Author Archives: Jeff

About Jeff

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

4th Email Exploration for Lent

It’s kind of fascinating to me that Lent is meant to recall the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert.  Because the thing is, we know almost nothing about that the vast majority of that time.  Certainly, the face-off with Satan must have been a climax of that time.  But what about the rest of that time?
We are a week into Lent, more or less.  It leads me to wonder what it was like a week after Jesus stepped into the desert.  Like anybody, all I can do is guess.
One of my hopes is that these emails take us on a journey that has some paralells to Jesus.  Our first exercise was a bit of a microcosm of the whole cataphatic-apophatic spectrum.  And then we said, “Yes!”  and “Thank you.”  We begin in optimism and joy.  I suspect when he come out of his baptism, having heard God’s voice, Jesus began this way, too.
A few days fasting might have given him a clarity of purpose. In our most recent exercise,  when we placed the intrusive thoughts on that river in our imaginary, we might have experienced something distantly akin to Jesus’ single mindedness.
Today’s exercise has lots of similarities to that last exercise.  But takes us deeper into the apophatic.  It invites us to surrender more than just intrusive thoughts.   I believe that Jesus might also have been surrendering something deeper, about a week into his time in the desert.

Background: It seems that there is some immutable center to us.  This has been called the True Self.  It can be the work of a lifetime to get past the things that seem like such an important part of who we are.  Roles, titles, jobs, even callings…  These are often good things.  But they are not the most basic measure of who we are.

Today’s Exercise

  1.  Relax.  Find your breath.
  2. Imagine a riverside scene.  Perhaps it is a place you have been.
  3. Begin by seeing it in your mind’s eye.  Then locate yourself there.
  4. Furnish additional sensory information.  What sounds are you hearing?  What smells are you smelling?  What is the temperature like?  Are you sitting?  What does your seat feel like?
  5. Behold the river.  See how the gentle current moves the water out of your vision.
  6. Calm your mind.  As thoughts enter into your awareness, place them on the river.  Allow the river to carry them out of your perceptions.
  7. Continue to breathe deeply and slowly.  As anything: feelings, memories, perception rise up to distract you from your breath, give them, gently to the river.  Place them as you might put a leaf on the water, so gently to be sure it is floating in the cool water.
  8. When you are ready, consider a trivial portion of your identity.  Perhaps you are a football fan, or a lover of science fiction.  Whatever that trivial aspect of your identity is, give it up to the river.  Place it on the water and let the current carry it out of sight.
  9. With your next breath, consider what it is like to be freed of this aspect of your identity.
  10. Now, consider another aspect of your identity.  Perhaps it is a certain distant familial relationship like uncle or cousin.  Maybe it is a hobby you are very passionate about.  Give this part of yourself to the river, now.
  11. Experience life with out this fact about yourself.  Consider the ways you are changed.  As distracting thoughts and feelings arise, remember to give these to the river, too.
  12. Now, find something very important to you.  Perhaps it is a job, a title, or a degree.  Maybe it is your role within the family you live in (mother/father/ sister/daughter, etc…)  Give this role to the river as well.
  13. Spend a breath experiencing yourself without this important role.
  14. Consider that there is something within you.  Explore who or what this is.
  15. If it feels right, give additional aspects of your identity to the river.
  16. You might even give your name itself to the river.  
  17. When you have given all the parts of yourself that you wish to, explore who you are, now.  Consider your relationship with the divine.  Think about what is left of you.
  18. When you are ready, see yourself getting up from the riverside.
  19. Walk downriver.  Continue to not only see, but also hear and feel this world in your imagination.  Perhaps fifty feet down the river, you will find that a number of rocks and branches lie across the river, obstructing the flow.  
  20. As you walk among these, you will find that many of the parts of yourself that you gave to the river sit here, prevented from going to far away.  Consider each aspect of yourself. 
  21. The ones you wish for, you can have back.  Take them within you again.  As for the ones you don’t want?  Untether them from the rocks and branches.  Let them be washed free.

You can look forward to your next email Saturday morning.  I hope you will click here and share some about how this exploration is going for you.  I would like to really encourage you to commit yourself to some kind of contemplation every day.  It really does make a difference.  If a given day’s exercise is not working for you, you might go back to an early exercise.  You also can click here to go to the Faith-ing Project website and check out some other practices.

The Faith-ing Project is my labor of love.  It was born out of my realization that spiritual exercises can make life better… and in some ways, easier.  I am committed to creating an easily accessible resource that provides lots of options in one place for the spiritually hungry and curious.  It is a very important part of this vision that these practices are available to anyone who would like to access them, regardless of their financial situation.
However, making these practices available does carry some financial and time-related cost. I am excited to share that financially speaking, the project has almost paid for itself at this point.  I have a hope to go further, to improve the equipment used for audio recordings and access technical support to improve the reach, look, and feel of the website.
If you would like specific information about different ways that you can support the Faith-ing Project, please click here.

3rd Email in the Lent Apophatic/Cataphatic Exploration

If you would like to receive these Lenten explorations into the apophatic and cataphatic, please email otherjeffcampbell7@gmail.com  You will receive each email going forward.  You can find the past ones here.

I imagine there are 3 types of people participating in this email exploration:
The first is someone just interested in exploring a wide range of contemplative practices.
The second knew something about the cataphatic (light, joyous, explicable, word-dependent) and apophatic (dark, word-transcendent) and was interested in exploring this distinction further.
The third might have wanted to pursue this distinction through the lens of Jesus, Lent, and Easter.
Whoever you are and whatever your motives, I am glad to have you along.  I hope you will leave a comment on the website and share some more about why you are with us and what you are hoping to accomplish on these 40-ish days.
Today’s practice is the first real dipping of our toe into apophatic waters.  It is apophatic because it does not rely on words.  However, it is neutral on the question of how much we can know and on the values of the darkness.  For this reason, it is just a first step.
Several practices — including this one– are ones that we will return to: when we come back at them there will be subtle tweaks which alter where they fall on the apophatic/cataphatic spectrum.

Background: The novel ‘Illusions: Adventures of the Reluctant Messiah’ has a pretty amazing scene.  The protagonist is told to use the power of his mind to eliminate a group of clouds on the horizon.  He spends the afternoon turning the whole of his will to the task.  And he is thoroughly unsuccessful.

The man’s mentor explains that the main character is entirely to emotionally wrapped up in the task to have ever been able to eliminate him.  He would have done far better to withdraw his energies from the clouds than to invest himself.

This is a useful story.  Sometimes, as we try to overcome our thoughts and feelings we develop such an intensity that we will never be free from them.  Imagining that we are at a riverside, and seeing them all float by is a useful way to release these, to overcome our attachment to these distractions.

Spiritual Exercise

1.  Breathe.  

2.  Imagine that you are sitting by the side of a river.  Picture the temperature and the sounds and the smells.  Smell the air.  Furnish a picture in your mind of what it looks like.  

3.  As best you can, clear your mind.  Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

4.  Thoughts, feelings, and memories will arise.  When they do, place them gently on the river.  Perhaps on a leaf that is floating by.   Allow them to be carried away by the current.

5.  Return to your breath.

Sometimes, I engage in my spiritual practices and I leave a window with social media open.  Or I have my phone on vibrate so I know if a text comes in.  I tell myself I do this accidentally.  I partially believe myself.
I am increasingly convinced that this is not real meditation.  This is just finding a way to pass the time while I am waiting for somebody to respond to my latest facebook status update.  I am working really hard at holding myself accountable around really creating a sacred space for myself, set apart from the rest of my life.  I encourage you to do the same.

Due to an oversight by me, there was no way to make any comments even if you followed the link provided.  I hope that this won’t squash your desire to connect with the other folks receiving these emails.  I think we really can spur each other on toward real growth.  Just knowing that there are other real, live human beings with some of the same struggles and victories is a really important thing.  Right here is a link to the overview page for this email exploration.  Though you can’t comment on this page, there are links to each days.  Each day other than the first does have a comment section.  After you engage in this practice, I really want to encourage you to head over, click on the link for the 3rd email, and introduce yourself.  Tell us how these practices are going.  And …. introduce yourself by sharing a guilty pleasure.  I will go first.  So if you head over there now, you will find out something mildly juicy about me.

Second email in the Lenten Apophatic/ Cataphatic Exploration

Every 3 days or so, we are exploring the distance between the apophatic and cataphatic through the lens of Lent via email.  If you would like to sign up for the rest of the series, email otherjeffcampbell7@gmail.com or use the contact form at the top of this page.

Here is the second email in the series:

Lent is a remembrance of Jesus time in the desert.  Though he will eventually fast for 40 days and face of with the personification of evil, when it began he was fresh out of his baptism.  They had heard the voice of God and seen a dove-like spirit descend.  It was a time of light and optimism, a time where words could easily express the things that were going on.
In recognition of this, we are beginning this Email Exploration focused on the Cataphatic: the light-filled, the joyous, that which can be expressed in words.
Today’s practice comes out of Buddhist Traditions.  It is practiced in that context as a walking meditation; a time to notice and affirm all that is around.  Here, it is expressed as a sitting contemplation.  Though I encourage you to try it in other contexts.

Place your feet flat on the floor.  

2.  Breathe deeply, in through the nose and out through the mouth.

3.  When you are ready to begin, with the inhale, think “Yes.  Yes.  Yes.”  With the exhale, think, “Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.”  Devote most of your practice today to this step.

4.  Spend some time thinking about what you have in your life to say “Thank you for.”  Consider the things you might be saying “Yes.” To.

5.  When you are ready, release all these words.  Spend some time in wordless union.

There is a lot to be gained by deciding, in advance, how long you will devote to your spiritual practice each day.  Committing to a set time– even if it is just 5 or 10 minutes a day, is a powerful investment in yourself.  Timers on phones– or even ovens– are a great place to start.  Apps such as the insight meditation timer are even better.  They can be set to periodically chime so that we know how long we have been at it.
One of the most significant (and surprising) benefits of sticking with your practice for a set time is that lots of important soul “work” happens when things begin to get difficult.  If I have not made the plan to keep going, I am likely to quit just as things get hard.  To continue through these difficult patches is where the real growth occurs

In some ways, today’s practice is the most Cataphatic of all the practices we will engage in over this Email Exploration.  Through out the season of Lent, you can look forward to a new email about every 2 or 3 days. It is highly recommended that you engage these practices each day.  However, if a given practice is not resonating with you, you might try repeating a practice from earlier in this Email Exploration.
The next email will be on its way Monday Morning.  Though the next practice is also very light and word-dependent, it will begin to lay some groundwork for more apaphatic practices.

Spiritual Regimen for ‘Immortal Diamond’ By Richard Rohr

The Faith-ing Project’s regimens are designed to deepen the reading experience by pairing a spiritual exercise with each chapter of select books.  Unless otherwise noted, these exercises work equally well as an introduction or follow up to the chapter.  They can be employed by individuals or groups.

Regimens for the first half of the book are available to anyone who is interested, free of charge.  If you would like to access the second half of the regimen, there are 2 different ways to access this.

The first way is to support the ongoing work of the faithing project by becoming a  Patron.   The second way is to access it on a pay-what-it-is-worth model.  You decide if it is worth 50 cents or 10 dollars… or somewhere between.  Make a one-time paypal payment to Otherjeffcampbell7@gmail.com  Once payment is recieved, the other half of the regimen will be emailed to you.

Here is the regimen for the first half of Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond:

Immortal Diamond

Invitation

 

  • Close your eyes.  Release your obligations from this day.
  • See a tremendous rock.  It was rolled there by several strong men.  You can not move it yourself. Reach out and touch the rock.  Feel it scratch the soft skin of your hands.
  • Know that within this tomb is your true self.  Ressurection.
  • Spend several breaths seeing this place.  Hear it. Feel it. Fill yourself with the awareness that it is your true self within.
  • When you are ready, with each exhale, Think, “Who is going to move the stone?”
  • Know that your true self is in the tomb.
  • Know that the tomb is empty.  
  • Remember, with your exhale:  “Who is going to move the stone?”

 

 

Preface

 

  • Place your feet flat on the ground.
  • Release your expectations and obligations for the time you will devote to your practice today.
  • Take 3 deep inhales and exhales.
  • There are many things within you that need to die.  Perhaps you are ready and able to name them. Maybe you will think of them more generically.  Whichever it is, exhale that which needs to die.
  • With your inhalation, bring into your body that which needs to be (and can be) trusted.  Again, you might be able to name these things. Or you might simply think of these things as “That which I can trust.”
  • Continue to exhale that which needs to die.  Inhale that which you can trust.
  • When you are ready, release the thoughts with your breath.  Simply inhabit your inhales and exhales.

 

 

Chapter 1

Background: It is said that St. Francis past an entire night asking 2 simple questions: “Who am I, God?”  and “Who are you, God?” It is not known what his method was; the correlation of the two questions to the two parts of breath is purely speculation on my part.

The Exercise

 

  • Sit up as straight as you comfortably can.  Release your worries and obligations for the duration of your spiritual exercises today.
  • As you inhale, ask the question, “Who are you God?”
  • With your next inhale, ask the question, “Who am I God?”
  • Continue this pattern.  When other thoughts or concerns arise, release them by returning to these questions and your breath.
  • When your time is nearing completion, dismiss the questions.  Enjoy a time of wordless communion.
  • When you are ready, explore your feelings about the questions and consider whether or not you have anything that looks like answers to these two important questions.

 

 

Chapter 2:

Background: It seems that there is some immutable center to us.  This has been called the True Self. It can be the work of a lifetime to get past the things that seem like such an important part of who we are.  Roles, titles, jobs, even callings… These are often good things. But they are not the most basic measure of who we are.

Today’s Exercise

  1. Relax.  Find your breath.
  2. Imagine a riverside scene.  Perhaps it is a place you have been.
  3. Begin by seeing it in your mind’s eye.  Then locate yourself there.
  4. Furnish additional sensory information.  What sounds are you hearing? What smells are you smelling?  What is the temperature like? Are you sitting? What does your seat feel like?
  5. Behold the river.  See how the gentle current moves the water out of your vision.
  6. Calm your mind.  As thoughts enter into your awareness, place them on the river.  Allow the river to carry them out of your perceptions.
  7. Continue to breathe deeply and slowly.  As anything: feelings, memories, perception rise up to distract you from your breath, give them, gently to the river.  Place them as you might put a leaf on the water, so gently to be sure it is floating in the cool water.
  8. When you are ready, consider a trivial portion of your identity.  Perhaps you are a football fan, or a lover of science fiction. Whatever that trivial aspect of your identity is, give it up to the river.  Place it on the water and let the current carry it out of sight.
  9. With your next breath, consider what it is like to be freed of this aspect of your identity.
  10. Now, consider another aspect of your identity.  Perhaps it is a certain distant familial relationship like uncle or cousin.  Maybe it is a hobby you are very passionate about. Give this part of yourself to the river, now.
  11. Experience life with out this fact about yourself.  Consider the ways you are changed. As distracting thoughts and feelings arise, remember to give these to the river, too.
  12. Now, find something very important to you.  Perhaps it is a job, a title, or a degree. Maybe it is your role within the family you live in (mother/father/ sister/daughter, etc…)  Give this role to the river as well.
  13. Spend a breath experiencing yourself without this important role.
  14. Consider that there is something within you.  Explore who or what this is.
  15. If it feels right, give additional aspects of your identity to the river.
  16. You might even give your name itself to the river.  
  17. When you have given all the parts of yourself that you wish to, explore who you are, now.  Consider your relationship with the divine. Think about what is left of you.
  18. When you are ready, see yourself getting up from the riverside.
  19. Walk downriver.  Continue to not only see, but also hear and feel this world in your imagination.  Perhaps fifty feet down the river, you will find that a number of rocks and branches lie across the river, obstructing the flow.  
  20. As you walk among these, you will find that many of the parts of yourself that you gave to the river sit here, prevented from going to far away.  Consider each aspect of yourself. The ones you wish for, you can have back. Take them within you again. As for the ones you don’t want? Untether them from the rocks and branches.  Let them be washed free.

 

Chapter 3

 The 5 remembrances

Background: It is amazing how much time and energy we give to running away.

Our business, our obsession with smart phones, with constantly filling the air with talking and music.  These seem to be an attempt to free ourselves from the realities of life.

The funny thing is that the realities of life are not so bad.  They just are. There is not an alternative to them. If we could actually deny them, it might almost be worth it.  But we never truly escape the things we know. We just pretend we have escaped knowing them.

The Five Buddhist Remembrances are great reminders for people from any orientation.  The version used in today’s exercise comes via Thich Nhat Hanh.

Exercise

  1. Place your feet flat on the floor.  As best you can, relax.
  2. Think the first remembrance, with your next inhale: I am of the nature to grow old.  There is no way to escape growing old.
  3. For the exhale, and the whole next breath, embrace this reality.
  4. With your next inhale, think the second remembrance:   I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.
  5. For the exhale and the whole next breath, embrace this reality.
  6. With your next inhale, think the third remembrance: I am of the nature to die.  There is no way to escape death.
  7. For the exhale and the whole next breath, recognize this true.
  8. With your next inhale, embrace the fourth remembrance:  All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
  9. Exhale, and breathe your next breathe.  And accept this reality.
  10. With your next inhale, acknowledge this, the final Buddhist Remembrance:  My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.
  11. Release these words, and sit in the truth that you are facing.  Hopefully you feel freed by this.

 

Chapter 4 

god breathing into us.  

Background:  It is written that God breathed into the earth and made the first human.  This, perhaps, was how the image of God got into man in the first place: through that breath.

If we believe that God continues to be active in the world today, we might come to view that original act of creation as an ongoing event, not a one-time thing.  More to the point: perhaps God breathes into us still.

The Exercise

  1.  Create a safe and quiet space for yourself.  Sit up as straight as you comfortably can. Place your feet flat on the floor.
  2.  Release your worries and responsibilities for the duration of your practice.  Don’t worry, they will still be there, waiting for you, when you are done.
  3.  With your next inhale, experience this as God’s breath.  Your inhale is God breathing in to you.
  4.  With your next exhale, experience this as a breathing in to God.  Your exhale is God’s inhale.
  5.  Continue your practice in this manner.  Breathe with God.
  6.  As your time nears its end, release this imagery of your breathing.  Enjoy a time of silent communion.

As you go about your day, pay attention to your breath.  Recognize that God breathes with you.

 

Chapter 5:

Background: Mystic Meister Eckhart said, “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one love.”  This sentence is, to me, nearly as amazing as it is confusing. This exercise is an attempt to grapple with this strange, wonderful idea.

The Exercise

  1. Breathe deeply.
  2. Turn your inner eye to God.  See God watching you.
  3. Think about who God is, see God as best you can through your mind’s eye.
  4. When you are ready, consider the idea that God is watching all things.  God is watching you watch God.
  5. As best you can, consider the idea that God sees you fully.  God sees you with infared and ultraviolet vision; God sees all the things you have ever done.  God sees you down to the smallest subatomic particle. God sees all the things you have ever been.  God sees your body, mind, and soul. God sees the original divine spark which made human kind.
  6. Know that As God sees you, in every possible way, God sees your potential.  God knows the depths of your passion and love. God sees and pronounces you as so good.
  7. Sit with God’s loving view on you for a bit.  
  8. Take three deep breaths.
  9. Combine the views, as best you can.  God looking down on you is you looking up at God.  Your eyes are God’s eyes. God’s eyes are yours. You are God.  God is you.

 

Exercise 45: The Eye through which I see God…

Background: Mystic Meister Eckhart said, “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one love.”  This sentence is, to me, nearly as amazing as it is confusing.  This exercise is an attempt to grapple with this strange, wonderful idea.

The Exercise

  1.  Breathe deeply.
  2. Turn your inner eye to God.  See God watching you.
  3. Think about who God is, see God as best you can through your mind’s eye.
  4. When you are ready, consider the idea that God is watching all things.  God is watching you watch God.
  5. As best you can, consider the idea that God sees you fully.  God sees you with infared and ultraviolet vision; God sees all the things you have ever done.  God sees you down to the smallest subatomic particle.  God sees all the things you have ever been.  God sees your body, mind, and soul.  God sees the original divine spark which made human kind.
  6. Know that As God sees you, in every possible way, God sees your potential.  God knows the depths of your passion and love.  God sees and pronounces you as so good.
  7. Sit with God’s loving view on you for a bit.  
  8. Take three deep breaths.
  9. Combine the views, as best you can.  God looking down on you is you looking up at God.  Your eyes are God’s eyes.  God’s eyes are yours.  You are God.  God is you.

Exercise 44: An alternative Examen

Background: This approach to the examen was inspired by Phileena Heuertz’ close focus on Ignatius’ original words in her excellent ‘Mindful Silence.’  There is an interesting balance in this exercise of holding and releasing our emotions.

The Exercise:

  1. Inhale God’s presence deeply.  Exhale the stress of the day. Repeat this process 3 times if need be.
  2. Do your best to find some gratitude.  If it is not within you, it can be found in God’s presence which you are inhaling.
  3. Recall your day.  You might do this by thinking backwards, beginning with 24 hours ago and gradually moving forward.   See the whole of this time through that lens of thanksgiving. Become aware of those positives which were not expected.
  4. While still holding this gratitude, become aware of the emotions that you had through the day, and the emotions you hold now, as you review these memories.  Do your best to accept them for what they are. No judggement, submission, or resistance is necessary here.
  5. Choose one experience of the day.  Pray through this experience. Be aware of whatever your reactions to this experience are.  Ask God to lead you this experience and all of your reactions to it.
  6. Stay with this experience until you find peace about it.  If you have given the time you have for this and still feel unresolved, make a plan to return to this place soon.  
  7. Give thanks for God’s presence in your day.

 

Big Picture Consideration: the Apophatic & the Cataphatic

A somewhat trite folk song and an amazing section of the bible say it well:

There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.

Maybe this points to a really important distinction, one that sometimes feels as though it were a hidden, a thing that modern Christianity sometimes seems to want to treat like a dirty little secret.

On the one hand are the things we can speak of.  This side of the spectrum is characterized by understanding and light.  It is built on the assumption that the world is knowable.  It is associated with happiness and explanations.  This has been called the Cataphatic.

On the other hand, there is the truth that words only get us so far.  This side of the specrum is characterized by the not-knowing and darkness.  It is built on the understanding that there are some (many?) things that we can not comprehend.  It is associated with a lack of joy and a reluctance to explain.  This has been called the Apophatic.

To whatever extent these things are true about reality in general, they are doubly true about The Ground of All Being/God/Spirit/ Jesus/Truth/Allah….

The Cataphatic is easier for most people today.  I don’t know if it is a sign of modernity.  Or the evangelical church.  Or one of the inheritances of the age of “Enlightenment.”  Or simple and universal human nature…  Probably a bit of each.

Much of what we do in modern faith context is built around words (sermons, singing words, small group discussions) and happiness (upbeat melodies to worship music, cherry picking the happy parts of psalms)   There are lots of powerful spiritual exercises to explore this side of the spectrum.  But it seems to me they are a little less necessary than apophatic spiritual exercises.

Because we don’t spend much time in the apophatic.   We don’t have too many options open to us.  We have lost the art of lamenting.  We are so tempted to view agnosticism as a sign of weakness and ambiguity as a sign of the weak.  I think these are all the signs of a mature spirituality.  Perhaps we could enter into them earlier if we had more avenues for it.

Or maybe not.  Maybe it requires some life experience, some humiliation, some dying in order to be able to recognize that this all can not be out prayed, out sang, and out worshipped.

Regardless, this is where it is.  Give a try to an apophatic meditation today.