Blog Post

Theophostic Prayer

NM writes: “Thank you for providing this forum on New Age. I have been trying to find information about a type of prayer called Theophostic Prayer, a name coined by Ed Smith, a Protestant counselor who began to use this in his counseling sessions with great results and now he offers training in the technique. . .

"It involves allowing 'God's Light' into past memories that may have caused the person to have a false perception of self - for instance, if past child sexual abuse has caused the individual to grow up believing themselves to be worthless or the cause of the abuse, etc, the minister would ask the person to revisit the memory allowing God's light into it to dispell the misconceptions or lies they have built around the memory.

“Its use is incorporated into a support group manual for childhood sexual abuse survivors called "Into the Wildflowers." The Wildflowers program has been endorsed by Christopher West (Theology of the Body expert) and Theresa Burke (Rachel's Vineyard Retreat creator) although they haven't specifically endorsed Theophostic Prayer.

“Theophostic Prayer is specifically recommended by Fr. David Tickerhoof (he has some kind of association with Franciscan University at Stuebenville) and he wrote a book called A Catholic's Guide to Theophostic Prayer Ministry.

“My feeling about it is that Dr. Smith does not recognize Church authority and he has packaged this for sale so I'm not comfortable with it. The prayer itself seems like it has borne good fruit, but I think it might also lead people off track in some cases. However, I can't find any official Church statement on it and those who have recommended these ministries are faithful Catholics. Can you give me any information about this?”

NM has already done quite a bit of homework on the Theophostic prayer movement (now known as the Transformation Prayer Ministry, which is why I posted her entire e-mail.

As she describes, this prayer is based on the theory that the emotional pain that can haunt a person's life is often rooted in the false beliefs associated with a past experience rather than with the experience itself. It also acknowledges that Satan is often the cause of those false beliefs (which is supported by Scripture) and that Jesus can dispel these lies – and heal the person – with the truth.

For an idea of how Theophostic Prayer works, consider the example of a young woman who was sexually molested by her father as a child. Satan convinced her that she didn’t cry out for help and therefore must have wanted it. As she grows into adulthood, she is unable to engage in healthy marital relations because she feels so bad about herself.

During a typical Theophostic Prayer session, this woman would be encouraged to remember when she first felt the emotions that are troubling her in the present with the goal of finding the moment that the “original lie” occurred. Once this is discovered, the practitioner asks Jesus to reveal what He wants the patient to know about the memory. They then wait for a revelation which is predictably a vision, words or a realization that is impressed upon the mind. This answer could be biblical, such as “I will never leave you nor forsake you," or a factual truth of some kind such as revealing to her that she didn’t speak up was because she was afraid of being punished, not because she wanted the abuse.

This process is repeated until the patient can remember the original memory, and/or any other memories that surface in connection with it, in peace.

As described in a position paper about the Theophostic Prayer Ministry (TPM) published by the Christian Research Institute (CRI), a ministry based on this method of prayer was founded by a former Baptist pastor named Ed Smith who holds a doctorate in pastoral ministry from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a master’s degree in education (with a focus on marriage and family counseling) from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Smith served as a pastor for 17 years before going into a full-time counseling practice. Smith claims he received the inspiration for this new kind of prayer from the Lord who showed him that the missing ingredient in his counseling work was God, and that he needed to invite Jesus into sessions with his clients.

He began to do this, giving a central place to Christ in his sessions with clients, and called this new method Theophostic prayer (a name derived from two Greek words meaning “the light of God”).

This method has gathered quite a bit of detractors, mostly from other Protestant denominations who accuse it of being involved in repressed memory therapy, visualization and guided imagery. However, the official Theophostic Prayer Ministry Guidelines explicitly prohibit the use of all forms of guided imagery and directed visualization. No hypnosis is used to recover memories and no suggestions are made about what the content of those memories might be.

As NM mentions in her letter, a Catholic priest named Fr. David Tickerhoof, TOR, a Franciscan priest serving as pastor of St. Paul’s Church in Marty, South Dakota, wrote a book about Theophostic Prayer entitled A Catholic’s Guide to Theophostic Prayer.

Father told me that this concept is related to the “healing of memories” method used by the popular priest/healer, Fr. Robert DeGrandis, and said Catholics need not be afraid of becoming involved in it. In fact, he wrote his book several years ago in response to Catholics who wanted to join the Theophostic prayer ministry but had reservations because of its Protestant origins.

His explained that even though there are many theological differences between Catholic and Baptist theology, when it comes down to the actual methods, there is nothing wrong with Theophostic Prayer from a Catholic point of view.

It is also important to note that Fr. Tickerhoof’s book on Theophostic prayer received the endorsement of Fr. Michael Scanlon, former president of Franciscan University of Steubenville, the provincial of his order, as well as a moral theologian. The only reason it does not contain an imprimatur is because the See of the Diocese of Sioux Falls was vacant at the time.

His book includes valuable chapters on growth in contemplation, the roles of counseling and confession and Eucharist in relationship to it, and teachings on the mystical life in terms of what we experience interiorly as we grow in prayer.

This article by Catholic author Nancy Marie Murray gives a beautiful testimony to the efficacy of this type of prayer for healing the wounds of the heart.

As NM states, the prayer has born great fruit, but the method lacks rigorous scientific testing so these results remain unconfirmed. There is some case study research that found favorable results for Theophostic Prayer, but more extensive testing (e.g. randomized control group studies) will have to be conducted in order to verify its claims.

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