Friday, October 15, 2010


The Cloud of Unknowing is one of the great classics of mediaeval mystical writing, penned by an anonymous English writer of the 14th century (roughly the same time as other great spiritual writers whose names we know: Mother Julian of Norwich, Walter Hilton, Richard Rolle. While Mother Julian, for example, wrote of her experiences with what can be called “direct contact” with the Lord, the author of The Cloud takes a different approach—one hinted at by the title of the work.

This book is a description of what is known as apophatic, or the Via Negativa. It focuses on the distance between Creator and creature and the inability of the latter ever truly to comprehend God—thence the sense of “unknowing” that is the path to God.

A recent day’s meditation in the prayer-guide Magnificat was an excerpt from this great work. In part it said:
With all due reverence for God’s gifts, it is my opinion that we should be quite careless of [not pre-occupied about] all delights and consolations of sense or spirit… If they come, welcome them but do not rest in them… [Otherwise] you may begin to love God on their account and not for himself….
Some people experience a measure of consolation almost always while others only rarely…. Some people are so spiritually fragile and delicate that unless they were always strengthened with a little sensible consolation, they might be unable to endure… Yet there are others so spiritually virile that they find…such spiritual nourishment within that need little other comfort.

I could not help but think of Bl Mother Teresa of Calcutta when reading this passage, and all the darkness of the last decades of her life—the lack of spiritual consolation she endured.
And yet the basic prayer she never ceased teaching her novices was “Jesus in my heart, I believe in your tender love for me. I love you.” Not a word in this prayer is about feelings or “consolations”—only the choice to trust and love.

Today’s feast is that of another great Teresa who knew the “dark night”—Teresa of Avila. She also went years without a spiritual consolation and yet never lost focus: she knew (even without feeling it) Who it was she loved, and by Whom she was loved.

How will our prayer progress today? Will we renew the choice to love, and be convinced of being loved, even if the feelings aren’t there? Is this a description of our love in friendships or marriages, as well? We can do far worse, today, than make Bl Mother Teresa's prayer our own.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if I can express my thoughts succinctly re understanding of Love. But for most of my life, feelings have run rampant, aided and abetted by movies, music, loosely expressed "love" by acquaintences, and for objects as well as individuals. Now when one conveys a love of God, this is a serious undertaking. In the "Cloud of Unknowing", which edition I have owned but largely unread until now, it expresses man's love of God, as a reverent love. The author of this contemplative book states that reverence is nothing but dread and love blended together by the staff of HOPE. Hope stems from making an amendment to mend one's ways: by departing from evil, and doing good. The two thoughts of dread and hope is like a tree full of fruit. Of this tree dread is in the earth, the root; hope is the trunk & branches. Hope must remain steadfast; when one is moved to deeds of love, it is the branches. The resulting fruit is reverent affection. When the fruit has ripened, it is ready to be removed from the tree and offered up to our God - a pure love, for God's own sake, and not for what God has given to us.
    This approach is one that can lead me and perhaps others as well.