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.

Are You Heebie Jeebie Susceptible? (self-test)


Will he feel nice on your neck? Creepy crawlies give some the heebie jeebies!


Heebie Jeebies is similar to the British term “Screaming Habdabs,” a phrase which I am quite fond of. You got to love it! If I used it, however, not too many would understand me in the place with my greatest readership-the USA. Both are  non sense rhyming phrases used to describe a feeling of anxiety or apprehension, or worse.

Lots of things can bring them on. Perhaps, later, you can contribute a few situations that give you the heebie jeebies. For now, try this self-test to see if you are highly susceptible to their onset. HAVE FUN!



Answer each with one of the following-

A. Rarely or Never True.

B. Sometimes True.

C. Mostly or Always True

Keep track of your answers!


1. The thought of drinking unidentified, or identified “floaters” in your beverage gives you a weird taste in your mouth, or funny feeling in your stomach (and you won’t do it.)

2. Using a stranger’s chapstick is unreasonable.

3. The licking of fingers in public drives you to distraction.

4. You can envision the horrid (potential) consequences of sending food back when you dine out.

5. Anything with more legs than you should be regarded with suspicion.

6. Smells like Patchouli, Musk, incense, and funky grandma’s basement induce a foreboding atmosphere for you.

7. You have the general belief that most bad things happen after dark.

8.  You have checked under your bed, in your closet, or shower for security reasons.

9. If it weren’t for the creepy music, plenty of movies wouldn’t be so freakin’ scary.

10. Snakes are unexplainably weird or creepy.


A. answers = 1 point

B. answers = 3 points

C. answers = 5 points

• If you got 35-50 points, you are a heebie jeebie type, and very susceptible. Future posts written here will be of great help to you. For now, build your confidence with baby steps, venture out within groups, and work on your “control issues.” Just saying…

• 20-35 points indicates a moderate susceptibility for the heebie jeebies. The range is fairly normal, and only once in a while will you have a full blown attack of the screaming habdabs. It is quite likely that you associate with “Full-On Habdaders,” so stay informed, send them this way to educate themselves, and learn all you can to support them. Future posts will be of assistance. 

• 10-20 points indicates a resistance to the heebie jeebies, which often can point toward inner strength, maturity, or a rational mind. More often however, it signals denial and a shut off emotional life were barriers have been erected to keep things out, including love. If this erection lasts more than four hours, consult your doctor, counselor or pastor. It is a sorry state indeed. There will be additional information for this part of the heebie jeebie spectrum too, so come back within the next ten days. For now, find small ways to open up, let your guard down, or not be so uptight. In the long run, the benefits will outweigh the risks and downsides. 

NOW- it’s YOUR turn.

Tell us what gives you the Heebie Jeebies?

I’ll set up a poll with the most common answers, and put it to a vote for most heebie jeebyish.

Anything odd habdab you have to admit?

(fear of puppies maybe?)

If you had fun, there are several other “similar” self-tests at this site. Search the categories at the bottom of the page for “self-test,” and enjoy!

See ya soon.