With the roaring of thunder and the periodic heavy downpour of rain there I was, in my friary room, resting and preparing myself for another two working busy days at the hospital.
The thick grey clouds in the sky reminded me of a great medieval spiritual masterpiece which the British Isles have ever produced, The Cloud of Unknowing. The basic message that is conveyed throughout this anonymously-authored spiritual guide concerning the art of contemplative prayer is that if one really wants to know God, one has to submit to Him his and her thinking concerning God’s distinct activities and qualities. The Cloud of the Unknowing invites its readers to boldly entrust their minds and selves to the unknowing dimension. It is precisely from this realm of unknowing that one really starts catching sight of God’s ineffable nature.
The Cloud of the Unknowing offers us some very powerful and practical insights into our day-to-day spiritual lives. To begin with, let me seek God for His own sake and not for the benefits He gives me. Thus, I do not pray to feel good. I pray because I want to seek God and Him alone. “Lift up your heart to God with humble love: and mean God himself, and not what you get out of him… Try to forget all created things that he ever made, and the purpose behind them, so that your thought and longing do not turn or reach out to them either in general or in particular”.
When prayer seems so difficult to do The Cloud of the Unknowing encourages me to wait. “When you first begin, you find only darkness, and as it were a cloud of unknowing. You don’t know what this means except that in your will you feel a simple steadfast intention reaching out towards God. Do what you will, and this darkness and this cloud remain between you and God… Reconcile yourself to wait in this darkness as long as is necessary, but still go on longing after him whom you love”.
Unlike the Easter Buddhist styles of meditation, Christian meditation is not a way of trying to seek knowledge. “Whoever hears or reads about all this, and thinks that it is fundamentally an activity of the mind, and proceeds then to work it all out along these lines, is on quite the wrong track. He manufactures an experience that is neither spiritual nor physical. He is dangerously missed and in real peril”.
Hence, the Christian meditator loses himself and herself to God as a loving gift for God and not for the sake of attaining any knowledge. “See to it that there is nothing at work in your mind or will but only God. Try to suppress all knowledge and feeling of anything less than God, and trample it down deep under the cloud of forgetting”.
The more I approach God in prayer the more I am motivated by Him to shun every kind of sin. “In itself prayer is nothing else than a devout setting of our will in the direction of God in order to get good, and remove evil… All evil is summed up in sin…If we pray with intention for the acquiring of goodness, let us pray, in word or thought or desire, no other word than ‘God’. For in God is all good, for he is its beginning and its being”. Hence, keeping constantly in our minds that God and sin do not dwell together is of enormous help if we want to be united totally with God. “Feel sin in its totality – as a lump – without specifying any particular part, and that all of it is you. And then cry ceaselessly in your spirit this one thing: ‘Sin! Sin! Sin! Help! Help! Help!”
Authentic contemplative prayer always bears the fruit of love and intimacy with Christ. Therefore I pray not only to know God more but to love Him more. “The nature of love is that it shares everything. Love Jesus, and everything he has is yours. …He may, perhaps, send out a shaft of spiritual light, which pierces this cloud of unknowing between you, and show you some of his secrets… then will you feel your affection flame with the fire of his love, far more than I can possibly say now…”