I think I’ve always been on an inward journey, even before I was drawn to the Celtic way of prayer which is rooted in quest. Perhaps my Welsh, Scottish, and Irish ancestors passed this trait to me. Or perhaps it is a natural human tendency to seek something more, finer, deeper.
While in seminary working on a Master’s Degree in Spiritual Direction, I met a vital friend–a book (books have always been among my very best friends)–entitled The Cloud of Unknowing. Beautifully written in Middle English by a fourteenth century anonymous theologian, it guides one into the way of contemplative prayer. Not light reading, but reading that transforms. One of many highlights in my copy (for I can no more read without writing than I can write without reading) offers the tone of the text is this divine nutshell: “And on these two activities (the interior love for God and the outward expression of your love in relating to others) depend the whole law and the prophets, as the Scriptures say.”
How can I begin to share this book with you? I can’t. It will be for you to discover. I can only mention tidbits that have inspired my own spiritual growth.
The goal of the Cloud‘s author is to know God deeply, a goal of many spiritual thinkers, including me. He writes that he wants “to know God as he is.” To know him by love, beyond thought or a list of his attributes. “Center all your attention and desire on him and let this be the sole concern of your mind and heart. Do all in your power to forget everything else,”
This involves prayer. But not prayer as one might think. Not a repetition of words or list of God’s qualities, or focus on divine images, nor a pleading for something one wants. Rather, the Cloud‘s author says: “Prayer is simply a reverent, conscious openness to God, full of the desire to grow in goodness, and overcome evil.”
In order to do this the author says one must “beat upon that thick cloud of unknowing with the dart of your loving desire.” He explains, “Just as the cloud of unknowing lies above you, between you and your God, so you must fashion a cloud of forgetting beneath you, between you and every created thing . . . You are to concern yourself with no creature whether material or spiritual nor with their situation and doings whether good or ill . . . abandon them all beneath the cloud of forgetting.” In the beginning, a kind of darkness–a cloud of unknowing–leads you. But you will learn to feel at home in your “naked intent toward God in the depths of your being.” Here you will “see God as he is in himself.” One’s loving desire leads the way, for “man was created to love and everything else was created to make love possible” and “by the work of contemplative love man will be healed.” If you’ve interest in the path to contemplation find The Cloud of Unknowing (the edition I have is edited by William Johnston, Image Books, Doubleday, which I purchased at seminary).
In my next posting. I want to tell you about an important 5th/6th century Greek writer known as Pseudo-Dionysius, the Areopagite, who influenced the author of the Cloud. Equally enigmatic but worthy of study, his spiritual writing inspires today as centuries ago. Next time.
About the Artwork: Coming Through, oil, gallery wrap, 24″ x 18″ $875. Oh, how I love this painting! The work itself, as well as the title, simply “came to me” (my favorite way of painting). It has a spiritual toughness, a rugged presence, a beauty not of my own doing.