The Mysticism Haters Have Found the Big Book!

I’ve mentioned Lighthouse Trails Research several times over the years on this blog. It’s a sad and pathetic website, created by spiritually-wounded fundamentalist Christians who believe it is their duty to hate mysticism and contemplation and to “warn” others about the “dangers” associated with mystical and contemplative practice.

Yes, I know “hate” is a strong word, but I also believe in stating things plainly: and the plain truth is that Lighthouse Trails Research is a spiritual hate site. The authors seem to have no sense of Christian charity or that it might be possible to have theological disagreements and yet remain in communion as fellow members of the Mystical Body of Christ. As far as the Lighthouse Trails folks are concerned, contemplation and mysticism (which they think is one and the same) is a scourge that must be completely eradicated from the church. Theirs is a take no prisoners style with no room for conversation or dialogue.

So it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to give them a lot of attention; as the Quakers like to say, “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” But I am rather amused to note that on their blog they have just published a long post about The Big Book of Christian Mysticism. This post is biased and mean-spirited like pretty much everything else on their site. It’s also filled with statements that are simply untrue, like: “For those who regularly practice contemplative mysticism, ultimately they come to the conclusion that contemplative prayer is the same as Eastern mysticism.” The Lighthouse Trail folks indulge in such tactics as guilt-by-association, so they make much over the fact that Carolyn Myss endorsed my book (since Myss is a new age writer, to their skewed way of thinking this means my work must be “new age” and therefore “un-Christian”), and then they work backwards, noting that since Brian McLaren and Richard Rohr also endorsed The Big Book, they must be part of the great mysticism conspiracy, and since they work with Richard Foster (who, being an evangelical, is their main target), he must be guilty by association as well. Whew!

Of course, the Lighthouse Trails folks gleefully emphasize my willingness to describe mysticism as a universal phenomenon that has both Christian and non-Christian dimensions. Never mind that the same thing can be said about prayer, or service, or worship, or just about any other element within religion. Their target is always and only mysticism, and to their mind, the fact that such a thing as non-Christian mysticism exists means that all mysticism is “non-Christian.”

Anyway, I’m reminded of the villains in Star Trek called the Borg. Spiritually vacant half-man half-machine drones that are controlled by a centralized hive mind (i.e., can’t think for themselves), the Borg are committed to spreading their toxic technology across the galaxy, assimilating every species into their collective. But what was interesting about the Borg was that if they did not consider you a target or a threat, they ignored you (which allowed the good guys in Star Trek to sneak onto their ships, etc.). Up  until now, I have mostly been ignored by the anti-mysticism hate sites online, like Lighthouse Trails Research or Apprising Ministries. So even though they twist my words and use them to attack others, I can’t help but feel just a twinge of satisfaction that my book has received so much attention from the Lighthouse Trails folks. The Big Book is either a target or a threat to them. Woo hoo!

Sigh. In truth, the writers and owners of the Lighthouse Trails Website deserve our heartfelt prayers. Let us pray that God flood them with compassion and  understanding and charity. Let us pray that God help them to find healing for whatever it is that troubles their souls to the point that they have to pour so much energy into telling the world how wrong other people are. Of course, I’m sort of doing the same thing in this post, so maybe I need your prayers, too! Only, I think their hatred is not so much evidence of how wrong they are, as how wounded they are. And may God help all of us find healing for our wounds.

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  • Simon Whitney

    Carl

    I think perhaps you need to cut the authors of Lighthouse Trails a little slack and try and understand where they are coming from. I was in an evangelical church for 4 years when I first became a Christian. I was a man of prayer and started to hit territory that my co-religionists could not relate to. I found in a second hand bookshop a book called “Dark night of the soul” by someone of whom I had never heard. I read it on the train going home and continued reading it until 3 in the morning. It explained what was happening to me in a way that my evangelical friends could not. Their view was that the Christian life was all a matter of deep joy-joy feelings and I certainly was going through something that was not what was expected. I quite rapidly became a Catholic after that and am now a secular Carmelite – an order whose prime raison d’etre is contemplation.

    My point is that people who are not of a contemplative disposition find contemplation challenging. That has been so since Martha and Mary. And it will always be the case.

    Where Lighthouse goes wrong is in confusing “Centering Prayer” with contemplation. When Lighthouse started they focussed on CP, then they started to equate CP with contemplation and now they simply rail against contemplation. When they were opposed to CP I was in complete agreement with them – as you might expect. As they have moved to attacking what they call “Contemplative Christianity” I am not in agreement with them. But the point is that this is the damage that CP has managed to effect. CP and contemplation are now seen as the same thing and because CP should be thrown out they will effectively throw out contemplation as well.

    This will be extremely bad news. And there are varying levels of opposition to CP where much the same sort of thing is happening. A little yeast (CP) is infecting the whole loaf in more ways than one.

    As you are an advocate of plain speaking I hope you don’t mind reminding you that Maggie Ross’s comments were not exactly flattering. Many of your comments in this blog have shown a marked degree of syncretism – and that is something that all Christians would find worrisome. Especially those who are self-appointed guardians of orthodoxy, like me! I find your support for Ken Wilber most peculiar, for example. His views are not compatible with Christianity as it has been taught throughout the ages.

    I have always liked your blog and the way your lead it but there are times when it reminds me of a gathering of cats. Everything is fine while you are tickling them under the chin – everybody purrs at each other. As soon as something is said that might be in the least bit contrary to the received wisdom then you get a whole lot of hissing and scratching. Fortunately, cats don’t do too much damage!

  • http://seeingmoreclearly.blogspot.com Don Scrooby

    Simon
    From a Christian perspective I don’t find suppport for Ken Wilber strange at all. You speak of his views not being compatible with Christianity as it has been taught down the years. Certainly there are aspects of his views which need dialogue and challenge, but it seems to me that orthodoxy often suffers from the perception that it was the only form of Christianity handed down. We seem to forget that this was just not the case. Wilber’s philosophy has much to say to forms of Christianity other than orthodoxy, which I’m afraid have been conveniently forgotten. In fact , as Christians, I believe we would be tragically naive to ignore him. The fact that orthodoxy does this is to me extremely sad.

  • Tana

    Ah, Carl. As I was making the slow trek out of fundamentalism, I visited this website. And it did to me exactly what it intended to do: it created fear and cultivated more distrust of myself and others. So I appreciate that you’re calling Lighthouse out because we have to call out and hold accountable those entities that conspire against the greatest commandments.

  • Simon Whitney

    Don

    Forgive me, but I don’t understand what you are saying.

    Can you clarify what it is that Wilber has to say to “forms of Christianity other than orthodoxy”?

    (I was using the term “orthodox” in a very broad sense to mean: “those basics of Christianity that have always been taught”.)

  • soma77

    Carl thank you for shinning light on Christian Mysticism and enlightening Christians who are seeking the light of Jesus Christ.

  • James O’Rourke

    Both of the websites you mentioned in this posting have caused me concern and need to look into my heart at my feelings toward them…I have never understood the hatred, and yes hatred is the word. Its as if they favor a flat earth concept in everything. I try to remind myself of a Buddhist reminder to ‘never disparage the Dharma in any form’. So thank you for articulating in a gentle way what so many people think.

  • http://pallasrenatus.blogspot.com/ Pallas Renatus

    I think the terrible logic bothers me the most. Denouncing all of somebody’s work because of an endorsement? Being aware of how much hate and indignation somebody can actually throw into flimsy logic makes me feel physically ill. Prayers for the wounded, indeed.

  • http://reckshow.com Regina

    I am disappointed. I used to work for Len Sweet, and I’m not listed as evil on the Lighthouse website, and now I feel left out.

  • lightbearer

    i have always suffered the mary martha debate both from within and without.
    having 7 kids was not the easiest on my decisive decision to follow contemplative path
    by the way at the moment i am suffering badly from dental illness
    i only have 15 teeth left
    as they give me trouble i only afford extraction but i need some pain relief

  • Russ

    I would like to thank you for shinning a light onto the Lighthouse Trails web site that apparently is shinning a light on you. Without the likes of you, or us, or the others they would have no purpose. I believe it is called the super hero syndrome. Without the evil villain character there is no need for the super hero. It happens all the time in religion and politics. The fear factor is essential in order to exercise power and control they require. They thrive on the fear and guilt cycle. Here we go! If you want this, (salvation) then you need to believe this way (our way). This is where the fear starts because this is really hard. Being human we all have just a little bite of the devil in us. (Maybe it’s just me?) Now here comes the guilt. Because we are not able to live up to ours, theirs, Gods expectations, creates fear that it must be a lack of faith, which brings on the guilt. On and on!
    It is because of notions advanced by organization like Lighthouse, I tend to keep my theology to myself. It’s mine and most likely different from yours no two can or should be exactly the same.
    Your site is a safe place.
    Good on you Carl

  • soma77

    Without the spiritual experience the members of Lighthouse seem to be thirsty standing in the midst of an ocean of pure consciousness. They describe water and how to obtain it, but they can’t taste it. Maybe the description is a little off.

  • George

    Having myself migrated from a mindset with some similar concerns to the ones that these these groups hold dear, their warnings sometimes give me pause for a moment. Could I be falling for the great apostasy? But that moment does not last long. I know that my self-knowledge is imperfect, and I am capable of being deceived. But my faith is in the One Who is able to complete the work He has begun in me. I have faith that my current exploration of contemplative practices is related to my prayer over the years, “Lord, teach me to pray.”

    I do not fault these mysticism dis-trusters too much. They are working with the same limitations of “how we know what we know” that I am. But they are choosing a form of stability, and trusting in the medium (the received scriptures) rather than taking a step out of the boat as Peter did. They fail to acknowledge how much of their mindset is framed by the logic of the Greeks and Romans, which is useful as far as it goes, but which by itself will not lead us to faith.

  • Simon Whitney

    Why is it that those who advocate dialogue are so reluctant to enter into dialogue themselves?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    If you are referring to me, Simon, please accept my apologies. I have had house guests this week, had an important meeting at the monastery last night and am teaching at university tonight, along with the normal demands of my family and full-time job. This blog is an avocation, and I need to fit it in with all the other demands of my life. I have simply not had the time to give your (and anyone else’s) comments the attention they deserve. I am particularly interested in responding to your criticism of my use of Wilber, but probably when I do so it will be a new post on the blog.

  • Simon Whitney

    Dear Carl

    The comments were not directed at you but at Pastor Don Scrooby who made some very sweeping comments which I wanted to pursue in my usual rottweiller like manner. Cantakerous, I think you call it! He did express his deep sadness at the inability of some to dialogue.

    However, I would be interested in learning what it is about Wilber that seems to be so necessary and I would welcome an exchange when you have time.

  • Peggy

    I was acquainted with Debra Dombroski who is one of the contributors or authors or whatever of the Lighthouse Trails website. She retired due to health issues I believe. I never knew she was religious let alone a Fundamentalist Christian! That isn’t unusual in a secular workplace where most contacts are surface just to get the job done. I never felt uncomfortable with Debra and our contacts were always friendly. That is why I was very surprised to find that she was part of that ministry. I didn’t find anything strange about what they promote as I have been exposed to those kind of beliefs in my past. Nevertheless, I always feed kinda creeped out after browsing them. In the adult Sunday School we are exploring the mystery of the Eucharist. The author of the book we are following is a Greek Orthodox priest. This Sunday’s topic was on Unity. The great mystery of how in participating in the celebration we enter into Unity…not with just the Trinity but with each other. I don’t know if one day I will meet with the people of the Lighthouse group and experience Divine Unity with them. I guess that is one of God’s mysteries still to be revealed!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

      Peggy, what is the author and title of the Orthodox book on the Eucharist?

  • Peggy

    Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kinghom, translated by Paul Kachure (Crestwood NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988). Available on Amazon.com.

    12 chapters break apart the whole and then reintegrate the celebration.

  • Jeffrey555

    Even christian mysticism may be a subtle dethroning of Jesus Christ as the mediator and the way by replacing trust and faith in him with our mental/physical activity or even inactivity as the means to be filled with the Holy Spirit and knowing the Father. Christian mysticism can become a subtle return to the law as a method
    for access to God, really no different spiritually than relying on circumcision and dietary laws to do the job, just cooler and more acceptable to present day spiritual types. I know that the Holy Trinity is accessible directly and experientially to our souls through Christ, but our flesh has an inveterate appetite not only for sin, but also for the law as the foundation of spirituality instead of the simple gospel message “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” Paul had to deal with this human weakness to subsitute the law for the simplicity of Christ (Galatians 3:1-3, 2 Corinthians 11:3), the same happens today. In my walk with God I feel like I’ve been like a drunk on the back of a horse, first I fall to the left – sin and the I get back on and then fall to the the right – the law, even Christian mysticism can be a fall to the right, a substitute for the Living Christ Jesus who gives the Holy Spirit and knowledge of the Father.


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