Praying: Kataphatic or Apophatic?

How do you pray? Do you find your prayer overflowing with images, thoughts and conversations or instead find yourself wrapped in silence surrounded by God’s awe inspiring presence? While at various times we may find ourselves practicing both of these, understanding the shape your prayer takes helps us to simply understand how we personally connect with God.

The first form of prayer, kataphatic, is my own prevailing mode of prayer. At times our prayer begins in seeking God, in a desire to feel the immanence and closeness of God when our mind seems busied with the affairs of this world. In these moments, as I reflect on the presence, ministry and Passion of Jesus, as Word revealed, I recognize that I am being beckoned closer. In an instant, behind closed eyes, I am enveloped by the sights, sounds and scripture intended to speak to my heart. Aware of my own transgressions and surrendering, I find myself humbled by the love and grace so undeservedly but gratuitously given. A beautiful intimate conversation ensues, an exchange of wills- that of mine for His and a resolve to change.

While other times our prayer can be an exercise of self emptying and centering (apophatic), as Christ in the desert, in a desire to rest solely in God’s presence. Using a simple centering prayer, perhaps one word only, we can become immediately aware that there is no need to seek God for he is already here beside, within, and all around. Here, in this moment, we feel that images are incomplete for the magnificence of God simply transcends everything that we have ever known! Not an end but a beginning, in our seeking to understand God further, we realize that whatever our perceptions of God are that the Divine Other is so much more! Here we find a quiet contemplative aspect of our prayer whereby we are drawn into indescribable amazement at the mystery of God. When words are few, “How great Thou art!” sums it up pretty well.

On a very personal note, growing up without an earthly father figure in my life, I have often visualized Jesus welcoming me as a child to come and just “be” near to him. Amidst fields of tall grass, on a warm summer day and a light stirring breeze there is peace and joy. More than anything I could have ever asked for, this relationship has taken away the painful loss that I believe otherwise would’ve felt incapacitating. As an adult, I still experience this joyful purely childlike prayer, most often in those moments when God understands that I am most in need of a Father. And yet I find that as I have grown older so too have my conversations with Christ. In the desire for greater understanding, and the fullness of the gift that God has given through Christ, our responsibilities as a disciple continue to grow.

In a beautiful affective way, our experience of God’s love from both modes of prayer can be felt so strongly, that it seemingly overflows out from our prayer to praise for God and others. For through our daily activities, we are continuously invited to recognize God’s creative handiwork in the world around us, and celebrate its discovery in those we encounter. It’s a visible joy that sparks others to notice and ask, “So, what made you so smiley today?” It’s a deep sense of compassion that calls us to extend that love and mercy to those most in need. Be careful though, you’ll find its authenticity contagious and truly the best witness of faith that you can ever hope to give!

 Peace,

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