It all began beyond words: A big bang, a primal act of creation, the maker of all things creating something that was Not-God. This was a time beyond words, a thing we can not understand.
But then, God said, “It is good.”
And these words, it seems, were an accurate summary of the way of things. The picture, in part, was reducible to those three words: It is good.
Until it wasn’t good. Those words failed to capture the reality of what the world was like when Adam fell. They failed to capture the reality of what it was like, as man drifted further from God, across hundreds of years, thousands of years.
And then? Jesus came. And John’s understanding of the coming of Jesus was that Jesus himself was a word straight from God. But that word, died. Though it doesn’t seem really that a word should die.
Until it came back. Three days later. But then it went away. Jesus’ followers came together in this amazing way at the pentecost, and suddenly the words they were all speaking, in countless languages, were understood by all. Pentecost ended, Jesus spirit returned to God. But there is this promise, though out the bible, that the word– Jesus– will come back again.
One way to view the bible is this: there is this constant flux, this never-ending transition. Words mean something. Then the words no longer capture reality. Then words come to means something in the end.
I think that the bible, in lots of ways, is an accurate picture of reality. I think that the world is this way, too: words are perfect for a time, then they are imperfect, then they are meaningless… until they come to mean something, again.
I am thinking about all this stuff as I think about contemplative practices, today. There is the apaphatic: the attempt to go beyond words, the dark, mysterious transcendent. Longing for wordless communion, recognizing the limits of verbal communication, the longing for a deep and silent meditation.
And then there is the cataphatic: the use and embrace of words. The luminous and understandable. Putting our thoughts into vocalatizations. Praying the psalms, reading the bible, petionary prayer.
It seems like we need both the apaphatic and the cataphatic because the world is set up just that way: it flows between wordiness and wordlessness. The extremes of this spectrum equip us to match the nature of reality itself.