Monday, December 28, 2015

Kataphatic and Apophatic Praying

Redeemer sanctuary, before our Christmas Eve candlelight and communion service

Our new building addition for our children at Redeemer is nearly finished. This will leave some empty classrooms. One of them will be transformed into a room dedicated to praying.

Several years ago I felt God told me to establish such a sacred space in our church's building. Soon we will begin to recreate an empty classroom into a praying place.

What will this look like? When I met with people who will be helping with this project I shared with them that I would like the room to be usable for all kinds of praying people. I explained the distinction between kataphatic spirituality and apophatic spirituality to begin the discussion of how we might furnish the room.

The word kataphatic is a Greek word that is a put-together of the prefix kata (referring to; according to) and phasis (saying, or asserting something). Apophatic means apo (without) + phasis (saying, or asserting something).

Kataphatic praying uses words, symbols, and icons which, for the praying person, mediate God's presence (see, e.g., Henri Nouwen's Praying With Icons). Apophatic praying is bare and austere, and tends towards wordlessness (nondiscursive experience).

Both approaches to praying have rich, deep traditions in the Christian church. Some praying people prefer one way more than the other.

I want our prayer room to be spiritually accessible to both praying types. This may present a challenge but I am looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

Thomas Merton believed that the ancient practice of lectio divina (sacred reading, or reading a text in a sacred way) contained both kataphasis and apophasis. Merton saw that "the deeply personal practice of lectio unfolds in four non-linear movements that oscillate between the sensuous experience of kataphatic forms conveyed in words and images and the apophatic experience of a pregnant emptiness beyond all sense and reason." (James Finley, in Thomas Merton, A Book of Hours, 23) The fourth movement, contemplation, moves us "beyond all words, images, and concepts toward a quiet abiding in wordless silence." (Ib.)

This praying space is important to me because the people of Redeemer are a praying family.