Finding God in an Unspeakable Way
I recently received an email from an old friend full of kind words about me and our friendship. It was clear she’d spent a lot of time and thought writing it.
But the note didn’t sit well with me. I’d spent years struggling with the friendship, often harboring some not-so-nice feelings towards this person. I was disturbed by the dissonance between her perceptions of me as loving, gracious, kind, and generous and my true inward thoughts, which were often the opposite.
What bothered me most is how much, over the years, I wanted to not feel the ways I felt. I wanted to actually be loving, gracious, kind, and generous towards her.
It got me thinking about the concept of transformation – How do I find a spiritual path that yields a seeping, gentle, saturated inward transformation? Truly, my desire is to be more Christ-like than just look that way outwardly.
The more I asked this question, the distinction between two types of spirituality became important to me: Cataphatic Spirituality and Apophatic Spirituality. Cataphatic spirituality, which is the dominant form in Western cultures, relies on words, ideas, or images about God – like reading scripture, saying prayers, singing songs, and listening to sermons. In contrast, Apophatic spirituality aims at the experience of God, pure and simple, by moving beyond words and ideas about God. Apophatic spiritual practices acknowledge that no idea humans have about God can fully encapsulate God.
As Richard Rohr describes, “Apophatic knowing is the empty space around the words, allowing God to fill in all the gaps in an ‘unspeakable’ way […] It is a knowing by participation with – instead of an observation of from a position of separation.”
As I’ve continued to explore apophatic spirituality as a path to true transformation, I’ve been completely surprised. In my attempts to meet God in silence, without words or ideas about him, I’ve experienced his presence like iron at my core, pulling everything back to God as my center of gravity. At times, I feel this anchoring force pulling me back, minute by minute, away from petty thoughts, anxious feelings, unloving actions and towards God.
In some unexplainable way, I feel small daily transformations into a kinder and more loving version of myself from this continual return to a God who holds more breadth and depth than words can convey.