Today’s Eugene Peterson Quote:
There are two great mystical traditions in the life of prayer, sometimes labeled kataphatic and apophatic. Kataphatic prayer uses icons, symbols, ritual, incense; the creation is the way to the Creator. Apophatic prayer attempts emptiness; the creature distracts from the Creator, and so the mind is systematically emptied of idea, image, sensation until there is only the simplicity of being. Kataphatic prayer is ‘praying with your eyes open’; apophatic prayer is ‘praying with your eyes shut.’ At our balanced best, the two traditions intermingle, mix, and cross-fertilize. But we are not always at our best. The Western church is heavily skewed on the side of the apophatic. The rubic for prayer when I was a child was, ‘fold your hands, bow your head, shut your eyes, and we’ll pray.’ My early training carries over into my adult practice. Most of my praying still is with my eyes shut. I need balancing. (Peterson suggests that we) pray differently: Spread out your hands, lift your head, open your eyes, and we’ll pray. (It will not be long) before we find ourselves in the company of saints and monks…psalmists and prophets who watched the ‘hills skip like lambs’ and heard the ‘trees clap their hands,’ alert to God everywhere, in everything, praising, praying with our eyes open: ‘I leap to my feet; I cheer and cheer.’ Eugene Peterson (from Chapter Seven, The Contemplative Pastor p. 92)
A few years back I attended a series of concerts and lectures held at a local Catholic parish. John Michael Talbot was the musician/speaker. Talbot, for those of you not old enough to remember the wild-n-crazy 1960’s and 70’s, was a rock musician hippie-turned-radical long-haired Christian back in the day. It was folks like Keith Green, Barry McGuire, Larry Norman, and Talbot who were there at the very beginnings of what we now call contemporary Christian music. A wave of the Holy Spirit was hitting America back then and numerous pot-smoking, California-based, wide-eyed musicians, poets, and artists were getting radically-saved by Jesus.
After their salvation experiences, many of these artists (Talbot included) changed the type of music they performed on tour, singing songs about Jesus rather than drugs, flower-power, and the typical anti-war themes of the day.
To make a long story short, John Michael Talbot eventually found himself being greatly influenced by the deep spirituality found in the Franciscan movement of the day. His earliest Christian music had a powerful yet simple message of peace, hope, and love found in the quietness of a soul set aside for God. Many in the evangelical world didn’t appreciate the direction Talbot went with his music and his life (he eventually became a Franciscan monk), but despite the criticism, Talbot produced some of the top-selling Christian music of the late 1970’s and early 80’s. His classics, The Lord’s Supper, Come to the Quiet, and other albums combined ancient liturgies with modern melodies, making Talbot a voice for quietness in the midst of a busy world.
Now flash forward 30 years and I’m sitting in a Catholic parish, listening to a much older and even wiser John Michael Talbot. His simple acoustic guitar sounds combined with his gentle voice still bring a presence of God not found in many Christian circles today. Between songs, Talbot spoke softly yet firmly about the great need for contemporary Christians to restore quietness and rest in a society running at 200 miles per hour, filled with noise, noise, and more noise.
“Come to the Quiet, come back to Him,” Talbot whispers.
In one session, John Michael taught us some ancient breathing exercises first introduced by early monks, designed to help followers of Christ to focus their mind, body, and spirit on things from above. “Praying and meditating with your eyes open,” Talbot says, “is a long-lost method of prayer the western church has little appreciation of.”
As I see it, breathing in the presence of the Holy Spirit while exhaling out my sinful nature sounds a bit goofy to us westerners, but both Talbot and Eugene Peterson are right. We need to find more creative ways to restore the kataphatic approach to our more common apophatic prayer methods. In recent months, I’ve found that by adopting some of Talbot’s prayer exercises, I have truly found my devotional life moving into a whole new dimension with God.
My friends and fellow pastors, it’s time, like Peterson suggests, to broaden the spectrum of our approach to our holy God as He moves in the realm of His created world.
Kataphatic prayer anyone?
My prayer: Father, I’ve realized in recent months that Your ancient church has many powerful tools that I’ve never been exposed to before. Kathphatic prayer, or as some might call it, praying with eyes wide open, is a whole new approach to prayer that is opening my life to more and more of Your goodness all around me. Thank You, Lord, for giving me new tools from ancient sources so that I might ever learn more creative ways of practicing Your presence. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: In what ways have I bogged down my spirituality by only using “pre-approved” tools that come from my own denominational tribe? How might I explore other Christ-centered practices of spirituality, such as praying with eyes wide open, that will expand my horizons and give me more creative ways in practicing my faith-walk with Christ?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Contemplative Pastor?
Over a 37-blog series, you and I will take a deeper look at Eugene Peterson’s classic, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our blog series home page for ease of use. Keep in mind that one of the best ways to explore the on-going applications of this blog series is to walk alongside a biblically-based, Christ-centered spiritual director who is familiar with how to make material like this part of your overall spiritual formation in God. Many of our directors in our Contemplative Activist network are available to companion you in your journey with Jesus. Click here for more info.
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I love this piece. I bought “Contemplative Pastor” when it first came out and couldn’t get into it. I was to immature.
I would love to send you a piece I wrote to and about Eugene Peterson sometime, if you’re interested.
hey Joe…I’d love to see it. send it to my email…firstname.lastname@example.org