaginative stories for they will take you places you've never been, and never should go!

Mark Teresa's Three Movements in the Seventh Mansion:

Ashbrook goes on to detail Teresa's three experiences or movements that are found in the seventh mansion that will stay with us until death.  These are: a unique vision of the trinity (transformation), a unique revelation of Jesus in His humanity (spiritual marriage), and a unique and ongoing relationship forever after (union).  This unique experience of the reality of the Trinity within us is quoted by Ashbrook in Teresa's words. (p.194)  Ashbrook summarizes it this way, "This Trinitarian vision is unique, different from anything we may have experienced before. ...  Unlike past visions ... this remains present within our heart.  ...  But we know, from this time forward, that the three Persons of the Trinity are there, within us." 

Mark Abigail's Marriage Mansion Meeting:

Abigail comes into her Trinitarian vision at an art gallery where she sat contemplating a painting of a bride, standing beneath a flowered archway, awaiting her bridegroom.  In the midst of her contemplation a man in a white wedding tuxedo appeared to her.  In her heart she said, "Jesus!"  Rising up she took her Groom's hand as he looked into her eyes with intense adoration.  She felt like swooning.  He spoke to her in her heart saying, "I have loved you ...  I want us to live together in a personal way."  It seemed like time was frozen.  After what seemed forever she opened her eyes to see He was gone.

Then she heard these distinct words, "We love you, Abigail."  She looked up to see three figures in the middle of the room.  Tom wrote, "Jesus reached out put her hand in the Father's, and the Spirit wrapped around them like a shawl of living Light.  They were three and yet one. 'We have made our home in you Abigail,' they said in unison, 'Make your home in us.'"

I ask you, discerning reader, if you can recall any Biblical reference where after contemplating icons or art work that we're mystically united with the Trinity? Of this Teresian idea Tom comments, "This Trinitarian Vision is unique ... Teresa calls it an 'intellectual vision.'  It is different because we don't
experience the Trinity imaginatively or visually with our eyes, but we 'see' in our heart." In contrast, the scriptures describe the Holy Spirit coming to reside in us when we first accept Christ as our personal Savior. (Romans 5:8,9; John 14:16-17; I Cor. 2:12)

Mark These Biblical Meditations That Promise Us More

Are you longing for something more?  Something much more than Teresa's "timeless roadmap," The Interior Castle, with its many mystical mansions?  Something much more than Thomas Ashbrook's
Mansions of the Heart with its mega doses of Catholic contemplative methods?  That something more can only be found in Jesus Christ, and in his forever Word.  Fall in love with the Word--meditate on it and as the Psalmist penned, "O how I love thy law. It is my meditation all the day;" (Psalm 119:97) and "I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation (Psalm 119:99)."

Learn to Discern Granny Verses:  Psalm 119: 103, 104

"How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea sweeter than honey to my mouth!  Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way."


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Flee From the Tree of Contemplative Practices: Run From its Toxic Fruits!

Flee From the Tree of Contemplative Practices: Run From its Toxic Fruits!

The attractive Tree of Contemplative Practices is laden with enticing fruits for contemplative meditators to partake of.  But, beware!  For this is not a tree with fruits one should be snared into sampling, but rather this is a tree that is full of toxic fruits. To find out why please read on!

The Tree of Contemplative Practices: Designed

The TCP was designed by Maia Deurr, an ardent Buddhist, for the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society.  "The center's mission, " writes Deurr, "is to integrate contemplative awareness into contemporary life in order to create a more just, compassionate, and reflective society."

Now, in order to understand the recent explosion of the exploration in society of all things contemplative the center initiated a "Contemplative Net Project" to research why this was happening.  And in the course of this project Maia had the inspiration to use the image of a tree to convey the breath of practices that were being described by research participants.  Maia describes this tree in detail in her paper: "A Powerful Silence" in the section entitled: "The Tree of Contemplative Practices." (pp. 37-42);_ylt=AjGQd1PbCELXro04tDmQuambvZx4?p=A+Powerful+Silence+by+Maia+Deurr&toggle=1&cop=mss&ei=UTF-8&fr=yfp-t-311&fp=1*

*  Click on "A Powerful Silence" to go to paper.

To learn even more about the TCP explore the web site of "The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society" clicking on "Contemplative Practices."  Further click on the TCP where below the tree you will learn about the various branches with their practices listed below each grouping.  Click on an individual practice to find a full description of that practice as well as other links.  (Updated tree)
(Original tree)

The Tree of Contemplative Practices: Defined

The TCP can be defined as an overview of contemplative practices that one can explore and experi-ence.  And as Maia Deurr, writes in "A Powerful Silence," these practices are intended "to quiet the mind and to cultivate a personal capacity for deep concentration, presence, and awareness."  Deurr continues, "Ideally, the insights that arise from the mind, body, and heart in this contemplative state can be applied to one's every day life."

The question may be asked exactly how these contemplative practices were selected?  Maia gives us insight in her article by stating that eighty-four Contemplative Net interviewees from many faiths were queried about contemplative practices that had proved transformative to them.  From these interviews an ABC list of contemplative practices from Aa as in "Altar building" to Yy as in "Yoga" (hatha, kundalini, siddha) was put together. (p.41)  A second list of contemplative terms to describe qualities cultivated through the use of contemplative practice was also made including such words as awareness, calm, compassion, equanimity, focus, less judgment, mindfulness, presence, and self-knowledge. (p.44)

The Tree of Contemplative Practices: Refined

It is important to note that originally ("A Powerful Silence," p. 38) the TCP lacked foliage, and its main branches as well as its practices were often different from the later more colorful leafy tree.

When comparing the original tree to the updated tree note that several practices from the first tree were eliminated, while others were added.  For example, I noted, that any mention of prayer was eliminated.  On the first tree's Silence Practices Branch "centering prayer" was changed to just
"centering" on the second tree; and on its Generative Practice Branch "the Jesus prayer" was taken out altogether on the updated tree.  On the first tree "sitting and insight meditation" were listed, whereas on the second three this is now simply "meditation."  Another obvious omission on the updated Ritual/Cyclical Branch was "building an altar."  "Mantra meditation" was gone too.

New to the updated tree on the Generative Branch was "beholding; " and on the Ritual/Cyclical
Branch we see "retreats."  Note the latter branch also eliminated specific rituals as "Shabbat," "Vision Quest," and "The Sweatlodge" which were all found on the original tree.

Overall, it's apparent that from the refined tree some overtly religious wording was removed.  This would have made the tree, it would seem, more user friendly to secular schools and settings.  But be warned, whichever tree one uses each is dangerously deceptive from its fruits to its roots. 

Speaking of making practices more palatable for all, Maia shares how changing the wording about a particular practice helped people feel more comfortable, or placated resistors.  For example, one teacher used "strategies for learning readiness," rather than "contemplative practices."  Another used "writing exercises," instead of "journaling."  Still another said "stretching" instead of "yoga." ("P. of Silence," p.116)

The Tree of Contemplative Practices: Just for Me Tree!

Over and over the TCP user is encouraged to run off a blank tree, and to design your own tree so as to open up yourself to even more experimentation and contemplation.  In other words, pick your own fruits, and do your own thing to reach fulfillment.  This reminds me of best-selling author Thomas Moore's latest scheme of crafting your own religion.  Judges 21:25b also comes to mind, "... every man did that which was right in his own eyes."

The TCP Roots: Behind the Design

Maia Deurr, the tree's designer, is a change agent as well as a Zen Zealot, who was the director of Upaya Zen Center Chaplaincy Training Program, and is now part of Upaya's "Engaged Buddhism Faculty."  She's also part of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and was editor and director of Turning Point magazine.  Besides, she was the research director at the Center for the Contemplative Mind in Society when she created the TCP.  Presently, she writes a blog, "Liberated Life Projects" with such articles as "The Liberated Life Guide: How to Meditate."

For even more on Maia, and the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society see 2009 Lighthouse Trails article: "Efforts Underway to Train U.S. Military Chaplains and Personnel in Eastern Mysticism."

Just the title of Deurr's blog, "Liberated Life Projects," reminds me of verses that tell us where to find freedom, happiness, and liberty and it is not in contemplative meditative practices; but rather the Scriptures say, "... and you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."  (John 8:32)  It further says, "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."  (John 8:36)  For as Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and life ...!"  (John 14:6)

The TCP Roots: Below the Tree

The TCP roots--communication/connection and awareness--symbolize the two intentions that are the foundation of all contemplative practices.  The goal, says the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, is to go beyond the individual practices so as to build new practices that are being created in secular contexts.

The TCP Fruits: On the Tree

Ripe for the picking these diverse practices tempt the user to experiment to try to find the perfect fit.  And many are experimenting with this tree from educators to spiritual directors, from doctors to lawyers, from business people to contemplative pray-ers, from compassionate society members to interfaith forum members, from those into oneness to those into matrix harmonics, and the list goes on.

What exactly are some of the "meditative fruits" we are invited to sample?  Let's unpack a few.

Bearing Witness: (Activist Branch): is a powerful form of activism which, it's claimed, helps other people understand and respect each other.  Root: Buddhism  Example I:  Retreat for Zen Peacemakers  Example II: From "The Buddha Blog" Maia Deurr's "An Introduction to Engaged Buddhism" (Turning Wheel, Summer/Fall 2008).  Deurr wrote, "Socially engaged Buddhism is a dharma practice that flows from the understanding of  .... the interdependence of all life.  It is the practice of bodhisattva (enlightenment being) vow to save all things. ..."

Beholding Mindfulness: (Generative Branch): is allowing the world to appear to us and to allow ourselves to experience embodied connectedness.  It's also allows us to have the freedom and space to explore our own thoughts without judgment.  Another definition is:  "the level of awareness that is one step deeper than seeing."  Roots:  Eastern Meditation, Buddhism  Example I: Joan Ziegler's
"Seeing: A Contemplative Pedagogy (For Contemplative Practices in Higher Education at Smith College).
Example II:  Book: Contemplative Practices in Higher Education (2013) by Daniel Barbezat and Mirabi Bush (Chapter 7: "Senses: Deep Listening and Beholding"). Example III:
"The Eye and Ear of Beholding" with "An Evening of Mindfulness Practice, Dialogue, and Exploration with Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD (UMass Medical School).

Centering:  (Stillness Branch):  is a meditation technique allowing you to focus on yourself and the present to become whole, and aware especially useful at times of upset/excitement.  Roots: All Meditative Traditions  Example I:  "Focus on Breathing Instructions" at  Example II:  Links on Contemplative Mind in Society to Using Yoga as a Centering Practice  by Kelly McGonigal (Open Mind, Open Body).

Lectio Divina: (Generative Branch): is deep contemplative reading of any revered text with steps of reading, reflecting, expressing, and resting.  Root: Catholicism  Example I:  Barbezat and Bush's recent book (See "Beholding") contains secularized steps (or what I'd call "Secular Lectio") to use in reading various texts.  These steps include: literal, metaphorical, moral, and mystical.  Example II: You Tube Video on "Lectio Divina in Classroom Poetry" with Dr. David Scott Simpson, Educational Specialist in Technology and Innovation in Education, Rapid City, SD.  Simpson, at the video's conclusion, sums up a lectio poetry session by explaining that a poem is not to be dissected like some sort of a puzzle; but rather it can be experienced through adapted lectio steps which help the participant to avoid any dualistic, black/white, or either/or thinking but instead to promote both/and thinking sharing nonjudgmental thoughts with the group.

Loving-Kindness Meditation: (Generative Branch): is a practice taught by the Buddha to develop the mental habit of selfless or altruistic love.  Root: Buddhism  Example I:  "Ways of Arousing Feelings of Loving-Kindness" through visualization, reflection, and auditory means with a mantra.
(From  Example II:  Jack Kornfield's "Meditation on Lovingkindness": Walt Whitman quote: "I am larger and better than I thought.  I did not know I had so much goodness."  Parts: Center
self.  Love yourself.  Watch breath; say a mantra.  Picture yourself as .... Do more mantra repetition; picture a benefactor.  Continue this cycle.  (From "Spirit Rock")

Tonglen: (Generative Branch)*: is Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice for giving and taking or sending and receiving.  This is done on the "in-breath by imagining taking on the sufferings of others, and on the out-breath giving happiness and success to all sentient beings."**  Root: Buddhism  Example I:  H. H. The Dalai Lama is said to practice Tonglen every day saying it gives him peace of mind helping him to be more effective.  Example II:  Pema Chodron teaches "How to do Tonglen" in various venues sharing with TV personalities as Bill Moyers and Oprah Winfrey.
*   Tonglen on "original" or "leafless" TCP.
** sentient:  one who has the faculty of perception; a sentient being

Walking Meditation: (Movement Branch): is a contemplative practice where close attention is paid to walking being mindful of the muscles of the body, the placement of the feet, balance, and motion.
Root: Buddhism  Example I: "Walking Meditation Practice" by Steven Smith.
Example II: articles "Walking Meditation: Bibliography, Quotes, Links, Information, Notes, Resources, Methods and More" by Michael P. Garofalo, M.S.

Yoga: (Movement Branch): is, according to a word which means "to yoke or bind, and is often interpreted as 'union,' or a method of discipline." Roots: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism  Example I:  From in "Yoga" by Cyndi Lee author of Om Yoga :  Lee describes the Yoga Sutra  which lists 195 statements that serve as a guidebook as well as the eight limbs of yoga that's practiced today.  Most people today, Lee says, practice the third limb--asana or Hatha Yoga.  Hatha Yoga is designed to enable the practitioner to purify the body achieving physical strength and stamina needed for long periods of meditation.  Lee emphasizes that yoga is unlike stretching or fitness, for physical practice is but one part of yoga.

Example II: in "What is Yoga?" Ann Pizer writes, "Yoga is said to be for the purpose of uniting the mind, body, and spirit."  She continues, "How can this be achieved?  Meditation is one way."  Pizer stresses that yoga is based on Patanjali's sutras most of which are more concerned with mental and spiritual well-being than with physical activity!

For More Yoga Info:  Read former New Ager Marcia Montenegro's excellent article: "Yoga Alliance Shows its Hindu Teeth."

Two Trees to Flee: The Tree of Contemplative Practices and The Eight Limbs of Yoga Tree! 

Yoga: Example III:  "Eight Limbs of Yoga Poster Trees:"  A look at these Yoga tree posters  clearly illustrate exactly where yoga leads ...  for from the first "Yamas Limb" to the last "Samadhi Limb" yoga is designed to help you achieve Samadhi!! (bliss that defies description, absorption, union).;_ylt=AwrB8pVED.FTISoAgReJzbkF;_ylu=X3oDMTIzNnA0cXMzBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDaW1nBG9pZAM2ODU3MWQxZDRmNzcyOGZiNWRhNDAyYjAzNTEwODIzYgRncG9zAzE4BGl0A2Jpbmc-?

The Tree of Contemplative Practices: Same Fruits in Churches 

One Lutheran Minnesota church has designed its very own "Spiritual Practice Tree" saying it is rooted in "God."  But, even though some of the fruits of this tree are acceptable, one can note that it has many of the very same fruits as the TCP. 

But, so as not to single out this church, one can find denomination after denomination, church after church, pastor after pastor, and person after person who are indulging themselves in many of these contemplative fruits and calling them "Christian." And when you see an organization, church, or person reaching out for these fruits beware for these are unscriptural fruits of man's own making of which we aren't to taste or sample.  For as Proverbs 1:28-33 says, "... For they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD: they would have none of my counsel: ...  Therefore they will eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices ...  But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from the fear of evil."  And Proverbs 2:6 tells us, "For the LORD giveth wisdom, out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding."  In short, it's not the wisdom of the centuries contained in meditative methods, nor the wisdom or goodness within ourselves, but it is the Lord from whom we can gain wisdom and understanding to achieve success in life.

To get to the root of real tree truth read this outstanding Herescope article "Two Trees" which contrasts "The Tree of Contemplative Practices" to "The Tree Planted by the Rivers of Water."

The Tree of Contemplative Practices: Same Fruits in Education 

The Center of Contemplative Mind in Society has been very busy suggesting that educators at every level check out the TCP to get them started on the contemplative path.  Just a quick look at the society's facebook page revealed a TCP almost immediately.

Additionally, the TCP is being praised, and pictured on college web sites from Buddhist Naropa University in Colorado to Cornell University in New York.  A very recent July 2014 article from Cornell shows the TCP picture posted on a Cornell Chronicle article by Carly Hodes entitled:
"Contemplative Practices Boost Creativity in Problem Solving.
A second article by Rodney R. Dietert: "Integrating Contemplative Tools into Biomedical Science Education and Research Training Programs" also features the TCP.  Beside the tree it states, "Practices illustrated in the branches help nurture increased self-awareness and access to information."

Washington State University also posts the original TCP on its "Spirituality" web page touting that this tree can help relieve stress and promote equanimity.  The blurb over the tree recommends that one find a fruitful practice, and then branch out to another practice within that grouping.

And a University of Massachusetts site features TCP image which says this tree had inspired an upcoming "Contemplative Practices Resource Fair" with such exhibitors as the Boston Maum Meditation Center, Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, Shambhala Boston, UMass Boston Zen, and YogaCaps Inc. among others.

These are but a few samples of where the TCP has been featured in collegiate settings to integrate contemplative practices into the classroom of future teachers of our children, and grandchildren.  And because contemplative pedagogy is making such great advances into our educational system now is the time to passionately warn others that a "Mindfulness Tsunami" or a "Meditation Tsunami" is poised to enter, or has entered a school or college near you!  And understand, now, as one mindfulness public school teacher said, "There is a quiet revolution going on!"

Yes, there's a quiet revolution that has crept into our churches and schools and workplaces under the guise of contemplative practices as exemplified in this tree.  Truly, "The Tree of Contemplative Practices" is designed to be a meditative portal into cultivating an awareness and development of one's inner wisdom, and/or divine/God.  Oh, that we'd all awaken to how ungodly, and idolatrous are these meditative fruits.  Once again, in conclusion, I'd warn--flee this tree for from its roots to its fruits it is toxic!

Learn to Discern Granny Verse:  II Corinthians 6:17