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."