Week Two – Kataphatic and Apophatic Approaches

By September 17, 2018School of Contemplation
light through a window

This week, after we shared different experiences with contemplation that we’ve had, Rachael introduced some of the labels given for different approaches: like the differences between kataphatic and apophatic approaches or between receptive and attentive approaches (see Keating’s diagram below).

Kataphatic refers to the positive or affirming value of thoughts, images and understandings that help us approach the Mystery, while apophatic refers to the negating approach that recognizes that the Presence of God is far beyond all of the words or thoughts that we can find. So apophatic approaches favour silence or “unknowing” that help to make sure that ideas and images and language, and their limitations, don’t get in the way of connecting with God.

We finished by practicing centering prayer again. Remember that in the last post there is a link to an introduction by Thomas Keating. Here is another video with a testimonial about the potential of centering prayer from Phileena Heuertz.

And here is the quote that I referred to stumbling on, right after talking about the same idea the previous week:

Like a wild animal, the soul is tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, and self-sufficient: it knows how to survive in hard places…. Yet despite its toughness, the soul is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush, especially when other people are around. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently at the base of a tree, breathe with the earth, and fade into our surroundings, the wild creature we seek might put in an appearance. We may see it only briefly and only out of the corner of an eye – but the sight is a gift we will always treasure as an end in itself.

And here is the diagram from Thomas Keating:

Chart of prayers ranging from receptive to attentive

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