Episode 16 – It’s Apophatic, not Apathetic, Prayer

Shownotes Episode 16 – Apophatic prayer explained in a conversation with Dr. Laurie Mellinger.


Laurie Mellinger, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation and Christian Theology
Dean of Academic Programs
B.A. Millersville University; M.A.R. Evangelical School of Theology; Ph.D. The Catholic University of America

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Encountering and examining Apophatic (contemplative) Prayer

Conversation Notes

MINUTE 2:00 Apophatic not to be confused with apathetic


2 main ways of understanding God

Via Eminencia -The way of eminence

The highest of something we know as humans and elevating it. Power, strength “The most powerful”, omnipotent)

Via Negativa – The way of negation (Denying the limited or bad we can observe. God is Immortal (NOT mortal).


Katophatic (or cataphatic) vs. Apophatic Prayer

Katophatic  – What we can see and say in prayer.

Apophatic – We we cannot see and bri; and without our senses.

6:00 Meditation and how it relates to apophatic prayer

6:30 What is Lectio Divina

Reading scripture and prayer as we seek relationship with God

The four movements of this form of prayer.


Eastern vs. Western styles of Meditation

Experiencing vs. Word-driven forms


Contemplation 2 going definitions

1. To observe

2. Contemplative to look at with continued attention.


Contemplative vs. Discursive prayer


Breath prayer


Apophatic prayer as a way to pray without ceasing


Allowing God to be in every moment, even with every breath.

Laurie’s experience with the Jesus Prayer

Being carried along through pain knowing experiencing that God was with her.

Celebration of Discipline-Richard Foster


Prayer as a habit that changes you.

…Like holding hands as you walk…


What happens after the questions like: “I’m I allow to do this?”

The distractions and a flood of thoughts become the hardest part.

How to help that…

Examples: “eye floaters”, “balloons”


on being patience with yourself


Brian McClaren getting distracted and quoting from the dessert fathers.

28:30 Turning our face back to God





The discipline of being attentive to God allows us to be more present and attentive with others as well. 


People crave presence and can even be (un)used to it.


Learning how to listen. Simone Weil.



How we are over-stimulated. Children get overstimulated and need naps which means they get silence and solitude and lack of stimulation. Silence and solitude are restorative.


The demons we encounter in solitude or in the desert.


A clean and swept room, removed of clutter makes us more aware of new things that might be wrong.


New Testament Professor Douglas Buckwalter


Spiritual formation is not doing disciplines.

One kind of prayer isn’t better (per se), but God is forming and reform and transforms us back into the image of Christ. God must reform us. In God’s presence we will feel more loved and acceptance and he might put his finger on something to take care of.

Luke 11:24-26

24“When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25“And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. 26“Then it goes and takes alongseven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.”


on…The messy interior work needed to be more like Jesus.

Letting God dig around.


Helpful and practical advice for getting started with apophatic and contemplative prayer.

Practice reading the Bible and using the text to help you pray and wait.  (Lectio Divina)

“That waiting (in prayer) is the entry into apophatic prayer.”

Breath Prayer

Centering Prayer (using a word to focus)

“Be patience with yourself. Just do it and God will meet you there”

Using a candle to bring our attention back.


Good focus is ill-fitting at first until you commit to the process.

Leonard Sweet

(paraphrase) “If you are still counting the steps, you aren’t dancing yet. You are still learning to dance.”


Prayer can become flow.


Union with God – The traditional understand of the goal of apophatic prayer.


God invites us corporately and individually as human beings into that (triune) relational and our participation in that relationship is what I mean by union with God.”

Sensing the presence and love of God more fully, and more and more fully. This is union with God.


Western goal in Christianity is often understand (first) as Salvation in terms of Penal Atonement and payment for sin. It is a more judicial angle compared to what Eastern Christians do. It’s much more about relationship restored.

Episode 13 – “We cannot encapsulate God in our Theology” guest Doug Jackson

Episode 13 – “We cannot encapsulate God in our Theology” guest Doug Jackson

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Spark My Muse
Thank you!

Shownotes for Episode 13  Wine lovers have God to thank + guest Doug Jackson

First, I want to feature the book Doug and I wrote …

entitled Dog in the Gap because of a C.S. Lewis quote “Man and his dog close a gap in the universe”.


And there’s a BONUS EDITION with lots of goodies!
Read a sample here!

Will you fan the spark?

Inspired by how musician Amanda Palmer put it, “Don’t make people pay [for art]. Let them,” I am altering how Spark My Muse stays alive…from bottom to top (literally).

How does it work?

It’s up to you. I need at least $75 per episode to keep it solvent.
Every little bit helps!
So, I invite you to just listen, read, and give as you can.


Thank you! Enjoy the show!

With love,



Who do we have to thank for wine?

God and the Church, actually.

Wine lovers in Western civilization have the Church in Europe (and the Roman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire–which was neither holy nor Roman ) to thank for the large-scale production, the prevalence and the excellence of wine!


Because liturgy involving wine for communion was central to Christian religious practice. Wine was ingested as the saving holy blood of Christ (and bread as the holy body of Christ), usually each and every day. The sacraments of Communion served as saving grace afforded to the Church.

As Roman Empire became officially a Christian Empire (circa 313 CE) many vineyards had to be planted, properly cultivated, and harvested. Grapes had to be made into a lot of to support the daily practice of communion throughout the Empire.

Communion served as wine was the norm among Christians world-wide until recently–in the era of pasteurization. To keep juice from grapes in a state were they would not ferment meant it had to be sufficiently boiled so the natural yeast would die. 

Vehemently opposed to alcohol, Thomas Bramwell Welch, a physician, dentist, and Methodist pastor from Vineyard, New Jersey, figured out the process in 1869 with Concord grapes. Most churches did not accept the switch as proper and stayed with wine.

The juice later became more popular during Victorian era because of prominent values of abstinence. A shift then began in the U.S. that made grape juice the main communion beverage (at least among certain Protestants sects).

Several hundred vineyards operating in Europe today can trace their history to monastic origins.

In the 9th-15th centuries almost 1,000 monasteries dotted Europe. They were centers of education, stability, and technical innovation. Monks and nuns could read and write–this was quite uncommon then.

Monasteries cared for the sick, helped the poor, created places of education, and invented Universities. They could not fund all this through donations. Surplus wine was sold to finance ministry work (and also beer, fruit brandies, and cheese, among many other things..even prayers and Salvation ..which–in hindsight–appears to have been a mistake ) .

So, basically, thank God (and many monks) for wine!


Sparking your muse

 Enjoy the fantastic chat with Doug Jackson!


Douglas Jackson, D.Min.
Director of the Logsdon Seminary Graduate Program

Doug Jackson came to SCS in 2006, after serving as pastor of Second Baptist Church, Corpus Christi, since 1993. In addition to teaching courses, Dr. Jackson functions as a liaison between Logsdon Seminary and local churches in Corpus Christi. His areas of specialization include spiritual formation and pastoral ministry. Dr. Jackson has published and presented several articles and essays in religious and literary venues, including articles and lectures on the life and writings of C.S. Lewis.
• D.Min. – Truett Seminary (2006)
• M.Div. – Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (1985)
• B.A. – English Literature, Grand Canyon College (1982)

His blog is here.


Interview / chat notes:


MIN 8:00
on Doug preparing for a his Fall class.

A resource he is using by NT Wright – “The new perspective on Paul”
The covenant people God has saved.

Reformers and the necessary correction in contemporary times.

Confronting individualism
and thoughts on human flourishing.

on the idea of being “spiritual but not religious”

on his work about CS Lewis

Mere Christianity

The importance of imagination for understanding that isn’t covered by rationalism.

on his Oxford lecture
Owen Barfield an influential life-long friend of CS Lewis

Another lecture on Walter Miller – A Canticle for Leibowitz
Apologetic self-proclaimed validity on the rational scheme of knowing.

“Scholarship is about knowing more and more about less and less so that eventually you know everything about nothing.”

James Sire

Malcolm Guite https://www.facebook.com/malcolm.guite
Chaplain of Gerton college and Cambridge
“Faith Hope and Poetry”

He covers the imagination as a way of knowing (an epistemology).

Holly Ordway
Houston Baptist University
“Not God’s Type”

Her 2-track movement toward conversion

Brainpickings.com Maria Popova (an admitted secular atheist on a continual spiritual search)

on Spiritual atheism

….if we come up with a system that covers everything (Christians and Atheists alike)…

“Humans are sensitive and emotionally vulnerable to a wasteful degree evolutionarily speaking…highly valuing the arts.” (Lisa)

Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monk and Abbot
Philip Lawrence, New Mexico
…slipping in and out of atheism….

HG Wells, and the fundamentalist reaction to him and others of his ilk.

on how science and religious circles have had an absolute unwillingness to be in one another presence and (have not wanted) to admit any weaknesses and (instead) just shout louder.


“The best apologetics can do is make Christianity credible and I don’t think it can make it inevitable.”


22:30 “Any belief in any ideal is still a leap of faith for anyone… like Justice, Love, Hope…” (Lisa)

on How people appeal to a standard outside themselves. (CS Lewis)

Theories of “survival behavior value” for Morality and Justice kicks the can. or it lands on simple absurdity and meaninglessness where suicide becomes a valid option.


Doug answering the question….”Is fundamentalism evolving”?

Richard Foster’s classic over 50 years old “Celebration of Discipline”

A story of a crucial pivot point for Doug.

How the psalmists had to cry out to God when the answers didn’t suffice any longer. For us, this is a return more than a departure.”

“I have gained the gift of being able to respect other traditions and admire things they bring us, but I talk to people across that spectrum that have that experience.”


“We go from trusting our denominational address or theology address to trusting Christ but it doesn’t mean an abandonment of it. Choosing a room in the same house to live in.”

Spiritual disciplines most meaningful to him:
On solitude and privacy (the difference). Henri Nouwen explains the difference.
 Henri Nouwen explains in “Out of Solitude” 

Doug: Solitude is for battle. Privacy is to be alone.

Demons come in our solitude (Desert Fathers). The outcome is awareness and purification.

Wanting “the listening heart” (what Solomon really asked God for).
on the importance of listening to God…

My Stockholm syndrome at parties. (Lisa)


“(My) Inability to be with people was driven by a failure to have a real self.”

“you are nearer to me than my own self.” Augustine

Doug realized:

“My real Self can’t be with people because it’s threatened by them, because they’re going to colonize my Self and going to make me into something I’m not. As opposed to having a real Self that can listen because God is protecting that Self.”

Father Francis Kelly Nemeck wrote
The way of Spiritual Direction (his director)
…Doug and I discuss Detachment and Holy Indifference…

St John of the Cross
(Exploring the spiritually obscured times and darker emotions.)

“the nada” (God is “no thing” the silence before God

…on staying in the problems and not panicking.

…on the crucial lesson from his mom that revealed his theology

(unknowing) Apophetic theology

“John of the Cross didn’t want that we should abandon the metaphors but move through them.”


“We cannot encapsulate God in our Theology.”

(which is terrifying but life-giving)

Further exploration in a future episode of John of the Cross with Doug coming soon!


If you enjoyed the show please give it a stellar review on iTunes here!

Watch for new episodes each Hump Day (Wednesday).

Evil and the Bad Lands

The Painted Desert, Arizona, USA

On Sunday, I’m addressing the topic of Evil in the Route 66 series.

The desert in Northern Arizona is known as the Painted Desert. Layers of rock stratum beautifully redeem the barren region in swaths of colors. Travelers on Route 66, the Mother Road, look forward to this place as they trek. The famous petrified forrest is another highlight on the trail. The photos look amazing.

Have you ever been to this region of the American West? I haven’t, but I hope to soon.

This bad land spells trouble if you aren’t prepared, yet the harsh area should not come as a surprise. The parallel I draw, in a spiritual sense, is that Evil usually surprises us with its force or sway. Rather than expect it, and live a life that encounters it for the opportunity to redeem it in practical ways, we are often stunned, and then react unproductively by blaming or retorting with dangerous and haphazard all-or-nothing solutions. Sudden kinetic military actions, or ratifying knee-jerk (and effectively impotent) new rules, are two examples that come to mind. Plenty of community and individual reactions apply as well.

What are some others that come to mind?

What “Bad Lands” have you painted? (Where have you encountered redemption during times of suffering or through trails?)

Work with God to paint your desert!

How Much Hoodoo / Voodoo do you do? Self-test

This man just prayed, "God, give me sign if I should get a dog?"
This man just prayed, "God, give me sign if I should get a dog?"

(Was the cat joke too obtuse?)

Has a bit of Hoodoo, folk magic, superstition, and general hooey nuzzled its way into your theology? Probably. We all fall prey to cultural influences that don’t have a solid base in the nature of Reality, (i.e. our Creator and Redeemer) Take this self-test to know if you’re mostly hoodoo-free, or if you could use an excorcism, a bath, a dose of Reality, or just a good swift kick in the pants. Oh, and please, enjoy yourself. It’s all supposed to be fun, good-natured, and thought-provoking in a helpful sort of way.

Hoodoo Self-test

Answer true or false, and add up your answers as you go.

1. Once in a while you straddle a broomstick, and hope it will magically fly. (Or you think about doing it.)

2. Hogwarts seems like the ideal boarding school, even if there does tend to be a lack of supervision.

3. Sometimes you make plans, and then think to ask God to bless what you are doing, with a sign, if possible, to see if it’s “his will.”

4. You’ve gotten hurt or sick and thought it could be a punishment from God, (however, you go so far as to call it “bad juju.”)

5. You’ve fairly certain you’ve been hexed or cursed by someone at some point in your lifetime, maybe by someone who hated you, or a band of gypsies.

6. If you don’t pray in Jesus’ name, you think your prayer could be a dud.

7. When you need to, you put out a (proverbial) fleece, much in the style of Gideon, to get confirmation from God.

8. If God seems silent on a decision you need to make, you check for “closed and open doors,” and pray more zealously about it.

9. Not getting in private devotional/Bible reading time with God can correspond to a bad day, (or an odd string of bad luck, or even a loss of mojo.)

10. You suspect demonic activity is responsible for a lot of your temptations, mistakes, and influences.

*Scoring: Add up all your true scores.

1-3 True answers means that like many people you have been somewhat influenced by hoodoo folk magic and folk theology. The upcoming series will be of great benefit to you. Hold off on the exorcism-for now. But, don’t get too cocky.

3-6 True answers means that you have a bit of a problem area with hoodoo. (See my other post to learn more about hoodoo vs. voodoo. It’s oh so real.) You probably don’t realize the extent you are being witchy with God. Don’t freak out, he won’t put a bad spell on you, but I’m sure he yearns for you to get to know him, more for who he is. It could be more complicated than the voodoo doll slippery slope approach that can creep up unawares. It could be very comforting for you too, to hear a few fresh ideas. Check back soon for posts in this series.

6-10 True answers mean you have a hoodoo issue. Return any capes, magic wands, voodoo dolls, potions, or caldrons you may have purchased. They will not serve you well. It’s quite likely that you are incorporating some superstitions into your worldview, theological foundation, and everyday life.

But there is always hope! God wants your liberation, and the journey to freedom, with him. It will be so restful at the end. You won’t have to keep looking over your shoulder, so that will be nice too! Check back soon for many helpful ways to rid your perspective of faulty notions of God’s nature, character, and actions; and learn of his redemptive agency in his created  world.

If you are ready to grow, be open, and BRAVE, leave your score in the comment section. If not, please post something you’ve been thinking about throughout this time. Thank you!

*(This test is mildly amusing, but not real, in any scientific way, so please don’t be upset however your score may come out. The idea behind it is to prompt thought about your beliefs and spiritual actions against the gracious, loving, true nature of our Creator and Redeemer.)

A few thoughts about needing signs, from my Savior and mentor:

“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” John 4:48  (Said despairingly of the Jews who rejected Jesus in Nazareth.)

Matt. 12:38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” 39He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

This is the greatest sign and revelation that God is God, he came in the flesh, died, was buried for 3 days, and was brought to life again, which was witnessed by many. He is trustworthy.

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