Mennonites Walk Barton’s Bridge

Ruth Haley Barton, founder of The Transforming Centre[1], was trained at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation which teaches: “This mystical stream [contemplative prayer] is the Western bridge to Far Eastern spirituality … It is no accident that the most active frontier between Christian and Eastern religions today is between contemplative Christian monks and their Eastern equivalents.” —Tilden Edwards, Shalem Founder[2]

Barton, who could not find peace or direction in her Baptist roots or through reading the Bible and praying, found fulfillment through spiritual direction. Now she incorporates a blend of Eastern and Roman Catholic contemplative spirituality and monastic practices in her retreats and books on practicing the presence of God in the silence and sacred rhythms of prayer. Lately she has been very instrumental in leading entire Protestant and Anabaptist church congregations and their leaders into these same practices through spiritual direction and discernment seminars.

This year, the Mennonites have once again[3] brought in Ruth Haley Barton to help them make decisions in the silence regarding some very important upcoming issues that include LGBTQ and anti-Israel BDS resolutions. How tragic to see an entire church delegation over looking all that is necessary in their discernment process (the Bible), thereby shunning to declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) in seeking guidance from an apprentice of Thomas Merton and Tilden Edwards. Surely Menno Simons is rolling over in his grave.

“But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:4

Here are two articles for the remnant to read and pray about…

CLC discerns delegate agenda and offers counsel to Executive Board
Posted on March 30, 2015
NORTH NEWTON, Kan.—“We are here and we’ve been gathered by God, and the truth is gathered, too,” said Chuck Neufeld, conference minister for Illinois Mennonite Conference, during a plenary session at the March 26–28 meeting of Mennonite Church USA’s Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) in North Newton, Kan.
CLC members spent time in prayer and worship; received input from Ruth Haley Barton on tools for discerning God’s will for the church; and offered counsel to the Resolutions Committee and Executive Board (EB) of Mennonite Church USA on churchwide statements to bring before the Delegate Assembly in Kansas City, Mo., this summer.
Neufeld’s reflections, offered after a half hour of silent discernment and prayer, were joined by those of other CLC members who called for mutual forbearance and care across the church in the midst of disagreements on how LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) individuals should be allowed to participate in Mennonite Church USA. Marco Güete, conference minister for Southeast Mennonite Conference, closed the sharing time with observations from his long career in the Mennonite Church, saying, “My reflection to God during this time was, ‘I love your imperfect church. Thank you for this opportunity to be a part of it.’”

More here:
http://mennoniteusa.org/news/clc-discerns-delegate-agenda-and-offers-counsel-to-executive-board/

Discerning spirit
God’s will can be found, even in when we disagree
Apr 13, 2015 by Paul Schrag

The rest of the world makes decisions, but the church discerns. If that were just a choice of words, it wouldn’t be important. But Ruth Haley Barton believes the difference goes much deeper. To discern is to find the will of God.
“Christian leaders have an idea that their decision-making should be somehow different from the rest of the world,” Barton said in a presentation to the Mennonite Church USA Constituency Leaders Council on March 26 at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan. “But sometimes we reduce that to just having a prayer and devotions at the beginning of the meeting.”
Discernment is more than a nod to God.
At a time when MC USA is experiencing conflict over same-sex relationships and church polity, Barton’s message was timely. Though she spoke to leaders dealing with major issues, her ideas apply to every Christian and to all of life.
Barton is a teacher and writer about Christian formation and church leadership at the Transforming Center in Wheaton, Ill., who will speak to delegates at the MC USA convention in Kansas City in July.
She defines discernment as “the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God in both the ordinary moments and the larger decisions of our lives.”
Discernment is the habit of noticing where God is at work and how God is speaking. Barton believes it is possible, in any situation, to “have a sense of whether God is at work or the Evil One is at work.” This needs to happen even in the interior world of our own thoughts and motives. 1 John 4:1 advises us to “test the spirits.” Are we willing to test our own spirit?
To do this, we need to listen to God in solitude and silence.
“Many of us are trying to give spiritual leadership without having much of a spiritual life,” Barton said. We must not let our busyness — even our Christian busyness — keep us from being aware of what is going on in our own soul. We need to be quiet and hear the voice of God as distinct from our own voice.
To whom does God give the spiritual gift of discernment? To those who are on a spiritual journey, Barton says. To those who let God transform them into a better version of themselves.

More here:
http://mennoworld.org/2015/04/13/editorial/discerning-spirit/

________

Endnotes:

1] (www.transformingcenter.org)
2] Ruth Haley Barton, Contemplative Prayer, 
and the Spiritual Formation Movement
http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/ruthhaleybarton.htm
3] Ruth Haley Barton Trains Mennonites to Discern in The Silence
https://mennolite.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/ruth-haley-barton-trains-mennonites-to-discern-in-the-silence/

*** UPDATE JULY 3, 2015

Mennonites delay vote on divesting from Israel for 2 years
http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=26609

The Thin Place Trend Continues

The contemplative trend continues to surface in Mennonite publications, as recently shown by a two part article called Moving thinward[1] in the Canadian Mennonite by Troy Watson[2]. It’s about ‘thin places,’ believed by some to be places where we can feel God’s presence more readily because the barrier between the spiritual realm and the material is thinner than in other places. Another article about ‘thin places’ was recently published in the MB Herald, called Find Yourself a Thin Place this Christmas[3].

Could this growing interest in Celtic spirituality and thin places be the fruit of a concern back in 2007 about Lilly Endowment grants that were being given to congregations and their pastors? These grants for pastors to go on sabbaticals with contemplative/emerging overtones have been as recent as 2012.

“. . . according to the Lilly Endowment document that lists the winners of the 2012 grants, pastors will:

. . . seek to regain spiritual vitality through the ancient Christian practice of walking as pilgrims in several countries—the path of Jesus in Israel, the path of the Exodus, some or all of the 500-mile Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) in Spain, the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul in Greece, Turkey and Italy—and making retreats in Benedictine monasteries, walking the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, and living in sacred space on the Isle of Iona and other Celtic spiritual destinations.

Winners represent various denominations including Southern Baptist, Independent, Presbyterian, Reformed, Episcopal, United Methodist, Lutheran, Nazarene, Evangelical Free, and Mennonite.”

SOURCE: Question to the Editor: What’s Up with Lilly Endowment – Funding Pastoral Sabbaticals with a Contemplative Agenda
http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=11280

Whether or not Troy Watson’s recent visit to the contemplative community of Iona was due to a grant, he writes that he’s always been drawn to environments that evoke ‘a sense of sacred space.’ In part two of Moving Thinward he says that “…for Abraham, Jacob and their descendants, Bethel was a thin place” and of Mount Sinai, “This mountain was clearly a very thin place.”

Are there such places to be found today? We know from the Bible that the holy place (the temple) was the only place on the entire earth that God dwelt after sin and death entered the word and man was separated from God. Sacrifices ceased in the Temple in Jerusalem when it was destroyed in 70 AD, but access to the Holy of Holies, where God met man, was already no longer available by then because Jesus was the final sacrifice, once and for all, and the veil to the Holy of Holies was torn.

“Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” Hebrews 10:19,20

Because Jesus is the only way to enter God’s presence, any so called sacred space we now make or attempt to find in order to enter that realm is idolatry. There can be no places on earth where the veil between us and God’s presence is ‘thinner.’ Where ever there are efforts to find thin places where God meets man, such as the contemplatives making their sacred spiritual spaces to sense God’s presence, or the practice of the presence of God through prayer techniques – it is idolatry. The God of the universe already made a way to dwell within each believer, by the power of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus sent after His ascension. Those who believe are now called the temple of the Holy Spirit. No place on earth is worth making the effort to find. He lives in us. Praise the Name of the LORD!

Endnote:

1] This is part one:

Moving thinward (Pt. 1)
By Troy Watson
Feb 25, 2015
Viewpoints
I’ve always been intrigued with “thin places” long before I ever heard the term “thin place.”
Since childhood, I’ve been curiously drawn to old churches, temples, cathedrals, monasteries, ruins, holy sites, natural “wonders,” remote wilderness, solitary night skies—anywhere that evokes a sense of sacred space. Part of the appeal has been the beauty and mystery I so often find in these environments, but occasionally I’ve been so overwhelmed by divine energy in these places it was as if I’d stumbled upon holy ground.
I’m not the only one. Countless people have experienced God in places like these. Sometimes in exactly the same place.
Almost two years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the Island of Iona. Iona has long been considered a thin place by people from various religious and spiritual backgrounds. . .
*More here:
http://www.canadianmennonite.org/stories/moving-thinward-pt-1

Here is part two:

Moving thinward (Pt. 2)
By Troy Watson
Mar 25, 2015
(Volume 19 Issue 7 Canadian Mennonite):
http://www.canadianmennonite.org/stories/moving-thinward-pt-2

2] Troy Watson is pastor of Avon Mennonite Church (www.avonmennonite.com/troywatson.htm) in Stratford, Ontario. He is the founder of the Quest Christian Community (www.questchristiancommunity.ca), an alternative faith community in St. Catharines, ON. (a Mennonite Church of Eastern Canada affiliated initiative) whose aim is ‘Christ Consciousness.’ Pastor Watson recently reviewed The Naked Now, a book by Franciscan priest Richard Rohr that explores the lost tradition of mystical Christianity. Of this book, Watson said “I highly recommend this book to anyone who has been reading spiritual authors such as Eckhart Tolle.” (See: http://www.mcec.ca/content/naked-now-richard-rohr)

3] Find Yourself a Thin Place this Christmas
https://mennolite.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/should-you-find-yourself-a-thin-place-this-christmas/

*Photo of Altar in The Chapel The Chapel at Iona Abbey by James Denham

More Centering & Meditation Mennonite Resources

The Way of the Child[1] for children is part of the contemplative COMPANIONS IN CHRIST series from The Upper Room. It was created by Wynn McGregor who completed the two-year Academy for Spiritual Formation at The Upper Room and ‘had a vision to engage children in spiritual practice.’ Focusing on spiritual formation, The Way of the Child teaches children practices to help them experience God’s presence by slowing down and listening to the inner voice.

The Way of the Child can be found on the Mennonite Church Canada resource website[2], as can the Companions in Christ series by Upper Room.[3] The Upper Room is a religious organization that promotes contemplative spirituality and is the creator of a meditation tool called Walk to Emmaus.[4]

The following is an overview of The Way of the Child from Faith Christian Books.

Overview

Meeting the needs of children’s spirituality, Way of the Child, provides a contemplative and formulaic approach to providing resources that both teach the Bible and the basics of faith. In a world where we are always rushing to get from one place to another, Way of the Child offers a calming, centering, meditation style, which deepens a child’s connection to God. What is The Way of the Child? What is spiritual formation? What happens during the sessions? What can I do to support the study? How can our family – together – share our faith in practical ways? … “Children are spiritual beings who come to us as gifts from God,” writes McGregor. “The child’s natural way of life and the way most of us live seem to be two different orders of reality. Yet the way of the child represents much of what we consider central to authentic Christian spirituality.” … Every family with a child in The Way of the Child program needs a copy of The Family Booklet.
http://www.faithchristianbookstore.com/item/wynn-mcgregor/the-way-of-the-child-family-booklet-helping-children/133202.html

Centering prayer is a type of meditation that is being taught as a popular contemplative Christian practice. It is simply another term for going deep within your center, and has its roots in New Age spirituality and Hinduism. There are dangers in this method of meditation and it is not a practice that should be taught to children, regardless of what it is called or who promotes it as Christian.

Endnotes:

[1] Introduction to The Way of The Child (video clips): http://companions.upperroom.org/children
[2] http://resources.mennonitechurch.ca/ResourceView/16/12082
[3] http://resources.mennonitechurch.ca/ResourceView/2/11935
[4] http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=4143

Related:

“PRACTICING THE PRESENCE OF GOD” A GROWING CONTEMPLATIVE TREND http://standupforthetruth.com/2013/06/practicing-the-presence-of-god-a-growing-contemplative-trend-2/

The Danger of Centering Prayer http://www.bibleguidance.co.za/Engarticles/Centering.htm

Mennonites Teaching Contemplative Spirituality to Children

Are the Mennonites who are teaching contemplative spirituality to children leading them astray?

In 2005, at a Mennonite Educators Conference workshop, Dr. Sara Wenger Shenk taught child educators to:

“Teach various kinds of prayer: centering prayer with a chosen word such as “Abba” or “shalom” to repeat while quieting one’s spirit and body to listen to God; meditative prayer prompted by a poem, artwork, musical selection that provides a loose structure within which children can ponder the mysteries of life, their commitments…; using a biblical story for guided meditation, pausing to ask prayerful questions that invite imaginative engagement at various points in the story”

Source: How do we cultivate faithfulness in children?
Mennonite Educators Conference
September 22-24, 2005
Workshop: Practices for Nurturing Children in Faith 
Presenter: Dr. Sara Wenger Shenk http://www.emu.edu/seminary/resources/practicessws.html

The primary source for ideas in this workshop was a book called Real Kids: Real Faith—Practices for Nurturing Children’s Spiritual Lives by Karen Marie Yust[1]. Since then, the ideas in this book have captured the imagination of other child educators. In 2011, this same book by Yust (among others) was used as a reference source for an article about children and contemplative prayer in The Mennonite. Here is an excerpt…

“there has been an increased recognition that children in our society have an intense yearning for silence and meditation (see Real Kids Real Faith by Karen Marie Yust). There is also a growing understanding that children have the capacity to enter the meditative silence of various spiritual practices and often with greater ease than some adults. The keys to helping children enter these practices are creating space and providing them with the tools and understanding necessary to connect with God in prayer. 

Many prayer practices are being recommended for children, for example: centering prayer, guided meditation, journaling, listening prayer, the examen and mindfulness. Some educators, such as Ivy Beckwith, have explored the benefits for children of adding deep breathing to their prayers in order to develop a rhythm for centering prayer, or using a prayer rope to occupy their hands and minds as they engage in the Jesus prayer (see Formational Children’s Ministry by Ivy Beckwith)”[2]

Source: 2011-09-01 ISSUE:
Children and prayer
Ways to help us see ourselves and our children as whole beings who pray with our bodies.
by Carrie Martens http://www.themennonite.org/issues/14-9/articles/Children_and_prayer

Carrie Martins is still interested today in helping children learn contemplative spiritual formation. Her website (www.carrielmartens.com) promotes many contemplative links. One of these is the First Steps Spirituality Center[3], where children from babies to teens can learn about the labyrinth, or practice breath, sensory, and contemplative prayer with interactive prayer beads, holy listening stones, or by reading a ‘breath prayer book’ called Child of God, Child of Light by founder Rev. Leanne Hadley. Carrie Martins’ favourite author list includes Ivy Beckwith, Marjorie Thompson, Richard Rohr, Adele Calhoun, and Joyce Rupp, some of whose contemplative teachings are considered by many Christians as New Age paganism.

Martins says she loves the Mennonite Church Canada Resource Centre[4] which offers many sources to help teach families and children contemplative prayer. These include the above mentioned child educator contemplatives, Karen Marie Yust[5], Ivy Beckwith[6], and various materials on centering prayer[7] and monastic traditions[8] for children.

As these Mennonites teach such practices to children, what direction are these little ones being influenced to walk in?

Ivy Beckwith, who has explored the benefits of centering prayer and deep breathing for children (as Carrie Martins mentioned in The Mennonite), spoke at the “Children, Youth, and a New Kind of Christianity” conference in May 7-10, 2012 in Washington, D.C. Other speakers included emerging church leaders Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis, and over 50 other influential leaders in Christian formation.[9] The Gather Round Sunday school curriculum (www.gatherround.org), co-published by Brethren Press and MennoMedia, was one of the co-sponsers at this emergent conference. Attendees represented Church of the Brethren, Mennonite Church Canada, and Mennonite Church USA.

This month, Ivy Beckwith will be speaking at Faith Forward (May 19-22) in Nashville, TN.[10] Other speakers[11] include emergent leader Brian McLaren, ‘thin places’ Lilly Lewin, ‘recovering fundamentalist’ Melvin Bray, and ‘the great emergence’ author Phyllis Tickle.

Is this where contemplative spiritual practices and meditation will lead the children? Into the welcoming arms of emergent teachers of ‘the new kind of Christianity’ who want to influence the minds and hearts of the next generation?[12]

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Matthew 18:6

End Notes:

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Real-Kids-Faith-Practices-Nurturing/dp/0787964077
[2] http://books.google.ca/books?id=pnkniUw7aCEC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
[3] http://www.1ststeps.net/Home/tabid/615/Default.aspx
[4] Top Ten Reasons I LOVE the Mennonite Church Canada Resource Centre http://www.carrielmartens.com/2014/05/top-ten-reasons-i-love-mennonite-church.html
[5] Karen Maire Yust: http://resources.mennonitechurch.ca/ResourceView/2/6471
[6] Ivy Beckwith: http://resources.mennonitechurch.ca/QuickSearch?maker=Beckwith%2C+Ivy
[7] Journey to the Heart: Centering Prayer for Children by Frank X. Jelenek
This simple, colorful, practical book uses rhyme and illustrations to teach children how to practice prayer of the heart, contemplative prayer, or “centering prayer.” Ideal for parents, teachers, educators – and children ages 3-10. http://resources.mennonitechurch.ca/ResourceView/2/13599
[8] The Busy Family’s Guide To Spirituality: Practical Lessons for modern Living From the Monastic Tradition by David Robinson (lessons from the rule of St. Benedict and the Benedictine traditions) http://resources.mennonitechurch.ca/ResourceView/2/12458
[9] Gather Round cosponsors conference on children and youth, June 6, 2012. http://mennomedia.org/?Page=7247
Gather ’Round co-sponsors conference on children and youth http://www.brethren.org/news/2012/gather-round-cosponsors-conference.html
GATHER ‘ROUND CURRICULUM COSPONSORS MAJOR CONFERENCE http://www.mennoniteusa.org/2012/03/27/gather-round-curriculum-cosponsors-major-conference/
[10] http://faithforward2014.sched.org/list/descriptions/
[11] http://faithforward2014.sched.org/directory/speakers
[12] Q&A with Brian McLaren http://www.childrenswork.co.uk/main/article/brianmclaren

Related:

Why centering prayer should not be taught to children http://www.womenofgrace.com/blog/?p=797

MINDFULNESS GOES TO KINDERGARTEN by Marcia Montenegro http://christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_MindfulnessForChildren.html

OUT OF YOUR MIND: MEDITATION AND VISUALIZATION (Guided Meditation) http://christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_Meditation.html

THE LABYRINTH: A WALK BY FAITH? Concerns About the Christian Use of Labyrinths by Marcia Montenegro http://christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_Labyrinth.html

Ruth Haley Barton Trains Mennonites to Discern in the Silence

Last month, hundreds of people at Eastern Mennonite Seminary explored the discernment process of difficult church issues. The topic was fuelled by EMU’s announcement of a listening process for hiring homosexuals and the Mountain States Mennonite Conference’s decision to license a gay pastor.

To help this new process was an “elephant in the room” service where participants were told to imagine themselves in the presence of Jesus with people they disagreed with.

One of the speakers teaching these leaders in the discernment training process was Ruth Haley Barton, founder of the Transforming Center in Wheaton, Ill., who told them that it starts with “spiritually formed leaders who are intentionally attuned to the Holy Spirit” and spend time in prayer and solitude. Barton’s process outline for discernment in meetings included group sharing, listening to God, prayer and time spent in silence.

Often, according to Barton, the time spent in silence is key to the decision-making process.
“After 30 minutes of silence when each member of the group spends time seeking God, often a way forward emerges,” Barton said.
“If the group is ready to respond, each member is asked to voice their level of agreement — either completely agree, agree with some reservations, don’t agree but will defer to the process of the group, or don’t agree at all. If people don’t agree, then the process begins again. Unity is the marker that God’s will is being done.”
Source: Seminary program confronts discernment issues
http://www.mennoworld.org/2014/2/17/seminary-program-confronts-discernment-issues

Biblical truth is not mentioned in this experience based discernment process. Maybe this is because it didn’t work for Ruth Haley Barton, as she admitted…

“A few years ago, I began to recognize an inner chaos in my soul . . . No matter how much I prayed, read the Bible, and listened to good teaching, I could not calm the internal roar created by questions with no answers.”
Source: http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/ruthhaleybarton.htm

Barton then sought spiritual direction at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, where she learned the ancient disciplines and practices of contemplative spirituality.

Instead of being trained to seek God’s written Word for discernment on issues He has already spoken so clearly about, these Mennonite leaders at EMU are being trained to use their imaginations and find direction based on group experience and what they hear in the silence of contemplative prayer.

Related:

The Spiritual Journey of Ruth Haley Barton
http://www.truthkeepers.com/?page_id=125

Do Christian Leaders Understand The Contemplative Prayer Movement
http://www.spiritual-research-network.com/christianleaderscontemplativeprayer.html

WHO IS RUTH HALEY BARTON?
http://apprising.org/2008/09/17/who-is-ruth-haley-barton/

MC USA Executive Board releases statement on LBGTQ inclusion
http://www.themennonite.org/issues/17-2/articles/MC_USA_Executive_Board_releases_statement_on_LBGT_inclusion

UPDATE: July 2015

One result of the above “listening process”:

Two Mennonite Colleges Announce Hiring Policy Change to Employ ‘Married’ Homosexuals
http://christiannews.net/2015/07/22/two-mennonite-colleges-announce-hiring-policy-change-to-employ-married-homosexuals/

MB YOUTH SOARING WITH CONTEMPLATIVE MINISTRY?

This March in California, student participants in MB SOAR Santa Cruz March 22-30 partnered with two MB church congregations to reach the Santa Cruz and San Jose areas. One of these partnerships included inviting the neighbourhood to an Easter “Sneak Peek” event celebrating some new things that Shorelife Community Church[1] offered the community…

“The SOAR participants who work alongside Shorelife will help staff a basketball camp for middle school students, prepare and serve meals to a homeless community—an ongoing ministry of Shorelife—help with manual labor for some projects on the church campus, serve at a local elementary school and help the church prepare for their annual prayer labyrinth and Easter services.[2]
In both locations, prayer will be key, so teams will spend considerable time praying for the communities, the churches and the people. They will also spend time daily in Scripture, small groups and journaling.”

SOAR Santa Cruz Targets California Communities
MB Mission offers new short-term opportunity within the U.S.
http://www.usmb.org/soar-santa-cruz-targets-california-communities

Of all the churches that could have been chosen to ‘partner’ with, why Shorelife Community Church? They have been using prayer labyrinths[3] since 2006 and even before that had a history of contemplative worship, as was described in The Christian Leader, March 2008, page 15, Church incorporates prayer labyrinth into Holy Week:
http://www.usmb.org/Websites/usmb/Images/The%20New%20Old%20Spirituality.pdf.
Beside it on the same page was another article called The New Old Spirituality by Tim Neufeld (then professor of contemporary Christian ministries at Fresno Pacific University and on the pastoral staff at North Fresno MB Church), who wrote:

IMAGINE THIS SCENE. TEENS SILENTLY FORM A LINE in a hallway, patiently waiting late into the night to enter a room in which they will experience an ancient spiritual discipline: contemplative prayer. When they emerge from the prayer room an hour later, many have tears in their eyes, smiles on their faces and peace in their hearts. They have just walked a prayer labyrinth, an interactive 11-station experience in which the participants learn to practice the presence of Christ. Scenes like this are happening again and again in churches, camps and conferences all over North America.
– Church incorporates prayer labyrinth into Holy Week:
http://www.usmb.org/Websites/usmb/Images/The%20New%20Old%20Spirituality.pdf

We don’t have to imagine it anymore. It’s happening. But who would have imagined it would happen in Mennonite Brethren churches and youth outreaches? Especially after all Menno Simons and his early Anabaptist followers suffered to stay true to God’s Holy Word and separate themselves from the unbiblical practices of their time.

The Rev. Daniel Clubb of Shorelife Community Church kneels in a prayer labyrinth set up for contemplation and to observe the Stations of the Cross.

For those who have been deceived into believing that a prayer labyrinth is compatible with Christianity, please read What is a prayer labyrinth? Are prayer labyrinths biblical? at http://www.gotquestions.org/prayer-labyrinth.html.

ENDNOTES:
[1] http://www.shorelifecc.org
[2] ‘Good Friday Prayer Labyrinth’
http://www.shorelifecc.org/event/65171-2013-03-29-good-friday-prayer-labyrinth/
[3] ‘Prayer labyrinth unwinds questions of faith’
http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/california/ci_14813705
Photograph: Dan Coyro/Sentinel
‘Santa Cruz County churches hold Good Friday observations’
http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_14806506

Merton and the Mennonite Church Down the Road

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. John 14:6

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk who did not believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. At the end of his life he had become so interested in Buddhism and Asian monasticism that he showed up at a monastic conference in Bangkok. In rare footage, Merton said:

“That’s a thing of the past now, to be suspicious of other religions, and to look always at what is weakest in other religions and what is highest in our own religion. This double standard of dealing with religions — this has to stop.”

The Muddy Theology of Thomas Merton
http://muddystreams.wordpress.com/2010/04/28/the-muddy-theology-of-thomas-merton/

During his Asian pilgrimage Thomas Merton stood in front of the Buddha statues and finally found the ‘clarity’ he was looking for – not in the word of God, but in the faces of the statues. Listen to his words:

Thomas Merton and Buddhism

After meeting him, the Dalai Lama [1] called Thomas Merton his comrade and spiritual brother, which was the foundation for the interreligious Compassion Rising Project, revealing how closely Merton’s beliefs resonated with Buddhism and New Age pagan religions.

Merton’s untimely death by accidental electrocution in Bangkok did not zap him into silence. Today he has begun showing up in many Christian churches. In fact, Thomas Merton and his teachings can now be found at the Mennonite church down the road. In an August 2012 MB Herald article called Viewpoint: “My church meets just down the road…” Seeking a theology of place for the church, author Len Hjalmarson [2] writes:

“Thomas Merton, both a mystic and a rooted man, embodied in his life and work this paradox – between earth and spirit – that expressed his gospel journey. I was first drawn to Merton’s work in 1981 with New Seeds of Contemplation. I recognized the threads of a common pilgrimage: a search for a place to belong…

Thomas Merton, trying first to escape the world, perceived that the path to life was in and through creation. Life became sacramental: the created world a window opening toward God. All around him, creation was continuing – “the dance of the Lord in emptiness.””

-Len Hjalmarson, MB Herald, August 2012
“My church meets just down the road…” Seeking a theology of place for the church

Hjalmarson, who has a doctorate in spiritual formation from MBBS, then goes on to say that Merton would have heartily approved of songwriter Bruce Cockburn words in “In the Falling Dark” (last verse). The last line goes like this:

“Don’t you know that from the first to the last we’re all one in the gift of grace!”

Hjalmarson is right that Merton would have agreed. Merton also said, “I see no contradiction between Buddhism and Christianity … I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can.” [3]

Next, Hjalmarson quotes Merton’s kindred spirit Henri Nouwen [4]…

“Writer Henri Nouwen reminds us we must convert hostility to hospitality – and this is a call to prayer. In prayer, we will discern the Spirit in the rhythms and textures of the neighbourhoods to which we are called, and which Jesus died to redeem.”

Only after reading Hjalmarson’s other writings[5] does it become apparent that this could be another reference to contemplative prayer and spirituality in the form of Rule of St. Benedict, the Daily Office and fixed hours of prayer.

In “My church meets just down the road…” Hjalmarson also points out that the missional church should invest in its own neighbourhood, but is this how to do it? Should the Bride of Christ, the head of which is Jesus Christ, be drawing from the living water of God’s Word, or from the words of men like Merton and Nouwen [6] and Benesh and Cockburn? Hjalmarson also alludes to the analogy of planting trees and deepening our roots, but instead of trusting in the words of mystics and men to do this we should consider the words in Jeremiah 17:5-8.

Unfortunately Hjalmarson is not alone in his quest for wisdom from other sources than the Word of God. Like many leaders and teachers affiliated with the Mennonite Brethren who now promote men like Thomas Merton and Richard Rohr (see: Rob de Cotes, Steve Klassen and Gareth Brandt), Hjalmarson too draws deeply from these same sources to find ‘wisdom’.

Learning to Approach Mystery

Approaching mystery isn’t an easy thing to do in our world of daytimers, constant interruptions, cellular phones and pagers. We have some unlearning and some learning to do.
The contemplative tradition offers some help. Pick up a book by Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, or Richard Rohr. Try “The Way of the Heart,” by Nouwen, “New Seeds of Contemplation,” by Merton, or “Everything Belongs,” by Richard Rohr. You’ll be amazed at the wisdom there.”

– Len Hjalmarson
Coloring outside the box
http://www.next-wave.org/aug01/coloring.htm

Like Klassen of the MB affiliated Mark Centre [7], Hjalmarson not only promotes neo pagan Franciscan priest Richard Rohr but also the silence of contemplative spirituality and Roman Catholic mysticism:

“… I have known a few Catholics over the years, and attended a few retreats, and I have observed that they are comfortable with silence. Silence is the one element almost completely missing from evangelical meetings.”

-Len Hjalmarson
Coloring outside the box

Welcome to the new neighbourhood Mennonite church down the road, but don’t forget to read the back of the sign. There you may find words like “new missional, monastic, and sacred” and quotes from universalist interspiritualist monks, but will you find THE Way, THE Truth and THE Life?

Endnotes:

[1] See: Thomas Merton & HH Dalai Lama
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXSnnYQEpkA

[2] Len Hjalmarson is co-author of Missional Spirituality and an adjunct professor of ministry at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Chicago with a doctorate in leadership and spiritual formation from MBBS. A new missional author of several books, he has written previously for the MB Herald. See more here:
What Kind of Discipleship is this in the MB Herald?
https://mennolite.wordpress.com/2010/10/25/what-kind-of-discipleship-is-this-in-the-mb-herald/

[3] (David Steindl-Rast, “Recollection of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West” (Monastic Studies, 7:10, 1969)

[4] Thomas Merton & Henri Nouwen: Sacrificing Truth for Mystical Experiences
http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=104
Why Christian Leaders Should Not Promote Henri Nouwen
http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=1355

[5] See: Ancient Monasticism and the Anabaptist Future: A Tale of Two Reformers
Leonard Hjalmarson
http://www.directionjournal.org/article/?1583
Also see: the daily office
by Len Hjalmarson @ http://nextreformation.com/?p=2000

[6] WHO IS HENRI NOUWEN?
http://muddystreams.wordpress.com/2010/05/28/who-is-henri-nouwen/

[7] See: Richard Rohr Impacts the Mark Centre
https://mennolite.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/richard-rohr-impacts-the-mark-centre/
The Mark Centre and Silent Prayer – Strategy to Affect Millions
https://mennolite.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/the-mark-centre-and-silent-prayer/

RELATED:

Merton’s Spirituality
http://muddystreams.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/mertons-spirituality/

MB Herald Editor Quotes Interspiritualist (Thomas Merton)
http://rollovermenno.wordpress.com/2007/11/14/mb-herald-editor-quotes-interspiritualist/

Mennonites or Mertonites?
http://rollovermenno.wordpress.com/2007/08/11/mennonites-or-mertonites/

Contemplative Prayer and the Evangelical Church
by Ray Yungen
http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/contemplativeprayerarticlebyray.pdf

Contemplative Prayer – Does Our Intent to Find Jesus Justify the Method?
http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=4186

Missionary or Missional-lite?
https://mennolite.wordpress.com/2010/03/12/missionary-or-missional-lite/

UPDATE:

Please see:

A Historical Analysis of Mysticism: Part I
Catholic and Buddhist Spirituality in the Context of the 12th and 13th Centuries

http://moriel.org/MorielArchive/index.php/missions/thailand/a-historical-analysis-of-mysticism-part-i