So what does Centering Prayer have in common with Rock and Roll?

When I was in high school, I used to hear charismatic Christians talk about how rock and roll music conjured demons. “It’s in the drum beat,” they said. “It’s the same drum beat that witchdoctors use in primitive cultures to call up their evil spirits.” Basically, if you listened to rock music, no matter what your intentions may have been, you were (according to these folks) unintentionally making yourself vulnerable to the malevolent influence of opportunistic spirits.

It’s interesting how I don’t hear that kind of rhetoric any more, and maybe it’s just because I no longer move in those kind of culturally reactionary circles. I guess it’s hard to maintain the “rock-and-roll-conjures-demons” theory in a world where rock bands like Third Day, Kutless and Switchfoot crank out music as heavy as Led Zeppelin in their heyday — and with a decidedly Christian message.

But nowadays it seems like the devil-alarmists have found a new target: Christian mysticism and centering prayer. For a representative example, read this article by John Dreher: The Danger of Centering Prayer. Dreher takes aim at centering prayer’s admitted use of eastern spiritual techniques, but then goes on to tell the story of a young girl who practices centering prayer only to have her life invaded by demons (and while it’s debatable if she really were under demonic attack, Dreher’s insistence that centering prayer was the culprit, without looking at family history, psychological issues, or other possible factors, is singularly unconvincing).

According to what the demon-watchers are saying, it seems that centering prayer, just like rock and roll, acts as a beacon for those same nasty opportunistic spirits. The alarmists must be afraid of rhythm, I think, because that’s the only connection I can see between centering prayer and rock and roll: whether it’s the rhythm of a steady drumbeat, or the rhythm of a repetitive prayer word, either way the fundamentalists see demons lurking behind the “beat.” Of course, centering prayer’s critics argue that it is the silence itself that makes us vulnerable to demonic attack! (Man, those folks must keep their TVs and radios blaring 24 hours a day). Go read the drivel that propagandists like Ken Silva and the Lighthouse Trails Research folks are putting out, and you’ll start to wonder why movies like “The Exorcist” weren’t about Thomas Merton or Julian of Norwich.

You know, I think at the end of the day rock and roll is far more subversive of Christianity than is mysticism. But Christianity dealt with the “threat” of rock music by creating its own shadow rock culture. Despite its embarrassing beginnings (anyone remember Stryper?), the contemporary Christian music scene has matured nicely, with some wonderful music being put forth in the name of Jesus.

Well, my friends, go back and read what mystics from Clement of Alexandria in the second century up to Merton and Thomas Keating in our own time have been doing. They have been taking spiritual practices from non-Christian sources (whether pagan mystery religions or the TM movement) and re-fashioning those exercises with a decidedly Christian focus. The result: Christian mysticism. Now, the purists will always whine that this is not the “real” gospel. And by doing so, they are unwittingly (or maybe not so unwittingly) doing the devil’s work, for they are pushing people of goodwill away from the gospel by their xenophobic fear/hatred/rejection of anything that does not conform to their narrow definition of what is “righteous.”

I’m tired of people who attack art or spirituality by accusing the object of their hostility of being a demon-magnet. It’s metaphysical nonsense devoid of real content, a straw-man argument designed strictly to frighten the gullible. Instead of alarmist propaganda, I’d rather hear from reasonable people of goodwill, even those who have thoughtful, nuanced criticism of mysticism’s (or rock’s) failings and limitations. That kind of discourse can be enlightening and interesting. Meanwhile, hooray for the musicians (and aspiring mystics) who keep exploring the boundaries where Christianity interfaces with non-Christian culture. By doing so, they are creating new places where God’s grace may lavishly flow. And double hooray for their doing so even when they are attacked by fundamentalist ideologues for being dupes of the devil. I think Matthew 5:11-16 applies here.

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  1. … and you’ll start to wonder why movies like “The Exorcist” weren’t about Thomas Merton or Julian of Norwich


  2. I was gonna comment on that line too. Classic!

  3. By contrast, I have heard prophetic/charismatic prayer teams loudly and publicly honor their drummer as being the “most anointed” member of the band, “most effectively” bringing forth the blessing of the Presence of the Holy Spirit for the spiritual edification of the group…

    My sense is that there is definitely a spiritual component to music, particularly to the “beat,” since it stirs up the body and soul (in a somewhat different way than traditional liturgies do, but essentially doing the same thing) and opens the door to receptivity to spiritual influences. To this point I seem to agree with what the fundamentalist teachers in Carl’s experience (who were EXTREMELY prevalent in my own Christian community experience back then, before Delirious et al.) have to say. But the mistake they make, in my view, is to assume that spiritual openness necessarily invites the dark side; that the devil’s evangelistic hordes are more powerful and more dominant than the angels of heaven and the direct experience of the Holy Spirit of God. Even orthodox biblical evangelical doctrine admits to a 2:1 ratio of good-guys vs bad-guys in the heavenly spiritual realm. So rock music can join the other kinds in the list of potentially positive contributors to the Christian music scene! (Personally I prefer black Gospel, but that’s just my “soulish” preference….)

    Just one comment on the “mysticism” side of Carl’s post: I particularly like your last paragraph above; in fact, if I felt more strongly compelled than I do to join the demon-watching game, I would definitely come down on the side of identifying the anti-mysticism “heresy hunters” (term borrowed from Mike Morrell) as themselves acting as the devil’s agents–”dupes of the devil”– sent with the assignment of cutting off from sincere seeking believers the vast treasures of the Christian mystical tradition, and using the devil’s own classic fear techniques to accomplish this….In light of this, may I add my sincere applause and support of Carl’s attempt to defend these treasures and make them more widely available to all of us. It’s time the tables were turned in this absurd conflict!

    Respectfully and lovingly,

  4. Carl (and I think I read your blog enough to call you by your first name), it is good to see someone respond to the aggressive critics of centering prayer. That criticism often has a bullying quality that is reminiscent of McCarthyism. It is a style of argument based on a multiplicity of fallacious attacks such that, even if the opponent painstakingly refutes one or more of them, the reader/listener is still left with the impression that the target is evil anyway.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but it does not appear that the centering prayer establishment does much to respond to its critics. Maybe they are taking a turn-the-other-cheek approach or even privately rejoicing in their persecution as they are encouraged to in the beatitudes. However, I share your concern that the unwarranted criticisms of centering prayer could scare good people away from a good prayer practice.

    But Carl, I am afraid that the centering-prayer critics got you to fall for a false premise in the argument that you refute, namely the danger of rhythmic repetition of a prayer word. That is simply not the way centering prayer is done. The prayer word is not repeated constantly but is only used when needed to detach from interesting thoughts. We discussed this point recently in my little centering-prayer group, and none of us felt that he was using the prayer word as much as one time per minute in most centering-prayer periods.

    Still your refutation of the dangers of repetitive prayer is valuable in defense of other practices, such as Christian Meditation (WCCM) or the Jesus prayer (Hesychasm) or the rosary.

    I enjoy this blog very much, keep up the good work.

  5. Of course you may call me Carl. “Mr. McColman” is my father. :-)

    Patrick, you’re right about the use of the prayer word in centering prayer. However, that distinction is lost on its critics. To them, it doesn’t matter if the prayer word is repeated during the entire time one is engaged in centering prayer, or only “as needed,” they still attack it as a violation of Matthew 6:7. I didn’t “fall for” their false premise, rather I just didn’t bother to refute it! But thanks for the clarification, I’m sure there are readers for whom this will be helpful.

    As I mentioned, it seems that at least some of cp’s critics believe the silence is what makes us vulnerable to demonic attack. Perhaps they think that when one uses the rhythmic/repetitive prayer word, one is calling a demon, and then when the prayer word is laid aside, one is vulnerable for the malevolent influence. I think there’s no merit in this argument (the fathers of the church always insisted that hostile spirits attack us through our thoughts, not the absence of our thoughts), but it’s interesting to try to understand where cp’s critics are coming from.

  6. One place the critics are coming from is the fear of losing control. In healthy spiritual prayer of any sort, there is an intentional, gradual yielding of control, not typically given over to any outside power (good or bad) without the active discernment of spirits which is an inherent part of walking in the Spirit by the grace of God. I find this especially true and relevant in following the apophatic path.

    In my blog for today (Friday) here, I wander off into some speculative consequences of apophatic perception and interpretation, without using the word…


  7. Sorry but I made a mistake in that last link.

    I should have sent you here!


  8. Rest assured, there are those of us who consider both “christian” rock and centering “prayer” to be anything but Christian. Both are brought into the false church from paganism, and not from God’s Holy Word. These are the methods of the false religionists as they attempt to create experience that will satisfy those who do not know God, are given to their idols, and are tinkering around the edges of the true faith. These things are dirt in the eyes of those who wander in darkness. They are similar to the stained glass, incense, vestments etc. of the Roman Catholics. They are designed to produce an experience that will satisfy the shallow, the weak, and the lustful. But they will keep you from a true knowledge of God.

    By the way, the reason you may not hear too much against the rock music issue is because your type is winning the battle for the hearts of this generation. This is because God has cursed this generation that they may fall away to their evil lusts. Just as God told Ezekiel in chapter 14, “…Thus saith the Lord GOD; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the LORD will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols.” This generation serves the idol of pleasure and the satisfying of the flesh. Rock music in the “Church” is one manifestation of that.

    The Word says the “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.” The lie is here. It is all around us. It is sent by God to deceive those who love their idols and reject the Truth.

    Remember, Jesus told us “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Furthermore, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.”

    The rock music, centering prayer and whatever else your kind will come up with is 1) not an observing of what God commanded, and 2) it departs from the doctrine of Christ (the Bible) by adding methods/doctrines that are not taught in the Word. The end times will be characterized by the falling away, many false prophets, and many lying signs and wonders. I think that time may be now.

    I would declare to you that God commands that you repent and believe the gospel. Know the truth, and be set free from the lusts of your flesh.


    P.S. Sorry to invade your little apostasy party, but I happened to come across this site by accident and wanted to see if I could help. As I will not return, if anyone wants any additional information please write at

  9. Don, I’m putting your IP address on moderation. Your contemptuous tone (“Sorry to invade your little apostasy party”, for example) as well as your declaration that you “will not return” (in my experience, trolls like you do return, and often) suggests to me that you are not interested in a shared conversation in a spirit of Christian charity, seeking to honestly discuss differences in the hope that the Holy Spirit will lead all parties involved to deeper holiness. Rather, it appears that you are eager to promote your own particular brand of anti-Catholicism with a certainty that you alone have the truth. Sorry, but it’s not okay to publish that kind of anti-Catholic rhetoric here (any more than it would be okay to publish it in a Catholic Church, Unitarian Church, or for that matter even in most mainline Protestant Churches). I am tempted to delete your comment altogether, except that it so beautifully demonstrates the very mentality that I wrote about in the above post.

    Also, just a thought: your name, as per your email address, suggests that your heritage is probably from a historically Catholic family. It makes me wonder if your hostility toward Catholicism might not be intertwined with dysfunctional family dynamics. If that is so, I pray that you will find healing and release from the spirit of anger.



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