Protestantism and Waiting for God

There is concern in some circles over “The Silence”, meditation that calls for people to empty their minds, contemplative prayer or contemplation, and other similar ideas. Such things are often accused of being either Eastern mysticism or Roman Catholic and therefore inappropriate and potentially damaging.

Now, I’m lumping “The Silence” in there with these other concepts when, truth be told, I’m not 100% certain what the term might actually mean or what baggage it comes with. I’ve only seen it used in reference to contemplative prayer or spiritual disciplines, so I assume that there’s nothing beyond that involved, but I could be wrong.

Back to the original point, historically speaking, while contemplative style meditation that involves an attempt to still the mind does show up in both Eastern religions and Roman Catholicism, it also shows up in Protestantism. The Society of Friends or Quakers for centuries ran (and some continue to run) all of their meetings based on what is called unprogrammed worship. Essentially, this means that all gather in silence and simply wait. Sometimes, nothing happens throughout the entire meeting. Other times, individuals within the congregation would feel moved, potentially and hopefully by the Spirit, to stand and speak something to everyone. But no one moved until they felt that they heard from the Spirit.

Soren Kierkegaard, a well known Christian philosopher who is often called the Father of Existentialism and is frequently studied in Evangelical seminaries, was part of the Herrnhuter Fraternity, an offshoot of the Moravians. He speaks of the principal issue in prayer being not that God should hear us, but that we should hear God and that listening is crucial to this end.

Zwingli, who is one of the fathers of the Reformed church, ran some of his worship services in a partially-programmed fashion and led the people in contemplation.

I imagine other examples could be issued, but I just mean for this to be a brief post.

Listening for God in prayer and attempting to settle yourself so that you are ready and more able to hear if the Spirit says something actually has roots within the Protestant tradition.
Contemplation isn’t just for Catholics anymore. In fact, it never really was.


One response

  1. I think you’re doing a great thing by trying to get Evangelicals to stop cringing from the work of prayer in silence.

    You mention Kierkegaard, and I couldn’t agree more with his positive analysis from the Protestant perspective – see especially his edifying discourse on the unchangeableness of God (Copenhagen 1855; preached May 18, 1851, and found in the Lowrie trans of Self-Examination/Judge for Yourselves).

    It is reported somewhere that on the table next SK’s deathbed was a work by Alphonsus Liguori – an 18th Cent Catholic who is not my favorite mystic but still one who was most contemporary for Kierkegaard.

    Again, thanks for the post, and the blog, both an occasion for reflection this morning.

    November 15, 2010 at 9:47 am

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