Monday, October 4, 2010

Reflections on the Cloud of Unknowing, #2

One facet of the Cloud of Unknowing that strikes me most is the anonymous author's clarity. Although he uses some expressions incomprehensible to the mind, such as how God is "nothing and nowhere," and he often speaks of paradoxes, on matters of faith he is resonatingly clear.

In my reading over the past few days, I find myself excited by the questions he posits. I write each word of the questions down, contemplating them in anticipation of the answer. The answer surprises me and brings immediate lucidity to my soul.

The truth doesn't have to confuse. Confusing the mind does not help one abandon the mind. Jesus sought to clarify, rather than confuse, with his parables. The absolute genius of the parables of Jesus lies in how we are shown the paradoxes we believe about every day life, without our even realizing they are paradoxes.

From the point of grasping the principle through the metaphoricaly imagery, somehow we grasp a deeper truth than may be explained with logic or reason. The parable of the prodigal son contains the paradox of being undeserving and yet receiving abundant reward. Another example is of the mustard seed, tinier than other seeds, which grows into a large and powerful tree.

Have you ever thought about how many paradoxes you believe every day and take for granted? What about how the sun appears to rise and set, but you also know it isn't really doing that? How about the way an electron can be either or a particle or a wave, depending on whether you are observing it or not? We don't understand these things, yet we do not question that they are.

It is possible to speak the truth with clarity and also on the level that only your soul, beyond the mere mind, is able to grasp it. Anonymous, through the Cloud of Unknowing, has helped me see the purpose of reason and its best uses. This was a welcome relief to the way I saw reason before, as something unneeded and just to be discarded in the spiritual journey.

Make no mistake, Anonymous stridently recommends that we throw everything imaginable into the "Cloud of Unknowing," and that includes good and bad, sinful and virtuous thought. However, his approach is to gradually guide his reader to this end, making sure a firm foundation is built first of pure motives and love without selfish aims. I understood for the first time who I am in relation to God, what grace is and what it takes to experience union with God.

I had come from a previous tradition that was just too convoluted and confusing for me to build up my relationship with God, which is why the structure fell apart in the end. My understanding and practice of what it means to be fulfilled have shifted towards a more productive process. I'm learning to simplify thoughts and experience their new potency.

"Motivated by a strong desire to reduce themselves to nothing, they will have a strong desire that God be all." -Anonymous, from The Cloud of Unknowing


  1. How heavily were you indoctrinated into Christianity as a child Laura? Just wondering. - 'Centering Prayer' seems like a good practice, it seems very non-mainstream Christian though, and as I researched it I saw it was heavily influenced by Buddhist prayer...interesting. I'll bet 99 out of 100 Americanized Christians have no idea of what it's about and don't practice it either. Takes too much independent thinking to consider this kind of meditation for mainstream Christians, I find it interesting that you are studying the most non-Christian like facets of the Christian least non-traditional because I think most Christians have no idea of anything concerning Christian Mysticism.... - I hope you are finding peace in your studies but I don't think this has much to do with Americanized Christianity and really sets your study apart from the people I know who claim to be christian. And even this still seems to me to be very esoteric and overly complex to me to seem very helpful to those who aren't really driven, like you, to understand more about the history and various sects of Christianity...

  2. Ronni, I actually wasn't indoctrinated. I was raised Southern Baptist but didn't have to go to church much as a child. For some odd reason, I was drawn to Catholicism in my early teens and studied on my own and found faith for the first time. I'm still not Catholic though.. just influenced. Anyway, Christian meditation evolved separately from Buddhism but are still very similar. The 14C Christian Cloud of Unknowing author writes about abandoning all thought and he writes of very Buddhist-like practices, but he didn't know of any Buddhists or even what that was. And, yes Ronni, I am ANYTHING but mainstream and really had negative feelings towards evangelical Christians growing up. I'm in this for the fulfillment its giving me on a very deep level. If I accomplish nothing else in this life, I'm going to grow as close to God as I can and live a life of giving. I'm trying to simplify what I'm learning to devise a contemplative prayer workbook :)

  3. Glad it's making you feel close to "God"....Laura and I'm assuming that's feeling good, and I'm all for feeling good!

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  6. I really like the quote it is very profound. I may look it up. I actually believe paradoxes are half illusion and half truth. The illusion arises due to a belief we can be separate from God while the truth arises when we know we can't be separated from God. I also do not believe anyone is ever unworthy and instead feel we tie ourselves into knots and come to believe we are absolutely unworthy but the worst tangle ever created could never stop God from straightening it out with the outpouring of his love.