I've been learning a lot about the apaphatic aspects of theology this term. That is, saying what God is not like as opposed to was God is like. So you can say God is like a mother, but to be completely accurate, you have to also say that God is not like a mother. God is like a father, but God is not like a father. God is like (insert analogy here). The apaphatic statement that must accompany that would be the opposite of that statement.
We come across this idea a lot in centering prayer. For those of you who have never done this, you spend the whole time emptying your mind in an attempt to deepen your relationship with or grow closer to God. Actually, you can never truly empty your mind, the human brain just doesn't work that way, but you are supposed to let the thoughts roam freely through your mind without really paying attention to them. It's hard and it takes practice, but it is possible to do it for small amounts of time (think 20 or 30 seconds) after a while.
So, centering prayer is the spiritual practice that we're doing in my Spiritual Leadership class right now. Take the stuff that I'm learning in there, mix it up with Theology and all the crazy stuff that Annette's been teaching us and you've got some pretty weird stuff going on in my brain right now.
Today, we were discussing our thoughts on how we think centering prayer may have changed us and the discussion leader talked about how when we were using icons in Lectio Divina last term, it was just as important to pay attention to the negative spaces as it was to look at the shapes of the images themselves. This lead my friend Mary to make the comment that the pauses between words and notes in music were just as important as the notes and the lyrics. Without the pauses, you wouldn't have music; it would just be noise.
I had a similar thought about scripture not too long ago, but I never thought I would share it with anyone. At least, it had not occurred to me to share it with anyone. But, it was so similar to what they were saying that I had to share it, and I have to give credit to Annette Schellenberg for helping to form this idea in my head. I realized one day while reading the Bible that there was more than just the words on the page. There was all of that lovely negative space around the words, between the words, around the edges of the page. I realized that God was there too, shining out from between the words, from the beautiful shapes of negative space around the letters. It's the apaphatic aspect of scripture, the part of God that we can't describe.
It's like the Bible is a portal that we can look through to see God. We need the words to form the portal, but at the same time, the words are a screen because they cannot show us everything about God. You can't take away the screen though, because if you do you take away the portal. This isn't to say that God doesn't come through in the words themselves; most of what we know about God comes from the words. It's just that there is so much more to God than that. Pay attention to those negative spaces as you read scripture because they are as much a part of the scriptures as the words are. The shapes are beautiful, just as the mystery of God is beautiful. We may never understand what the negative spaces are telling us, but we are nourished by them and whether we are aware of it or not, those spaces are helping us to understand the divine mystery that is our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Sustainer, the Holy Triune God.