apophatic-kataphatic: Word and Silence


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Thought it might be fun to have foks share their views on the place of either apophatic or kataphatic approaches or perhaps the dance between them in their spirituality. Apophatic being of course the via negativa-path of unknowing and kataphatic-the via positiva-path of attributes Do we hear a bell ring without it being empty within?

How about some poetry to start. First by TS Eliot from "Four Quarters:"
"You say I am repeating
Something I said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not."

The Sufi, Rumi:

"I've said before that every craftsman
searches for what's not there
to practice his craft.

A builder looks for the rotten hole
where the roof caved in. A water-carrier
picks the empty pot. A carpenter
stops at the house with no door.

Workers rush toward some hint
of emptiness, which they then
start to fill. Their hope, though,
is for emptiness, so don't think
you must avoid it. It contains what you need!

Dear soul, if you were not friends
with the vast nothing inside,
why would always be casting your net
into it, and waiting so patiently?"

Take care, Earl
Hi Earl, and Peace to All Here:) ,

In other words, we can only own what we are willing to forfeit?

My hope for this thread is that perhaps like I will do other folks with continue to post passing thoughts on the subject which might act as a communal lectio divina or midrash, (sorry to our Judaic folk here if I misunderstand this term-1 of the religions of which i am least knowledgeable is Judaism). Seems though that my entire spiritual journey thusfar relates to this "form and formlessness, theism and non-theism" dance-thus my choice of Avatar-picked a "fuzzy," ethereal Christian image as opposed to a clearly "formed" one.

In many ways I believe it is a dance but not a line dance, perhaps more of a square dance; not linear but spiral and interweaving. Rumi's poem seems to hint at some of its aspects. Kataphatic-"things" which grab our attention or which we grab: the form of the pot; apophatic-when we let go into the "emptiness" within the form. Perhaps Moses saw a bush alight with divine fire-had a theophany-a kataphatic moment-because he had sufficient emptiness within his awareness to receive/perceive it. for others, perhaps it would have just been a bush.

It seems the more emptiness we allow into our perceptions of self and Other, the more we begin to see "self" and "Other" as kataphatic beacons of the Divine light-Dogen's quote regarding the more we study the self, the more we forget the self; the more we forget the self, the more we are enlightened by the ten thousand things. It therefore seems that spiritual growth be it theistic or non-theistic is more of a spiraling process than linear. Asian religions tend to speak of cyclical time, theistic ones tend to speak of linear time-beginning and ending points. Spirals seem to encompass both: cycles and "direction."

As this is an ongoing exercise in thinking/writing it out on this topic at least for my own clarification:p think I'd better stop for now & concentrate on the "Silence" part of the "Word and Silence" subtitle & await others' assistance in clarifying my muddled thought. Thanks for any input, Earl
I owe my inspiration on this topic to David Steindl-Rast, the Benedictine monk, who continues to blaze interreligious trails from within Christianity and wrote a very good piece regarding this: (http://www.gratefulness.org/readings/dsr_word2htm)

He uses "Word" as Christians tend to mean it-revelatory aspects of Divinity-the kataphatic and "Silence," perhaps in the manner of a Buddhist and certainly in the manner of all contemplatives-not an absence of sound, but an unknowing receptivity-the apophatic. He points out that Christianity and other theistic religions tend to emphasize the former, though reminds his readers that Christianity has always had the strand of Silence within its contemplative branches. Hesychasts for instance in discussing the 4 levels of prayer speak of it beginning quite literally with words and ending with "silent" contemplation.

From this article: "Silence, in this sense, is not the absence of word or sound. Silence is not characterized by absence but by presence, a presence to great for words...Any encounter with Mystery is hidden in silence. (The very term 'mystery' comes from meuin: 'to keep silent')...Only by the tension of word and silence is meaning upheld. (Both "word" and "silence" are taken here in the most comprehensive sense, as two dimensions of all reality.) The moment we relax this tension meaning escapes us: the moment we break the tension meaning is broken. Failing to see the distinction between word and silence-a distinction greater and more basic than any other-would mean relaxing the tension: yet pushing the distinction to the point of separation would break the tension. The point is that silence and word are distinguished as well as united by a third dimension of meaning: that of understanding...how do we understand? I would say by allowing the word to lead us into silence until we truly hear the silence in and through the word."

This type of Understanding would be of the nature of "Prajna" as Buddhists tend to use the term for Wisdom. Again I think of the bell-rings only most resonantly when it is empty. I'm reminded of the "clanging cymbals from Corinthians in the Bible when I think of how at the Christian mysticism website I visit, folks bash other religions and debate among themselves whether certain Christian religions have the Truth and at the Buddhist site I visist where Buddhists bash Chritianity and debate among themselves whether their particualr form of Buddhism more accurately embodies Dharma. Talk about being too enamored of form! For another interesting topic-check out Steindle-Rasts' newest posting at his gratefulness.org site re "God view-" interview with Ken Wlber-his views of the theology of panentheism. Was thinking of starting a discussion thread here re that theology. Take care, Earl
Since there's no such thing as "solo midrash:p " think I'll just post a few more reflections and stop for now to see if the ball rolls again. I've probably mentioned this book here before, "The Soul's Religion: Cultivating a Profoundly Spiritual Way of Life," by modern Jungian writer, Thomas Moore-highly recommend the book! Like all good Jungians he offers no definitive "absolutes," but propels us onward with wonderful points to consider- kind of the essence of the apophatic-kataphatc dance. Says this about "spiritual emptiness:"

"To enter the area of the spiritual and the holy, the precinct of the sacred, requires a profound openness of mind and heart. We stand aware of our ignorance, willing to give up our agendas and follow the signs...We start by emptying. Heraclitus, a mystical poet of ancient Greece, gave us the image of life as a river. 'Panta rhei,' he said-everything flows or, perhaps, everything rivers. To be spiritual, to have religion, is to be in this stream, empty and generous."

A river is as good of a metaphor as Rumi's pot. There is the channel, the riverbank which seems stationary, solid, definite, (though, of course the river flow eats away at it remolding its contours over time) and there is the flow of the river. If we do not allow a channel, an opening, an emptiness to occupy a place of our awareness, we are merely solid stone-no flow, no movement and grace. The wider the channel, the larger the opening/concavity of the pot, the more we can allow to pass through us or to hold. At the same time, without the form, the contours of a pot or river bank, no manifestation. So, it seems form and formlessness, Word and Silence must indeed come together if we are to have ever deepening levels of understanding. If we hold our spiritual views and ourselves with a light touch,though, and remain open to the "flow of manifestation" we can become more suitable vessels for serving ourselves and others well.

Take care, Earl