When visited by The Dominion Post, a classroom of Holy Cross children sat with their eyes shut tightly and legs crossed, breathing slowly.
"Meditation makes me feel happy, and also afterwards it makes me relaxed and calmful," said Dallas Arthurs, 10, after the five-minute session.
Others had been thinking about God, or about those less fortunate. "I feel sad for all the people because some people have no food, and I felt sad for the people who have no homes or anything," said Bailey Abbie, 9.
Principal Celeste Hastings said the school had introduced meditation so children could learn the importance of taking time out.
"In this day and age, when everybody can be really busy, we think teaching kids the skill of slowing down and just having a bit of quiet time is a life skill, really. It's asking them to stop and just be a little bit reflective."
Parent Francesca Ngan said it was a great initiative.
Her son Zachary Lorenz, 9, told her it made him feel calm. "It is really quite lovely."
It was hoped the whole 218-pupil school would eventually participate in the classes, taken by Sister Ema Konokono from Our Lady's Home of Compassion.
I shouldn't be surprised. Several years ago I wrote about Centering Prayer infesting the Diocesan newspaper, Welcom. I reasoned that if the paper is theoretically overseen by the region's two bishops (Dew and Cullinane), I had to wonder just how far up did the rot go. (Cullinane has since retired and was replaced this year with Charles Drennan).
Since that blog post of three years ago, I have discovered that meditation is being taught in the Wellington Diocese with full approval of Archbishop John Dew. Last August, the Diocese ran a weekend training course in Stewardship. The Friday beforehand, they also ran a pre-Stewardship event where they brought in a number of speakers to the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Cathedral, including a priest who talked to the participants about meditation which he called contemplative prayer.
I attended this event originally to listen to one of the speakers, Joy Cowley, as I was curious as to how much of her New Age views she'd try to pass off as Catholic to a wider audience. Obviously the Archbishop approved of what she was saying as he introduced her and mentioned that she'd run a retreat for Wellington priests and how much he valued a prayer she'd written for him. Her talk, "Connecting with the God Fire Deep Within", wasn't overtly heretical, you'd have to know specifically that she doesn't believe in evil (and therefore Salvation), and when she talks about us being shards of clay with a sparks of God's love within that this isn't just about being temples of the Holy Spirit, she means that each one of us is divine. But then she was probably very aware that most of her audience was what she probably considers in the "first stage of faith" where such concepts as good and evil is taught, so they wouldn't be "advanced enough" to get the "higher" stuff, and therefore she ought to be careful in what she says to them.
As if Joy Cowley wasn't bad enough, the speaker that followed her that I wasn't intending staying to listen to shocked me into staying and turning my voice recorder back on. His name was Fr Alan Roberts and he was there to teach the participants how to meditate.
Now the thing with meditation is that is can be fine. But meditation can be used as a means of preparing a person for their journey of "self-redemption" (making Salvation through Jesus unnecessary) as the Vatican document on the New Age explains:
Some stages on the way to self-redemption are preparatory (meditation, body harmony, releasing self-healing energies). They are the starting-point for processes of spiritualisation, perfection and enlightenment which help people to acquire further self-control and psychic concentration on “transformation” of the individual self into “cosmic consciousness”.In Fr Roberts' talk, I can point to a couple of specific problems with what he said. The first was importance of the position while meditating so that you can receive God. You either sit on a chair or on the floor in the "lotus position" (or even on a chair in the lotus position!) for the meditation. You had to relax your whole body "so that God's word could come through. We're like faulty televisions; the reception is coming through, but the wires are crossed."
This sort of thinking that relaxation is important in order to let in something higher is very common in the New Age. However, it's bizarre hearing the same ideas rephrased so that they might look palatable to a Catholic audience. It's also incredibly different from the traditional Catholic position of kneeling where you indicate reverence for God through your body. There appears to be no reverence for God when you're trying to pick Him up as if He's a television signal!
He also said: "We can stop hiding and running away and allow Jesus to lead us, sometimes to the light and sometimes to the darkness. When we are taken to the latter we acknowledge it and hand it over. This lays the foundation for the process of inner healing to begin, so we can become free to love in return."
What Fr Roberts says above leads me to believe that he uses darkness as a euphemism for sin; darkness which is only acknowledged and handed over, but not repented of. A denial of sin that connects up very nicely with the lack of availability of Confessions in the Wellington Diocese. Because we can become our own healers, Confession is obviously unnecessary.
Just because something makes you feel good doesn't mean it is good. I was involved in the New Age for a while and I can tell you that I learned to do quite a few things that felt really good that I know are dangerous for my soul, that I wouldn't do now. One of the most amazing, peaceful places that I have ever experienced that gave me quite a spiritual high was a New Age conference on something or other (I forget which one, I attended quite a few), and afterwards, random people in the street couldn't stop looking at me. I really don't like that sort of attention, so I wasn't hooked on it and wanting it again, and all I can think of was that the conference imparted a sort of "glamour" for the day. It wore off, thankfully. So, in my experience, I would say that feelings can be very deceptive as to whether or not something is good.
I can't tell from the brief write up whether what is going on at Holy Cross School is harmful for the children, or if it's more benign than what it looks. The little boy on the front page of the paper today sitting cross-legged with his hands upturned and his forefinger and thumb together certainly looks like he's not doing a Christian meditation, but for all I know, that could be staged. The photographer may have asked him to pose like that. But with what I know is happening at the Diocese level, anything is possible.
So, I'll just finish with a bit more from the Vatican document, on the main difference in the spiritual life as a Christian in comparison with spirituality in New Age thinking:
For Christians, the spiritual life is a relationship with God which gradually through his grace becomes deeper, and in the process also sheds light on our relationship with our fellow men and women, and with the universe. Spirituality in New Age terms means experiencing states of consciousness dominated by a sense of harmony and fusion with the Whole. So “mysticism” refers not to meeting the transcendent God in the fullness of love, but to the experience engendered by turning in on oneself, an exhilarating sense of being at one with the universe, a sense of letting one's individuality sink into the great ocean of Being.
Pupils meditating and doing philosophy ~ Dominion Post & Stuff
Catholics and the Dangers of the New Age Movement ~ Catholicism Pure and Simple
Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian reflection on the “New Age” ~ Vatican