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Author Topic: The Cloud of the Unknowing  (Read 1249 times)
Alan
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« on: November 21, 2011, 07:18:20 AM »

I took a browse through CAF Spirituality forum and found a thread on the Cloud of Unknowing, a book written by an unknown author something like 700 years ago, that is considered to be a masterpiece in mystical literature.

There are many translations and versions available.  The one I read was by William Johnston:
http://www.amazon.com/Cloud-Unknowing-Privy-Counseling-Original/dp/0385030975/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1321877672&sr=8-1

Here is a link to the thread at CAF in case anyone is interested in checking it out:
http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=617924

Here's what I posted on CAF in my reply:
--------------------------------------------------------------
It was several years ago when I read it, but it fired me up because I was participating in a contemplative prayer form at the time.

I think it promotes silent prayer, but not necessarily that anybody in particular should pray that way, or for that matter that anybody in particular should read the book at all.  The author prefers that if one is not drawn to the book, one should not read it at all.

To me the "Cloud of the Unknowing" is the entire God-ness beyond our comprehension.

If we take everything we know, everything we believe, everything we can dream, everything we can think or imagine, and put it all together, this is our "Cloud of Knowing."

As long as we are in the Cloud of Knowing, then we are not reaching beyond our own selves or really growing.  Not to say we can't do good work within the Cloud of Knowing -- I'll get to that in a minute.

Anything we already know or can think cannot describe God.  We have bajillions of "names" and "descriptions" of God, and EVERY SINGLE ONE of them is borne of human thought.  In fact, if we put it into words at all, it is by definition a human product, crafted from skills that are within our Cloud of Knowing.

God's native language is silence.  Hence, silent prayer gets our own "stream of consciousness" out of the way so that God can speak directly to our hearts without our minds getting in the way.  It's like going into our "inner room" as Jesus told us to do when we pray -- He didn't mean a literal room, because most houses then were one-room houses anyway.  He meant to shut out distractions and allow God to speak to us without our usual stream of perceptions and consciousness to get in the way -- to shut out distractions.

Matt 6:6-8
But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.  In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

And we are not "focusing" on a word.  We are "using" the word as a gentle reminder to ourselves to let go of whatever thoughts our minds want to travel, because if we're thinking consciously, then our mind may be too busy running around in the Cloud of Knowing to even notice the Cloud of the Unknowing, which is infinitely bigger than the knowing.  I like to think of the "sacred word" as a distraction from distractions.  If we are doing silent prayer and thoughts "pop into our heads" we use this word as a signal of willingness to let go of those thoughts, distracting our minds, if you will, from going down the path of investigation of that thought following its (our mind's) own devices.  So the word itself means nothing to us in silent prayer.  That's why you get to choose your own word, and the author stresses it should be a simple word.  It could be "God" or "Jesus" or "sin" or even an image in our mind -- maybe a bit like a "focal point" like in LaMaze classes.

We can get beyond the Cloud of Knowing in many ways.  For example, other people can do things and inspire us to levels we hadn't thought of before -- and thus may take us into new regions of our thoughts and imagination -- the Cloud of Unknowing.  Circumstances can give us feelings, thoughts, and experiences we've never had before.  Doing good works can change us in ways we couldn't have imagined before we actually did them.  Accepting kind works by others can as well.  Good things happening to us can take us to new heights.  Bad things happening to us can take us to new heights.

Oh gosh, so much to say.  I love the whole concept of the Cloud of the Unknowing.  The whole concept has done much for me, in addition to what was actually written in the book.  In fact, it's been long enough ago in my own spiritual journey that I don't honestly know how much of what I'm even writing here was actually in the book, how much was from videos I've watched of priests and monks talking about the book, and how much I've come to think of myself in one way or another.

That's another reason we should love our enemies, listen to people who have different points of view -- even if presented in an obnoxious way.  We will never learn or grow if we only hang around people like us or listen to those with whom we already agree.  This is our "comfort zone."  Get out of the comfort zone and allow yourself to grow.  Even seemingly objectionable people -- judgmental, mean, arrogant, stupid, annoying, etc. -- can take us into the Cloud of the Unknowing.

To me, the Cloud of the Unknowing has inspired me to always look beyond myself ... let myself go places I couldn't imagine.  Let God work in me through silence.  Maybe the author doesn't say this (or maybe so -- like I said it's been a long time) but after we get good at contemplation, we can experience each moment allowing ourselves to be constantly open to the Unknowing.  To me, this is the meaning of the words (which are often attributed to St. Francis but I've heard they may not have actually been from him) "pray always, use words when necessary."

Many people feel nothing at all during silent prayer.  The test, and the benefit from silent prayer is the transformation we undergo at the hand of God through the Holy Spirit, that manifests itself outside of our prayer time.  Especially in our relationships with other people, and in particular people closest to us.  It isn't about feelings we get during the prayer, but is about how we allow ourselves to be changed for the better, molded as clay in the Potter's hands.

Alan

PS.  I just noticed I kept typing "Cloud of the Unknowing," while the book name is "Cloud of Unknowing."  Maybe that just took me into the cloud.  How can I use the word "the" as if there were only one Cloud -- and especially one that I can designate as a singular entity?
« Last Edit: November 21, 2011, 07:24:08 AM by Alan » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2011, 11:43:47 AM »

I started to read the book several years ago but never did finish it. I just took that as a sign that it wasn't the right time or that I had seen what I was meant to see at the time. When I'm supposed to go back to it I have no doubt God will put it back into my hands.
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"Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God."
This is the effect of true charity, to be on good terms with all men, to consider no one your enemy, and to live at peace with those who hate peace.--Robert Bellarmine
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