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The Danger of Centering Prayer

Written by Prof Johan Malan.

A form of prayer that has gained wide popularity in Catholic and Protestant circles during the last number of years is centering prayer. This is another term for mystical contemplation and meditation. Through the use of a mantra a person descends to the center of his inner being where a mystical experience of god as a universal source of energy and wisdom awaits him. A mantra is a single word or a short prayer which is repeated over and over until all other thoughts have been excluded. Christian prayer, on the contrary, centers upon a personal God who infinitely transcends His creation.

In Eastern, monistic philosophy it is held that everything is one, and God is conceived to be part of His creation. God is a dimension, though hidden, of the same reality of which man is part. The purpose with centering prayer is to penetrate the outer layer of reality to get in touch with its deep, mystical core where god can be experienced as the deeper self or the god within. Through the use of a mantra you empty your mind by excluding the sense-perceived reality and proceed to the center of your being.

Prayers of this nature are usually practised for twenty minutes every morning and evening. The person chooses a sacred word, he tries to ignore all thoughts and feelings, letting them go by as boats going down a stream. When the thoughts keep coming back, the person returns to the sacred word. The goal is to persist with this exercise until all thoughts and feelings have faded away completely. Thoughts will pass if you wait long enough and then you will allegedly experience a state of pure consciousness or mental void. The thinking process is suspended and you will have an open mind and an open heart. The idea is to go to the center of your being to find the true self. This process is supposed to dismantle the false self which is the result of the emotional baggage we carry.

The altered state of consciousness which you then experience can also be described as a form of self-hypnosis. You almost become like a zombie who has no sober thoughts or discernment. You are open and receptive to any spiritual influences and suggestions – also from demons. The devil indeed uses opportunities of this nature to influence people and to instil wrong ideas in their hearts and minds. God does not work with people in this state of mind as He expects them to take calculated decisions to which they consciously commit themselves in faith.

In centering prayer one meets an impersonal god who is inherently part of creation and hence also of the inner being of humans. This god is only experienced mystically as communication with him never takes the form of a conversation. The mystical god of cosmic spheres only leaves certain impressions and suggestions deep inside people who are in a meditative trance, and these thoughts are always contrary to the Bible. Examples of such thoughts are that everything is one, that we should co-exist peacefully and in spiritual harmony with people of all religions, that there are various paths to God, that Christians, Hindus and Muslims worship the same God, and that human beings must heal themselves.

Mass-hypnosis

There are methods of guiding large groups into self-hypnosis through centering prayer. At a certain charismatic conference, the speaker brought the whole audience into centering prayer without explaining or choice. He used a typical hypnotic technique: “Imagine you are on an elevator. You begin going down, down inside yourself. The 21st floor, the 20th floor,” etc. In the process of going down all thoughts related to the outside world are excluded until you meet god in the mystical silence of your inner being.

There are also deceived “Christian” schools who make use of mantras to induce altered states of consciousness in children. Even short prayers to Jesus are continuously repeated without paying attention to the meaning of the words. The idea is thus instilled in children that they have found favour in the sight of God and that He will speak to them in their hearts. In this way they open themselves to strange voices and suggestions in their mind, and consequently also to demonic influencing.

Various children of this school developed serious problems as a result of centering prayer. Some of them told their parents what “Jesus” said to them when they were in a meditative state, but these were not true Biblical sayings. In one case a girl developed a fear complex and was afraid to sleep alone in her room. She saw strange creatures when she closed her eyes to sleep. At times, the creature would laugh at her. This happened after she practised a centering prayer before going to bed. She needed to be delivered from these evil influences.

Fits of laughter are typical of evil spirits. Such spirits harass a person while trying to gain control over him or her. Only after they have been accepted they will start controlling a person by inducing him or her to commit immoral acts, and to be rebellious towards parents, teachers and other persons of authority.

The relationship with New Age beliefs

Centering prayer and the use of mantras are closely related to New Age beliefs and practices. New Agers borrow many of their beliefs from Hinduism. They believe that we are all connected to an impersonal energy force, which is god, and we are part of this pantheistic god. This god-energy flows into each of us so we, too, are god. They think because we are god, we can create our own reality. This awareness of our godselves is called god-consciousness, Christ-consciousness, pure consciousness or unity consciousness. To reach this awareness, New Agers use mantras or yoga to go into altered states of consciousness to discover their divine nature. They look inside to find their true self, higher self or deeper self which is equated with god. The goal of the New Agers is to usher in a New Age of peace, harmony and unity. They hope that all mankind will come to experinece god-consciousness, which is the awareness that they are god.

In centering prayer people are taught to use a prayer word or sacred word to empty the mind. The goal is to reach a mental void, or pure consciousness, in order to find god at the center. This is exactly what the Hindus and Buddhists do to reach god-consciousness or pure consciousness. The only difference would be that in Transcendental Meditation (TM) the mantras are the names of Hindu gods, and in Centering Prayer (CP) the sacred word is usually Jesus, God, peace, or love. The similarities between the two practices are as follows:

1.    Both CP and TM use a 20-minute meditation.

2.    Both CP and TM use a mantra to erase all thoughts and feelings.

3.    Both CP and TM teach that in this meditation you pick up vibrations.

4.    Both CP and TM claim that this meditation will give you more peace and less tension.

5.    Both CP and TM teach you how to reach a mental void or altered state of consciousness.

6.    Both CP and TM have the common goal of finding your god-center.

Christian prayers

Although the Triune God dwells in all born-again believers (John 14:23,26) His presence in us is not the mystical center of our existence that can be discovered by using techniques of inner emptying and descending to lower levels of consciousness. We do not have to be in a hypnotic trance state to experience the presence of the Lord as we can be fully consciousness of Him through faith, while in a state of mental alertness. He is spiritually in and with us but He is certainly not a mystical source of energy or wisdom that can be manipulated by man. He is a personal God who is infinitely higher than human beings. During times of prayer we can draw near to Him through the torn veil on the new and living way which Christ has consecrated for us by His death on the cross (Heb. 10:19-22).

In true prayer we dedicate our senses and thoughts to God in faith so He can sanctify our thoughts and desires to be in accordance with His holy will (Ps. 19:14; 139:23-24; 2 Cor. 10:5). These thoughts and feelings are not erased by the use of a mantra. Prayer is an interactive process in which we talk to God and He answers us by forgiving, blessing, guiding and encouraging us. He also sanctifies us to be worthy servants of Him (1 Thess. 5:23-24).

In the Christian life we never become gods who determine our own reality, but servants and followers of Jesus Christ who strive to conform to Him in holiness and self-denial (1 John 1:6; 1 Pet. 1:15-16). The inner self of which we are conscious through examining ourselves is the old, sinful nature that must be put off and crucified so we can put on the new nature of Christ (Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:9-10).

Meditators who descend to lower levels of consciousness also discover this old, adamic nature within themselves. Because their abilities of rational thinking and discernment have been disabled or suspended they are not aware of the spiritual and moral depravity of the “self” and then wrongly enthrone him and call him the higher self or the deeper self. The old nature of fallen man is then vitalised and empowered by Satan so you can become a god who sits on the throne of your own heart. Because the god of this world (Satan) has blinded your mind through meditation (2 Cor. 4:4) you do not realise that he supplied the mystical powers to assist you in deifying yourself. He then reduces the true God in your thoughts to an impersonal source of energy to keep you from discovering that your life is driven by demonic powers.

In the process, Satan and his accomplices pretend to be angels of lights (2 Cor. 11:13-15) and thus true servants of God. They claim that they can teach people to pray deep spiritual prayers which in fact have no spiritual value as they are based upon mystical deception. Do not focus on the center of your old nature by silencing your mind and undermining your faith through the use of a mantra, but keep your spiritual eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus, while laying aside every sin which so easily ensnares us (Heb. 12:1-2).