Page 1 2 3 4 

Moderators: Phil
Go
New
Find
Notify
Tools
Reply
  
Apophatic Christian spirituality Login/Join 
posted
Following up on other discussions about nonduality, Bernadette Roberts, etc., I am hoping that this topic will explore what we mean by Apophatic Christian spirituality, and how it is different from the apophatic mysticisms we find in Buddhism, Taoism, etc.

But what do we mean by "apophatic Christian spirituality?" See http://weekendfisher.blogspot....ch-of-mysticism.html for a good introduction.
quote:
Apophatic Mysticism is rooted in humility about what we can know and the realization that all of our systems are, after all, completely unable to do justice to an understanding of God. Its basic premise is that, no matter how great the human mind, it simply cannot grasp God in all His fullness, all His glory, all His might. This view is grounded in Scripture, reason, and the history of the church. Scripture's teaching that we do not yet know fully also has implications for systematic theologies.
quote:
Our mental images or artwork -- or systematic logical images -- can point us in the right direction if they reflect God and if we remember that they are not fully accurate pictures of God. The apophatic approach looks at each thing and consciously reminds itself, "Neither is this image fully like God." Ignorance leads to humility and to continual striving for better knowledge. Assumption of knowledge has the opposite effect.
quote:
If the "unknowing" approach becomes an exercise in denying what we know then it has gone too far. If it remains an exercise in acknowledging that "we know in part, we prophesy in part ... now we see through a glass, darkly" then it is a healthy corrective to our boasting of having a complete knowledge (or complete "systematic theology" if you'd rather).
That's a good intro. I'll continue the reflection below.
 
Posts: 7539 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 09 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
Apophatic spirituality is often called "negative spirituality," or "negative theology," in that it seeks to know God as the mystery beyond words, images, symbols, rituals, etc. "Kataphaic spirituality/theology" encounters God through these means and so affirms positive knowledge about God -- that we really can say something about who God is, how God operates, etc. In Christianity, our tradition of revelation lends itself to a strong kataphatic emphasis. Christ has come and has made God visible to us; we celebrate this ritually and sacramentally; we sing about it, write books, read Scripture, etc. -- and encounter God in some manner through these means and actions. "Positive" knowledge.

Apophatic spirituality and theology stands as a corrective to this, reminding us that although we do indeed know something positive, there is a great deal more than we don't know -- that the mystery of God goes far beyond what we do know, and that even our most exalted dogmas are a stammering rife with temptations to think that we understand something that goes far beyond our understanding.

In short, kataphatic spirituality/theology orients our human faculties to the God who has been revealed, and enables us to encounter God through the medium of creation, liturgy, art, Sacrament, sacred word, etc. Apophatic spirituality invites us to be open to encounter the God whose mystery goes beyond all these visible, tangible means of knowledge. Obviously, this is not meant to be a matter of either/or; one needs both. An extreme emphasis on the kataphatic aspect leads to fundamentalism, dogmatism, and egoic arrogance concerning the things of God; extreme apophaticism leads to quietism, gnosticism, and usually theological pluralism.
 
Posts: 7539 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 09 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
Traditionally, Christian contemplation has been considered an example of apophatic mysticism. Why? Because it gives testimony to an encounter with God that is not mediated through active engagement with word, symbol, etc., though it is often experienced during or after such activities. Rather, contemplation is the experience of God communicating with us "spirit-to-spirit," as it were, in a depth of our being beyond the activities of the faculties. It is pure grace because we cannot reach God in this manner through the exercise of our will or intellect; it is God who reaches to us. We might or might not experience activity in our faculties -- even distractions -- but these are no impediments to contemplation unless we close ourselves off at the level of the will to God's self-communication. Contemplation does leave us free to do so; it is not a matter of become possessed by God over-and-against our permission.
 
Posts: 7539 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 09 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
A common error one finds in the history of the tradition and even in this day uses this fallacious logic:

1. Apophatic spirituality holds that God exists beyond all thoughts, concepts, images, etc.
2. As long as I am having thoughts, images, etc., I cannot really be experiencing God, or contemplation.

This line of reasoning is false because:
a. We do encounter God through kataphatic means.
b. Christian contemplative experience isn't premised on having no thoughts, images, etc. in one's consciousness, but on God's gracious offer of contemplative graces and our consent to receive such when offered.

Unfortunately, points 1 and 2 are widely taught in linkage, and if pursued too vigorously, they lead to quietism and a kind of radical apophaticism that eventually makes no distinction between Christian apophatic mysticism and the apophatic spiritualities found in other religious traditions -- especially Buddhism and advaitan Hinduism. Apophatic spiritual practice becomes, then, a matter of striving to vanquish all thoughts, concepts, reflections, etc. as though the absence of such activities is either a pre-requisite to apophatic mystical experience, or the mystical experience itself. To my thinking, without the gift of contemplative grace, the consequence of such practice leads primarily to the refinement of one's own spiritual awareness, acute perception, and a deep sense of the interconnectedness of creation -- enlightenment-like mysticism.

- - -

OK, there, now, I've set the stage for questions, discussion, disagreements, etc. I'm hoping this thread will become a good resource for visitors to the forum.
 
Posts: 7539 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 09 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
<mateusz>
posted
In a sense, every experience is apophatic Smiler .

When I listen to J.S.Bach's "St. Matthew's Passion" how can I possible describe to you what I feel and experience? How to put in words what I feel when I look at my fiancee smiling to me with love? I can point to something, and if you have similar experiences, you will get sth, and if not - no chanceSmiler.
Reality is truly beyond concepts in the sense that we cannot speak the richness of what is.

Going deeper: the knowledge of a person is apophatic. I can see someone's body, or feel it, I can hear someone's words and interpret them, but I cannot grasp the "personhood" of this person. The subject never becomes an object of experience - when we objectify, we are not in touch with the person anymore. So another human person is a mystery, is unknown to us, although we can know many manifestations of this person: body, gestures, actions, words etc.
But we can know something of a person, when this person chooses to reveal it to us in love and freedom. Then we can understand each other, and experience the other beyond manifestations, but it's a specific experience - Martin Buber called it I-Thou experience.

Then, God is unknown and the experience of him is apophatic. First, because every reality is in its richness beyond words. Second, because God is infinite and transcendent in its nature - we cannot know what is infinite. Third, because God is Three Persons, and we can know Him only if he opens up in freedom and love. And because God is trasncendent, his unknowability is infinitely transcendent. And so is His generosity, openness, and willingness to share His personality and interior life with us. In a way, we can know God better than other people and ourselves! And we can know ourselves only in God. We can know others in God. So God is super-unknown and super-known to us.

I think that much of Eastern non-dual mysticism is about the first apophatic nature of Reality. When we experience that which is directly without veil of words there is really nothing we can say about it. It's just what it is. And this is beautiful and breathtaking, or can be, at least. But it is not the unknowability of a Person.
 
Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
mateusz, those are great observations. I think the issue at stake with kataphatic/apophatic is mediated vs. unmediated. Your experience of your fiancee smiling and how you then carry that within is a great example of how the kataphatic can awaken us to a new, inner dimension of experience.

I think that much of Eastern non-dual mysticism is about the first apophatic nature of Reality. When we experience that which is directly without veil of words there is really nothing we can say about it. It's just what it is. And this is beautiful and breathtaking, or can be, at least. But it is not the unknowability of a Person.

Yes, that makes sense.
 
Posts: 7539 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 09 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
[QUOTE]Originally posted by Phil:


In short, kataphatic spirituality/theology orients our human faculties to the God who has been revealed, and enables us to encounter God through the medium of creation, liturgy, art, Sacrament, sacred word, etc. "

Phil,
when i was saying a prayer about the Sacraments
outloud i heard a male voice begin to say the words with me. Could this be considered Kataphatic spirituality?

I had buried some of this until recently. This
experience showed me that Jesus & God where in
the Sacraments. Especially the Eucharist. I
understand now why i got so upset when the Church
said that they were going back to the traditional
use of wheat. Because the Eucharist had taken on
a deep meaning for me & meant that even if i did
become a member of the Church i would not be able
to partake in the Eucharist fully. I understand
now that this is not the case.

Peace
Ajoy
 
Posts: 135 | Registered: 05 August 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
<HeartPrayer>
posted
quote:
Originally posted by mateusz:
...we can know something of a person, when this person chooses to reveal it to us in love and freedom. Then we can understand each other, and experience the other beyond manifestations, but it's a specific experience - Martin Buber called it I-Thou experience.
Excellent point, Mateusz! Smiler

I think a key point of Martin Buber is this:
The I that speaks the essential word I-Thou is fundamentally different from the I that speaks the word I-It. This is all-too-often overlooked!
 
Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
From Ajoy:
quote:
when i was saying a prayer about the Sacraments
outloud i heard a male voice begin to say the words with me. Could this be considered Kataphatic spirituality?
Well, not really, if you're inquiring about the voice, that is. That sounds like a locution.

It's important to remember that we're also speaking of contrasting theologies, here, with spiritualities that flow from them. Perhaps I didn't emphasize that enough above.

Another traditional way of looking at these two paths has been active way vs. contemplative way. In the active way, we are doing something to relate ourselves to God, making use of words, symbols, prayers, rituals, etc. It may well be that these bring about an openness to receive contemplative graces, and so we move from active involvement with the word to a resting in awareness of the mystery. That's sort of how lectio divina is supposed to go -- a kind of kataphatic/apophatic dance.
 
Posts: 7539 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 09 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
Let me propose a question, here. What would be some characteristics of apophatic Christian spirituality -- especially in contrast with apophatic Eastern pathways?

Here are a few that come to mind:

1. While emphasizing the encounter with God beyond all forms, it recognizes the validity of kataphatic means for relating to God.
2. It presumes a relational context -- the I-Thou mentioned above -- even when such is not experientially obvious.
3. It emphasizes the gratuitous nature of contemplative experience -- that it is a gift from God and not a consequence of our effort.
4. It does not require the silencing of the faculties as a prerequisite for receiving contemplative graces (e.g., the Prayer of Quiet), but recognizes that the faculties are quieted by the grace itself, leading them to a natural, peaceful resting.
5. It brings forth growth in the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit -- theotic transformation.
6. It awakens the realization of one's true self -- that deeper sense of personhood beyond self-concept/image.

Comments?

What else might we add?
 
Posts: 7539 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 09 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
Amen to what you're saying here, Phil!

Regarding the logical fallacy above, I see how this might creep into the Contemplative outreach programs and why it's a problem, as you stated on the other thread. Keating's assertion that one doesn't have full union as long as one is aware of union certainly seems to mutilate the definition of contemplation. (Why would he do this? to justify the non-dual state as some Holy Grace?)

By the way, do you regard the apophatic and kataphatic dimensions as a dichotomy or more of a continuum?
 
Posts: 352 | Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan | Registered: 24 December 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
Shasha, I don't think it's a continuum with kataphatic on one end and apophatic on the other. Some have used the particle/wave nature of reality to compare the two, kataphatic being the particle/form aspect, and wave being the invisible/energetic. That's not bad, especially regarding metaphysical mysticisms, but doesn't get to the heart of what apophatic Christian theology and mysticism are affirming, which is not merely the invisible aspect of reality, but an unmediated experience of God.

- - -

Here's how it goes with the Prayer of Quiet, which is the most common form of contemplation. You'll be reading and reflecting on Scripture, and maybe getting something out of it (or not). Then you're just drawn to stop and attend to some kind of obscure sense of presence within. Your mind is still active, and you might even be thinking, "what's going on, here?" or "I've got to get through this Scripture passage." But there's this undeniable movement within to just rest, to be, to simply abide in the mystery. You can note the activity of your mind, and you know you can just stand up and get busy, putting an end to it, but you decide to stay with it. The mind cannot understand what's going on, but neither can it interfere, provided you don't get caught up in its inquiries (which you're not drawn to do anyway).

I think these kinds of experiences are quite common, and can even become the mainstay of one's prayer, suggesting themselves right at the beginning of a prayer period, before one reads anything. In time, the prayer might evolve to where the mind itself is quiet and enveloped in the silence. This is the Prayer of Union, and many people experience it for brief moments. As with the Prayer of Quiet, there is no disciplining the mind or thoughts to notice this silence; one simply abides in it. Thoughts might come and go, on occasion, but one need not do anything about them but rest, until one has to get up and go or the grace subsides and one is back into "active mode."

Ecstatic Union would be prayer in which one's self-awareness seems to disappear for awhile, and you know this because you sense yourself "returning," and you know you've been away for awhile. In extreme cases, people might not be responsive to even physical touch, or being shaken. These experiences are rare.

Transforming Union refers to ongoing contemplation, even as one is active with the daily duties. It's sort of like the Prayer of Quiet "on the go." We do our duties while in contemplation, but these activities do not disturb our inner peace and resting in God (unless we become emotionally disturbed, and only then for awhile). This Transforming Union is what Bernadette Roberts claims to have moved beyond, but I have my doubts about that, as you know.
 
Posts: 7539 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 09 August 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
Hmmmm .... somehow I missed this interesting thread.

quote:
Originally posted by Phil:
[qb] Let me propose a question, here. What would be some characteristics of apophatic Christian spirituality -- especially in contrast with apophatic Eastern pathways?[/qb]
Good question.

quote:
Originally posted by Phil:
[qb]Comments?

What else might we add? [/qb]
I would add Jesus. The whole starting point is Jesus. I'd also add membership of the Christian community (i.e., the Church).
 
Posts: 140 | Location: Canada | Registered: 26 May 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Picture of Jaan
posted Hide Post
This reminds a little bit of John Micheal talbot's teaching on prayer which is summed up in his book Come to the Quiet. There he goes through the various Western traditions from reading to centering prayer emphasizing the eventual evolution to silent prayer. He also devout s part of his book to other forms of prayer found in eastern religions.
 
Posts: 24 | Location: Woodstock IL | Registered: 24 August 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Picture of Phil
posted Hide Post
Mt. shared some relevant points on another discussion.
- see http://shalomplace.org/eve/for...=723109721#723109721
 
Posts: 3613 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 27 December 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
quote:
Originally posted by Phil:
<br />3. It emphasizes the gratuitous nature of contemplative experience -- that it is a gift from God and not a consequence of our effort.


I would, however, argue that effort is essential -- in order to help put aside those-things-in-ourselves that are obstacles to receptivity. "Effortless effort", if you will.

Nevertheless, fruits come as a result of grace, and not of the practitioner’s effort per se.

That said, I believe the "way of grace" is fundamentally different from "the way of power" (which is at one end of the extreme).
 
Posts: 75 | Location: Norway | Registered: 04 February 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
I was reading a book about Zen. Having proposed a relationship with Jesus and membership of a community as differentiating elements of Christian spirituality, I've now talked myself into looking for similarities rather than differences. What do you think?

 
Posts: 953 | Location: Canada | Registered: 03 April 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Picture of Phil
posted Hide Post
I think those are good parallels, Derek. I'm not familiar with "samadhi" being describes as positive or absolute, but I can see what you're doing and why.

The three Buddhist refuges (the Buddha, the sangha/community, and the dharma/teaching) resonate with Christianity's emphasis on faith in Christ, membership in the Church, and adherence to sound teaching, especially the scriptures. You might consider those also in your comparisons.
 
Posts: 3613 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 27 December 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
quote:
Originally posted by Phil:
I'm not familiar with "samadhi" being describes as positive or absolute, but I can see what you're doing and why.


That distinction came from the book I was reading, Zen Training by Katsuki Sekida. In the diagram I attempted to combine Sekida's material with practices mentioned in the Philokalia and, to a lesser extent, St. John of the Cross. I was hoping some of our Shalom Place visitors might be able to help refine the diagram, but apparently not LOL.

quote:
Originally posted by Phil:
The three Buddhist refuges (the Buddha, the sangha/community, and the dharma/teaching) resonate with Christianity's emphasis on faith in Christ, membership in the Church, and adherence to sound teaching, especially the scriptures. You might consider those also in your comparisons.


Yes, that's a good parallel, and one I hadn't noticed.
 
Posts: 953 | Location: Canada | Registered: 03 April 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
A slightly revised version, to which I've added yoga terminology. Again, I don't put this forward as definitive -- it's just a preliminary sketch based on what I've been reading.

I was wondering where kundalini might fit into this picture. Since the two paths I've shown involve voluntary practices, and since kundalini is (so I understand) involuntary, perhaps it doesn't belong at all.

On the other hand, kundalini awakening "cleanses" and "is experienced only after the personal dimensions of the unconscious have emptied their contents" (Phil's book, p. 68). So perhaps it is an involuntary progression down the subtractive / non-directive path on the diagram.

 
Posts: 953 | Location: Canada | Registered: 03 April 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
And this should be about the final version:

 
Posts: 953 | Location: Canada | Registered: 03 April 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
Not sure if this silence means no one is interested, or perhaps some are interested but have nothing to add! In case you'd like to hear me explaining the diagram, here's a Youtube video I made this afternoon:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdjItsiDaIQ
 
Posts: 953 | Location: Canada | Registered: 03 April 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Picture of Phil
posted Hide Post
Hi Derek,

It's Memorial Day weekend in the U.S. -- holidays, with Monday off for most. We've had company, meals, graduations, and an ordination to attend. Maybe others have also been a bit more occupied lately.

Nice job on the graphics and the youtube presentation. I'm honored to be listed among the other writers you recommend and can appreciate your efforts to understand the commonalities among these various traditions.

I think the pathways from A to B, A to C, and B to C make sense. Most anyone who regularly practices prayer and meditation will discover this, I'm sure. What, traditionally, we've considered the contemplative pathway or vocation would describe people who regularly and habitually traverse the A - C pathway, though these souls also engage in A - B practices, and are drawn from B - C. That would describe my own experience as well.

Where you go from C to D to E would correspond to Teresa's idea of habitually experiencing the Prayer of Quiet, Prayer of Union, and Prayer of Transforming Union, respectively. For Teresa, as for John of the Cross, any movement from A to B or C would be considered a response to grace; "resting in God" or the Prayer of Quiet was considered the first stage of infused contemplation -- nothing we can come to through our own practices, so that's surely supernatural grace as well.

I'm not sure how well Teresa's teaching on the stages of increasing union correspond to Zen's deepening states of consciousness. For Teresa, this is all, first and foremost, about a relational union proceeding from a union of wills and overflowing to all the levels of our being. To me, the Zen states seem to be more about deepening what, in other threads, I've called our "non-reflecting human consciousness." While there are resemblances between some of the descriptions, there are also significant differences. I'm surely not ready to say that Zen masters come to experience what St. Teresa wrote about; the contribution of faith in configuring how expanded consciousness experiences ultimate reality is quite significant, I believe.

Chapters 7 & 8 of Jim Arraj's book, Christianity in the Crucible of East-West Dialogue has some relevant discussion on this topic.
- http://www.innerexplorations.com/catew/christia.htm
-
 
Posts: 3613 | Location: Wichita, KS | Registered: 27 December 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
quote:
Originally posted by Phil:
I'm not sure how well Teresa's teaching on the stages of increasing union correspond to Zen's deepening states of consciousness.


Yes, I agree that D and E are the most tentative parts of the diagram. I'll have to go back and compare Sekida's descriptions of kensho and satori with St. Teresa's descriptions of mansions #5, #6, and #7.
 
Posts: 953 | Location: Canada | Registered: 03 April 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
Okay, I've had another look at the fifth mansion. What St. Teresa describes as the prayer of union is a change in reality: the soul becomes joined to God, at least temporarily. The descriptions of kensho that I can find are more about a change in perception, with reality remaining the same. So going back to your original post, "how it is different from the apophatic mysticisms we find in Buddhism, Taoism, etc." I would point to that as a difference. The Christian mystic undergoes a change in reality, while the Eastern mystic experiences only a change in perception. Clearly, "the diagram" will have to be revised -- but not for now, as I've spent way too much time fiddling around with it!
 
Posts: 953 | Location: Canada | Registered: 03 April 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
  Powered by Social Strata Page 1 2 3 4