The Bridge across the Tiber back to Home Sweet Rome is now open for traffic
The title and subtitle are metaphoric symbolism. Crossing the Tiber River near Rome is often used for Protestants returning to Roman Catholicism. Scazzero is an Italian name for Peter Scazzero who is senior pastor of New Life Church in Queens, New York City. Rev. Scazzero has not claimed Rome for his official residence, but makes many trips across the Tiber. Scazzero’s stated mission is to introduce Catholic contemplative prayer and practice to evangelicals. Scazzero avoids the term Catholic for obvious reasons but uses “Contemplative Prayer” freely, assuming probably correctly, that evangelicals will not know the meaning of the term. Scazzero’s book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality recounts how after his seminary experience at Gordon-Conwell, he launched into growing an evangelical church in Queens. However, as the years went by, his marriage nearly collapsed and his time-consuming ministry was brought to a standstill. I am not sure why he and his wife Geri took a 6-month sabbatical and visited monasteries overseas including Taize in France. They came home, however, converted to Contemplative Spirituality (henceforth CS). They assumed that their church would refuse this but the elders were open to try it. The rest is history. They implemented a Benedictine Daily Office devotional routine, a Sabbath experience and a Rule for Life. All of this is presented as the solution to Scazzero’s insufficient experience in traditional evangelical spirituality. Going further, Scazzero is convinced that living a life of contemplative rhythms and discipline is the primary way to bring evangelical emotional and spiritual lives into health. Scazzero has found that he is in demand among evangelical pastors nationwide. He has been invited to speak to AOG pastors’ conferences, CMA pastors’ meetings, and even to Focus on the Family retreats. He quotes primarily from famous Catholic monastic mystics both living and dead, and he proudly announces that he attends a Trappist monastery in MS on a regular basis participating in the rigors of monastic life. It appears that his audiences have no problems with the source of his material. Trappist monks, and other emergent universalists get generous quotes in his writings and are ALWAYS quoted favorably. One can only assume he sees their teaching found in their writings as beneficial and that his evangelical audiences either don’t care or know to whom he refers in his writings. The wider context of this is that there have been years of efforts to bring about a practical union between Rome and evangelicals. The prominent person in this endeavor has been and continues to be Chuck Colson. He has spearheaded this effort of some years now called ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together). One could say that Colson built the bridge over the Tiber and now Scazzero and others have widened the bridge and taken down any warning signs still remaining so that evangelicals can easily go back and forth. Now evangelicals can shoot across the Tiber and land in some of the historic monasteries. All of this now without even a waking or a stirring among evangelicals who owe their existence to the Protestant Reformation. Only a few “hard hats” so-called make a few grunting noises. Given the quiet intrusion of postmodern deconstruction of almost all truth claims in the church and the prevailing winds of tolerance, the deal can now be sealed sooner rather than later. Luther, Calvin and Zwingli are quietly relegated to the scrap heap of ancient church history. The Reformation can be buried as an unfortunate mistake, and an inconvenient episode in church history. Many evangelicals are convinced CS is just a way to slow down and have quiet devotions in a busy life style. But for people who know, it is not remotely like a quiet bible study. It would only take a few minutes on a computer to establish that CS is not really an option. Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen, the big two of monastic mystics leave no doubt that “entering the silence” is essentially an eastern way of eliminating all conscious thought so that we can uncover God’s presence already buried deep in all humans and in all living things (panentheism). Scazzero’s quotes are from nearly all the luminaries of CS. But he does not go on to describe in detail their practices and teachings, however. This is unfortunate, for very quickly that would nail down a few undeniable features of CS. First, by meditative techniques and disciplines there is a desire to reach an alternate state of spiritual consciousness in which unknowing rather than knowing is the goal. In past centuries, that monastic goal often took years to attain. But in recent times, Father Thomas Keating, quoted freely by Scazzero (Thomas Keating, Intimacy With God: An Introduction To Centering Prayer, in Daily Office by Scazzero, p. 44) along with Father M. Basil Bennington [famous quote: “The soul of the human family is the Holy Spirit], found a way to attain mental silence and unknowing in about 20 minutes. Father Keating attended the 6th annual Christian-Buddhist meditation Conference recently. Here he presented this centering prayer short cut to “Nirvana” to Asian Buddhist monks. Father Keating was praised as a good bridge between Christianity and Buddhism. An attendee stated that his centering prayer seemed to tie in with Transcendental Meditation, yoga mantra meditation, the Jesus prayer and Hindu readings on meditation. Tilden Edwards, founder of Shalem Institute who is also quoted in Scazzero’s book, p. 170, states in his book that “This mystical stream (CS) is the western bridge to Far Eastern spirituality” (Spiritual Friend, NY, NY, Paulist Press, 1980, p. 18). Scazzero on page 160 of his book recommends centering prayer. He states: “I often spend 5 minutes centering down…I follow James Findley’s guidelines…” (James Findley is a former Trappist Monk and promoter of inter-spiritual contemplative monk Thomas Merton.) Relying on James Findley, Scazzero’s book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality states: “Sit still, sit straight, Breath slowly and deeply…When you find your mind wandering, let your breathing bring your mind back…” (p. 160,161). Finally, contemplatives ALWAYS end up in universal salvation. Thomas Merton, Scazzero’s apparent favorite and most quoted contemplative, simply says, “At the center of our being (every human) is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin…”> [Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 157]. Why am I writing now about CS? Well! It so happens Scazzero and his books and Daily Office are the basis of an 8 week attempt to recapture emotional and spiritual health in our very evangelical/Pentecostal church.