I have spent a few weeks immersed in ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’. A classic of both Christian mysticism and Middle English. My guide through this process has been Cynthia Bourgeault. The Cloud is a masterpiece of apophatic spirituality. And, as is now being argued quite strongly, the pre-eminent text on non-dual consciousness in the Christian tradition.

For the last two decades I have happily accepted the clear divide between the apophatic and cataphatic spiritualities. I have taught many times that they are different paths to God. As silence is seen as being a superior way of praying – many people often assume that the apophatic way is somehow ‘better’ than the cataphatic way.

As a long time practitioner and teacher of Ignatian spirituality I have long fought against such stratification. In reading Cynthia’s writings and commentary on The Cloud and on Centering Prayer I have found myself looking for the deeper threads of both apophatic and cataphatic streams.

Cynthia uses a phrase ‘heart-centred cognition’ which she suggests is the disposition required for non-dual consciousness to take hold. ‘Heart-centred cognition’ is not at all a focus on the emotions rather than the rational. It is probably better understood as embodied cognition – where the rational is an element but doesn’t dominate.

I cannot help but wonder whether Ignatian discernment is not a training in ‘heart-centered cognition’. Certainly when I think about my own process of discernment it resonates. When I consider the phrase I repeat often on training course – you use the whole of your being as a tool for discernment’ it feels consistent.

Discernment when understood in this way, is really not about getting to the right answer or making the right decision. It is fundamentally about honing one’s being to attuning to the resonant echo of God’s presence in our world. ‘Right choice’ becomes almost meaningless – it is about fundamental disposition.

7 thoughts on “Discernment

  1. i now practise Centering Prayer and do not find I am diverting from the path of Ignatian spirituality. In apophatic prayer, I am truly living “your love and your grace are enough”. In another blog, you said, if I understood you rightly, that asking for the grace is the Ignatian equivalent of surrender. Reading your blog, I felt that, although, of course, I am not belittling asking for a grace, I couldn’t understand your premise. As I see it, in asking for a grace, I am expressing a preference. In Centering Prayer, I leave the grace received to God. While my prayer has changed, other aspects of Ignatian spirituality have been strengthened. I have been reading about other spiritualies and noting the ways in which Ignatian teaching is in them, but expressed differently. I am uncomfortable with the phrase “different paths” these days. I see myself in the same path as everyone else seeking God, holding hands, even. I remember, and blush about, how I wanted to put members of CLC straight when they were deviating from Ignatian spirituality. Even this can be an inordinate attachment. Centering Prayer leads to detachment and I believe Ignatius, without naming it as such, will have practised it in some way.

    • I guess the point I am trying to make, Maria is that they are really not that different at all. The essence is in fact the same. Regarding the other blog post and asking for grace – I suppose there are different levels of surrender. The surrender I was speaking of was the surrender of my will and the surrender of the image of what the outcome needed to be.

  2. I am still not quite connecting with your logic, Mags. I feel that, if I am asking God for what I want, I am only surrendering my will insofar as I accept that my request will not be granted. The surrender of Centering Prayer is that of asking for nothing and leaving what happens completely to God. It could be said that my ultimate deepest desire is for God to have free range in me. Of course, asking for the grace to have this attitude would be pretty well the same thing.

  3. Your words on Discernment are both manna and a light “to lead us over crag and torrent, till the night is gone”. Wordsworth could have said, “fair seed-time had my soul and I grew up fostered alike by secularism and a multi-cultural society”, where Eastern nihilistic and devotional traditions conflicted and cancelled each other. So, I gravitated to a C.S.Lewis-like position, where, one path neutralized preconceived notions of the other. I believe (Romans2:1-11) “God has no favorites”. Jesus, Luke11:42-46, said, “Alas for you lawyers, you load on men burdens that are unendurable”. I avoid the penchant for binary thinking; its love for tidiness, pigeon holes, classifications and strict codes. Christian discipleship, difficult though it may be, was not intended to be complicated. Be childlike, in faith, love and the ability for wonder – anyone can do that.

    Why then must prayer be a torturous choice between a penetration of the cloud of unknowing with the heart, and of following the way of enlightenment through revelations and traditions? Both desire faith, love, compassion and detachment. When the seed falls it may be nurtured from within; finding within itself the object of its love. Or, as a humble servant, one may seek the beloved as a Divine Thou. Arbitrary stratification may flag a stampede for the monasteries and desert places on the one side, and distress on the other for those who find their devotion somewhat inadequate. That is why I disagree with opinions based on “stratificatio

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