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 8 – How to Let Your Wine and your Creative Soul Breathe


Episode 8 – How to Let Your Wine and your Creative Soul Breathe

This spacious episode features some great (creative commons) music and concerns the aerating of wine and (more importantly) of your creative soul.

(Yes, I have asthma and you can tell! Please forgive all my gasping for breath. It’s been a hard few weeks for me.)
Click to listen now:

This episode is brought to you by…

Life As Prayer: Revived Spirituality Inspired by Ancient Piety
(on the life and legacy of Brother Lawrence’s habit of “practicing the presence of God”)

How can YOU find an enduring sense of God’s presence with you? Learn about 16th century Brother Lawrence and how his understanding of God’s presence continues to enrich lives today.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast AND to my newsletter!

Both your wine and your life must be able to to breathe!

Full and aware breathing can inspire your creative muse and enrich your life in so many ways.

minute 1:00

I excitedly announce two upcoming interviews:
• Daniel J. Lewis interview (a virtuosic creator who’s received national awards for podcasts he produces).

• Sarah Bessey (Jesus Feminist author) Interview (discussing her new Out of Sorts book).


WINE SEGMENT: Letting wine breathe!

minute: 5:00

In wine terms “aeration” is the process of bringing air into wine.

The term dumb (i.e. “dumb wine”) refers to a wine that has little flavor or fragrance.
• Swirling wine mixes it with air and allows it to both breathe and speak!
• Flavor and aroma and the beauty and richness of the wine emerges as space for air gets in (just like us).

TIPS to make a better speaking wine:

(If buying excellent wine isn’t an option….which is most of us!)

Option 1.

Use a blender.

Option 2.

Use a hand blender (this is a method I use)

Option 3.

A cheap and simple solution:
Pour wine into a bowl and whisk it with a fork or whisk (like you would for scrambled eggs).


minute 5:50
Sparking your muse

• Aeration of the soul

• (a short recording) Insights from the middle of my retreat time at the Jesuit Spiritual Center in Wernersville, PA.

Forgetting how to breath.

My asthma and stress; and tightness of breath and soul.


Sprit of God = breath of life


On slowing down.


The fantastic 4-7-8 second breathing exercise I learned to get your breath (and life) back.


Retreat invitation
(click link to learn more)


Giving breath to the creative soul…

Creating space and breath for the Creative muse/your soul to truly thrive


The Scriptural inspiration, history, and meaning of “Breath Prayer”
(as a Christian devotional practice)

Luke 18:9-14

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

minute 15:00

Breath Prayer: A simple cry for help and connection

• How to do “breath prayer”

• My important adaptation to breath prayer (that helps me identify as a loved child of God).


Did you enjoy the podcast?
I hope you’ll share this episode with friend or family member who might need more space and air for her soul to breathe.

Cheers! Here’s to your health.

I’d like to hear from you.

Please, help me and take this short 30-second listener-survey.

Spark My Muse

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.”

Luke’s Tweets from the Sermon on the Sofa

click for photo attribution


This shaggy Jewish guy, Jay, who hangs out at the local coffeehouse tells some great stories, and a lot of people like to listen to him. People seem attracted to Jay, but not because he’s good looking or in with the shop owners. Smelly homeless guys, hookers, meth-addicts, weirdos, gang bangers, and lesbians are some of his best friends, much to the dismay of the local business owners who like hipsters with disposable income, and chic, classy professionals to patronize their businesses.

Would you believe his guy doesn’t even have his own phone? A “groupie” gave him a Tracfone once to help him out. When it ran out of minutes, he never got it refilled. He gave it to his friend Mary, who was down on her luck, along with a 20 he said he found near the river. Truthfully, he didn’t call on it most of the time. Plenty of people called him though, about all kinds of problems, and so his minutes drained pretty quickly. He doesn’t seem to get bothered by not having a phone. (Honestly, I don’t get that.)

There’s one story about the coffeehouse being super crowded one day. Everybody was hot, and there was no AC running. Maybe it broke. Everybody wanted iced coffee like crazy, and nothing in the shop was working right.

So, out of nowhere Jay says he’ll take care of it. He tells his friends to dole out pitchers of the stuff. It’s like it comes out of nowhere. Iced Coffee for everybody. Plus, muffins, and cookies, and organic quiche. There were actually so many leftovers that they had 12 trays piled high afterwards. Talk about weird.

Here’s another odd thing. Jay doesn’t have his own blog either. However, four of his friends write about him a lot at their blogs. Well, I think others do too, but those four have the most visitor traffic…I’ll put it that way.

His one friend Luke–who’s kind of OCD–tweets stuff he says. I think there might even be a category on Luke’s blog that is a collection of Jay’s tweets. It’s called something like…Sermon on the Sofa…or something like that. It’s full of this subtle subversive stuff, that if you co-opt with it, it could change everything. Everything.

Another tweet of Jay’s thoughts really stuck with me. It read:

“What’s the point if a person gains the whole blogosphere and loses her own soul?”

You know when you hear something, and it sounds like it’s just for you? That’s kind of how it felt when I heard it. I favorited that one.


The Spirit of Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me

to preach the good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners,

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to release the oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

-Lk. 4:18-19