Not often I use strange words like those Apophatic and Kataphitic, but lately I’ve been musing, pondering and indeed meditating, on the nature of meditation, and in specific the nature of Christian meditation, and what forms it might rightly take.
There are basically two schools of meditative practise in the Christian tradition, the Apophatic school, which work on the ‘beyond words, thoughts, feelings etc’ way of meditating, which in many ways draws upon the Eastern traditions, or at least is closely aligned in terms of its use of repeated phrases – known in other traditions as Mantras.This form of meditation is also most closely aligned with what you might describe as secular meditation, including types of TM, which also draw on Eastern philosophies.
The other way is the Kataphitic way, which is a way of meditating which involves or specifically includes the mind, the imagination, and the senses. This may lead on from a reading or memorised piece of text, or may be guided by a teacher.
I have used both of these kinds of meditation, and can see the positive benefits of both. My wondering is whether the first can be called authentically Christian, or whether despite its association with other religions and practises, the focus of the individual is what transforms it to being a Christian practise. If that is the case though, where does such ‘redemptive’ thinking stop? Can one claim any spiritual practise is Christian in such a way? While I have attempted it, and found no personal harm in it, I do find myself troubled by the ’emptying of the mind’ nature of Apophatic meditation, which seems to allow no opportunity for the mind to interact in some way with the Divine. The late John Main a Benedictine brother who taught a kind of Mantra meditation repeatedly instructs us to keep saying the Mantra – keep saying it.
I recognise that there is real value to be found here, and I think that Main’s claims of the ‘spiritual poverty’ of the Mantra as being of implicit value are powerful, but still I find myself confused as to whether we can see this as being explicitly Christian.
The Jesus Prayer, which I have used also, and which I noted recently that a new film is to cover, seems like a middle ground between these two forms, but I’m not usually one for middle ground (not that we should discount the Jesus Prayer on that score, not at all).
I guess that, unless you lovely readers can provide good and coherent arguments to the contrary, my final opinion for now is that there is value in both, but on the whole one should take the Kataphitic as a starting point, perhaps Lectio Divina, or an Ignation form of visualisation, and immerse onesself in that, before (if appropriate) moving on to an Apophatic form of meditating at relevant times.
Again, sorry for (very) obscure (very) religious jargon, would be interested to hear your thoughts.