In this third post we will explore the dangers of reducing God to a cosmic force along with ways we can better gain a healthy perspective on prayer and enhance rather than diminish our progress in prayer (you can read the first post here and the second post here). It is fitting that I have completed my edits and made this final post ready on the eve of a very special day for me. It is the day on which I was received into the Church and a day that draws our hearts to the most holy disciple of Christ, our Blessed Mother, along with the most sublime instructors of prayer that God has given to the Church, the great Carmelite Doctors. Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us and show us the way to Christ amidst the stormy seas of heresy and unbelief to our only true haven of rest in Christ.
The final and most dangerous aspect of modern popular teaching on prayer is depersonalization. The danger here lies in an essential denial of two central doctrines of Christianity: first, the Incarnation (Christ really did come in the flesh) and second, the distinction between Creator and creature (I am not God and he is not me).
The historical reality of the incarnation of Christ leads us to the critical understanding that God is person and we can commune with him as such. This is similar to saying, “My wife is a person, and I am a person, and therefore we can commune most fully as persons.” Now, if I were to treat my wife not as a person but as an ethereal cosmic being, communication would break down in short order.
We can envision two contrasting scenarios that illustrate this point.
1. In the non-person prayer orientation, the husband claims to love his wife and yet stares past her in a self-entranced muttering while she stands ignored. It doesn’t matter that he intends or wants to love her, or is open to loving her; his approach is self-centered rather than other-centered.
2. In a person-oriented understanding of prayer, the adoring husband kneels before his spouse and recites poetry rooted in an exalted language of love and adoration. As he offers his love, all his attention is focused on her. She receives his love, as it is clearly for her alone. This is true intimacy, even if only the beginning of a more complete intimacy of the marital embrace.
God is not a distant idea or cosmic force to be communed with in some dazed stupor or blank mind created by the misuse of a mantra-centered method. These distant, ephemeral and spiritual sounding descriptions of God and their related ideas are acid to the soul. They radically misrepresent who God is, how he has chosen to reveal himself to us, and what it means to be in a personal relationship with him.
If God is in any way depersonalized, then his incarnational essence and personhood can easily be morphed into some kind of cosmic force to be harnessed or absorbed into. Even worse, this can and does lead unsuspecting Catholics into the pseudo-faith of pantheism: “He is everything, and thus I am he.” In the end, the gurus of this false gospel seek to lead the naive practitioner to the center of their being where they then discover who they really are. The great triumph of this false prayer is the “realization” that we are God because there is no substantive distinction between us (they call this “non-dual thinking). Clearly, this idolatry will in no way lead us to heaven and is most definitely leading many down the broad path to spiritual destruction.
How Can I Protect Myself?
The key to avoiding these errors is to be aware of them but not to focus on them. Instead, we need to immerse ourselves in the truth. How? Begin with spiritual reading and meditation on the Catechism, and the Compendium of the Catechism, on the topic of prayer. These treatments are far from dry and, word for word, are the most valuable teachings on the topic in all of the Church aside from the words of Christ Himself. Second, we should immerse ourselves in the writings of the doctors of the Church, particularly those who have come to bear significant influence on how the Church understands what it means to commune with God (like Sts Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Thérèse of Lisieux). Modern writers like Fr. Thomas Dubay and Fr. Jacques Philippe provide fantastic resources on prayer that are faithful to this profound and rich Catholic tradition.