IV Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model...
Some implications of the paradox of intention become immediately apparent. It is not a self-help technique since by definition the goal cannot be reached by effort. The dynamics of the paradox are most easily demonstrated by the practice of one-pointed meditation, which is common in some form to virtually every religion and is enjoying a revival in contemporary Christian circles.[i] That is to say, silence cannot be entered except by the paradox of intention; the gift of silence is gratuitous (‘by grace’); the meditator can only become available to receive the gift by focusing on something else and relinquishing the self-conscious desire for silence.[ii]
The most obvious psychological dynamic at work in the paradox of intention is the subversion of self-consciousness. It is the subversion of self-consciousness, effected by the paradox of intention and described by the paradox of vulnerability and power that appears to be the nexus of the theology-religion-psychology-apophasis cluster, and the empirical referent for many texts that are central to the development of theology. The loss of perception of this nexus -- and without apophatic praxis it is easily lost -- leads to much unnecessary disagreement and the mistaking of texts that refer to experience for abstract philosophical statements; for the linear tendencies of language fossilize and domesticate experience, and dismantle its necessarily paradoxical descriptors.[iii]
It may be seen from Shaw’s description and from the model that follows that consciousness/self-consciousness is a continuum (as opposed to a spectrum), and that its subversion is operative at many levels. But for now suffice it to say that the paradox of intention particularly as it is effected in one-pointed meditation takes advantage of the fact that very little human consciousness resides at the discursive level, and that both discursive and non-discursive are in this process gathered, integrated and focused. In the context of Christianity, cataphatic and apophatic -- images and affectivity and imageless, wordless silence -- are mutually enriching, enlarging and performative, and there is an aspiration, union with a mutually self-emptying God, that entails all else.[iv]
[i] The literature in this area is expanding exponentially. See for example, Gerry Pierse, Silence into Service (Dublin, The Columba Press, 1992); Gerald May, The Awakened Heart, (San Francisco, HarperCollins, 1991); John Main, Word Into Silence, (London, DLT, 1990); M. Basil Pennington, Centering Prayer, (Garden City, Doubleday, 1980). [Addition 2012: Martin Laird Into the Silent Land, OUP, DLT, 2006.]
[ii] This is not to say that one-pointed meditation is the only way to enter silence. That entrance is as varied and unique as there are people and moments. However, the entry into silence seems inevitably to involve the paradox of intention in some form. See the examples below. I am deliberately avoiding affective language in this article for obvious reasons. For the best modern affective treatment, see the series The Way of Silent Love: Carthusian Novice Conferences, London: Darton, Longman, Todd, 1993.
[iii] Insistence on the sole use of this reified methodology also leads to teaching that destroys the ability of theologians to create new texts of the variety most studied by their contemporaries and successors.
[iv] One-pointed meditation and the silence into which the practitioner enters has a different ‘flavour’ in each context, on the one hand, the context of the individual meditator and, on the other, the context from which the teaching emerges. For example, the difference between TM and Christian meditation is marked. TM is, generally speaking, a reflexive exercise. The goal is relaxation. The context of TM is individualistic, inconsistent and without semiotic continuity. The discussion in this paper of specifically Christian meditation is hampered by the theological debasement of the word ‘Love’, as in ‘God is Love’ as the essential ek-static performative word.