The Power to Love
Thursday, October 11, 2018
The anonymous, 14th century author of The Cloud of Unknowing conveys the fathomless mystery of God and that God can only be known by loving presence—contemplation. The Cloud of Unknowing was the inspiration for practices such as centering prayer and Christian meditation. Today and tomorrow I will share some of my favorite excerpts from Carmen Acevedo Butcher’s translation of the old English text. [Bracketed words are my own.]
Lift up your heart to God with a gentle stirring of love. Focus on [God] alone. . . . Don’t let anything else run through your mind and will. Here’s how. Forget what you know. Forget everything God made and everybody who exists and everything that’s going on in the world, until your thoughts and emotions aren’t focused on or reaching toward anything, not in a general way and not in any particular way. Let them be. For the moment, don’t care about anything. . . .
The first time you practice contemplation, you’ll only experience a darkness, like a cloud of unknowing [which now happily envelops you]. You won’t know what this is [and will have to learn how to live there by “forgetting” your previous methods of knowing]. You’ll only know that in your will you feel a simple reaching out to God. You must also know that this darkness and this cloud will always be between you and your God, whatever you do. They will always keep you from seeing [God] clearly by the light of understanding in your intellect and will block you from feeling [God] fully in the sweetness of love in your emotions. So, be sure you make your home in this darkness. Stay there as long as you can, crying out to [God] over and over again, because you love [God]. It’s the closest you can get to God here on earth, by waiting in this darkness and in this cloud. Work at this diligently, as I’ve asked you to, and I know God’s mercy will lead you there. . . .
[God] measures us and makes . . . divinity fit our souls, and our souls are able to take the measure of [God] because [God] created us in [God’s] image and made us worthy. [God] alone is complete and can fulfill our every longing. God’s grace restores our souls and teaches us how to comprehend [God] through love. [God] is incomprehensible to the intellect. . . . Nobody’s mind is powerful enough to grasp who God is. We can only know [God] by experiencing [God’s] love.
Look. Every rational creature, every person, and every angel has two main strengths: the power to know and the power to love. God made both of these, but [God is] not knowable through the first one. To the power of love, however, [God] is entirely known, because a loving soul is open to receive God’s abundance. . . . [God’s] very nature makes love endless and miraculous. God will never stop loving us. Consider this truth, and, if by grace you can make love your own, do. For the experience is eternal joy; its absence is unending suffering.
Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.
The Cloud of Unknowing with the Book of Privy Counsel, trans. Carmen Acevedo Butcher (Shambhala: 2009), 11, 12, 14.
Image credit: Stars and Clouds at Nighttime (detail), Arnie Chau