A wise Episcopal priest once told me, “Most Christians believe that unless something is explicitly approved in the Bible, it is forbidden by God. But it makes just as much logical sense to say that unless something is explicitly forbidden in the Bible, it is approved by God.” Her words echo in my mind whenever I run across folks who attack mysticism or contemplative prayer because it is “unscriptural.” Not only do I believe the Bible is literally infused with mystical sensibility, but I’ve never found a compelling argument to support the idea that the Bible condemns meditation or contemplation. And if the Bible doesn’t condemn it, how dare anyone assume it is forbidden by God? To be honest, it boggles my mind that some people get so worked up over this.

Attacking contemplative prayer is like attacking vitamins or wholesome food. Nowhere does the Bible say “To be healthy, thou shalt be sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grains, making sure that thou dost ingest at least 20 grams of fiber every day.” By the logic of the anti-contemplatives, since the Bible doesn’t explicitly command it, therefore it is un-Christian to eat a healthy diet. After all, it is only because of non-Christian teachings (i.e., secular science) that we have come to believe in the importance of a healthy diet. Just as Christian mysticism is friendly to non-Christian wisdom (such as Neoplatonism or Zen), so too modern nutrition theory rests on the non-Christian wisdom of science. If it’s bad to dabble in one, it’s probably just as bad to dabble in the other. Some people might point to Genesis 1:29 (“God also said, ‘Look, to you I give all the seed-bearing plants everywhere on the surface of the earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this will be your food”) to say that the Bible does command a healthy diet. But by that logic, we should all be vegans (which works for me).

I know I’m arguing from the perspective of the absurd. But, hey, in all good conscience, I am convinced that only an absurd logic could lead people to insist that mysticism, contemplation and meditation are bad.

I seem to recall learning somewhere that it’s harder to frown than to smile; ie, it takes more facial muscles to make a frown than a smile. There’s a spiritual lesson in there. Anti-contemplatives are, it seems to me, trying to paint a frown over God’s smile. I wish these killjoys would stop working so hard at such a useless task.

"Empty yourself completely and sit waiting"
What Good is Religion? A Contemplative Perspective
Creative Conversation Begins with Contemplative Compassion
When Contemplation Feels Like Dying


  1. I found that getting drawn into proving is fruitless. Keep my eyes on Christ, lift Him up, and man will be drawn unto Him.

  2. judith collier says:

    I have experienced both the (this is hard to explain) the “slain in the Holy Spirit” phenomenom, and i will call it “deep” contemplative prayer. I have also experienced what I believe is called mysticism. All of these were actually different, one is resting or being healed in God (very,extremely peaceful) one gives a spirit of intense devotion and wisdom and the last sets you on fire (as though you were being consumed, but the heat is not hot but zealous to the point of agony) Help me out here, are these just one and the same or what? i do hope you,Carl, cover these subjects in your book. I hope i am not becoming a pest. judy

  3. No, Judy, you are not a pest at all! Thanks for visiting, and for all that you say. I don’t always respond to every comment you make, but I read every one.

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