Sunday, October 12, 2008

RETREAT and Contemplative Prayer

Well, I’m not doing very well with my updates, am I? The last post was a month ago. Oh, well, I’m still not sure anyone is reading them (only one comment has been left since I started, and that is the only measure I have). 11/21/08 I have taken out references to particular people and organizations in this post in order not to offend or slander anyone.

What happened with the RETREAT?
So, now I have enticed you even further by suggesting that the Women’s Club retreat has been affected by what I have been researching.

Here is the story. In May, while I was still in the States, the retreat committee met for the first time. Several people had been putting out feelers to possible retreat speakers to come from the States for our event in late October. And, one of them, an author of Christian women's books, agreed. She is a personal friend of one of our committee members, so the invitation came through that individual. After that meeting, the "invited" speaker sent an email to the committee suggesting that she bring a friend with her and further suggesting that her friend teach our ladies on CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER and SPIRITUAL FORMATION. I did not see this email since I was not on the distribution for it.

However, in late August, after several conversations with my friend Marianna and her husband regarding my research and findings on the Emerging Church (this will soon be a new post, I hope) and Contemplative Prayer (CP), Marianna found this months’ old email and showed it to me. Naturally, I was aghast and told her I wanted to talk with the person who had invited our speaker and her friend. Marianna and Jim were leaving on that Sunday and on Monday we were scheduled to have a regular Women's Club meeting in their apartment.

So, the committee member called me on Saturday. I explained on the phone what my concerns were. The member tried to tell me that she did not think her friend was teaching this type of prayer but suggested that I call her and ask some questions. I, of course, already knew just how controversial this topic was just from the various articles I had read where this exact scenario was being played out. I explained that often people are so deceived by what they have been taught and truly do not think that what they are teaching is un-Biblical or similar to Eastern meditation. But, she insisted that I should make the call because she did not know what questions to ask. So, I reluctantly agreed to do so.

But, I was not comfortable. So, I did not make the call. I felt it was not my responsibility to challenge this speaker if I did not have the support of the rest of the committee. And, since this was not the speaker we had actually invited, it was even more difficult. When we met the following Monday for our regular club meeting, the member challenged me as to where I was getting my information. I did not want to argue with her any more than I wanted to argue with the prospective speaker. I explained that I did not feel it was my responsibility to convince someone that they were wrong and I was right. I just felt compelled by God to raise the issue for discussion and then decide a path forward. This committee member did not want to do that with me, so it was left that she would call me before I left town for Mariupol the following Sunday. I did not hear from her.

Our committee met on the Monday night that I returned. Marianna had been in conversation with this member and had asked for the "guest" speaker to send us an outline of what she planned to teach so our committee could have something to review. The "guest" speaker was unable to do that. The member had been in touch with several people in America including another committee member who interviewed the "guest" speaker over the phone and an email had been sent to the entire committee sharing about my concerns and why they were now allayed because of the glowing reports that others had given. I felt pretty blind-sided, but I was not angry. I prayed for God to give me wisdom and grace in facing this challenge. This was not about me but about being faithful to God’s Word.

In the meeting I explained precisely why I did not make the phone call to the prospective speaker and exactly why I was concerned about

1) it is un-Biblical
2) it is dangerous
3) it leads to an experience rather than a relationship with God.

I believed that the committee needed to decide if this topic should be taught. There was much discussion, on both sides of the issue, but I said very little. Several people became angry and raised an issue of “trust” for the member who had invited the "invited" speaker and "guest" speaker. Marianna was particularly clear that we still did not know what exactly was to be taught and that we could not even make a decision until we knew something definite.

The following Monday, the outline finally came. The four of us who were the “dissenters” reviewed this document. We tried very hard to be fair and to look at what had been provided from an objective perspective. Marianna asked me specifically why I felt it was “dangerous”. I read to her the quote from Richard Foster’s book Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home. This quote gives a warning and a precaution that CP is not for the novice and is dangerous because unfriendly spirits can influence the person who practices this method of meditation. The outline did not dispel our concerns. It was vague in many areas and left questions in our minds as to what was actually going to be taught. After our meeting concluded, we sent a joint email to the entire committee and the two speakers thanking this particular "guest" speaker for the outline but not indicating approval for this material. But, we all agreed to drop our objections to the person coming and to the OPTIONAL teaching. It was now a non-issue. Or at least that is what we thought.

Several days later, Marianna sent out an email to the committee including the particular Richard Foster quote that I had given to Marianna. She wanted to gently and graciously point out that our concerns had a real basis, not just our opinions. She also mentioned in this note that she was still planning on the two speakers staying in her apartment while they would be in Kiev. It was kind, generous and well written. Not offensive. Peacemaking.

But, as of today, the issue is still not resolved. I don’t yet know what the results of a meeting planned for this evening will be.

I have written all of this detail regarding this incident to demonstrate just how intense the Spiritual War over CP is. I have asked myself again and again, would I raise the issue again if a similar occasion arose? Yes, I would. I cannot tell God that I will NOT be true to what He says because of the cost. If someone could show the Scriptural basis for CP, I would certainly listen. But the enemy has so blinded those who are teaching and are being taught this un-Biblical method of prayer, the only response they seem to give is anger and lashing out at the person who is raising the question. May God give me, and my friends, courage to continue to “fight the good fight.”

For those who would like more information on CP, please see my post from September 11, 2008.