VI Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model...
In consequence, language common to linear discourse is often discarded because to use it in light of transfigured perception would be a category mistake. Examples of this are dualities such as ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’,[i] or the question ‘does God exist?’ The word ‘God’ itself becomes problematic and irrelevant, as do the notions of theism and atheism.[ii] Because of the multivalence of thought that emerges from apophatic prayer, there is no possible argument that might convince someone who has not engaged in one-pointed meditation that this is the case, any more than it can be argued that calculus is true to someone who does not know simple algebra.[iii]
From this brief account of the subversion of self-consciousness by the paradox of intention, it is possible to see that paradoxes such as the paradox of intention or the vulnerability/power paradox are descriptors. They are not premises or hypotheses; to dismantle them would be to render them into something other than they are. The absence of this insight can cause insurmountable difficulties in discussions that take place between those who sustain the tradition of apophatic praxis, whose theology proceeds from the observable laws common to everyone that are encountered in this praxis, and those who do not engage in this praxis, even if they share the same point of view and language. One is discussing from a multidimensional context, and the other from a linear context.
Multidimensionality is necessary to any discipline, as noted above in the example of the teaching of arithmetic. Computer graphics are able to mimic multidimensionality, and to show how three dimensions impinge in two. What is three dimensional will appear piecemeal and distorted in two dimensions, but the parts are recognizable enough, as they drift through the two dimensional plane, for the observer to extrapolate the whole -- if the observer is able to understand that this is what is happening. That is to say, these glimpses provide enough clues for a creature living in two dimensions to surmise what the intruding figure might look like in its full dimensionality.[iv]
When multidimensional resonances in the theology-religion-psychology-apophasis cluster are lost because of fragmentation of the cluster and dismantling of paradoxical descriptors; and when they are deprived of their source and clear amplification in the apophatic, they become cacophonous. A religion’s richness and the full range even of academic theology can be integrated and effectively transmitted only when they proceed from the dialogue with silence, which requires interior praxis over many years. Without this integration, the refulgence of cherished symbols, phrases and texts becomes lost. Furthermore, apophatic praxis both generates and proves academic theological hypotheses in the same metaphorical sense that a particle accelerator both generates and proves hypotheses in physics.
Gnomic texts in the New Testament provide but one example. ‘Who loses life shall gain it’, and ‘who is poor possesses the kingdom of heaven’, however else they may be interpreted, and without stretching these texts in any way, describe the specific processes of presenting reality in apophatic praxis. But the liberating multidimensionality of these texts elides into mere linearity when they are transmitted without insight into the dynamics of this praxis, and consequently become reduced to slogans and clichés that can be appropriated by the powerful to justify oppressing those who are spiritually or materially deprived. The more dimensionality is lost, the more strident the appeal to a static ‘tradition’, as noted by the apocryphal saying attributed to Jaroslav Pelikan, ‘Religion is the living tradition of a dead people, and tradition is the dead religion of a living people.’
[i] When people become dewy-eyed about ‘mysticism’ it is self-evident that they seek a different goal from the one they claim. An ordinary life lived through transfigured perception, as attested by many writers, does not draw attention to itself by the need to be extraordinary in its own eyes because there is no ordinary or extraordinary, and the reflexive gaze is minimal. The famous cartoon of two Zen monks sitting in empty space is illustrative here: the elder is saying to the puzzled novice, “Nothing happens next. This is it.”
[ii] Thus, for example, media misinterpretation of statements by David Jenkins and J.A.T. Robinson.
[iii] The paradox of intention and the suspension of self-consciousness also point towards reasons for the inconclusive results of efforts to examine meditation or so-called religious experience or psi phenomena in the lab. It is virtually impossible for a person in an experimental situation to become free of self-consciousness, and the suspension of self-consciousness is not, in fact, an ‘experience’ as that word is commonly understood as will be seen below. Further, a lab situation tends to reduce what is multidimensional and predominantly pre-conscious to limiting variables and discursive consciousness.
[iv] The ontological immanence of three dimensions in two point to an epistemological transcendence, as Ross Thompson might have put it in his recent article, ‘Immanence Unknown’ in Theology, Vol. XCV No. 763, pp. 18-26. But it should be noted that this transcendence is not disjunctive as we have come to think of transcendence, and that what Thompson describes is very like the Lurian notion of tsimtsum, the notion that God is so completely everywhere that it is necessary for God to stop breathing in order to make room for the creation.