Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
I have been talking a lot about prayer as we navigate the waters of COVID unrest, and I have been asked about the practice of “unthinking” as an act of prayer.
When we use the word “unthinking,” more than likely what we are alluding to is apophatic practice - apophatic from the Greek apophemi which means “to deny.” We understand apophatic in the context of prayer in two ways: First, the process of denying oneself the comfort of the familiar images and practices, and second, denying (or unlearning) our understanding of God. In practice it looks like this:
We approach God in prayer aware we know God in certain ways and are comforted by that familiarity. Our prayer time begins with the conscious process of unknowing or negating that familiarity by appealing to God conscious of our prayer habit. We then ask God to help us “unknow” God’s self from the perspective of our comfort or our distress and approach God in prayer as a neophyte - a beginner, willing and anticipating the revelation of God in wonderous and miraculous ways!
Those who begin to study “the Way of negation” often find it confusing or even silly, but it is, in fact, a powerful method through which a deeper and more profound relationship with God will be possible.
Try this during your prayer time: be very observant of how you pray, what you say and how you say it, and by extension, how your prayer method draws a picture of God. Now try to unthink or un-practice that image by expanding the God of your picture to be bigger. The mistake often made when learning apophatic prayer processes is thinking we are making God smaller and less personal, but it is quite the opposite.
Don’t be discouraged if you have a hard time trying this; just laugh it off, thank God for being patient and try again. There is growth in the effort as well as the achievement, and new images and a greater understanding of God will follow.
…be transformed by the renewal of your mind!
Father Bill Burk†