success stories

Posted September 3, 2003

Book: Embracing the World: Praying for Justice and Peace
Author: Jane E. Vennard
Jossey-Bass A Wiley Impring, pp.145

Excerpt from News Release:

Prayer is not just a disembodied, abstract spiritual practice but a way of engaging with the world, says author and popular retreat speaker Jane Vannard.

In this thoughtful book, Vannard looks at prayer in its broadest form — as both contemplation and action — and specifically guides readers in discerning how to use their individual gifts to serve God and the cause of peace and social justice here on earth.

Embracing the World sprang out of a course by the same name that Vennard taught at Lliff School of Theology in Denver, where the author witnessed firsthand the many shifts in her students’ lives as the began to focus their prayer and take action in ways that promoted justice and peace in the world around them.

Vannard’s specific contribution is found in her focus not just on formal prayer on bended knee, but in seeing prayer as an attitude an a link to action. Embracing the World is a practical, evocative guide to creating a prayer and action cycle where prayer leads to service and service leads to reflection and back to God.

From Words to Silence

Forgiving others through God’s mercy, confessing our sins, and seeking forgiveness from others and from God are prayers of the kataphatic tradition — a Greek word meaning "full of content." Kataphatic prayers use words and images, music and song, actions with hands and feet and voices. Prayers of intercession, supplication, praise, confession, gratitude, thanksgiving, and renewal, whether spoken, written, sung, drawn, danced, or imagined, are all kataphatic prayers. They are the most commonly used prayers of our tradition.

There is another way to pray — the apophatic way, which is described by the mystical paths of the world’s religions. Apophatic is a Greek word meaning empty, without content. Apophatic prayer uses no words or images, asking for nothing, desiring nothing, expecting nothing, receiving nothing. This form of prayer does not give something to God, as when we offer praise, instructions, or glory. It asks nothing of God, as in intercession, supplication, or confession. Rather, apophatic prayer is a receptive form of prayer in which we empty ourselves and silently open our very souls to whatever God has to offer.

But how do we become empty of all questions, thoughts, feelings, goals, and desires, with nothing to say and nothing to ask? How do we exist without our thoughts? Travel if there is nowhere to go? Empty ourselves into emptiness? How do we do something that cannot be done? Become someone we already are? These are mystical questions that have no logical answers. In the rational world we find them paradoxical and confusing. Why entertain questions with no answers or pursue something that has no clear way and no destination? Why open ourselves to experiences that cannot be defined, measured, or counted upon? Mystics of all traditions would answer us from their lived experience and assure us that the apophatic way transforms hearts and lives and makes possible the gift of contemplation.

Contemplation is a more familiar term that parallels the apophatic way. Mystics describe contemplation as something we receive rather than something we do. German mystic Meister Eckhart wrote, "God does not ask anything else of you except that you let yourself go and let God be God in you." We can practice this "letting go into God" through contemplative prayer — a form of prayer that points us toward the apophatic way and allows God to be God in us and opens us to receive the grace of contemplation.

Table of Contents:

1. Grounding ourselves in God

2. Praying for others and the world

3. Praying with our actions

4. Praying for renewal

5. Praying to be transformed

6. Praying for discernment

7. Trusting the mercy of God