Two Spiritual Approaches
“Darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day. Darkness and light are but
one.” —Psalm 139:12
Richard Rohr in his daily emails1 describe light and dark as the main two types of spiritual traditions we use to seek our connection to God. One is the more thinking, formal, theological approach called the kataphatic way where we reach God by learning and studying about God, an ascent to the sacred, reaching for the light. This has been the most used approach to God since the Protestant Reformation and the Age of Enlightenment. It could be described as the study of knowledge or knowing God.
The other approach is the apophatic way where we move beyond words and rational knowing into silence to seek God. This is the contemplative approach to the mystery, the unknowing or not-knowing. This is a descent into to the dark, into the unknown sacred within.
Rohr emphasizes how important both ways of seeking God are needed in our spiritual life. Those whose personality type involves more thinking and sensing where they make decisions on what is rational or reasonable and what are the concrete facts will be drawn to the kataphatic or ascent approach. Those whose personality involves more feeling and intuitive functions where they make decisions on relationships and value and considering many connections and patterns may be more drawn to the apophatic or descent or inward approach.
Many involved in spiritual direction suggest during Advent and in especially in Lent to try the opposite approach to God from what we are most accustomed. For example, if we are a thinking and sensing person, we are to try some form of contemplative prayer. If we are a feeling and intuitive person, we are to put our toe into the water of study of the words of our tradition, sacred scripture, or writings of older and newer theologians.
Just a suggestion to think or wonder about.
1Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, “Darkness and Light,” adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 115-116.