Cloud of Unknowing

A quote from The Cloud of Unknowing.  With apologies for the lack of inclusive language.  We have come a long way since the 14th century — at least in that area of life!


“But now you will ask me, ‘How am I to think of God himself, and what is he?’  and I cannot answer you except to say, ‘I do not know.’  For with this question you have brought me into the same darkness, the same kind of unknowing where I want you to be!  For though we through the grace of God can know fully about all other matters, and think about him – yes, even the very works of God himself – yet of God himself can no man think.

Therefore I will leave on one side everything I can think and choose for my love that thing which I cannot think!  Why?  Because God may well be loved, but not thought.  By love God can be caught and held, but by thinking never.

Therefore, though it may be good sometimes to think particularly about God’s kindness and worth, and though it may be enlightening too, and part of contemplation, yet in the work now before us it must be put down and covered with a cloud of forgetting.  And you are to step over it resolutely and eagerly, with a devout and kindling love, and try to penetrate that darkness above you.

Strike that thick cloud of unknowing with the sharp dart of longing love, and on no account whatever think of giving up…A naked intention directed to God, and himself, alone, is wholly sufficient…

If you want this intention summed up in a word to retain it more easily, take a short word, preferably of one syllable, to do so.  The shorter the word the better, being more like the working of the Spirit.  A word like ‘GOD’ or ‘LOVE’.  Choose which you like or perhaps some other…and fix this word fast to your heart, so that it is always there come what may…

So lift up your love to that cloud.  Or, more accurately, let God draw your love up to that cloud

So if you are to stand and not fall, never give up your firm intention: beat away at this cloud of unknowing between you and God with that sharp dart of longing love.  Hate to think about anything less than God, and let nothing whatever distract you from this purpose.  It is only thus that you can destroy the ground and root of sin

Work hard but a short while, and you will soon find the vastness and the difficulty of this work begin to ease.  Though in the beginning, when your devotion is negligible, it is hard and restricting, later, when devotion has come, what previously was very hard becomes much lighter, and you can relax.  You even may have little effort to make or none.  For sometimes God will do it all himself.  But not always, and never for any length of time, but when he likes, and as he likes.  And at that time you will be happy to let him have his own way.”  p. 59-87.




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