Menno-lite Conversations and Sufi Mysticism

The March edition of the MB Herald is called A Conversation About Unbelief (Volume 49, No. 3 March 2010). The topic of this issue appears to be how to go about engaging unbelievers in the subject of their unbelief, and learning from it. On page 12 is an article called Pilgrim’s process, An Interview with a postmodern mystic, which is an interview of a mystic by the Herald’s editor done in “the spirit of dialogue.”

The mystic told Laura Kalmar:

“The specific path I’ve been called to is Sufi, which developed under Islam but is a contemplative path that venerates the mystics and prophets of all traditions. In other words, I read the Bible far more than I read the Koran.”

Kalmar then asks the mystic:

You paint Christianity and Jesus in a positive light, but what do you make of the institutional church? Are there things that keep you distanced from the Christian community?

[Don’t we already have enough questions like this from within -from emerging church leaders?]

The mystic answers:

I follow a Sufi path that is rooted in both Islamic and Hindu mystic traditions, so the main thing that keeps me distanced from many Christian communities is simply the belief that Christ is the only way to God, and that all the rest of the world’s faithful – Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists – are deluded. It’s impossible for me to believe that any one religion is the right way, because I’ve known too many people who have reached a deep and real relationship with God through their sincere approach to their Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim faith.

[Sounds a lot like McLaren, Pagitt, and Jones.]

She says:

Your perspective on spirituality is quite different from that of many Christians.

[One would expect his perspective to be different from that of Christians. Unfortunately, his perspective is not much different from a lot of post-modern, emerging ‘Christians’ who doubt the Bible. The mystic is even an Annie Dillard reader, like many post-modern emerging Christians (and even Mennonites)].

The article ends with a short biography of the mystic, and a link to his website.

At this point we really must ask – what is the point? We can only hope that Laura Kalmar witnessed to this mystic and shared the gospel. If so, maybe it was off the record, although it would have been more beneficial and helpful for readers to learn through her reasoning with him, and her sharing of the truth, if this really is about equipping us for witnessing to the lost. Why just show us how to “understand” the culture? Aren’t we already immersed in the world all day long? One only needs to turn on Oprah to see the world’s mystic’s perceptions of spirituality. If the point of this MB Herald article is simply to “step out and interact with others, though we won’t always agree with everything they say,” all we gain from such an interaction is an understanding of their view. The only thing that both parties will come away with is the fact that there was a conversation. What good is it if we haven’t shared the truth with them? It’s one thing to teach Christians how to hear the other side, but are Christian readers of this issue being taught and equipped to also share the truth with the lost?

“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?”
Romans 10:14

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”
Romans 10:17

The article also does not state whether or not Laura Kalmar told this mystic the truth about his beliefs on Sufi mysticism. If she did, this may have been an awkward thing to do or publish, as the MB Herald itself has indirectly promoted Sufi mysticism. It’s been encouraged by proxy, through the Mennonite Brethren’s promotion of Thomas Merton in their various affiliated branches.

Merton, of course, was a Roman Catholic monk who, “by the time his life was over he was for all intents and purposes a Buddhist and his theology ended up as panentheistic as the other mystics before him” [source], and is quoted to have said the following:

“I’m deeply impregnated with Sufism.”
– Thomas Merton, In ‘The Springs of Contemplation’

“I am the biggest Sufi in Kentucky though I admit there is not much competition”
– Thomas Merton, October 1966

“My prayer tends very much to what you (sufis) call fana.”
– In letter to a Sufi master Abdul Aziz

Source:
Thomas Merton’s letter to Sufis and views on Sufism
(http://www.mysticsaint.info/2008/12/thomas-mertons-letter-to-sufis-and.html)

There is also a book about Merton and his bent towards Sufism, here:

Merton & Sufism: The Untold Story: A Complete Compendium
http://www.amazon.com/Merton-Sufism-Untold-Complete-Compendium/dp/1887752072

Some may be wondering exactly how the Mennonite Brethren has indirectly promoted Merton and Sufism. Here’s how – beginning with the following quotes that are taken directly from the MB Herald:

“I asked Reverend E. where his intention to be close to God had come from. He answered, “I don’t know. I’ve always had it.”
“That’s interesting,” I said. “I meet a lot of people who don’t have that intention.” We both began to realize what Thomas Merton so wonderfully stated when he said, “Even the intention to be close to God, is God!””

The intimacy fix, Garry Schmidt, June 2004
http://www.mbherald.com/43/08/intimacy.en.html

“Image carries on a debate related to one that has historically engaged Christian thinkers: the debate over “natural theology,” finding God in beauty and nature. Famous leaders of earlier times such as Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin pleaded for Christians to give beauty a place of greater importance. More recently, the mystic Thomas Merton taught that a secret law of gravitation works through art and beauty, drawing all people towards God.”
Connecting our faith with art and beauty, August 2008
http://www.mbconf.ca/home/products_and_services/resources/publications/mb_herald/vol_47_no_8/crosscurrents/what_im_reading/connecting_our_faith_with_art_and_beauty/

The MB Herald also promoted a retreat for pastors in the BC MB Conference led by Steve and Jeff Imbach, the founders of a contemplative organization called Soulstream, where they draw heavily from the teachings of Thomas Merton. See here:

Contemplative Mennonite Retreats
http://rollovermenno.wordpress.com/2008/03/28/contemplative-mennonite-retreats/

In the September 2009 MB Herald, semi-retired professor at CMU, Gerry Ediger (currently teaching courses in Christian Spirituality at the time), highly recommended a book that had captured his ‘spiritual imagination’ called Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion by Richard J. Foster, Gayle D. Beebe. This book covers spiritual formation pathways from contemplative sources such as Finding Our Home with God by Thomas Merton.

Thomas Merton has also been brought to Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary (MBBS) (see More Mertonish Mennonite Mush) and to seminary programs at MBBS, such as Ministry Quest, a spiritual formation youth mentoring program. (See example #3 here: Mennonites or Mertonites? )

The Mennonite Brethren Conference also promotes Thomas Merton through Imago Dei, an MB affiliated contemplative community:

Imago Dei is a network of Christian faith communities based in Vancouver, British Columbia, with sister groups in other locations around B.C., as well as adherents in other countries. It is a ministry that has formed around principles of spiritual direction for the encouragement of a genuine experience of growth in the Christian spiritual life.

Imago Dei is affiliated with the MB denomination of BC.
.
-imagodeicommunity.ca

The Imago Dei website page on Lectio Divina is not the only place where they have referred to Thomas Merton. Coincidentally, the contemplative, Merton adoring Imago Dei was described in a previous MB Herald issue (here: http://www.mbherald.com/42/06/news-6.en.html).

Also noted is the fact that the moderator and some members of the MB Forum and the MB Conference staff have mentioned more than once that they spend their time reading Thomas Merton. For example:

“Recently I’ve been reading “conversion memoirs.” I’m enjoying them – and also reflecting on them for a possible article on the genre (in my work at the MB Herald as associate editor)…Right now I’m in the middle of Anne Lamott’s “Traveling Mercies.” There’s a few more waiting in the wings, to read or re-read or remember (Thomas Merton, Augustine, Chuck Colson).”
-Dora Dueck
MB Conference Staff
Joined Apr 26, 2004
19 posts
April 27 2004
What are you reading?
http://www.mbforum.ca/topic/135.html

These may seem like small examples, but when gathered all together, they should cause concern as to why the MB Herald will point to a Sufi mystic as an example of one who does not believe, when many of the Mennonite Brethren persuasion promote contemplative Sufi mystic Thomas Merton (as well as the emerging church, contemplative spiritual formation, and many other contemplative Roman Catholic monks). If they really want to promote a controversial monk, they seem to be missing a very famous one. His name was Menno…

…and he wrote, “Beware of all doctrine and works which are not conformable to the gospel of Christ. Beware.” (www.mennosimons.net)

If there are still any grey areas of doubt as to whether or not Merton and Sufism do indeed go together, a quick glance at courses such as this one (on the Thomas Merton website) will confirm this…

Merton and Sufism:

2. Sufi Teachings and Practices: Silence, Solitude, and the Divine (workshop) Thomas Merton writes extensively about silence, solitude, and the human relationship with God. Sufism has many teachings and practices for understanding and guiding us toward a state of solitude, silence, and connection with the Divine while living in the world. In this presentation you will become acquainted with the writings of Sufi teachers and poets and learn about the practices and goals of Sufi meditation.

Amineh Amelia Pryor, Ph.D., is a practicing Sufi in the Uwaiysi School of Sufism in the lineage of Hazrat Moulana Shah Maghsoud, Dr. Nahid Angha, and Shah Nazar Seyyed Dr. Ali Kianfar. She is an active member of the International Association of Sufism. Dr. Pryor presented at the Parliament of the Worlds Religions in Barcelona, served on the Board of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio in San Francisco, lectures at many conferences, and has published articles on Sufism, psychology, spirituality, and consciousness. Dr. Pryor is a psychotherapist by profession and the author of Psychology in Sufism and Sufi Grace.

-http://www.merton.ca/

This silence and solitude of those who practice the contemplative life is the basis of Merton’s spirituality. While the meditation techniques popularized by Merton are compatible with all religions, these practices are now being called ‘Christian’ by many. Over the last few years, we have seen that these same practices have also been promoted in many issues of the MB Herald, through the following:

-The Mark Centre (The MARK Centre is affiliated with the B.C. Mennonite Brethren Conference of Churches.)
MB Herald, October 2007
(www.mbherald.com/46/10/people-3.en.html)

-The previous president of the MB Seminary, Jim Holm:
MB Herald, May 2006
http://www.mbherald.com/45/07/lod.en.html

-MB Herald Promoting Error
October 2007
http://rollovermenno.wordpress.com/2007/10/17/mb-herald-promoting-error/

In conclusion, before exploring the ideas of unbelief from the mystics of the world, the Mennonites of the MB Herald writers, editors, and their superiors might better spend their efforts equipping their members with truth from within. There are already enough opinionated mystics in the MB Seminary. Even the FBI knows that you don’t need to spend your time handling counterfeit money to know what it looks like.

Related Articles:

Thomas Merton: The Contemplative Dark Thread
By Jackie Alnor
http://www.apostasyalert.org/Merton.htm

Who is Thomas Merton?
http://apprising.org/2008/08/28/who-is-thomas-merton/

Thomas Merton and the Buddhas
http://apprising.org/2006/05/30/thomas-merton-and-the-buddhas/

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