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Index of FAQ about "Christian" Mysticism

 

What are Breath Prayers?  /  What Does the Bible Say about Breath Prayers?  /  Do Breath Prayers Discourage Thinking & Discernment?

 

The original intent behind all forms of body prayers is to disengage the mind. Breath prayers are no exception. This is why John Talbot writes in Come to the Quiet: The Principles of Christian Meditation, “I began practicing meditation, specifically breath prayer, once again.”1

Essentially, a breath prayer is a word or a short phrase which can be said within a single breath. This is then used as a tool to empty the mind, as Richard Foster notes in his book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, “Commenting on breath prayers, Theophane the Recluse notes, ‘Thoughts continue to jostle in your head like misquitos. To stop this jostling, you must bind the mind with one thought, or the thought of One only. An aid to this is a short prayer, which helps the mind to become simple and unified.’”2 In other words, whenever the mind becomes active, the breath prayer is used to “bind the mind.”

In his book Sadhana, former Director of the Sadhana Institute of Pastoral Counseling Anthony De Mello teaches how breath prayers can be used to attain the transcendental state of mind that we discussed in the section dealing with contemplative prayer:3

If you would attain to this state and draw close to this mystical darkness and begin to communicate with God through this Heart that mystics speak of, the first thing you may have to do is find some means for silencing the mind. … All you can do is silence your discursive mind: abstain from all thoughts and words while you are at prayer and leave the Heart to develop by itself.

To silence the mind is an extremely difficult task. How hard it is to keep the mind from thinking, thinking, thinking, forever thinking, forever producing thoughts in a never-ending stream. Our Hindu masters in India have a saying: one thorn is removed by another. By this they mean that you will be wise to use one thought to rid yourself of all other thoughts that crowd into your mind. One thought, one image, one phrase or sentence or word that your mind can be made to fasten on. For to consciously attempt to keep the mind in a thoughtless state, in a void, is to attempt the impossible. The mind must have something to occupy it. Well, then, give it something with which to occupy itself—but just one thing. An image of the Saviour that you gaze on lovingly and to which you return each time you are distracted; an ejaculation that you keep repeating ceaselessly to prevent the mind from wandering.

A further means of encouraging this meditative state is to match the prayer with the act of breathing. Part of the phrase is prayed as the individual inhales, and the remainder as he exhales. John Talbot explains this in his book Come to the Quiet: The Principles of Christian Meditation, using the popular Jesus Prayer as an illustration:4

One of the tools for praying ceaselessly is to unite the Jesus Prayer with the breath. Hesychia continues, “attentiveness is the heart’s stillness, unbroken by any thought. In this stillness, the heart breathes and invokes, endlessly and without ceasing, only Jesus Christ.” … The Fathers are clear about the method of uniting the Jesus Prayer with the breath. In their work Directions to Hesychasts, Saints Calistas and Ignatius say, “Sitting down in your cell, collect your mind, lead into the path of the breath along which the air enters in, constrain it into the heart together with the inhaled air, and keep it there…do not leave it silent and idle; instead give it the following prayer: ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.’”

Despite the fact that breath prayers are believed to have originated among the mystic Desert Fathers of Catholicism, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship promotes the practice of breath prayers. This is an influential organization among Baptist churches. According to their website, “CBF consists of individuals, approximately 1,800 affiliated churches, regional fellowships and ministry partners seeking to be the presence of Christ. Based in Atlanta, CBF partners with 15 theological schools, 18 autonomous state and regional organizations and more than 150 ministry organizations worldwide, …”5 On their website, they provide a detailed explanation of how to conduct breath prayers. A portion of this reads:6

Spend a few moments in silence. Relax. Imagine Jesus standing before you, asking, “What do you want? What do you seek from me?” Respond with the first thing that comes to your mind. Write this down. Next, choose your favorite name for God (such as Father, Jesus, Lord, Abba, Holy One, etc.) and write it down. Now write a short sentence prayer that combines your favorite name for God with your answer to Jesus’ question. For example, “Lord Jesus, give me peace”; “Jesus, help me to love”; “Father, give me courage.”

Ideally, your breath prayer should be 6–12 syllables. After you have chosen or created a breath prayer, make a goal to remain in God’s abiding presence as you begin saying your prayer. Ponder the meaning and beauty of the words you are saying. Slowly say the first part of the prayer as you breathe in. Then slowly say the last part of the prayer as you exhale. There is no hurry or rush.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s teaching on breath prayers is largely adapted from Thomas Keating’s book Open Mind, Open Heart and the book The Way of Pilgrimage: An Adventure in Spiritual Formation for the Next Generation: Leader’s Guide by Sally Chambers, Gavin Richardson, and Jonathan Norman. Recall that “spiritual formation” is another title for “contemplative prayer.” Also recall that Thomas Keating is one of the chief proponents of contemplative prayer. Clearly these breath prayers are closely linked with contemplative prayer. Therefore, even if they have the appearance of being harmless—or possibly beneficial—they are inherently linked with a practice that is ultimately motivated by the spirit of antichrist. This may be difficult for some people to discern. Fortunately, John Talbot, Richard Foster, and Anthony De Mello have provided us with a glimpse into the darker nature behind this method of praying.

The most famous of all breath prayers is known as the Jesus Prayer. In its most ancient and simple form, it consists of repeating the name “Jesus” with every breath. In another form, it consists of repeating, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.”7 According to Orthodox Wiki:

In the Orthodox tradition the prayer is said or prayed repeatedly, often with the aid of a prayer rope. It may be accompanied by prostrations and the sign of the cross. … Monastics often have long sessions praying this prayer many hundreds of times each night as part of their discipline, and through the guidance of an elder, its practitioner’s ultimate goal is to “internalize” the prayer, so that one is praying unceasingly there-by accomplishing Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).8

Constant repetition is an integral aspect of this prayer method. Referencing Tony Jones’ book The Sacred Way, David Cloud writes, “Ancient monastic contemplative manuals suggest that this be repeated from 3,000 to 12,000 times a day.”9 Furthermore, in his book The Way of the Mystics, John Talbot admits that another integral aspect of this prayer is that it not be contemplated by the mind, “Trying to mentally grasp the meaning of each word of the prayer as we pray it would be mentally confusing. This would be a distraction from prayer. Rather, the full meaning of the Jesus Prayer is best grasped when intuited on the level of spirit beyond the senses, the emotions, or the mind.”10 John Talbot further expounds in Come to the Quiet, “[G]o into the heights of contemplation beyond all concepts and knowledge. In this, the words serve as a tool to keep one at the prayer in a disciplined way. But to truly enter into the prayer of the heart, which is the purpose of the prayer, one must travel beyond the knowable meaning of the words to a simple intuition that includes, yet surpasses, their objective and subjective realities, into reality itself.”11

We can be certain that the Apostle Paul did not intend his readers to understand his teaching in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to mean that they should endeavor to reach a point where they continually repeat the same phrase whether consciously or unconsciously. We know this because Jesus commanded us in Matthew 6:7 to avoid mindless repetition, “‘And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

Steady repetition of any word or phrase naturally numbs the mind. Thus, the repetition of the same phrase twelve thousand times—or even two hundred times—inevitably leads to mindless—or empty—repetition. Moreover, the ultimate goal of internally repeating the prayer apart from the conscious mind is by definition a mindless act. Regardless of one’s intentions, and regardless of how spiritual it may appear, this practice is in direct contradiction to Scripture.

 


1. Talbot, Come to the Quiet, 8.
2. Foster, Prayer, 124.
3. De Mello, Sadhana, 32–33.
4. Talbot, Come to the Quiet, 174–176.
5. Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, “About Us.”
6. Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, “Breath Prayer.”
7. Orthodox Wiki, “Jesus Prayer.”
8. Ibid.
9. Cloud, “Thomas Merton.”
10. John Talbot, The Way of the Mistics, 192, Source: Cloud, What Is the Emerging Church? 126.
11. Talbot, Come to the Quiet, 176.

Works Cited

Cloud, David. “Thomas Merton: The Catholic Buddhist Mystic.” Way of Life Literature. Accessed March 18, 2014. http://www.wayoflife.org/database/merton.html.
Cloud, David. What Is the Emerging Church? Bethel Baptist Print Ministry, 2008.
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. “About Us.” Accessed March 18, 2014, http://www.thefellowship.info/About-Us.
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. “Breath Prayer.” Accessed March 18, 2014, http://www.thefellowship.info/Pray/Prayer-Practices/Breath-Prayer.
De Mello, Anthony. Sadhana. Random House, 2011.
Foster, Richard. Prayer – 10th Anniversary Edition: Finding the Heart’s True Home. Sand Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2009.
Orthodox Wiki. “Jesus Prayer.” Accessed March 18, 2014. http://orthodoxwiki.org/Jesus_Prayer.
Talbot, John. Come to the Quiet: The Principles of Christian Meditation. Penguin, 2002.


 

The above comes from our book Sinister Spirit. Check out this book to see how "Christian" mysticism is linked to the spirit of antichrist.

 

Author: Timothy Zebell, 2014