Wednesday, December 21, 2022
Even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. —Psalm 139:12
Apophatic theology is the in-the-gut knowledge that God transcends images, names, and definitions; that words limit both the experience and description of the Divine. It acknowledges the restraints of human perceptions of space and time.
Rather than saying, “God is this or that,” negative theology begins by saying, “God is not this or that.” (Junior high-age theologians love this stuff!) Moreover, this way of the unknowing of God paradoxically unfolds as a way toward union with God. Why are some of us wired to perceive the Divine most acutely in darkness, solitude, and silence? Is it brain chemistry? Temperament? Some necessary evolutionary balance? It isn’t that we don’t experience the Divine Presence in other people, or nature or great liturgy or service to others. But connecting first with this primary Nothingness makes Presence possible for us within all those other things.
It wouldn’t hurt pastors to learn about apophatic mysticism and to be better able to respond when a faithful parishioner comes to the office dumbfounded because “God has abandoned me.” Rather than offering some platitude (“If God seems distant, who’s done the walking?”) the pastor might say, “Hmm, well, that sounds about right! This probably means you’re being drawn into a deeper, more profound and integrated consciousness of God. Sit with it, trust it, wait, like you do in Advent or Lent. God has not abandoned you, but more likely, as John of the Cross says, God is flooding your soul with light and you can’t quite apprehend it yet. So it is ‘dark’ in the way the light blinds you when you switch it on in the middle of the night.” —Suzanne Guthrie, Christian Century, December 17, 2010, The sound of silence
Wire us to perceive you, Divine unveiled in darkness. Out of the depth of nothingness, let your eternal presence flood this day with possibility. Amen. —The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster