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.

Funny Friday- featuring Jim Gaffigan!

Today’s Funny Friday is a treat.

jimgaffiganComedian Jim Gaffigan likes a lot of the same thing I do:
• Sleep

• Hammocks

• Breakfast in Bed (because it combines sleeping and eating)

• Bacon

• Talking about funny things the whole family can enjoy together

But, unlike Jim, I really enjoy camping.

It’s not because it’s comfortable. Jim’s right–it’s hardly that.

No, I like camping because I can get to seem like I’m getting out of my neighborhood for a legit reason instead of looking like I’m trying to run away. Camping helps me not feel guilty about about leaving to live somewhere else for a while.

Every single time, 3-4 days of camping is preceded by spending a 3-4 days of packing, just so I can go to another location and start feeling too hot, too cold, bug bites, a continual film of filth on my entire body, the wrenching pain of back spasms from the popup camper mattress I like to call “The Devastator”, and all towels feeling damp no matter what, I still have to talk myself into coming home again. (Then it’s 1-2 days of cleaning things, washing clothes, and unpacking.)

Nevertheless, Jim is correct, camping, as a concept where you pay actual money to leave your home and feel less comfortable, is admittedly quite odd.

Jim’s reflections on this and the other topics in this video made me laugh out loud. Enjoy!

He’s written a few books too.


13 Inappropriate Things to Say to Your Family Members (humor post, part II)


1. You used to be so cute.

2. I’ve been posting your showers as a LIVE feed. You have 1,740 “likes”.

3. I wouldn’t have gossiped about you so much if I had known you were actually going to marry my son.

4. I didn’t realize that was your toothbrush. I’ve been using it to clean the grout.

5. It’s great to have everyone around the table again. Want me to tell the plunger story?

6. I told your mother it’s her fault that you’re in counseling.

7. You’re still handsome, in a Cialis commercial kind of way.

8. If you feel a little nauseated soon it’s because the date on the cream expired a while ago.

10. Would you like to know who your real father is?

11. If you do that one more time I will mention vaginal dryness at the top of my voice, right here in this elevator, I swear.

12. The back of your dress was tucked into your belt at church today.

13. I didn’t say I caught you doing that. I said we ran out of tissues and it was suspicious.

(Read part one)

 If you liked it, please share it.

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Reduce Me to Love: Jesus scrubs feet

Servant Leadership!

I’ve snagged another bit of classroom notes from my esteemed professor Dr Tim Valentino.

How about this for leadership studies!
(more on the program here)

It was simply too good to not share. Tim’s blog is here, if you’d like to read more from Tim. (You’ll enjoy that too!)



 Enter Tim:

“So he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:4-5)


A powerful picture of authentic, servant leadership, which we considered last week.


But why does Jesus do such a humble, menial task? I think we have a hint in Luke’s account of the same event. In Luke 22 we learn that the Twelve come to this dinner arguing about who’s the greatest among them. It’s not the first time they’ve had this quarrel, but they sense that something big is going to happen this weekend, so the debate is re-opened.


“The kingdom of God is going to come,” they reason, “and Jesus is going to be the king. But who’s going to be his co-regent? Who’s going to be his secretary of state?” They argue about it. James and John had their mother weigh in on the matter months ago. Remember Salome? “Lord, grant that my sons will get to sit at your right and left in the kingdom.”


John says, “Hey, why not? I am, after all, the disciple whom Jesus loves.” Peter fumes and says, “Hold on, dude, who do you think Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom to? Me! Remember?” (O.k., that’s a paraphrase, but use your sanctified imagination to re-create the tussle!)


These guys aren’t wearing halos yet, and they’re certainly not ready for the stain-glass window. They fight, they argue, and they pick at each other. They can be carnal and fleshly like anybody else. And here in the upper room there’s real tension. But Jesus doesn’t scold them. He redirects them.


  • You want to be great in my kingdom? Then you have to serve.
  • You want to be first? Then you have to be last.
  • You want to be highest? Then you have to be lowest.
  • You want to be the most? Then you have to be the least.


And while they’re sitting there at that sacred feast, arguing about who’s the greatest, Jesus shows them what true greatness and true leadership look like.


In those days people wore open sandals—much like our flip flops. They didn’t wear socks. Most of the roads were not paved, so they walked on the hot dirt roads under the blazing Mideast sun—roads used by people and animals. Their feet would become hot, sweaty, sore, and covered in mud—maybe even animal dung, too.


Most people in our culture—even with a daily shower and “Fast-Actin’ Tinactin”— have nasty feet. The last thing anybody wants to do is clean somebody else’s. That was even truer in the first century.


At the low, U-shaped table where Jesus’ disciples recline, there are 24 dirty feet pin-wheeling out from the center—each one revealing a self-centered heart. (It’s not just their feet that are soiled.) Jesus takes off his outer garment. Bare-chested now, he wraps himself with a towel, just as a slave would do. And, grabbing the water jug and basin over by the door, God-in-human-flesh kneels down, takes the feet of the men he created, and begins to scrub them. He takes the dirt and dung off the feet of his own creatures.


Some kingdom.


Even Judas gets his feet washed—which is way over the top, don’t you think? If you knew that tonight was your last night, that tomorrow you were going to be executed, and that the guy setting it all up was in your cohort, would you have asked him to come over for dinner tonight? Would you have loved him, fed him, treated him with dignity, and then washed his crummy feet?


It’s hard to put ourselves into that scene. It’s one thing to be kind to our friends, but to be kind to our enemies—now, that’s a whole other level of kindness! How many of us would have poured the water over Judas’ head, and then whacked him in the face with the basin? (Thank God I’m not Jesus!)


But why does Jesus do it? Is Judas ever going to change? Is he ever going to repent? Is he ever going to love God in return? No! So why wash his feet? It’s not going to make a bit of difference. Pragmatically speaking, it’s not going to “work.”


So why do it? Jesus washes Judas’ feet because that’s what God is like.


God is slow to anger, abounding in love. God is patient and kind. God is scandalous in grace. And so is his Son, who has come to reveal the Father. So there in that upper room, Jesus washes the feet of the one who will betray him tonight, and arrange for his murder tomorrow.


It’s as if Jesus is saying, “I’m not scrubbing Judas’ feet for Judas; I’m scrubbing Judas’ feet for my Father. Judas may never appreciate this, but my Father does. Judas may never deserve this, but my Father does. I do this not because it will be successful or get noticed. I do this not because it will be a good investment of my time, energy, and emotions. I do this because God does feet. I do this because I lead by serving. I do this because I lead by loving.”


That’s the kingdom. And that’s our king. Amazing.


What can I do in response to such a scene but pray, “Jesus, reduce me to love.”