While making supper this evening, I listened to this podcast: From Meditation to the beginning of Mystical Contemplation by David Torkington, who is an expert on contemplative prayer and author of Wisdom from the Western Isles, Wisdom from The Christian Mystics, and Wisdom from Franciscan Italy
It is marvelous and very much in line with the tradition of English Catholic mysticism. Thank you, Lisa Nicholas for introducing me to this man’s books, blog and podcasts.
His blog, full of extremely solid and practical teaching on prayer, is here.
I am as delighted as all other orthodox Catholics that the Spanish Bishops have spoken out against all forms of prayer involving Eastern meditation techniques and the mindfulness movement in their document, My Soul Thirsts for God, for the Living God: A Doctrinal Orientation on Christian Prayer (published 3rd September 2019). But is it too little, too late? This spiritual heresy has been deceiving people to my knowledge for over forty years with little official condemnation, leaving the laity in limbo-land, looking for guidance and looking in vain. Most of these techniques have been imported from Buddhism and have no place in Catholic spirituality. The particular form that I am familiar with is taught by ‘The World Community for Christian Meditation’ which was founded by a Benedictine monk, Fr John Main. Let me tell you a spiritual horror story to show just how dangerous the teaching of this movement is.
Authentic Christian Contemplative Prayer
Fr. Main told Amelia to keep repeating the word Maranatha. He explained that by repeating this mantra, she would almost instantly come to experience inner peace and inner recollection. Furthermore he told her, quite erroneously, that what she was experiencing was in fact the mystical contemplation as described by St Teresa of Avila in her masterwork Interior Castle. Exactly the opposite happened to her because she was using the word as a short prayer, not as a technique to generate inner peace. She was in fact using it to ask God to come into her, and to abide in her. Her prayer helped her to keep the deep primordial desire for love, that is in all of us, fixed on God the source of all love. The selfless loving embodied in her constant prayer acted as a spiritual lightning conductor directing God’s love into her heart. However, in authentic Catholic Mystical Theology, as explained best by St John of the Cross, the fire of God’s love first reveals and then draws out of a person all the sins and all the sinfulness that prevents being totally possessed by him. What the receiver must then do is to see the sins and the sinfulness that are preventing God’s love totally possessing them and confess them, receive absolution and continue praying as before to enable God’s love to continue the process of purification in what St John of the Cross calls The Dark Night of the Soul. Far from leading to inner peace it leads to inner turmoil and sometimes to spiritual depression to see oneself laid bare.
Sent to a Psychiatrist
To a competent mystical theologian this is how God acts in the Night of Purification. But Fr John Main was not a competent mystical theologian, nor for that matter do the later leaders of his movement know anything about mystical theology. Inevitably Amelia was tragically spiritually violated by a charlatan. When she explained how despite what he told her to do she experienced, not peace and tranquillity but inner turmoil, he was perplexed. His ignorance was responsible for giving her potentially disastrous advice. As he and his bogus way to mystical contemplation could not possibly be wrong, he concluded that there must be something wrong with her. He sent her to England to receive psychological help from a psychiatrist in London whom he recommended. Once cured she could then return to him and he would teach her how to attain mystical contemplation in no time at all, simply by endlessly repeating a mantra. Her problem he believed was that she was psychologically ill and therefore unable to benefit from his mystical teaching which is in fact the old heresy of Pelagianism. Believe me, it is utterly devastating for a poor soul struggling in the Night to be told they are mentally ill, because it confirms their worst fears and it can not just destroy their spiritual lives but devastate their whole lives, sometimes permanently. These false messiahs must be stopped and stopped for good.
Please read the whole thing and go on over and enrich your spiritual life by reading this man’s work.