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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

794: After some development, we understand more fully that God is transcendent, uncontainable.

Day 794 Thursday, May 19, 2022

After some development, we understand more fully that God is transcendent, uncontainable. God is no thing

The God Beyond What We Know by Richard Rohr

Author Lisa Colón DeLay offers insight into the origins of contemplative prayer, which include the experience of God beyond what we know:

The desert elders would sink deeply and continually into what they called the “prayer of quiet.” This type of prayer is called apophatic prayer. It does not employ words. Apophatic prayer involves a mindful and relinquishing disposition in the process of communing with God.

This contemplative method of praying does not use images, requests, intercessions, and rituals. It involves the quieting of one’s spirit and the settling into the essence of being, which allows one to be found in the presence of God.

Many of us in Western context and cultures are accustomed to only word-based praying. We understand God mainly through an acquisition of knowledge that affirms what and who God is. This is the kataphatic way of knowing God.

This is the first way we begin to know God (or anything, for that matter): with definitions, descriptions, concepts, categories, images, and words.

After some development, we understand more fully

that God is transcendent, uncontainable.

We may notice that God shatters any box of mental understanding we have been misusing. Then we may come to a place that points beyond conceptions so that we may start to discover what God is not and allow room for what we can hardly conceive

God is no thing

Sometimes other names can help disrupt our hardened and limited concepts of God: Divine Love, Mystery, Source. Apophatic theology, seen most fully within Eastern Orthodox Christianity, invites the spiritually devoted beyond limitations and known categories to ways that make room for what we don’t know and cannot comprehend about the Divine.

The prayer of quiet draws us ever deeper into the Mystery that is worth growing familiar with but is ultimately unknowable in its totality. There is a boundlessness of the One who we, in English, sometimes call God, and apophatic prayer may lead us into that unknowing to experience the divine beyond what we know.

To presume we know is always dangerous. There is an arrogance that comes from knowing and thinking that we normally have the right answer. That’s why great spiritual traditions balance the kataphatic way (knowing God through words and ideas) with the apophatic way (knowing God through silence and unknowing).

We see it very clearly in the desert fathers and mothers, and it lasts pretty much through the first thousand years of Christianity. The Franciscan theologian Bonaventure (c. 1217–1274) ended his classic text The Soul’s Journey into God with this instruction, which represents the apophatic tradition of unknowing:

If you wish to know how these things come about,

ask for grace, not instruction,

desire not understanding,

the groaning of prayer not diligent reading,

the Spouse not the teacher,

God not man,

darkness not clarity,

not light but the fire

that totally inflames and carries us into God . . . . [3]


Thank you for signing up for our Women Erased series. Our next session of "All About Eve" is tonight, Thursday, May 19th at 8:00pm Eastern or 5:00 Pacific

Here is the zoom link to join:

Meeting ID: 896 6676 3995 Passcode: 484971

Session Three:

Archaeology and the Hidden Religious Culture of Israelite Women

Who were the most important religious figures in ancient Israel? Most people would say that the priests were. But they would be wrong. The major arena of religious life for most people in the biblical period was the household, and the major figures in household religious activities were women. This lecture takes you into the Israelite household, largely invisible in the Bible, and presents an array of archaeological materials and fascinating ethnographic data to reveal women’s household religious activities.

Recordings of Session One and Two can be found at

CAROL MEYERS is the Mary Grace Wilson Professor Emerita of Religious Studies at Duke University. She received the A.B. with honors from Wellesley College and the M.A. and Ph.D. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University.

Meyers has published more than 450 articles, reports, reference-book entries, and reviews; and she has authored, co-authored, or edited twenty-two books. Her 2013 book,

Rediscovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context, is a landmark study of women in ancient Israelite society. Meyers has worked on numerous digs since she was an undergraduate and has co-directed several archaeological projects in Israel. She has been a frequent consultant for media productions relating to archaeology and the Bible, including A&E’s Mysteries of the Bible series, DreamWorks’s “Prince of Egypt,” NOVA’s “The Bible’s Buried Secrets,” and several National Geographic documentaries. She has served as President of the Society of Biblical Literature and is currently a trustee of the American Society of Overseas Research, the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation, and the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem.

This will be an exciting and informative series. Join us as we learn together!

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