Pt.3 The inner exploration, an imaginative journey to nowhere
Understanding the premise of contemplative
Richard Foster shares his journey to what is now known as the “Celebration of Discipline”:
“I longed for more power to do the work of God. I felt inadequate to deal with many of the desperate needs that confronted me. There had to be more spiritual resources than I was experiencing
(and I’d had all the Holy Spirit experiences you’re supposed to have; you name them, I’d had them!) [underline[s] mine]
He prayed, “Lord, is there more you want to bring into my life? I want to be conquered and ruled by you. If there is anything blocking the flow of your power, reveal it to me” (Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, Third Edition, (San Francisco: Harper, 1978), p. 149.
He assumes God answered his prayer “Not by an audible voice … but simply by a growing impression that perhaps something in my past was impeding the flow of his life. So I devised a plan. I divided my life into three periods: childhood, adolescence, adulthood. On the first day I came before God in prayer and meditation, pencil and paper in hand. Inviting him to reveal to me anything during my childhood that needed either forgiveness or healing or both, I waited in absolute silence for some ten minutes.”
So I devised a plan is the key to his journey away from God’s way. Beginning with the method of journaling, a process whereby God supposedly reveals His mind to the silent participant. After 3 days, Foster took his list to a friend that offered to be his confessor. He then prayed for healing for all the sorrows and hurts of Foster’s past that he wrote down in his journal. Following this experience of journaling, (an unbiblical discovery technique), Foster said he “was released to explore what were for me new and uncharted regions of the Spirit. Following that event, I began to move into several of the Disciplines described in this book that I had never experienced before. (Ibid. p. 150.)
Foster used an unbiblical method, from this openness he learned about his unbiblical disciplines which are now disseminated everywhere in the church. He was led to discover ancient monastic mysticism, as Roman Catholic monks practiced their religion.
In his book Celebration of Discipline we find that Foster endorses the use of the rosary and prayer wheel (p. 64); He promotes Roman Catholic practices such as use of “spiritual directors,” In the Middle Ages not even the greatest saints attempted the depths of the inward journey without the help of a spiritual director. Today the concept is hardly understood, let alone practiced, except in the Roman Catholic monastic system. That is a tragedy, for the idea of the spiritual director is highly applicable to the contemporary scene” (p.185)
Foster is taking the reader back to the period of darkness where the Roman church departed from Scripture and fought against those who called her back to it. He mourns for these practices that are only found in Roman Catholicism and offers a spiritual director to practice what he calls an inward journey.
Noting that the, “First spiritual directors were the desert Fathers.” These directors are to “lead us to our real Director.” The director “leads by his own personal holiness.” “He is the means of God to open the path to the inward teaching of the Holy Spirit….”advanced further into the inner depths, the two are both learning and growing in the realm of the Spirit. (Celebration of Discipline p.185 20th anniversary ed.)
Let’s fully understand how far adrift Foster has gone. It is the Holy Spirit who directly leads us into all truth; instead, Foster says we need another (director) to get to the Holy Spirit. Where is that in the Bible?
Foster then addresses this “we would go to a spiritual director to care for our spirit the way we might go to an ophthalmologist to care for our eyes. Such an approach is false. Spiritual direction is concerned with the whole person and the interrelationship of all of life.” He then quotes Thomas Merton (We will postpone looking at Merton and the others he quotes for our summary)
Foster is steeped in the practices of Roman Catholicism: confession, and penance (pp. 146-150, 156, 185). Foster asks, "Why does this little prayer of one syllable pierce the heavens?" (Spiritual Classics p.45). Who says it does? A syllable is not a prayer but a mantra. He promotes the Roman Catholic way of grace “Experiences like sacramental prayer through which god mediates his grace to us in liturgical splendor (Catholic sacramentalism). Foster actually says "They [the Disciplines] are God's means of grace" (6). "We should not bypass this means of God's grace" (25).
What audacity! Grace is what every Christian has by the new covenant WITHOUT Foster’s disciplines.
Foster also recommends the use of imagination, visualization, dreamwork are useful for a Christians spiritual growth citing their use in ancient church history. This is all part and parcel of what was mysticism, now known as new age disciplines of meditation. Nowhere does the Bible instruct us to pursue these types of exercises.
Mysticism is the belief that God, can be contacted and known through subjective experience. Certain actions, methods or practices are used to make this contact. All the methods and practices found in the New Age, be it centering, Yoga, meditation mantras, breathing, quietism Foster teaches.
While Foster does say one should distinguish between Eastern meditation and Christian forms, he ignores his own statement for the methods he teaches that are no different at times than new age or Eastern techniques.
“The inner world of meditation is most easily entered through the door of the imagination. We fail today to appreciate its tremendous power. The imagination is stronger than conceptual thought and stronger than the will" (Foster: 22).
This is what we will focus on, the imagination and entering the inner reality which he calls the spiritual realm. Which is by his own definition the inner world, the realm of the spirit, i.e. Holy Spirit. So by imagination we enter God, who is the Holy Spirit. As we will see this far more than just unbiblical, for the Holy Spirit is the truth and imagination by its nature can be anything.
The dictionaries define imagination as: 1: the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality 2a : creative ability 3a : a creation of the mind; esp : an idealized or poetic creation b: fanciful or empty assumption (Merriam-Webster, Dictionary)
So we have a dichotomy in using something “made up” to reach what is true besides the unbiblical concept of going inward. A fanciful empty assumption would best fit the Foster’s process.
In Celebration of Discipline his chapter on meditation “How then do we come to believe in a world of the spirit? Is it by blind faith? Not at all. The inner reality of the spiritual world is available to all who are willing to search for it. Often I have discovered that those who so freely debunk the spiritual world have never taken ten minutes to investigate whether or not such a world really exists.” (Celebration of Discipline p. 23)
Foster stresses discovering "the inner reality of the spiritual world [which] is available to all who are willing to search for it." When he says all, he means even people "who have yet to turn their lives over to Jesus Christ - can and should practice them" (p.2 Spiritual disciplines).
What does this statement tell you about Foster? How can one use the disciplines to go into the Holy Spirit when he is not resident within them? Unless one believes he is, without them being born again OF THE SPIRIT. Which makes one a universalist. Foster is not addressing man’s sin problem with the gospel but replaces it by promoting his disciplines as a discovery for man to have intimacy without God.
Those of us who have been delivered from the new age practices know “You cannot use an unbiblical means to get a Biblical result”; these methods were not given to us by God so they cannot be approved by God to contact Him.
“In the realm of the spirit we soon discover that the real issues are found in the tiny, insignificant corners of life. (p.134 Celebration of Discipline
The Bible does not speak of a realm but the Spirit as God. The Bible does not speak of a spirit world or realm inside man that we can contact by these so called prayer methods Foster teaches.
Where does God speak of a spirit realm?
The commonality among pagan cultures is that they have a belief in the unseen world, Foster’s inward is to discover a spirit world is has its origins not in Christianity but other religious practices. Just because there were monks who used these methods does not validate it is Biblical Christianity.
“If we hope to move beyond the superficialities of our culture, including our religious culture, we must be willing to go down into the recreating silences, into the inner world of contemplation. In their writings all the masters of meditation beckon us to be pioneers in this frontier of the Spirit. Though it may sound strange to modern ears, we should without shame enroll as apprentices in the school of contemplative prayer.”(Celebration of Discipline p.15)
When he speaks of going down to the inner world, to be a pioneer in the frontier of the Spirit he is not referring to the actual Holy Spirit. The masters of meditation is a group of ancient monastic men who used eastern methods to practice their Roman Catholicism. This cannot be stressed enough; they are not practicing what Jesus or the apostles taught (Foster knows this because he searches all over the Bible to find words or sayings to justify his practice).
“Don’t you feel a tug, a yearning to sink down into the silence and solitude of God? Don’t you long for something more? Doesn’t every breath crave a deeper, fuller exposure to his Presence? It is the Discipline of solitude that will open the door. You are welcome to come in and “listen to God’s speech in his wondrous, terrible, gentle, loving, all-embracing silence” (p.108-109 Celebration of Discipline 20th anniversary ed.)
If God wants to communicate to man he never had a problem doing so, especially those who want to hear from him. We do not go into a place of silence to hear him speak.
Foster further writes Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, on p. 156: At the onset I need to give a word of warning, a little like the warning labels on medicine bottles. Contemplative prayer is not for the novice. I do not say this about other forms of prayer.”… “But contemplation is different. While we are all precious in the eyes of God, we are all not equally ready to listen to God's speech in his wondrous, terrible, gentle, loving, all embracing silence.”
In Celebration of Discipline Foster invites the seeker You are welcome to come in; then says we are all not equally ready to listen to God's speech!
Thus by his own words contemplative is not for all, one must be proficient, an expert who is "ready to listen" to God.
Where in Scripture is there support for this idea of a warning in prayer? It seems to me that Foster and those who promote contemplative prayer have ignored the dangers of other spiritual methods intruding on the simplicity that is in Christ. As he further warns,
“I also want to give a word of precaution. In the silent contemplation of God we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm, and there is such a thing as supernatural guidance that is not divine guidance. While the Bible does not give us a lot of information on the nature of the spiritual world, we do know… there are various orders of spiritual beings, and some of them are definitely not in cooperation with God and his way! … But for now I want to encourage you to learn and practice prayers of protection… “All dark and evil spirits must now leave.” (Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1992, First Edition p. 157)
God will protect those who are ignorant, but, if one knowingly traffics on this unholy ground they should not expect protection. Asking God to protect us as we enter into a place he does not ever tell us to go is testing God. Not a good position to put oneself in considering the ramifications. You can’t pray protection, nor practice these prayers when you are using an unbiblical method of prayer to get you to the place he calls the spirit realm spiritual world, within you.
Besides using imagination he also uses guided imagery and visualization to elicit results.
Foster believes this can be accomplished via imagined (creative) visualization; which he describes brings about of body experiences.
“In your imagination, picture yourself walking along a lovely forest path. ... When you are able to experience the scene with all your senses, the path breaks out onto a lovely grassy knoll. Walk out into the lush large meadow encircled by stately pines. After exploring the meadow for a time, lie down on your back looking up at blue sky and white clouds. IN YOUR IMAGINATION ALLOW YOUR SPIRITUAL BODY, SHINING WITH LIGHT, TO RISE OUT OF YOUR PHYSICAL BODY. Look back so that you can see yourself lying in the grass and reassure your body that you will return momentarily. IMAGINE YOUR SPIRITUAL SELF, ALIVE AND VIBRANT, RISING UP THROUGH THE CLOUDS AND INTO THE STRATOSPHERE. Observe your physical body, the knoll, and the forest shrink as you leave the earth. Go deeper and deeper into outer space until there is nothing except the warm presence of the eternal Creator. Rest in His presence. Listen quietly, anticipating the unanticipated. NOTE CAREFULLY ANY INSTRUCTION GIVEN With time and experience you will be able to distinguish readily between mere human thought that may bubble up to the conscious mind and the True Spirit which inwardly moves upon the heart. Do not be disappointed if no words come; like good friends, you are silently enjoying the company of each other. When it is time for you to leave, audibly thank the Lord for His goodness and return to the meadow. Walk joyfully back along the path until you return home full of new life and energy” (Celebration of Discipline, 1978, pp. 27, 28).
In his later edition (the 20th Annniversary ed.) it does not have this. Clearly he got feedback and removed it. But it does not change at all what he teaches.
Consider the use of your imagination to bring about the separation of your spirit, shining with light, to rise out of your physical body. This technique is demonstrably astral projection and it is practiced by proficient Mystics, Occultists and new Agers. Foster’s use of methods are found outside the Scripture. Whether by imagination or mental imagery it is not leading one to God but is a quick way to open oneself to something other than God.
“Creative visualization” is the technique of using your imagination to create. According to Shakti Gawain in her book “Creative visualization” she explains, “It is your natural power of imagination, the basic creative energy of the universe which you use constantly, whether or not you are aware of it. The light of God within me is producing perfect results in every phase of my life now.” (p.22 Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain)
She like Foster tells one how to prepare, “Relax deeply and do whatever type of preparation you wish in order to enter a deep, quiet state of mind.p.75)
“Get as quiet as you can, listen for your inner voice, and ask what the message is (p.60)
“You may prefer to use such phrases as divine love, the light within me, or universal intelligence” (Ibid. p.26)
“we come back into an experience of our true selves, the God-like nature or the universal mind that is within us all. (p.29 She attributes this to “the God-like being who dwells within you. (p.39 Just as Foster insinuates)
The same steps and many of the same practices are involved. What Foster is offering the church is nothing new, it’s been practiced even before the monastic monks adopted it.
Regressive psychotherapy and inner healing also uses visualization, guided imagery methods.
Martin & Deidre Bobgan write on the "guided imagery" exercises that trauma therapists employ to gain access to buried memories
“When someone is relaxed, willing to suspend critical judgment, engage in fantasy, and place ultimate faith in an authority figure using ritualistic methods, deceptive scenes from the past can easily be induced.”
When using guided imagery, imagination is applied one can receive the results they want or may not want (Which is what Foster warns about).
Consider next his description of how he taught visualizing prayer to a little boy:
“Imagination opens the door to faith. If we can ‘see’ in our mind’s eye a shattered marriage whole or a sick person well, it is only a short step to believing that it will be so. ... I was once called to a home to pray for a seriously ill baby girl. Her four-year-old brother was in the room and so I told him I needed his help to pray for his baby sister. ... He climbed up into the chair beside me. ‘Let’s play a little game,’ I said. ‘Since we know that Jesus is always with us, let’s imagine that He is sitting over in the chair across from us. He is waiting patiently for us to center our attention on Him. When we see Him, we start thinking more about His love than how sick Julie is. He smiles, gets up, and comes over to us. Then let’s both put our hands on Julie and when we do, Jesus will put His hands on top of ours. WE’LL WATCH AND IMAGINE THAT THE LIGHT FROM JESUS IS FLOWING RIGHT INTO YOUR LITTLE SISTER AND MAKING HER WELL. Let’s pretend that the light of Christ fights with the bad germs until they are all gone. Okay!’ Seriously the little one nodded. Together we prayed in this childlike way and then thanked the Lord that what we ‘saw’ was the way it was going to be” (Celebration of Discipline, 1978, p. 37).
Does the Bible teach imagination opens the door to faith? If not then this practice is NOT biblical faith. Faith means to trust, we trust Jesus, what he taught, not the methodology of imagination.
Biblical prayer is not believing Jesus will accomplish what we ask through the power of our mind or imagination. It is talking to God about our needs, asking Him to accomplish things according to his will and way which also involves His timing. There is a vast difference between the practice of Foster’s imagination of light coming from Jesus at that moment for a solution (this light is also the same concept in the new age movement).
This is not biblical prayer Foster is using; it is an occult technique to summon what he thinks is Jesus. Mind Science practitioners and New Agers, occultists, Mystics have all practiced this type of action. The danger is that Foster recommends that parents pray for their sleeping children after this manner.
“Imagine the light of Christ flowing through your hands and healing every emotional trauma and hurt feeling your child experienced that day. Fill him or her with the peace and joy of the Lord. In sleep the child is very receptive to prayer since the conscious mind which tends to erect barriers to God’s gentle influence is relaxed” (Celebration of Discipline, p. 39).
There is not the hint of support in Scripture for this practice. To bypass “the conscious mind” of the recipient for results from your hands is what the New age movement is all about, this is occultism.
Consider the term light of Christ (which is a metaphor for the word or the Spirit) being imagined? Does the Bible ever give us an example of this practice? No.
As Paul Proctor points out the Hegalian Dialectic is used to usher in a new hybrid, called "Contemplative Spirituality".
Thesis (Christianity) + Antithesis (New Age) = Synthesis (Contemplative).
Foster has confused and fused words from the Bible to other spiritual practices for the recipient to practice convincing them this will enhance and help their spiritual growth. The fact is they are being drawn away from the genuine Christ that they once called upon them to save them.