One of the great spiritual classics which has impacted me from a very early stage of my journey is The Cloud of Unknowing, a work which has been around for many centuries, but whose author remains a mystery. This classic speaks of a paradox in the journey towards union with and knowledge of God:
What I am describing here is the contemplative work of the spirit. It is this which gives God the greatest delight...So diligently persevere until you feel joy in it. For in the beginning it is usual to feel nothing but a kind of darkness about your mind, or as it were, a cloud of unknowing. You will seem to know nothing, and to feel nothing, except a naked intent towards God in the depths of your being. Try as you might, this darkness and this cloud will remain between you and your God. You will feel frustrated, for your mind will be unable to grasp him, and your heart will not relish the delight of his love. But learn to be at home in this darkness. Return to it as often as you can, letting your spirit cry out to him whom you love. For if, in this life, you hope to feel and see God as he is in himself, it must be within this darkness and this cloud.The attitude stands in stark contrast to many popular notions which invite us towards greater certainty. Instead, it is in the cloud of unknowing, the place where we leave behind certainties and preconceptions that we are invited to commune with God. While much of our wrestling seeks to place God in the frameworks of our present understanding, here we are invited to an openness which can be at first disturbing.
Knowledge of God is a lot like love itself. When one has truly experienced it, words fail to convey the fullness of the experience. As one is immersed into love, where it infiltrates and renews every aspect of life, so full knowledge of God impacts us most profoundly. Yet the greatest frustration emanates from the numinous nature of the experience. Too often we find ourselves trapped in the mind - in rational thoughts - rather than released into the depths of the heart wherein our true passions are shaped and nurtured.
thinkers have shaped much of life, but the great lovers, those with the
deepest passions have shaped us even more deeply: the Wilberforces, Mother
Teresas, Luther Kings and Mandelas; people of great intellect, but an even
greater and irresistible passion which is beyond words.
To embrace a cloud of unknowing is to be invited into a profound relationship with God, which will erupt into words, but much much more.
June 17, 2007