A friend recently introduced me to two highfalutin, but insightful phrases: Apophatic Prayer and Kataphatic Prayer.
Kataphatic Prayer is praying using words, thoughts, and images.
Apophatic Prayer is prayer without words, thoughts, and images.
Another explanation—often credited to Eugene Peterson, but which I’ve not yet confirmed—is that Apophatic Prayer is praying with your eyes closed, while Kataphatic Prayer is praying with your eye open.
Here’s how I comprehend it. Do you have a close friend, with whom you are comfortable just being with each other? Where words are superfluous? Where silence is not an uncomfortable torture? So it is with God when we approach him apophatically.
While some assert that Apophatic Prayer is higher than Kataphatic Prayer, I view them as complementary. Just as a good relationship could never exist devoid of words (apophatic)—instead requiring verbal communication (kataphatic) in order to persist—so it is with us and God. It is wonderful when we can transcend the tangible, but to remain there exclusively will ultimately serve to diminish our relationship with the almighty.
The right response to the question posed in this post’s title is Apophatic and Kataphatic. Good prayer—and a right relationship with God—requires both words and silence.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.
Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.
2 replies on “Apophatic Prayer or Kataphatic Prayer?”
It is true, Eugene Peterson mentions eyes open and eyes closed praying in his book, The Contemplative Pastor, in the chapter called “Praying with Eyes Open”.
a.k., thanks for sharing that confirmation!