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

Get your spiffy guide to the ancient Christian prayer practice of praying using Scripture called Lectio Divina (latin for “sacred reading”). It’s the perfect go-to reference and resource to get started with the four movements of Lectio that lead us to praying without words and listening to God.

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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.

Guest Post by Greg Richardson (Strategic Monk)

Please enjoy a guest post by Greg Richardson. Spiritual Direction has been utilized by Christians (and other seekers of truth and growth), for nearly 2,000 years. Before the age of psychoanalysis (which began as an atheist response to wellness) , people trusted spiritual directors for “soul care” (whole care of mind, body, spirit, emotions, etc).

Greg reveals why there is a renewed interest in this area, and how God, through his Holy Spirit, teaches us about the reality of God’s omni-benelovence and omni-presence, as we walk with him. A spiritual guide is very helpful on the journey.

Greg Richardson

From Greg:
Spiritual direction is the art of spiritual conversation and listening carried out in the context of a trusting relationship.

Spiritual direction follows a model drawn from biblical and other ancient practices. When Nicodemus comes to Jesus in John 3, for example, Jesus guides him by asking deep questions and listening to how he responds. It has a long history, including the early Desert Mothers and Fathers, roots in Celtic Christianity, and many other examples.

Interest in spiritual direction is now increasing, at a time when people thirst for spiritual depth and connection but grow disenchanted with traditional forms of organized religion. Silence and listening are rarer and rarer in our time. We long to know that someone is listening to us so we can hear ourselves.

A spiritual director is a faith companion who listens to your life stories with an ear for helping you discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life. God is the true guide and director, while your human spiritual director is like a coach or midwife, supporting you as you pay attention and respond to the inner voice of God. The director is primarily interested in your experience of God and how you can follow God’s call. That process is a spiritual journey into the truth about God, yourself, your relationships, your work, and the world.

The premise of spiritual direction is that God is present and active in your everyday life in a multitude of ways that we often do not notice. When you slow down, breathe, begin to reflect and take a long look at what is happening around you, you begin to become more aware of your experience of God’s loving presence. The better you know yourself, the more you know God; the more you know God, the more deeply you know yourself and your direction and purpose. Intimacy with God leads into transformation, healing, and action.

Spiritual direction takes many forms. I have met with people in churches, in coffee shops, and in homes. I go on walks with people, listen to them via email and telephone, and meet with people on Skype. I have met with people once at a retreat or a conference, intermittently at key points in their lives, or regularly each week or each month over a period of years. With some people I say very little; with others I do more prompting or suggesting.

People tell me many things. Some people confess things of which they have been ashamed for years. Some people get angry, some cry, some laugh. I listen, ask questions, and help them hear their own stories.

I am a spiritual director. I am trained, certified, and experienced, and a member of Spiritual Directors International. I spend time listening to people’s stories; we let go of the past and put concerns about the future out of our minds so we can spend time in the present.

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director, leadership coach, and consultant to nonprofit organizations in Pasadena, California. He is a recovering lawyer and professor, as well as a lay oblate connected to the New Camaldoli Benedictine Monastery & Hermitage in Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, you can reach him at StrategicMonk@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter, here: @StrategicMonk

Do you have questions for Greg? Please leave you questions or thoughts.