The following is the first part in a two-part installment.
Metaphysics is onto-theo-logy. Someone who has experienced theology in his own roots, both the theology of the Christian faith and that of philosophy, would today rather remain silent when speaking in the realm of thinking.
– Martin Heidegger, “The Onto-theo-logical Constitution of Metaphysics”
…if there is no certainty, neither will there be a system of certainties, that is to say a science. From which it follows that there will be no science of life either….As we examine this view closely, it looks to us more like a prayer than like the truth.
– Sextus Empiricus, Adversus Mathematicos
I am trying to think while praying, to pray while thinking.
– John Caputo, The Weakness of God
I. Prayer as desideratum: Thinking in threes
In The Weakness of God: A Theology of the Event, Caputo ventures a theo-logical experiment at its etymological best—using the word of ‘God’ about, to or by God (à dieu). However, he does so not without acknowledging his place in a strand of onto-theo-logical goodbyes (àdieu). Evoking the Name in words, he may immediately come under suspicion of Heidegger’s admonition.
But what if this thinking of the Word/Name is characterized as an event more comparable to prayer than a closed onto-theo-logical construction? What if this thought opens another topos, a clearing not unlike khora, defeating and joining binaries with its irruption, its be/coming? If prayed, the Name is transfigured: it will be a noun qua verb, an encounter that is an empirical inexperience or nonevent, but no less wounding the ‘I’ with eschatological im-pendings.
In short, what if thinking effects rather than ends desire, if vocalized words (to God) and their conceptual grounds (about God) were admittedly incomplete (toward God)? In the latter case, words would be viewed as sacramental traces—an outward sign of a grace not visibly present.
We summon here not only Augustine’s notion of sacrament, but also its more reticent kin: a messianism that claims the traces of an infinite in the finite. At stake in both is the preservation of asymmetry—whether it is an infinite grace overwhelming the finite form, or an infinite Other breaking open every closed totality.
In the case of the former, the excess is felt as an overflow that collapses horizons. In the latter, what exceeds the finite is felt as a perpetually receding horizon. It is the difference between the language of beauty and of justice. Both terms converge in the preservation of desire. Like Diotima’s tale of copulating Poros and Penia, the excess of beauty and the emptiness of suffering join to yield desire.
If Marion’s saturated phenomenon were invited to the same symposium as Derrida’s trace, they perhaps could only share silence—an ellipsis lengthened by the desire to chase what exceeds/recedes. Though, privately, they would both admit to the space of prayer…
On either side of the ellipsis of desire is a lip of the wound. Between the upper lip of saturated phenomena (what Marion calls grace) and the lower lip of the receding ‘to come’ (what Derrida and Levinas would call justice): the space of differance, and a tongue. The tongue, like blood through the wound, moves and never dries nor stills. For to heal the wound would be to close the lips, to seal the secrets and stop the tongue. It would be the end of a different kind of knowledge—not that of gnosis, but that of sapientia, a wisdom that tastes and closer approximates the intimacy of the Hebraic ahav.
But is there a place where the lips might move, the tongue might tell, without also closing the gap? If ‘theology’ in the realm of thinking has proven, for Heidegger, the closure of a leeway where God might enter, how might one speak the name of God? At stake for several post-Heideggerian thinkers is the experience of asymmetry. Asymmetry, in the Platonic sense of analogy, may be our only hopeful return (ana) to the Word (logos), the Name of God. As Anne Carson suggests in Eros the Bittersweet:
Plato’s analogies are not flat diagrams in which one image (for example, gardens) is superimposed on another (the written word) in exact correspondence. An analogy is constructed in three-dimensional space. Its images float one upon the other without convergence: there is something in between, something paradoxical: Eros.”
Anne Carson exposes the trick of the two-layered “para” in paradox. In true paradox, the two points in wild tension bulge to require another dimension. No longer are the competing claims superimposed on one another, as if a line folded over in forced matching of end-points. Symmetry cannot suspend desire. Rather, the fold unfolds another point of correspondence. The paradox requires an extension of another topos that can hold both the call and response, the experience and corresponding expression.
Here, two points, in their attraction, in order to preserve the distance for their eros, invent a point of simultaneous repulsion. Desire staves off the collapse of consummation. So, in order for the abundance of experience (as saturated phenomena) and the infinity of expression (as the deferred ‘to come’) to be uniquely felt, and united in conversation, their contradictions must be permitted. To maintain the central difference and dynamism, a metaxu is needed, another dimension.
In the relation of two beings, three dimensions are suitable. But what if God is not simply another being? What might the relation between God and man require that both could relate without replacing or reducing distinctions? If God cannot be thought of as another being, can this ‘God’ be saved (safe) as time?
Time precedes and exceeds us, making possible all conceptual holds without retaining them. Like khora, it makes possible the space that is no place. It simply is in order to make possible what becomes, what will be… Time is the concept that the ellipsis marks, the passage of pauses, sustained ad infinitum.
Time is also what allows asymmetry, not the false symmetry of self and other, the synthesis of space and representation—but the diachrony and dialogue: the self + 1 (time in the other), the self + 2 (justice), the self + … (ongoing vigilance, love). It is no wonder that Levinas would speak of “God in terms of desire,” and ethics as sacramental (“the smallest and most common place gestures [that] bear witness to the ethical.”)
Time, like Marion’s grace, or Levinas’ desire, perpetuates becoming. It may simply be the difference between noting the infinite as the (n + 1…) from the side of the n (the other as addition) or the side of the receding one (the other as an extension that escapes).
If the Name of God is to mark this desire, like time, it must be what penetrates experience of being while not contained by my being. Caputo speaks of the Name of God as an event, a word that permits this asymmetrical interval, intimating a partial presence that perpetuates deferral. In this understanding, God or the infinitely Other exists (or resists) as an event that simultaneously marks presence/absence. In fact, this event evoked in the name of God seems the metaxu between presence and absence.
But as poet Anna Kamienska writes of her lover after his death, “Still so much of his absence around here. It is a form of being too.” If even absence marks presence (the trace, the sacrament), love of God after the death of God will take residence in the absence playing with presence: desire given form in prayer, poetry.
Thus, to speak of the infinite wounds upon the finite, is to speak this paradox of being in relation to time, of humans in relation to a khora. It is to return to the desert of desire, where finitude is ever-spliced with the infinite’s intrusion. This intrusion of chronos by kairos, may be felt as grace, overwhelming as the wound of beauty that calls us; it may be felt as suffering, incommensurable as the wound of injustice that beckons us. Both moves require time, and space to feel the other as other. The call to beauty, the summons toward justice: both set in motion what they require—the vehicle of desire.
It may be that philosophical discussions surrounding the Name of God after the ‘death of God’ can occur when thinking looks most like praying, when thinking admits its desire. Marion might suggest this desire as the distance between the idol and the icon. Put another way, the distance can be experienced as Eucharistic—a sacramental taste of the infinite in the finite: the grace that keeps us desirous for presence, the gift that gives us our selves even as we desire an Other.
Certainly, prayer in this sense would begin with the wager that the finite container of a word or name can bear the excess of the infinity it cannot hold. The Name would be witnessed with all its trembling, permitted its movement as well as its infinite accumulations. To keep the nominal from closure would be to permit it mobility, and therefore acknowledge its finite contingencies and its infinite possibilities.
A name that is sacramental—that plunges the infinite in the finite, that effects in part what it expresses—would be an event that opens. It would resemble Chretien’s gash made by a God that, like the encounter with the beautiful, leaves one longing for what precedes and exceeds. Or, if you like, an event of beauty (kallos) that marks love’s unhoped-for call (to kaloun) with its unforgettable wound.
Derrida and Caputo have opted to use the Name only in so far as it convicts us toward openness, rather than using the Name to convict others of a totalized truth. Consequently, the Name is no longer a means of convicting God with our de-finitions; words cannot convict God of His crime, His wounding love, His absence. Our evidence of God is God’s trauma, our scars His traces. Our desire, our hungry forgetting. It as if the event of God’s Name weakens Caputo, who in turn realizes that his words to God are not simply misfiring arrows, but rather (in prayer) the whispers ever attended, ever risked.
Here, God as sacramental presence is re-traced to its etymological roots of mysterion, mysterious absence conveyed only in secret. The word “sacrament” derives from the Latin word sacramentum—historically, the oath of allegiance or a promise given. This ‘oath of allegiance’ derives from the context of soldiers in battle. When battle images mix with sacramentality there is no doubt some confusion. Tertullian chose sacramentum in the third century to replace the original Greek word mysterion. Mysterion referred to the “secret thoughts of God, which transcend human reason and therefore must be revealed to those whom God wishes these secrets to reach.”
In this translation between secret given and promise given, Derrida marks his unease. If faith is the trust we place in the Other, will we go to war for our investment? Is there rather a way to carry our investments as secrets—praying as if a lover confessing to his beloved, or a lover keeping safe the name of one she could kill with her confession?
We return to the possibility of thinking as prayer. When Heidegger speaks against confession as conception, he does so with concern for the strangle-hold thinking that would subject God to theos (Supreme Being) or another phenomenological being (ontos). This “God” as name, as ontologically categorized, would be akin to Marion’s idol, Levinas’ totality, or Hegel’s Absolute Spirit. This “God” would deserve Derrida’s critiques of logocentrism.
Put another way, this “God” would be subsumed into phallocentrism—the illusions of “sameness” that Luce Irigaray jars. In all cases, there exists an impulse to examine the fissures, the pores, the mediated boundaries: beauty in the asymmetrical, integrity in the passage. A yearning to break mimesis’ mirror, to shatter our narcissistic fascination with being made in God’s image, or God being made in our own.
Within Caputo’s project of weak theology, prayer ushers us back to the Hebraic secret of imago dei—human beings as “saturated with God’s shadow,” not fully exposed to God’s Absolute Presence as Causa Sui. Prayer is the event where the Infinite’s parousia is felt only as the shadow or trace of God (the hem of the garment, the backside of glory). Prayer marks the terrain that Jean-Yves Lacoste characterizes as the liturgical topos.
Lacoste mediates between Marion and Derrida, acknowledging a chiaroscuro encounter with God, neither ineffable fullness nor impenetrable absence. Lacoste’s being-before-God engages the divine on the margins of experience. This marginal space or borderland, for Lacoste, serves as the subversive topos of the liturgical encounter or “nonevent.” He employs the term nonevent, or inexperience, to convey the admitted absence of conscious perceiving, the insufficiency of phenomenal disclosure.
However, even though the liturgical encounter cannot equal the parousia or Absolute appearance, the being-before-God brings all desire for the “parousiacal presence.” And this desire seems to make meaning tremble, make phenomenal disclosure move between what is and is not present. Therefore, the liturgical topos requires a “dwelling at the limit”—in spaces of prayer and praise for example.
Created by words hurled to God, these terrains subvert our relation to the place of earth, even as they provide a vantage point from which to radically engage the world. At the intersecting horizons of the “here-I-am” empirical self and the “yet-to-be” eschatological self, dasein neither dwells in the Holy Saturday aporia, nor the Heideggerian Fourfold (geviert). Appearing before God opens up a “liturgical field,” where one’s vulnerable exposition enables him to
live now in the fulfillment of God’s promises to come. Man takes hold of what is most proper to him when he chooses to encounter God….man says who he is most precisely when he accepts an existence in the image of a God who has taken humiliation upon himself—when he accepts a kenotic existence.
For Lacoste, the being exposed to God and expressing God’s image marks both an absence and a presence, a herald living as allusion. Since desire is the child of lack, faith requires kenotic abnegation; but since desire is also the child of plenty, faith requires hope in the fullness of an Absolute.
Though Lacoste resists translating his liturgical phenomenology into the details of worship, he does address how the inexperience of God affects prayer:
…the act of presence that constitutes prayer is accomplished after Easter in the element of a knowledge that perhaps leaves room for nonknowledge, but which is not endangered by this nonknowledge. To know is not to understand, and it also belongs to what we should know of God, for our knowledge to be consistent, that God give rise to thought without it ever being possible for its reflections on him to come to an end: he must continue to elude our grasp.
Prayer therefore seems akin to the being’s acceptance of temporality: both as what eludes and comes to us. The knowledge that leaves room for what is yet unknown makes possible the prayer-space. It resembles the khoratic prayer space of Caputo: marked by transient words, infinite placeholders overflowing with what cannot be held.
Caputo’s weak theology proclaims two weaknesses: the weakness of words (logoi) to contain or definitively constrain meaning, and the weakness of the God who no less risks being subject to our words, human images, because of love (kenosis of Philippians 2:7-8).
These weaknesses are not unrelated. They join in the questions of poiesis (meaning made form): God’s incarnation, humanity’s prayers… Why put in words what cannot be definitively expressed by containers? Why should a God become man and subject Himself to misunderstanding, misappropriation, abuse, crucifixion? Why should an eternal spirit take residence in flesh? Why should the spirit in us wish to articulate what should perhaps be left to groans, or silence?
To get at these paradoxes without collapsing the disproportion, Caputo begins his essay, “A Concluding Prayer,” with a word of prayer: a constraint that permits mobility, an end that irrupts an opening without crossing the chasm’s difference. Prayer-thinking attempts to maintain the aporia of an encountered alterity. It clears the way, makes possible Derrida’s desert: “the uncleared way [that is] also the condition of decision or event, which consists in opening the way, in (sur)passing, thus in going beyond…” This desert, negative theology’s words can only recall or archive in the oscillating motion of decisions. Prayer as passing, as going beyond, seems something more than the competing claims of apophasis-kataphasis. Prayer evokes a third…
II. Prayer as haesitatio: Thinking in between
What might this prayer-thinking look like? If we were to track its movement, it might initially resemble negative theology’s aphorisms. Caputo seems to suggest that it is writing and erasure, so that the Name of God might be safe from its own death. He writes that in prayer, or the event of the Name:
we are preparing for a future for which we cannot prepare, to take leave of our oldest and most revered names…That is why I concede that I write and pray with both hands, that even as I am trying to save the name of God with my right hand I am also conceding with my left that this name is not safe. I profess the name of God while making a confession that what is coming might be called something else, anything except (or “save”) God. Sauf le nom.
This explanation of thought-prayer, as a sort of sought-saying, tries to both use and rescue the Name of God—to both rest in and wrest from the containers of words. It participates (without altogether eluding) the double bind that Derrida articulates in his lecture, “Faith and Knowledge.” He articulates religion as doubly bound in the paradox of: religio (abstract scruple) and relegere (gathered many).
God abstracts from experience while attracting our every expression. We confess God as holy—wholly other, “unscathed” by any concrete claims, concepts, or tekne of being. And yet, this God asks the currency of belief—“fiduciary,” fidelity, credit, trust.
One might ask: how can I invest (believe in) no-thing, no-being? If I must not invest my this-worldly ideologies into some-Thing, some-One, where might I aim my hope, my faith, in that which exceeds ontological expression? Launch it into the desert space of khora and expect that wherever it lands is yet a lapse into the intelligible, the sensible?
Caputo’s prayer-thinking may seem a kind of hesitancy, a hyperawareness of lack, an insecurity with propositional truth. The effects of the Enlightenment’s reductions, the violence of heedless certainties, have chastened us. Now, the Name that once entitled the burning of heretics has become a coal so cool that it can hardly cleanse the lips of Isaiah (unless we crack it open or ignite it privately). The scourge of the Name is blunted, just in case it falls into the wrong hands, or is used for the most atrocious causes. It may be, as Derrida suggests, that to “lose the Name,” or to loosen it from its event, “is quite simply to respect it: as name.”
Respect can take the surname of fear, but it can also take the mannerisms of distance, closely bordering on indifference. If the Name marks one who is not only feared, but also loved—not for what its name represents, but for Who It Is, Was, and Will Be to Come (the event of God)—how should this shape its handling, its use, its lasting, from age to age? If the Name is an event that comes and goes—presence underwritten/undergone by absence—what does it matter that it occurs at all? What is the significance of the trace, the Derridean signifier whose mystery remains insofar as one of its faces is turned toward God?
There seems a discernible difference between the “something else that is taking shape, something, I know not what” and the possibility of nothing happening at all. There must be a difference between the emptying of sense (senselessness, dangerous desensitization) and the kenosis of love: the surrender, the relinquish, the deferring to the Other.
Love’s emptying might ask us to abandon all. Pseudo-Dionysius asks us to “leave behind every divine light, every voice, every word from heaven” to approach the darkness of a Love that surpasses understanding. Kierkegaard’s Abrahamic knight of faith abandons all aesthetic and ethical standards for the call of an irreducible Other. Derrida’s admired Silesius strives “to become nothing [in order to] become God.” In each case, to use the name faithfully in love is to abandon it, to make way for “giv[ing] that which it does not have, that in which and prior to everything, may consist the essence, that is to say—beyond being—the nonessence of the gift.”
For Chrétien, the voice in prayer enacts this gift. The human voice opened by prayer’s event guts out a space, “a place where the world returns to God. It gives what it does not have—which does not mean that it gives nothing—and it can itself only because it is not in possession of itself.” The human voice—dispossessed and non-possessive—becomes like khora in prayer, in the sense that it is “over there but more ‘here’ than any ‘here’.” Its abandonment, its forsaking is for the sake of an Other: the otherness of self, the possibilities of the neighbor, the yet-to-come of God’s kingdom. For every self-denial the finite makes before the Infinite Other, it is not simply praying with both hands—it is giving the upper-hand to God.
The prayer’s gift goes beyond the give and take of negative theology or even the excess and recess of Post-Heideggerian metaphysics. Here, prayer exceeds or subverts thinking because thinking provides a discourse on language, on the surfaces of saying—it can only “suspend desire…[it] leaves without ever going away.” Though Caputo does not dissociate thinking from praying, he distinguishes prayer as a thinking with and because of desire, in the Name of Desire—thinking overtaken by desire, by a thirst in search, too desperate to discard the Name and too daring to deny it altogether.
Prayer requires true dialogue, a vocative vulnerability before the other that alters (or wounds) the self. But prayer is not mere conversation between beings, or the undecidability of perpetual trial (negative theology). As Chretien notes, the self-manifestation before the divine “does not merely bring to light what was there before it; it has its own light: that of an event, the event wherein what is invisible to myself illuminates me in a fashion phenomenologically different from a conversation with myself or an examination of consciousness.” There is a certain vulnerability, as Lacoste would note in the event of exposition, that makes prayerful thinking distinct from the ambiguity of negative theology.
Prayer is not content with the “double bind” monologue of negative theology that hangs onto the “edge of language.” Negative theology stands on the edge, ready to jump, debating with itself in “two powers, two voices…declaration without appeal…without waiting for any response…soliloquy.” All along, an Other waits, extending a hand into the gelassenheit.
Thus, a negative theology that is too attached to cleverness and not grounded in love might resemble the gelassenheit as Heidegger appropriates it: the let be that opens into the abyssal chasm of no-thingness that reduces dasein to silence. In contrast, the gelassenheit gesture of prayer asks, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” It is not simply abandonment; it is trust. It approaches Kierkegaard’s love as faithful angst, an incommensurability that clears the way for Love’s intervention, God’s self-revelation.
Ashley (Gay) Graham received her Ph.D. in Religion from Emory University and her Master’s in Theological Research from Andover Newton Theological School. Graham’s manuscript, “God’s Absence is Not Nothing: Thinking the Absolute Otherwise,” pursues the perennial question of God’s alterity as it pertains to the limits of thought and the corruptibility of institutions.
 Martin Heidegger as quoted by Peter Jonkers. “God in France: Heidegger’s Legacy,” in God in France: Eight Contemporary Thinkers on God (Leuven: Peeters, 2005), 26.
 Quoted in Martha Nussbaum. “Love’s Knowledge.” Love’s Knowledge. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 261.
 John Caputo, “A Concluding Prayer—for Theology, for the Truth, for the Event,” The Weakness of God (Bloomington: The Indiana University Press, 2006), 283.
 “A Concluding Prayer” serves, in some regard, as a tribute to one of his philosophical tributaries, Emmanuel Levinas—namely in the play of adieu. See Emmanuel Levinas, “Diachrony and Representation,” Entre-Nous: On  Thinking  of the  Other (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998).
 Here, Caputo attempts to subvert (or make simultaneous) Novalis’ distinction in his Encylclopedia, “To pray is in religion what to think is in philosophy.” Quoted in Jean-Louis Chrétien’s “The Wounded Word: The Phenomenology of Prayer,” in Phenomenology and the “Theological Turn”: The French Debate (New York: Fordham University Press, 2000), 148.
 Jacques Derrida, “Khora,” in On the Name, ed. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 89.
 See Lacoste’s explication of the liturgical encounter of inexperience, of partial parousia as a nonevent that occurs on the margins of epistemological experience as eclipsed by eschatology.
 Jean-Luc Marion, “The Final Appeal of the Subject,” The Religious, ed. John D. Caputo (Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 2002), 144.
 Jacques Derrida, “Adieu,” Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas (Stanford: Stanford Unversity Press, 1997), 1-13.
 Jacques Derrida, Sovereignties in Question: The Poetics of Paul Celan, ed. Thomas Dutoit and Outi Pasanen (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005), 166-169.
 Carson, 145.
 Emmanuel Levinas, “Ethics of the Infinite,” Debates in Continental Philosophy (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004), 83-84.
 Kamienska, 120.
 “…its sense will have trembled,” “Sauf le nom,” in On the Name, 81.
 “Every time we say or pray ‘come,’ we must inevitably draw upon the reservoir of the past, invoking the names we have inherited, lest we have no vocabulary at all with which to pray.” “Concluding Prayer,” 293.
 By characterizing beauty as an event, I also allude explicitly to Bruno Forte’s fine summation, “Beauty is an event. Beauty happens when the Whole offers itself in the fragment, and when this self-giving transcends infinite distance….But is this really possible? How can the limitless inhabit what is little? How can the everlasting abbreviate itself without ceasing to be? And how can immensity become small and still exist?” Bruno Forte, The Portal of Beauty: Towards a Theological Aesthetics (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2008), vii.
 Caputo resembles Marion’s own claim, “Better still, for Marion, it is not shouting, singing, or dancing, but listening to what ‘bountiful beauty bids’…since, as he will argue, the name of God is not a name by which we name but a name by which we are named.” John Caputo, “Apostles of the Impossible: On God and the Gift in Derrida and Marion,” in God, the Gift, and Postmodernism, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 191.
 William Everett Johnson. The Politics of Worship (Cleveland: United Church Press), 63.
 James F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 181.
 Luce Irigaray, “Plato’s Hystera,” Speculum of the Other Woman, (New York: Cornelly University Press, 1985).
 This is my own translation of Genesis 1:27; in some way it is an attempt to concede to both the hyper- and hypo- ousia that Marion and Derrida (respectively) debate. In the text, bara (usually translated as God’s action of making) in other Biblical occurrences suggests saturation, a fattening or filling to fullness. And tselem, which when translated into the Latin denotes image, can also mean in the Hebrew, shadow.
 Jean-Yves Lacoste, Experience and the Absolute (New York: Fordham University Press, 2004), 46-54.
 Lacoste, 45.
 Ibid., 42-44.
 Ibid., 16-17.
 Ibid., 194.
 “A Concluding Prayer,” 141 (the italics are mine).
 “Sauf le nom,” 34.
 “A Concluding Prayer,” 294.
 Jacques Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge” Religion, ed. J. Derrida and G. Vattimo (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).
 Jacques Derrida, “Sauf le nom (post scriptum),” in On the Name, Ed. By Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 58.
 Though George Steiner’s notions of sacramentality prevent him from acknowledging the benefits of deconstruction, he quotes Derrida, “the intelligible face of the sign remains turned to the word and the face of God.” George Steiner, Real Presences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 119.
 “A Concluding Prayer,” 294.
 “Mystical Theology,” 136.
 “Sauf le nom,” 43.
 Ibid., 85.
 “Wounded Word,” 174.
 “Sauf le nom,” 56.
 Ibid., 66.
 “Wounded Word,” 154.
 “But in the element of the a priori as in that of freedom, it is our exposition to the Absolute—our ‘soul’—that constitutes the site of the liturgical experience. We are sufficiently free to open up the space for a divine visitation, and our freedom thereby establishes a transcendental possibility that it disentangles from its ambiguity.” (Lacoste, 64).
 “Sauf le nom,” 60.
 Ibid., 66-67.