As advertised, I didn’t post for several weeks this June and July. Thank you for your patience, and thank you to those who contacted me, asking me to get back on it. I feel appreciated! (and slightly pressured <grin>). In any case, today, we resume a Tuesday/Thursday posting schedule.
The word “apophatic” is pretty uncommon, rendering the idea of “apophatic spirituality” pretty unknown. It means “beyond words” and is part of a binary set of ideas; “cataphatic” and “apophatic;” “through words,” and “beyond words.”
Cataphatic spirituality is the spirituality of thought, words, and ideas. It is the spirituality of self-awareness, learning, ideas, and concepts. It is a powerful and important form of spirituality.
Apophatic spirituality, on the other hand, is the spirituality beyond ideas, beyond thought and concept. It is the spirituality of mystery and the unknown; the spirituality of an ineffable, uncontainable God. Once we realize that God cannot be contained in words, thoughts, or mental constructs, we need a spirituality to match.
Heavily influenced by the scholastic school of thought in Middle-Age Europe, and intensified during the Renaissance and Enlightenment, Western Christianity has long focused on cataphatic spirituality. Ours had been a tendency to approach the Divine through understanding. Ours has been a learning religion, a studying religion, a thinking religion. We’ve focused on understanding and have worked hard to articulate spiritual principles in cogent arguments and logical doctrines.
But cataphatic and apophatic are two dimensions of a single experience. Both are important, and working one without the other produces an unbalanced spirituality.
It stands to reason, doesn’t it? If, as our tradition teaches us, God cannot be contained in any thought we think, we need practices, traditions, and spiritual disciplines that work with the uncontainable Divine. And sure enough, our tradition contains just such a spirituality. Ours is a tradition full of non-rational practices: meditation, contemplation, lectio divina, wordless prayer, centering prayer, welcoming prayer, examen of consciousness, silence, solitude, and so forth.
These are all part of the Christian Way. These are all apophatic spiritual practices. However, they are not as intuitive to Westerners as are the cataphatic practices.
In this series of posts, I’ll talk about a way of thinking about our humanity that may help access our ancient apophatic practices.