But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.
Yesterday’s post (We’re looking for a few good contemplatives) inspired some interesting commentary, including further exploration of the question regarding whether beginners in the spiritual life ought to be exposed to contemplative prayer. Here is one opinion that was expressed yesterday:
The danger, I believe, is actually the risk of falling into quietism or illuminism. These errors have already been refuted hundreds of years ago and I see no harm and great benefit in protecting souls from falling into these dangers, especially beginners.
Few things bug me more than people who attack contemplation. In my mind it makes about as much sense as attacking a well-balanced diet. But people keep doing it (and, as evidence of my not-very-advanced spiritual state, I keep getting worked up over it).
On the internet these days, it seems that the most common critic of contemplation is the conservative evangelical, whose attack often confuses denunciations of eastern meditation with a barely concealed anti-Catholicism. But as yesterday’s commentary reminds me, there’s just as much opposition to contemplation from within Catholicism as from the evangelical right. But the Catholic critique of contemplation is much subtler. Here the message isn’t “this is bad,” but rather “this is only for advanced souls.” Discerning whether a person is “advanced” or not is typically a lengthy process involving a spiritual director. The takeaway: unless you are duly submissive to Catholic authority, you have no business being silent before God. And the hidden subtext: it’s not just any kind of Catholic authority, it’s the kind of Catholic authority that thinks Vatican II was a colossal mistake.
Sigh. I love the Catholic tradition, but I fear for its future. Currently there’s a mighty struggle for the soul of the Catholic faith: between those who believe Vatican II was the headwaters of apostasy, and those who believe it was the action of the Holy Spirit in our time. I suppose this struggle will not be resolved even in our lifetime, and I for one have to keep reminding myself that the love of God flows lavishly and abundantly on both “sides.” In many ways it is the Catholic mirror of the similar struggle within Protestantism: between conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists on the one side, and mainstream liberal Protestants and emergent/emerging Christians on the other. For Catholics, it’s Mother Angelica and Mitch Pacwa versus Thomas Keating and Joan Chittister. For Protestants, it’s Wayne Grudem and James Dobson versus Marcus Borg and Brian McLaren. I suppose every generation has its conflicts and its struggle over the soul of spirituality. I’m just sorry that something as good for you as contemplation gets caught in the crossfire.
Meanwhile: If we ought to protect beginners from quietism or illuminism (or any other distortion of the faith), then the solution is to teach them about it. But to just use this as an excuse for restricting access to contemplative practice is like saying to a sixteen-year-old, “I’m not going to let you drive a car because you might get a speeding ticket.” To tell people that they cannot practice centering prayer or contemplation because they are “not ready” merely for fear that they might fall into a heresy makes about as much sense as telling someone he or she cannot attend Mass for fear that they will misunderstand the doctrines of the Holy Trinity or of the Incarnation, or that one may not receive the Blessed Sacrament unless he or she can carefully explain the theology of the Real Presence.