Emerging Kataphatic

Many emerging Christians have been influenced by deconstructionist postmodernism. Profoundly iconoclastic, deconstructionism challenges any attempt to form universal theologies or fathom God’s nature. God remains a deep mystery, beyond any human articulation whether in text, tradition, liturgy, or symbol. God is a deep and dazzling darkness whose incomprehensibility inspires silence and humility.

Yet, mystics and believers have also spoken of God as accessible, embodied, and intimate in such a way that construction and deconstruction, image and mystery, complement one another. While I will reflect on the apophatic approach (without images) in my next entry, I will ponder in this essay the kataphatic (with images) as an essential aspect of emerging theology.

Kataphatic spirituality and theology is grounded in the affirmation of divine omnipresence. God is the reality in whom we live and move and have our being. God comes to us in cloud and sunshine, in a child’s laugh, in stained glass and rushing waters. All creation reveals God: cleave the wood and I am there, says the Gospel of Thomas; the word is made flesh, says the Prologue of the Gospel of John; your body is the temple of God, says the apostle Paul. There is always a point of contact between God and us in the holy here and now.

Kataphatic theology and spirituality is profoundly incarnational and this worldly in nature. You are a word of God, as Meister Eckhart proclaims. You are – in the spirit of Christ – a living sacrament, a visible sign of God’s invisible grace.

Kataphatic theology and spirituality ground the multi-sensory nature of emerging worship. Revelation is “sensational” – it comes to us in silence and insight, but also in the smell of baking bread, the touch of a lover, the sound of crashing waves, the sight of clouds scudding by, and the taste of apple pie and strong coffee. Any moment can mediate holiness; any person can reveal God’s face; any sound can echo the birth of the universe.

The kataphatic path grounds us in this good earth and our bodies. If we don’t find God on earth, we won’t experience God in the heavens. This is the path of celebration, savoring, rejoicing, pleasuring, and healing. Every moment is a miracle and every day a resurrection. The only appropriate response is blessing and gratitude.

The point of the kataphatic is not only to discover the “thin place” right where you are, but “thin places” everywhere. Only when we limit sacrament, revelation, or inspiration to one community – our community – does the kataphatic become idolatrous. It has been said that God is “a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere” – in other words, right here and now, the fullness of God is present; but God’s fullness gives life to everything else, including strangers, enemies, and non-humans.

Rejoice, celebrate, and enjoy – and bring enjoyment to all on this good earth – this is the kataphatic way.

About Bruce Epperly

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, and Pastor of South Congregational United Church of Christ, Centerville (Cape Cod), Massachusetts. He is the author of twenty five books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study,The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age, and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He has served as chaplain, professor, and administrator at Georgetown University, Lancaster Theological Seminary, Wesley School of Theology, and Claremont School of Theology. He may be reached at drbruceepperly@aol.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion).

  • Bill

    emerging Christians
    deconstructionist postmodernism
    iconoclastic, deconstructionism
    apophatic approach
    Kataphatic spirituality


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