A Series of Quotes from The Cloud of Unknowing: Contemplative Work of the Spirit

cloudThe Cloud of Unknowing is an anonymously written 14th Century mystical text.  Standing in the line of St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Meister Eckhart, and drawing on Dionysius the Areopagite, its author aims to instruct souls in the way of contemplation.

It will blow your mind.

In this first excerpt, our author describes “How contemplation shall be done, and its excellence over all other works”…

“This is what you are to do: lift your heart up to the Lord, with a gentle stirring of love desiring him for his own sake and not for his gifts.  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, keeping your thoughts and desires free from any involvement with any of God’s creatures or their affairs whether in general or particular.  Perhaps this will seem like an irresponsible attitude, but I tell you, let them all be; pay no attention to them.

What I am describing here is the contemplative work of the spirit.  It is this which gives God the greatest delight.  For when you fix your love on him, forgetting all else, the saints and angels rejoice and hasten to assist you in every way – though the devils will rage and ceaselessly conspire to thwart you.   Your fellow men are marvelously enriched by this work of yours, even if you may not fully understand how; the souls in purgatory are touched, for their suffering is eased by the effects of this work; and, of course, your own spirit is purified and strengthened by this contemplative work more than by all others put together.  Yet for all this, when God’s grace arouses you to enthusiasm, it becomes the lightest sort of work there is and one most willingly done.  Without his grace, however, it is very difficult and almost, I should say, quite beyond you.

And 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 toward God in the depths of your being.  Try as you might, this darkness and this cloud will remIan 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.  But if you strive to fix your love on him forgetting all else, which is the work of contemplation I have urged you to begin, I am confident that God in his goodness will bring you to a deep experience of himself.”

- The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter III

The Cloud of Unknowing: and The Book of Privy Counseling (Image Book Original)