Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Contemplative Prayer and Pentecostal Worship

I have been reading Roman Catholic author Hans Urs Von Balthasar's book Prayer. While this book does not directly relate to the intersection of Barth and Pentecostalism, I think some reflections in this forum are appropriate, as Balthasar was a contemporary of Barth and his RC spirituality might have some valuable things to say to Pentecostalism.

Balthasar's book is primarily about contemplative prayer. He grounds the practice both in the Triune God (ch.2) and within the broader, specifically Catholic, church (ch.3). For Balthasar, contemplative prayer is primarily about hearing the Word of God, by which he means both the text of Scripture and the Person of Jesus Christ. He grounds the act of contemplation in meditation on the biblical text and the person of Jesus, and places it within the broader church and tradition both in the sense that as believers we are not alone in our faith and also in that the broader tradition provides limits and direction to what we may or may not believe ourselves to be "hearing" from God.

There are twopoints which I think intersect Balthasar's book thus far with Pentecostal spirituality. First, by grounding the contemplative's meditations in the text and in Christ, and placing it within the bounds of the community and its confession, Balthasar simultaneously sets up the expectation that the pray-er will indeed hear from God while at the same time establishing some focus and boundaries which prevent some of the wilder, subjective, and/or heretical "revelations" sometimes present within Pentecostal, charismatic, and particularly neo-Pentecostal Christianity. 

Second, though Balthasar insists that contemplative prayer should normally be practiced alone for the psychological reason that others will provide a distraction (p.77), it seems to me that what Balthasar's contemplative both expects and experiences is rather akin to what the sincere, hungry Pentecostal experiences during fervent, normally public and corporate, worship.

What do you think? Does providing Christ as the focus and the great tradition of the church as guidelines rob personal spiritual revelation of it's truly revelatory character and freedom? Does the Pentecostal in public worship experience something akin to what the contemplative experiences alone?

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