Monday, May 20, 2013

Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model

There have been a number of requests for a pdf of this article that Al recently mentioned. It was posted—somewhere—on this blog, but if you would like to have a copy please send a comment with DO NOT POST at the top and giving your email.

NB A slightly updated version posted on this blog begins in May, 2012.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re the journey from the surface to the centre of the sphere:

This description was very helpful for me, especially the outlining of the various stages. However I struggled with the visual image when it got to the donut stage...

"God is a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere."

"As the gentle effort to focus persists, the person both follows and is carried by the point of focus towards the centre. The region of liminality is entered, a consciousness that is content to be without content. […]

On this turning point of the paradox of intention, ignoring everything that may occur, that is, letting go the last vestige of spiritual materialism, returning to the point of focus as necessary, the person waits without expectation or CONSCIOUS hope. In the paradox of intention, desire and hope are still present, but out of sight, gathered and integrated with the rest of consciousness around the point of focus. Desire is so great that desire is given up."

That last sentence spoke to me in particular as it's hard for me to imagine not being excited about things. Also, it reminds me of my astronomy classes in college where we talked about black holes.

This part below was helpful as well, I had wondered if it was possible to regress:

"While the journey to the centre at the sensory level appears to be undertaken repeatedly in fixed times of meditation, at the ontological level, each gesture towards the centre moves the person farther along the journey from which there is no turning back because the past now goes before."

I also liked the discussion on 'incarnation' as well as the distinction between transfiguration, transformation:

"..but in a seriously incarnational religion, 'mysticism' constitutes living the ordinary through transfigured perception."

"The word 'transfigured' as opposed to 'transformed' or 'transcending' is also crucial for sustaining the incarnational paradox. The word 'transfiguration' creates different resonances that 'transformation', which implies one thing becoming something quite different and has echoes of magic and destruction of the body; or from 'transcending', which implies escape from the body, something surpassed and left behind, a duality."

And then this quote combines the concepts of the centre-journey and transfiguration:

"Transfigured perception eventuates in true self-effacement, the clear discernment of disinterested action or non action. Thus humility and humiliation are antonyms. This is not stoicism, 'quietism', or the ennui of fatalism, but a highly subversive point of view."

All of this reminds me of the famous Teresa of Avila quote,

"Let nothing trouble you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing,
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things;
Whoever has God lacks nothing'
God alone suffices."

3:35 pm, May 20, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Erm, someone sent me a comment this afternoon with 'do not post' but no email address! If you will resend the email with your address, I will send the paper!

7:10 pm, May 20, 2013  
Anonymous sgl said...

re: "It was posted—somewhere—on this blog ..."

Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model: Notes for a Quantum Theology
Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model: Notes for a Quantum Theology
part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5
part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10,
part 11, part 12, part 13, part 14, part 15

9:45 pm, May 20, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

The more I read this blog the more puzzled I get.

Which is OK. But ...

"...'mysticism' constitutes living the ordinary through transfigured perception."

Might this be rephrased,"Wash the dishes, sweep the floors?"

Is this about re covery?

9:53 pm, May 20, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Thanks, sgl; can you please give us the year and the date?

10:54 pm, May 20, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

To changinthewind: yes to the first; can you please unpack the second? (re covery)?

10:56 pm, May 20, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

Sometimes I feel that Christianity is in a/the process of recovering something lost. Lost is the sense that ordinary life is sacred, that its everyday center is communion, no separations, and is best lived as such understanding.

The conversations here seem to be sometimes circuitously, aimed at working out a model, maybe a language, which describes "wash the dishes sweep the floor" but in a Christian vocabulary.

Modeling an architecture of a recovered Christ.

If so, how can Zen Buddhism be considered God less?

Seems more likely to be a horse of another color.

What if one faith could behold another faith?

11:43 pm, May 20, 2013  
Anonymous Al said...

To changeinthewind, i do get the same sense of puzzlement also. But i have to remind myself that Maggie's work has been a "work" of a lifetime where the praxis of solitude and silence has been the seedbed. Also, the image of the "narrow gate" helps, as well as the post on Passivity and Entitlement(October 2010

12:34 am, May 21, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...


Thank you for the references! I struggle with this stuff.

Thank heaven for Maggie and this blog and her books. And for the conversations going on around her work.

The seed Maggie plants in me is a bit of hope.

IF ... one could strip the Christian soil away, down to bedrock, AND, one could strip the Buddhist soil away, down to bedrock, it damn well better be the "same" bedrock on which one stands. All faiths likewise.

Faith otherwise is not so much I think. A covering with nothing to discover below.

If beholding is "beyond" object or thing, is it not also "beyond" any consciousness of faith?

Is not this why it is said, wash the dishes, sweep the floor?

What Maggie says of beholding seems a like saying. It is a way of seeing (it is) us rather than (it is) me and you; understanding being human is not an adversive relationship.

In the West I inhabit such an ordinary and everyday revolution cannot come too quickly.

1:43 am, May 21, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...


Read the reference. Thinking this.

" A child of God who knocks on the door and asks to be fed will find a feast ..."

Perhaps there needs be an astrick behind the word asks in the above quote. Stands for you must want it badly enough.

Sounds about right so, we live in a world of hurt.

Now Im feeling gloomish again.

Thanks for writing.

2:45 am, May 21, 2013  
Anonymous Al said...

Re: Buddhism - Maggie alluded to it a bit in the article in connection to the beholding model.

Honestly, i hate philosophy. There's a lot of nonsense to it as it turns into a "religion of rationalism" by and in the West. Philosophy spawns so many confusions and complicates things. But now i have to use it against itself because so-called Christian spirituality is so enamored by it. It's mind-boggling at times but then Isaac of Nineveh has a playful reminder: "we know where the easy way leads" referring to Lazarus and the rich man to my understanding. This is only one side of Maggie's model that I'm working on - to critique the presumptuosness especially of epistemological foundations of Christian spirituality that lag behind (destructive actually) the epistemic simplicity of Isaac of Nineveh or Ephrem the Deacon. The other side of the model of course is the "hope" part, the promise of transfiguration which is not in the after-life but in the here-and-now, an assumption that pervades the Buddhist mindset and praxis.

3:35 am, May 21, 2013  
Anonymous Al said...


The paradox is "asking" as "wanting it badly enough" has to slip into silence also. The model is also a critique of the spiritual consumerism of our age...

4:28 am, May 21, 2013  
Anonymous sgl said...

re: "It was posted—somewhere—on this blog ..."
re: "can you please give us the year and the date?"
(as before, hyperlinks take you to each part; updated to note the dates published)

Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model: Notes for a Quantum Theology
published in 15 parts between Thursday, May 17, 2012 and Thursday, July 19, 2012

Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model: Notes for a Quantum Theology (May 17, 2012)
part 2 (May 21), part 3 (May 24), part 4 (May 29), part 5 (June 03).0

part 6 (June 07), part 7 (June 11), part 8 (June 14), part 9 (June 18), part 10 (June 21),

part 11 (July 03), part 12 (July 07), part 13 (July 11), part 14 (July 15), part 15 (July 19)

8:21 am, May 21, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was also interesting to me, it reminded me of research Maggie once alluded to about why everyone stopped doing Kenosis early on:

"With awareness of the dynamics of self-consciousness, it becomes starkly evident that what happens in the book of Acts is already a betrayal of the Gospel because the introduction of ordained leaders re-introduces the very layer of self-consciousness which it has been Jesus' mission to suspend."

It does seem paradoxical - How do you spread the word without being organized about it? There is a distinction between organizations and networks. Organizations by definition embody hierarchies - people who have more 'valuable' time and opinions. By contrast, networks celebrate individual diversity/skill sets/'what we are, what we are not'.

Here are links to the paintings discussed in the .pdf BTW

These paintings are both of women reading - an older woman and a young girl. Both women come across as people who would be interesting to talk to (although they might not be CEO's or basketball stars).

The Magdalen Reading

Old Woman Reading

12:07 pm, May 21, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now I'm reading the chapter from 'The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England' (2011).

"'The contemplative does not see God,' writes Simon Tugwell, 'he enters into God's seeing.' Contemplation shifts the centre of the person from self-consciousness to the deep mind; it changes physical appearance, relationships with others […] - even the person's smell is different, as is his or her engagement with the natural world."

Since I've started my beholding journey, I've felt like I've gotten physically uglier although my character has improved. I've wondered if other people have noticed a change...

12:46 pm, May 21, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Evaluating like this takes one away from beholding. It's not for us to judge; our attention should be focused solely on beholding and—quite literally—the devil take the hindmost.

1:02 pm, May 21, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked this description by Bernard,

"Yet however often he has come, I have never been aware of the moment of his coming. I have known he was there; I have remembered his presence afterward; sometimes I had an inkling that he was coming. But I never felt it, nor his leaving me…He did not enter by the eyes, for he has no color; nor by the ears, for he has made no sounds; nor by the nostrils, for he is not mingled with the air, but the mind."

Also, the disclaimer that followed it talking about how inappropriate it would be to share intimate details of these encounters.

I had not realized Martin Luther's role in perpetuating the 'idolatry of experience', although it makes sense. He was looking for a focal point beyond that of the church hierarchy. I guess in this context he opted for a human focal point rather than a divine one. (He'd spent all that time in those monasteries starving and freezing because the church told him that would bring him closer to God. And then when he went to Rome he was displeased with how the wealth was being distributed. Perhaps he associated concepts surrounding the 'mystery' with opportunities for corruption.)

But the focal point must be God. I liked the Cloud-author's comments about - specifically beginners - "persisting through the normal distractions of a body and a mind learning to become one and to be still". Also the idea that if you think you're reached the top of the mountain then you haven't started yet. It's not a mental process, it's a decision to turn towards God and to keep turning towards God until you're planted in that position permanently.

2:09 pm, May 21, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

Perhaps the focus of attention (on beholding) might be understood as the sharpness found at the point of a spear.

Clearly this sharpness, no matter how sincerely it desires such, cannot cut anything, cannot throw itself, or even know what is meant by spear.

We are capable of being spiritual sharpness?

2:47 pm, May 21, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

It's an image that's often been used but not one that makes me comfortable because the tight focus leads to infinite openness

4:04 pm, May 21, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

"... but not one that makes me comfortable because the tight focus leads to infinite openness"

Often, I find meditation to be an uncomfortable experience, most particularly when deepening ...

It can feel (inside) more like a rollercoaster ride, lots of sudden slips and slides. A sense of no limits, no bottom ...

This is also when it becomes most fascinating. Staying open, maybe better to say, being present with, has a limit.

Like learning to ride. It's not about being thrown off, this is a given, it's about how long its going to take.

2:59 am, May 22, 2013  
Anonymous Al said...

I guess the adventure is the opposite of this: "If at first you don't succeed, then skydiving is not for you."

4:02 am, May 22, 2013  
Anonymous Al said...

Speaking of paintings/photos, i saw a photo of the Dalai Lama leaning toward Bishop Desmond Tutu, trying to whisper something to the good bishop. And the caption for the Dalai Lama reads: "Sorry dude, but my karma trumps over your dogma." Bishop Tutu responded with a grin.

5:43 am, May 22, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...



Philosophically speaking, isn't it the trip down that matters? ;)

5:46 am, May 22, 2013  
Anonymous Al said...

Honestly, most of the time, i don't know what matters, i just sense it :-). And quote like this somehow helps: "No snowflake ever falls in the wrong place." Hope this is the "trip down" you have in mind :-).

7:35 am, May 22, 2013  
Anonymous Maggie Ross said...

"The way up is the way down" as Heraklitos and later T.S. Eliot said

7:44 am, May 22, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I've more or less gotten used to the roller-coaster effect of the deepening. (I always feel like an idiot saying stuff like that. =))

Right now I'm more with the lady who wrote the journal entry in the CTSA Essay: "From Impasse to Prophetic Hope: Crisis of Memory"

"[…] If, like a person with amnesia, I were a complete blank, I would not suffer so. In this way, memory is not exactly "lost". Instead, it is numbed. I remember just enough to be in pain. […]

And I am dispossessed in other ways too. My health has been taken away. […] All that I have accumulated, all the tangible signs of life I once led are being ground into dust. […]"

Like her my physical health has suffered, etc. I've more or less gotten used to that too, though. It's her last paragraph that I particularly identify with now:

"[…] As I continue living through this, I have been shown the possibility that this memory unraveling is perhaps a necessary step to true hope. Because the experience denies my past, I have nothing to project on to God for the future or even the present. I experience a poverty that could lead me to hopelessness - to expect nothing of the future because the thread of my past has unraveled, and I no longer have a context for my life. Here the competing directions are despair or a true hope, a hope that is independent of me and my accomplishments, spiritual or otherwise."

12:03 pm, May 22, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

Speaking of God is like looking at a photograph of Markians chain. Or considering what matters. Or whether up is other than down.

Looking through the Hubble telescope, strung out across the cosmos are eight or nine clearly seen galaxies. Markians Chain this is dubbed and they are but the tip of an iceberg.

Looking carefully, one can discern twenty seven galaxies, give or take a few.

Mind stopping stuff.

On a recent church sunday, I
stopped noting the mention of God
at twenty-ish and suddenly realized I had no clue what worship God means.

Took a walk that afternoon beside a little stream. The sound of water tripping over a little rock ledge always catches attention.

It stops the walk for a few moments.

Why not?

2:01 pm, May 22, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

I would like to share something from journaling, two years back.

Sitting upstairs each morning I see the reflection of candlelight on the offering table. It is a path which points at me. Sitting to my right, ....... sees a path of reflected candle light as well. On one table, light from one candle flame generates two paths of light, yet only one is visible.

There is this sudden sense of one candle’s light “flooding” the universe; there follows the thought of universe as present only because of such multiplied awareness-es.

This seems an unlikely thought yet it is difficult to refuse.

If form is wave manifesting ocean, what is ocean, for that matter what is candle, what am I, but this ocean, this one candle’s reflected light?

Not merely “connected seamlessly” to ocean, to one candles's light, but ocean, candlelight which is nothing but such stuff as I.

It is then endless stuff, if only because almost all of it is like the other path of candlelight, the path only ........ sees; it is surely present, but its presence can only be intuited.

Back to now ...

When content is found to be disturbing or it feels uncomfortable, or it is way shy of the mark I think of it in terms of that candle's multiplying reflected light.

There are infinite paths, at least as many paths as there are awarenesses which watch.

All of it counts. Just try to dream an alternative.

Jesus said, "In my fathers house there are many mansions."

Like Maggie wrote here recently, Play is important too. Good news for this one. Philosophy perhaps for another?

8:05 pm, May 22, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maggie,
Philosophy really seems to be taking a beating judging from some of the comments that I've been reading. I was glad to see you reference Heraklitos who said that "the way up is the way down." Interestingly, the philosopher Hegel has written that the origin of philosophy is to be dated to Heraklitos. It would seem to me that philosophy encourages us to exercise our faculty of reason to critically examine such topics as ethics, politics, technology, human nature, Being, etc. Personally, my affections have always been with the existentialists like Kierkegaard and Camus. They really seem to get to the heart of what it means to be human. I realize that reason has its limits but it does have its place in this wonderful conversation we call life.

2:08 am, May 23, 2013  
Anonymous Al said...

Currently, i am holding my sword in Facebook against the growing social cancer of political dynasty in my hometown - that basically it's all about obsession and lust for power. This for me is something foundational an issue. But i need to get into practical strategies also, thinking on how to translate it into opportunities and avenues that will facilitate understanding and conversion into the power of detachment and powerlessness especially for those power-hungry leaders. Any suggestion?

4:17 am, May 23, 2013  
Anonymous Al said...

A growing number of residents and those in the diaspora are agreeing to my analysis (husband and wife are mayor and vice mayor respectively) and i have to drive the point that in the first place, it is not political strategies that create change. It is leadership operating from the core of integrity mirrored in self-forgetfulness and the courage and honesty to let go of the obsession and lust for power. I expect not a whole lot will pick this up right away. People are not used to thinking foundational stuff.

7:00 am, May 23, 2013  
Anonymous Al said...

@ Kevin: i like to agree with you that philosophy has its own usefulness. I guess what we are trying to point out in view of the beholding model is its presumptuous dominance in knowing, shaping cultures in return. Western philosophy missed a lot of things also in the process of its cultural hegemony. A beautiful read on what Western philosophy had missed at the expense of the abuse of creation or our ignorance of it is David Abram's Becoming Animal.

7:55 am, May 23, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Camus' Myth of Sisyphus seems to be the opposite of the Christ-path. Here is the last line from the work:

"The struggle itself [...] is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

God didn't create us to watch us struggle; the struggle is a means to an end. It's very dangerous in general to mistake the means for an end. (The Church is a means to and end, not an end.)

But we're not all caught in some eternal meaningless game of pushing boulders up hills, trying to be happy. The Christ-path leads to infinite Joy, Love.

10:59 am, May 23, 2013  
Anonymous MS said...


This is very true and it should be incorporated into an oath of office in some way:

[It] is not political strategies that create change. It is leadership operating from the core of integrity mirrored in self-forgetfulness and the courage and honesty to let go of the obsession and lust for power.

"Do you operate from the core of integrity mirrored in self-forgetfulness and possess the courage and honesty to let go of the obsession and lust for power?"

"I do."

11:14 am, May 23, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maggie,

I like to recite the line from Revelation "I am the Alpha and the Omega." when things get hard. Because God isn't just the 'end', God is the Source of all things.

Sisyphus doesn't appeal to me all that much either for the reasons mentioned. Perhaps it gives people an excuse to not push themselves beyond themselves. Right now I'm trying to picture that 'event horizon' of 'Desire is so great that desire is given up.' How could Sisyphus join us on the Christ path? What if he stopped pushing the boulder?


12:08 pm, May 23, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

"What if he stopped pushing the boulder?"

Exactly! Where is the faith?

It seems such sorry and flawed story to me. The only thing this fellow can do is push a rock which is way too heavy up a hill which is too high?

Reminds me of that advertisement where the old lady opens her hamburger looks inside and wonders where is the beef?

2:15 pm, May 23, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

Myths are reflections of the deep history of our collective story, what it means, and can mean, to be present here, are they not?

Perhaps Camus wishes us to take a careful look at our reflection in this story.

Perhaps this story offers a peek at the moon or at least points to it.

3:54 pm, May 23, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Right on.

Myths can be a way of talking about some of the driving forces of our psyches and of our cultures, or collective psyches. We need to be careful about seeing them as cut and dried, or simplistic, or not having anything to do with our selves.

Perhaps there is a little Sisyphus in all of us. Even at my age and length of tooth, I catch myself occasionally in a Sisyphian loop—old stories that, no matter how many times I have exorcised them, still demand to be pushed up that endless hill only to roll back on me.

We all have our boulders, and there are some we carry with us, or push up that hill, all our lives, even though we know better. We have to have vigilance that they don't trap us on that hill again when we are tired or vulnerable in some way, or if they do, to turn away and seek once more to the beholding.

4:46 pm, May 23, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

If I may back up for a moment.


Up column you commented: "The way up is the way down" as Heraklitos and later T.S. Eliot said.

In light of the beholding model, do you consider it possible that both of these commenters speak to an experience, one which occurs beyond the event horizon?

5:31 pm, May 23, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

First, there is no 'experience' beyond the event horizon because there is no self-consciousness/interpretation.

Second, there is no geometry in the spiritual life. 'Up' and 'down', 'ascent' and 'descent' are metaphors for 'more optimal' and 'less optimal'. One is moving from a linear to a holographic way of knowing.

6:47 pm, May 23, 2013  
Blogger changeinthewind said...

Yes. I'm pushing one of my boulders again.

Thank you.

7:52 pm, May 23, 2013  
Anonymous Al said...

Modern philosophy actually has come to a dead-end. After centuries of musing, it only finds itself in the mirror. It became narcissistic all the way to existentialism. Kierkegaard tried to break free from this narcissism. Postmodernism is narcissism wandering beyond the dead-end, grappling with infinite space before it but not really knowing how to behave before it because it thinks even infinite space is a mental construction. Philosophy in general acts like a hamster perpetually circling on a wheel; apophatic knowing goes spiral out...

11:48 pm, May 23, 2013  
Anonymous Al said...

Re: Heraklitos and Western philosophy - I am personally writing our Education Secretary, our former school president and a religious brother to include pedagogies on detachment and letting go as essential part of the curriculum as early as K1 and K2. Education backed up by Western philosophy's mode of knowing has been onesidedly focused on accumulation of information and skills in order to be successful in the future. Foundational learning on detachment and letting go is more humanizing than the pursuit of power, wealth, success, popularity, etc.

12:24 am, May 24, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maggie,
I loved changeinthewind's reference to the "where's the beef?" line from that old hamburger commercial. It beautifully captures the essence of what some of the existentialists experience when faced with the apparent absurdity of life.
I tend to see Sisyphus' struggle as one filled with dignity. Despite life's apparent meaninglessness he continues to press on. Not all of us have adopted a theistic position and Camus speaks eloquently of the individual's attempt to find integrity in a world that is going to pieces.
Thank you Al for recommending Abram's book. Camus had this line that touches on leadership..."Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Walk beside me, and be my friend."

2:05 am, May 24, 2013  

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