Two New Words

In today’s post I decided to explain a couple of theological terms that most won’t find familiar. I learned about them years ago when I took a two-year course in spiritual direction. Here are the definitions:

Apophatic–knowledge of God through negation. In other words, God is so mysterious, so different, that He can be best described by what He is not.

Cataphatic--knowledge of God through affirmation. This means positive descriptions of God based on what He has revealed in Scripture.

These two “ways” of thinking about God lead to different types of praying. “Cataphatic” prayer has content; it uses words, images, symbols, ideas. “Apophatic” prayer has no content. It means emptying the mind of words and ideas and simply resting in the presence of God.

Centering prayer, also known as contemplative prayer and listening prayer, is a form of apophatic prayer. It is the practice of relaxing, emptying the mind, and letting oneself find the presence of God within. It involves silence, stillness, patience, sometimes repeating something, and the practice of “not knowing” as the person seeks God’s presence.

Ignatian prayer is an example of cataphatic practice. This type of prayer is imaginative, reflective and personal. The spiritual exercises of Ignatius involve putting oneself into a biblical scene or event and thinking about what it would mean personally. It involves the use of words and images.

Neither way is wrong, in fact, each may be beneficial at different times and stages of life. Most of us are more familiar with the apophatic method, using words, praying out loud. However, sitting in silence and waiting can be helpful, too. Try them both! There is no right or wrong way to pray!

For more posts about prayer see:

Prayer Disciplines Part 1

Prayer Disciplines Part 2

The Holy Spirit and Prayer #2

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