So Where Did Contemplative/Centering Prayer Actually Originate?
We are aware Wikipedia is not a source normally used in more scholastic research and the following is quoted mainly for the convenience of the lay reader but it will be firmly established by subsequent testimony below:
seeds of what would become known as contemplation were sown early in the Christian era. The first appearance of something approximating contemplative prayer arises in the 4th century writings of the monk St. John Cassian, who wrote of a practice he learned from the Desert Fathers (specifically from Isaac). (Online source)
This information from Wikipedia is now confirmed by former national coordinator of Emergent Village Tony Jones. The below is from Jones’ book Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life:
“Like the Jesus Prayer, Centering Prayer grew out of the reflections and writings of the Desert Fathers. John Cassian (c.360-c.430) came from the West and made a pilgrimage to the desert to learn the ways of contemplative prayer … Cassian was deeply influenced by his time in the desert, and he wrote his book The Conferences about his conversations with the Desert Fathers to acquaint Western Christians with their teachings. (70, emphasis mine)
Now keep in mind here that Jones is even considered to be a “sturdy” authority on so-called “Christian” mysticism by Emergent Church theologian Brian McLaren himself. And you should know that McLaren’s latest book Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices is all about the alleged “disciplines” of Contemplative Spirituality/Mysticism taught by his friend Living Spiritual Teacher and Quaker mystic Richard Foster.
You may recall that in a Christianity Today article called The Emergent Mystique that Guru McLaren has cited Foster along with his spiritual twin Dallas Willard—“with their emphasis on spiritual disciplines”—as “key mentors”of the Emerging Church rebellion against Sola Scriptura. And then we have this further corroboration concerning John Cassian and the desert hermits by Benedictine monk, Dom Laurence Freeman, Director of The World Community for Christian Meditation whose “spiritual teacher was John Main“:
One day, about 1700 years ago, two young Christian monks living in the Egyptian desert visited an abba, an elder. They asked him what prayer really means. Abba Isaac then gave them one of the clearest and most powerful explanations of prayer in the whole Christian tradition. He said there are many forms of prayer but that all of them point to the same source and goal: the “Prayer of Fire”. He meant the living prayer of Jesus present in the human heart through the Holy Spirit.
The ‘prayer of fire’, Abba Isaac explained, consumes self-consciousness. It is the goal of all spiritual practice: union with ultimate reality, loving union with God, divinization. The question is – how can we find this mystery of love in our own centre; how do we pray at depth; how do we enter the transformative experience of union? It is the question many people today are asking and the question is the spiritual hunger of our age.
Meditation is “pure prayer”. Pure of thought, images and words. We leave all these behind to enter purity of heart. Pure of egocentricity because we are not asking for anything. We take the searchlight of consciousness off ourselves. We do this simple – but not easy – work by taking a single word, a prayer word. We repeat the word continuously. In Latin Cassian called it a “formula”, Main a “mantra”. (Online source)
So now you know. This is where the antibiblical practice of Contemplative/Centering Prayer originated; it was not practiced or taught by Jesus Christ nor by His Apostles, and it truly has no place at all in the life of the Christian.