A Series of Quotes from The Cloud of Unknowing: Moderation

no moderation“Now if you ask me what sort of moderation you should observe in the contemplative work, I will tell you: none at all.

In everything else, such as eating, drinking, and sleeping, moderation is the rule.  Avoid extremes of heat and cold; guard against too much and too little in reading, prayer, or social involvement.  In all these things, I say again, keep to the middle path.  But in love (contemplation) take no measure.  Indeed, I wish that you had never to cease from this work of love.

Perhaps by now you are wondering how to determine the proper mean in eating, drinking, sleeping, and the rest.  I will answer you briefly: be content with what comes along.  If you give yourself generously to the work of love, I feel sure you will know when to begin and end every other activity.  If only I might always be preoccupied and faithful to the work of love in my heart!  I doubt then that I would care much about my eating, drinking, sleeping, and speaking.  For certainly it is better to achieve moderation in these things through heedlessness than through anxious introspection, as if this would help determine the appropriate measure.  Surely nothing I do or say can really bring this about.  Let others say what they will; experience is my witness.”

- The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 41, 42

Psalm 62

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.

He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress;
I shall not be greatly shaken.

How long will all of you attack a man to batter him,
like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
They only plan to thrust him down from his high position.
They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths,
but inwardly they curse.

Selah.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.

Selah.

Those of low estate are but a breath;
those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.

Put no trust in extortion;
set no vain hopes on robbery;if riches increase, set not your heart on them.

Once God has spoken;
twice I have heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man according to his work.

So Many Skins

meister

“A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves. Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox’s or bear’s, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.”

- Meister Eckhart

A Poem by St. John of the Cross

His experience of the soul’s seeking, and finding, its Beloved God…

One dark night, fired with love’s urgent longings
-ah, the sheer grace!-
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
-ah, the sheer grace!-
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
-him I knew so well-
there in a place where no one appeared.

O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

- St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul

Intimacy with God: Review

Intimacy with God: An Introduction to Centering PrayerSynopsis:  “We are summoned into the presence of God by the fact of our birth, but we become present to God only by our consent.  As our faculties and capacities to relate gradually develop and unfold, the capacity to enter into relationship with God increases, and each new depth of presence requires a new consent.”  Intimacy with God: An Introduction to Centering Prayer, by Thomas Keating, is a book about consent.  Consent to let God be God in our lives.  But the consent that Keating refers to is not a one time, 10 second prayer, in which we superficially (or even sincerely) ask God to work in us; it is a sustained commitment to give God what He needs to transform us, our time and attention.  By practicing what Keating calls Centering Prayer, we can learn to be truly present to God and find the Intimacy through which (and only through which) we will be changed.

Overview: Throughout the book, Keating addresses all things Centering Prayer, including its origins, its theological basis, the psychology it produces, the wider Christian contemplative tradition, and his vision for how it (and through “it,” God) can be an agent of change in our times.  I’ll look at several chapters in which Keating describes origins, the method itself, and a model for how to understand the experience psychologically.

The Origins of Centering Prayer:  Although Christianity has a wide contemplative tradition stemming from the New Testament and running through the Greek and Desert Fathers (Evagrius, John Cassian, St. John Climacus, the Philokalia, etc.), the Patristic age (Augustine, Gregory the Great, Pseudo Dionysius), the Middle Ages (Eckhart, Ruysbroek, Julian of Norwich, Richard Rolle),  and post-Reformation (Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Francis de Sales, Thomas Merton), Keating traces the origins of Centering Prayer to an anonymously written 14th Century mystical text called The Cloud of Unknowing.  The author of this work taught a method of prayer that was designed to foster the inner quiet which would lead to “the contemplative attitudes of listening and receptivity” and, ultimately, to what mystics might call “union with God.”  It was a simple method of prayer, and variants of it can be seen in the writings of mystics from a host of time periods and religious traditions.  According to Keating, the term “Centering Prayer” comes from the works of Thomas Merton, and began being widely used in Catholic monastic communities in the mid-1970s.  This term is synonymous with the method of prayer taught in The Cloud of Unknowing.  So….Centering Prayer = Cloud of Unkowing in a new package.

The Method:  Ok, so The Cloud of Unknowing, the Christian Contemplative tradition, blah blah blah, yada yada yada. What is Centering Prayer!?  Here’s how Keating describes the method…

1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.

2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.

3. When you become aware of thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.

4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

So basically it’s just sitting there :)  To be honest I don’t know why #4 is included on the list, but whatev.  Essentially what you are doing is using a word (often “God” or “love”) to symbolize your intention to focus on God and stop your mind from wandering off into a million different directions.  The goal is to remain present to God and cultivate the interior silence that makes that possible.  As Keating describes…

The focusing process that the sacred word serves is not to bring a particular face, object, or symbol into focus in the imagination, but to focus our intention when it gets fuzzy.  Intention is the most important factor in any contemplative prayer practice, but especially in Centering Prayer, in which our only activity consists in maintaining our intention to consent to God’s presence and action during the time of prayer.  The intention becomes fuzzy when we are pulled back to our ordinary level of awareness by attraction or aversion to some thought, feeling, or impression….(and you use the word to bring you back).

To sum up, we use the sacred word only as a focusing apparatus to bring our intention into full clarity, whenever, because of the weakness of human nature and the fact that the emotional programs for happiness in the unconscious are still active, we need some means of returning to our original intention – that is, consent to God’s presence and action within us.  With regular practice, we develop a certain ease in promptly letting go.  We then enter into the cloud of unknowing, which develops through repeated acts of small consent.

The “sacred word” is used to battle the millions of thoughts and distractions that will inevitably arise in our heads when we try to sit still.  Without a method of focus, Centering Prayer time just becomes “sitting and thinking about things.”  By training ourselves to focus our intention, we can move past those distractions into the experience of God.

It’s important to note that Centering Prayer one form of prayer.  It is receptive.  In it, we are not bringing requests to God or setting the agenda, we are simply remaining open to receive what we need to receive.

The Effect and Pyschology of Centering Prayer:  Keating describes the effects of Centering Prayer in a variety of ways: “Divine Psychotherapy,” becoming “Healed”, “Living from our center,” and “Divinization” (the process of becoming more like God).  What it seems to boil down to is basically being open to the activity of God and “letting Him do what He wants to do.”  In the experience of those who practice this form of prayer, God as Therapist, healing, being empowered to live from your “center,” and becoming more like God all seem like accurate descriptions of the effects.  In the following passage, Keating explores the process in terms of therapy:

Here is another model that might be appropriate for our time, at least for the Western word, which has been so influenced by contemporary psychology.  I call this paradigm for spiritual growth the “Divine Therapy.”  Therapy suggests a climate of friendship and trust that a topnotch therapist is able to inspire, while at the same time emphasizing that we come to therapy with a variety of serious emotional or mental problems.  The human race, as a whole, is a sick species…most people are not aware of their illness or how very sick they are.  They do not have an adequate diagnosis of the human condition in general or their own weakness in particular.  Hence they do not reach out for the kind of assistance that they need in order to recover.

One of the great strengths of the Twelve Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous is that it emphasizes how serious one’s illness actually is.  Participants in AA know that their lives are unmanageable and will never become manageable unless they work the twelve steps.  In actual fact, most humans suffer from the serious illness that Ann Wilson Schaef calls “The Addictive Process” – indeed, as high as 98 percent of the population in the Western world, according to some recent statistics.  Personally, I have never met anyone from the other 2 percent!  The addictive process as a psychological term parallels what theology in the Christian tradition calls “the consequences of original sin,” only in much greater detail.  The addictive process manifests itself according to the circumstances and personality in one or another of the many addictions that can now be treated by various Twelve Step programs.  The advantage of being an addict is that you know that you will never get well without help.  Unfortunately, the average practicing Christian, because of a certain modicum of respectability, does not seem to know this.  It is not until the addiction gradually gets so bad and all semblance of functionality breaks down that one finally recognizes it.  The practical question for all of us is “How addicted are we?”

The consequences of original sin according to traditional theology are three: illusion, concupiscence, and weakness of will.  Illusion means that although we are irresistibly programmed for boundless happiness in a way that is inherent to human nature, we do not know where true happiness is to be found.  Concupiscence means that we seek happiness in the wrong places or too much happiness in the right places.  And finally, if we ever reach the point of finding out where true happiness is to be found, our will is too weak to pursue it.  What is different about this teaching from the proclamation of the first step of the Twelve Step program of AA that “my life is unmanageable?”  If one accepts the traditional doctrine of the consequences of original sin, the freedom to manage one’s life is severely limited.  It is on the basis of complete helplessness apart from the grace of God that the whole idea of redemption rests.

Once we reach the bottom line of the diagnosis, we do not have to wait until things fall completely apart to recognize the seriousness of our illness.  We can start at once by taking preventive therapy designed to heal the roots of developing addictive processes before they become full blown.  The gospel addresses the human condition just as it is.  “Repent” – that fundamental call in the gospel to begin the healing process – means “change the direction in which you are looking for happiness.”  The various orientations for happiness that we brought with us from early childhood are not working.  They are slowly killing us.  If we respond to the invitation to repent addressed to us so lovingly by the divine physician, we can begin at once to take advantage of the Divine Therapy.

Keating goes on to discuss the development of the “false self” and the process by which God acts as the Divine Therapist when we allow Him to.

Regardless of how one conceptualizes the effects of Centering Prayer, the themes of inner healing, peace, and a changed character will likely emerge.  Whether these effects are real or imagined is an open question :)

Personal Takeaways:  The Cloud of Unknowing is my favorite “mystical text.”  I was introduced to it several years ago and the method of prayer described in it and Keating’s work have been extremely helpful in my own spiritual journey.  The method takes practice and commitment before it becomes anything more than just sitting and “thinking your thoughts.”  But over time, I do feel like this way of clearing my mind and focusing my intention has helped me “experience God” and allowed Him to take action in my life.  I have, in small steps, been learning to take the advice of The Cloud:

To put it more simply, let that mysterious grace move in your spirit as it will and follow wherever it leads you.  Let it be the active doer and you the passive receiver.  Do not meddle with it, but let it be for fear you spoil it entirely.  Your part is to be as wood to a carpenter or a home to a dweller.  Remain blind during this time cutting away all desire to know, for knowledge is a hindrance here.  Be content to feel this mysterious grace sweetly awaken in the depths of your spirit.

Final Thoughts:  A repackaging of old ideas.  Keating along with authors like Basil Pennington and Cynthia Bourgeault offer a great introduction to Centering Prayer.  Read it next to The Cloud.  The hard part is not just understanding the method, it’s having the discipline to put it into practice.  I’m semi-convinced that Centering Prayer is the solution to all of life’s problems.

To put it more simply, let that mysterious grace move in your spirit as it will and follow wherever it leads you.  Let it be the active doer and you the passive receiver.  Do not meddle with it, but let it be for fear you spoil it entirely.  Your part is to be as wood to a carpenter or a home to a dweller.  Remain blind during this time cutting away all desire to know, for knowledge is a hindrance here.  Be content to feel this mysterious grace sweetly awaken in the depths of your spirit.  Forget everything but God and fix on him your naked desire, your longing stripped of all self interest… – See more at: http://www.walkingtowardsthelight.org/quote-cloud-unknowing-passive-reciever/#sthash.ZYRtPVoB.dpuf

Also…a video from Keating which speaks of such things:

To put it more simply, let that mysterious grace move in your spirit as it will and follow wherever it leads you.  Let it be the active doer and you the passive receiver.  Do not meddle with it, but let it be for fear you spoil it entirely.  Your part is to be as wood to a carpenter or a home to a dweller.  Remain blind during this time cutting away all desire to know, for knowledge is a hindrance here.  Be content to feel this mysterious grace sweetly awaken in the depths of your spirit.  Forget everything but God and fix on him your naked desire, your longing stripped of all self interest… – See more at: http://www.walkingtowardsthelight.org/quote-cloud-unknowing-passive-reciever/#sthash.ZYRtPVoB.dpuf
To put it more simply, let that mysterious grace move in your spirit as it will and follow wherever it leads you.  Let it be the active doer and you the passive receiver.  Do not meddle with it, but let it be for fear you spoil it entirely.  Your part is to be as wood to a carpenter or a home to a dweller.  Remain blind during this time cutting away all desire to know, for knowledge is a hindrance here.  Be content to feel this mysterious grace sweetly awaken in the depths of your spirit.  Forget everything but God and fix on him your naked desire, your longing stripped of all self interest… – See more at: http://www.walkingtowardsthelight.org/quote-cloud-unknowing-passive-reciever/#sthash.ZYRtPVoB.dpuf

Virtues and Vices

virtueThe All-Inclusive Vice is Self-Centeredness and the All-Inclusive Virtue is Other-Centeredness.

All the other ones are wrapped up in those Big Two.

And the virtuous life is the good life.

Freedom from Self

ego“Conversion, the movement toward the Lord, is a process of disenchantment with the ego, recognizing how truly afraid and poor it is.  The only way people can ever be freed from their fears is to be freed from themselves.  There is almost a complete correlation between the amount of fear in our lives and the amount of attachment we have to ourselves.  The person who is beyond fear has given up the need to control or possess.  That one says, I am who I am in God’s eyes – nothing more, nothing less.  I don’t need to impress you because I am who I am, and not who you think I am – or who I think I am.

That one doesn’t need the false self.  You have faced the enemy once and for all and, guess what?  It’s you!”

- Richard Rohr, Radical Grace:Daily Meditations

Reluctant Saint

Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi (Compass)“Francis was no theoretician of the spiritual life.  He never spoke of God in any but experiential terms, because he was a witness to a living and acting God.  He could speak only of what he saw, heard and felt.  In this regard, he remains before us, across the centuries, as an example of what God can do – which is primarily to astonish, to alter radically the way we live and move.  In the dramatic passages of his own life, and the remarkable ways in which a genial but rather shallow young playboy became a model of service to the world, he revealed that God is present in time and history.  In other words, he has such credibility because he demonstrated that we are at our best when we dare to allow God into our lives.

The extremes of Francis’s life, during which he passed from playboy to penitent to poor man to saint, reveal an individual who stood at the margin of the world.  In his identification with those whom polite society rejects, Francis called into question the folly of relying on money, goods and material things for happiness.  He is a figure who appeals to just about everyone, probably because (unlike most saints) he is not Roman Catholic property.  The first great modern biography was written by a French Protestant; one of the most important historians of Franciscanism was an Anglican bishop; a powerful novel of his life was written by a Greek Orthodox; and when the Dalai Lama was photographed at a peace conference in Assisi, he chose to be seated at the place Francis most loved, where he died.

Much in this man’s life remains hidden and ambiguous, but one thing is clear beyond argument: for the second half of his life, he was haunted by the presence of God, even as he was suffering most from the ravages of serious disease, blindness and the dissolution of his most cherished hopes.  In a way, his life sometimes seems (but only seems) a long struggle with futility; this, I think, is the key to understanding him.”

- Donald Spoto, Reluctant Saint

Great, realistic, and sober biography of Francis of Assisi.  A great man.

Crimes and Misdemeanors

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This movie is a hot mess of the interplay between moral philosophy and the existence/non-existence of God…and I mean that in the best way possible.  Just watched Woody’s newest, Blue Jasmine.  All I can say is “Wha happened?“  His old stuff is still good though…

Karl Barth on the Word of God

karl barth“This is what we mean when we call the Bible God’s Word…The Bible is God’s Word to the extent that God causes it to be His Word, to the extent He speaks through it…The Bible, then, becomes God’s Word in this event, and in the statement that the Bible is God’s Word, the little word “is” refers to its being in this becoming.”

- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics

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For Barth, the Bible is not God’s Word in itself.  The words of Scripture become God’s Word when the Holy Spirit addresses us through the text.  On this view, the Word of God is not a text, but an event.

An option for a theology of Scripture…

A Thought on our Motivations

motivationMost of us are motivated primarily by:

    1. The felt evolutionary-biological need to reproduce.
    2. Our own vanity.

I’m not sure which is a function of the other.

The saints, losing their individual wills, are motivated by the love of God and neighbor.  Every once in a while we get the chance to experience what the saints do.  And it’s nice.

A Series of Quotes from the Cloud of Unknowing: Be a Passive Receiver

10993325-wood-workshop-carpenter-working-with-chiselIt’s God’s work, not yours:

Beware of pride; it is blasphemy against God in his gifts and it makes the sinner bold.  If you were really humble you would understand what I am trying to say.  Contemplative prayer is God’s gift, wholly gratuitous.  No one can earn it.  It is in the nature of this gift that one who receives it receives also the aptitude for it.  No one can have the aptitude without the gift itself.  The aptitude for this work is one with the work; they are identical.  He who experiences God working in the depths of his spirit has the aptitude for contemplation and no one else.  For without God’s grace a person would be so completely insensitive to the reality of contemplative prayer that he would be unable to desire or long for it.  You possess it to the extent that you will and desire to possess it, no more no less.  But you will never desire to possess it until that which is ineffable and unknowable moves you to desire the ineffable and unknowable.  Do not be curious to know more, I beg you.  Only become increasingly faithful to this work until it becomes your whole life. 

To put it more simply, let that mysterious grace move in your spirit as it will and follow wherever it leads you.  Let it be the active doer and you the passive receiver.  Do not meddle with it, but let it be for fear you spoil it entirely.  Your part is to be as wood to a carpenter or a home to a dweller.  Remain blind during this time cutting away all desire to know, for knowledge is a hindrance here.  Be content to feel this mysterious grace sweetly awaken in the depths of your spirit.  Forget everything but God and fix on him your naked desire, your longing stripped of all self interest…

-The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 34

Three Questions

three-questionsIt once occurred to a certain king, that if he always knew the right time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to listen to, and whom to avoid; and, above all, if he always knew what was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything he might undertake.

And this thought having occurred to him, he had it proclaimed throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to any one who would teach him what was the right time for every action, and who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was the most important thing to do.

And learned men came to the King, but they all answered his questions differently.

In reply to the first question, some said that to know the right time for every action, one must draw up in advance, a table of days, months and years, and must live strictly according to it. Only thus, said they, could everything be done at its proper time. Others declared that it was impossible to decide beforehand the right time for every action; but that, not letting oneself be absorbed in idle pastimes, one should always attend to all that was going on, and then do what was most needful. Others, again, said that however attentive the King might be to what was going on, it was impossible for one man to decide correctly the right time for every action, but that he should have a Council of wise men, who would help him to fix the proper time for everything.

But then again others said there were some things which could not wait to be laid before a Council, but about which one had at once to decide whether to undertake them or not. But in order to decide that, one must know beforehand what was going to happen. It is only magicians who know that; and, therefore, in order to know the right time for every action, one must consult magicians.

Equally various were the answers to the second question. Some said, the people the King most needed were his councillors; others, the priests; others, the doctors; while some said the warriors were the most necessary.

To the third question, as to what was the most important occupation: some replied that the most important thing in the world was science. Others said it was skill in warfare; and others, again, that it was religious worship.

All the answers being different, the King agreed with none of them, and gave the reward to none. But still wishing to find the right answers to his questions, he decided to consult a hermit, widely renowned for his wisdom.

The hermit lived in a wood which he never quitted, and he received none but common folk. So the King put on simple clothes, and before reaching the hermit’s cell dismounted from his horse, and, leaving his body-guard behind, went on alone.

When the King approached, the hermit was digging the ground in front of his hut. Seeing the King, he greeted him and went on digging. The hermit was frail and weak, and each time he stuck his spade into the ground and turned a little earth, he breathed heavily.

The King went up to him and said: “I have come to you, wise hermit, to ask you to answer three questions: How can I learn to do the right thing at the right time? Who are the people I most need, and to whom should I, therefore, pay more attention than to the rest? And, what affairs are the most important, and need my first attention?”

The hermit listened to the King, but answered nothing. He just spat on his hand and recommenced digging.

“You are tired,” said the King, “let me take the spade and work awhile for you.”

“Thanks!” said the hermit, and, giving the spade to the King, he sat down on the ground.

When he had dug two beds, the King stopped and repeated his questions. The hermit again gave no answer, but rose, stretched out his hand for the spade, and said:

“Now rest awhile-and let me work a bit.”

But the King did not give him the spade, and continued to dig. One hour passed, and another. The sun began to sink behind the trees, and the King at last stuck the spade into the ground, and said:

“I came to you, wise man, for an answer to my questions. If you can give me none, tell me so, and I will return home.”

“Here comes some one running,” said the hermit, “let us see who it is.”

The King turned round, and saw a bearded man come running out of the wood. The man held his hands pressed against his stomach, and blood was flowing from under them. When he reached the King, he fell fainting on the ground moaning feebly. The King and the hermit unfastened the man’s clothing. There was a large wound in his stomach. The King washed it as best he could, and bandaged it with his handkerchief and with a towel the hermit had. But the blood would not stop flowing, and the King again and again removed the bandage soaked with warm blood, and washed and rebandaged the wound. When at last the blood ceased flowing, the man revived and asked for something to drink. The King brought fresh water and gave it to him. Meanwhile the sun had set, and it had become cool. So the King, with the hermit’s help, carried the wounded man into the hut and laid him on the bed. Lying on the bed the man closed his eyes and was quiet; but the King was so tired with his walk and with the work he had done, that he crouched down on the threshold, and also fell asleep—so soundly that he slept all through the short summer night. When he awoke in the morning, it was long before he could remember where he was, or who was the strange bearded man lying on the bed and gazing intently at him with shining eyes.

“Forgive me!” said the bearded man in a weak voice, when he saw that the King was awake and was looking at him.

“I do not know you, and have nothing to forgive you for,” said the King.

“You do not know me, but I know you. I am that enemy of yours who swore to revenge himself on you, because you executed his brother and seized his property. I knew you had gone alone to see the hermit, and I resolved to kill you on your way back. But the day passed and you did not return. So I came out from my ambush to find you, and I came upon your bodyguard, and they recognized me, and wounded me. I escaped from them, but should have bled to death had you not dressed my wound. I wished to kill you, and you have saved my life. Now, if I live, and if you wish it, I will serve you as your most faithful slave, and will bid my sons do the same. Forgive me!”

The King was very glad to have made peace with his enemy so easily, and to have gained him for a friend, and he not only forgave him, but said he would send his servants and his own physician to attend him, and promised to restore his property.

Having taken leave of the wounded man, the King went out into the porch and looked around for the hermit. Before going away he wished once more to beg an answer to the questions he had put. The hermit was outside, on his knees, sowing seeds in the beds that had been dug the day before.

The King approached him, and said:

“For the last time, I pray you to answer my questions, wise man.”

“You have already been answered!” said the hermit, still crouching on his thin legs, and looking up at the King, who stood before him.

“How answered? What do you mean?” asked the King.

“Do you not see,” replied the hermit. “If you had not pitied my weakness yesterday, and had not dug those beds for me, but had gone your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have repented of not having stayed with me. So the most important time was when you were digging the beds; and I was the most important man; and to do me good was your most important business. Afterwards when that man ran to us, the most important time was when you were attending to him, for if you had not bound up his wounds he would have died without having made peace with you. So he was the most important man, and what you did for him was your most important business. Remember then: there is only one time that is important—Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most necessary man is he with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with any one else: and the most important affair is, to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!”

-Leo Tolstoy, “Three Questions” – Twenty Three Tales

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The most important time is now.

The most important person is the one you are with.

The most important thing to concern yourself with is to do them good.

A Series of Quotes from the Cloud of Unknowing: Sin Destroyed and Goodness Nourished

killing-sinIn Chapter 12, Anonymous tells his novice “That in contemplation sin is destroyed and every kind of goodness is nourished”:

And so to stand firmly and avoid pitfalls, keep to the path you are on.  Let your longing relentlessly beat upon the cloud of unknowing that lies between you and your God.  Pierce that cloud with the keen shaft of your love, spurn the thought of anything less than God, and do not give up this work for anything For the contemplative work of love by itself will eventually heal you of all the roots of sin Fast as much as you like, watch far into the night, rise long before dawn, discipline your body, and if it were permitted – which it is not – put out your eyes, tear out your tongue, plug up your ears and nose, and cut off your limbs; yes, chastise your body with every discipline and you would still gain nothing.  The desire and tendency toward sin would remain in your heart…

The work of love not only heals the roots of sin, but nurtures practical goodness.  When it is authentic you will be sensitive to every need and respond with a generosity unspoiled by selfish intent.  Anything you attempt to do without this love will certainly be imperfect, for it is sure to be marred by ulterior motives.

Genuine goodness is a matter of habitually acting and responding appropriately in each situation, as it arises, moved always by the desire to please God.  He alone is the pure source of all goodness and if a person is motivated by something else besides God, even though God is first, then his virtue is imperfect.  This is evident in the case of two virtues in particular, humility and brotherly love.  Whoever acquires these habits of mind and manner needs no others, for he will posses everything. 

-The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 12

Donnie Darko

Now that I’m recommending movies, just have to put down my all time favorite, even if there isn’t much theological import outside of some struggling with the problem of evil.


Close this tab.

Somehow attain this movie.

View.

Clean up the goop spilling out of your ears due to your mind being blown.

Cafe

First movie recommendation on the blog.  Café.  It’s on Netflix.  Theological motifs sprinkled liberally.  The trailer makes it look like a romantic comedy.  It’s not.  That’s like one of six storylines running through the film.  Whoever did that trailer should be fired.

You’re going to like the way it looks, I guarantee it.

 

A Series of Quotes from The Cloud of Unknowing: Using One Word

Sketch-2011-02-02-15_21_21In Chapter 7, Anonymous gives practical advice on how avoid distracting thoughts during contemplative prayer…

It is inevitable that ideas will arise in your mind and try to distract you in a thousand ways.  They will question you saying, “What are you looking for, what do you want?”  To all of them you must reply, “God alone I seek and desire, only him.”

If they ask, “Who is this God?”, tell them that he is the God who created you, redeemed you, and brought you to this work.  Say to your thoughts, “You are powerless to grasp him.  Be still.”  Dispel them by turning to Jesus with loving desire.  Don’t be surprised if your thoughts seem holy and valuable for prayer.  Probably you will find yourself thinking about the wonderful qualities of Jesus, his sweetness, his love, his graciousness, his mercy.  But if you pay attention to these ideas they will have gained what they wanted of you, and will go on chattering until they divert you even more to the thought of his passion.  Then will come ideas about his great kindness, and if you keep listening they will be delighted.  Soon you will be thinking about your sinful life and perhaps in this connection you will recall some place where you have lived in the past, until suddenly, before you know it, your mind is completely scattered.

And yet they were not bad thoughts.  Actually, they were good and holy thoughts, so valuable, in fact, that anyone who expects to advance without having meditated often on his own sinfulness, the Passion of Christ, and the kindness, goodness, and dignity of God, will most certainly go astray and fail in his purpose.  But a person who has long pondered these things must eventually leave them behind beneath a cloud of forgetting if he hopes to pierce the cloud of unknowing that lies between him and his God.  So whenever you feel drawn by grace to the contemplative work and are determined to do it, simply raise your heart to God with a gentle stirring of love.  Think only of God, the God who created you, redeemed you, and guided you to this work.  Allow no other ideas about God to enter your mind.  Yet even this is too much.  A naked intent toward God, the desire for him alone, is enough.

If you want to gather all your desire into one simple word that the mind can easily retain, choose a short word rather than a long one.  A one-syllable word such as “God’ or “love” is best.  But choose one that is meaningful to you.  Then fix it in your mind so that it will remain there come what may.  This word will be your defense in conflict and peace.  Use it to beat upon the cloud of darkness above you and to subdue all distractions, consigning them to the cloud of forgetting beneath you.  Should some thought go on annoying you demanding to know what you are doing, answer with this one word alone.  If your mind begins to intellectualize over the meaning and connotations of this little word, remind yourself that its value lies in its simplicity.  Do this and I assure you these thoughts will vanish.  Why?  Because you have refused to develop them with arguing. 

- The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 7

A Series of Quotes from The Cloud of Unknowing: A Cloud of Forgetting

guy-forgettingIn Chapter 5, Anonymous counsels that “during contemplative prayer, all created things and their works must be buried beneath the cloud of forgetting.”

If you wish to enter into this cloud, to be at home in it, and to take up the contemplative work of love as I urge you to, there is something else you must do.  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.  The cloud of unknowing will perhaps leave you with the feeling that you are far from God.  But no, if it is authentic, only the absence of a cloud of forgetting keeps you from him now.  Every time I say “all creatures,” I refer not only to every created thing but also to all their circumstances and activities.  I make no exception.  You are to concern yourself with no creature whether material or spiritual nor with their situation and doings whether good or ill.  To put it briefly, during this work you must abandon them all beneath the cloud of forgetting.

For although at certain times and in certain circumstances it is necessary and useful to dwell on the particular situation and activity of people and things, during this work it is almost useless.  Thinking and remembering are forms of spiritual understanding in which the eye of the spirit is opened and closed upon things as the eye of a marksman is on his target.  But I tell you that everything you dwell upon during this work becomes an obstacle to union with God.  For if you mind is cluttered with these concerns there is no room for him.

- The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 5