The End of Knowing

Unknowing: Week 2

The End of Knowing
Friday, October 12, 2018

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. . . . For now we see only a dim reflection as in a mirror; but then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. —1 Corinthians 13:8-10, 12

Meditate on the following passages from The Cloud of Unknowing, holding them in your heart—beyond rational critique or intellectual understanding. Allow them to speak to you at a deeper level. [Bracketed words are mine.]

I know you’ll ask me, “How can I think on God as God, and who is God?” and I can only answer, “I don’t know.”

Your question takes me into the very darkness and cloud of unknowing that I want you to enter. We can know so many things. Through God’s grace, our minds can explore, understand, and reflect on creation and even on God’s own works [as we should!], but we can’t think our way to God. That’s why I’m willing to abandon everything I know, to love the one thing I cannot think. [God] can be loved, but not thought. [John of the Cross and many other mystics say the same thing. We could have saved ourselves so much fighting and division if we had just taught this one truth!]

By love, God can be embraced and held, but not by thinking. It is good sometimes to meditate on God’s amazing love as part of illumination and contemplation, but true contemplative work is something entirely different. Even meditating on God’s love must be put down [let go of] and covered with a cloud of forgetting. Show your determination next. Let that joyful stirring of love make you resolute, and in its enthusiasm bravely step over meditation [cognitive reflection] and reach up to penetrate the darkness above you. Then beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with the sharp arrow of longing and never stop loving, no matter what comes your way. . . .

No matter how sacred, no thought can ever promise to help you in the work of contemplative prayer, because only love—not knowledge—can help us reach God. . . .

Become blind during contemplative prayer and cut yourself off from needing to know things. Knowledge hinders, not helps you in contemplation. Be content feeling moved in a delightful, loving way by something mysterious and unknown, leaving you focused entirely on God, with no other thought than of [God] alone. Let your naked desire rest there. . . .

It doesn’t matter how much profound wisdom we possess about created spiritual beings; our understanding cannot help us gain knowledge about any uncreated spiritual being, who is God alone. But the failure of our understanding can help us. When we reach the end of what we know, that’s where we find God. That’s why St. Dionysius [5th/6th century] said that the best, most divine knowledge of God is that which is known by not-knowing.

Friends, you just received a post graduate course in Christian spirituality, a course which very few are ever taught.

Reference:
The Cloud of Unknowing with the Book of Privy Counsel,
trans. Carmen Acevedo Butcher (Shambhala: 2009), 21-22, 28-29, 79, 156.

Image credit: Stars and Clouds at Nighttime (detail), Arnie Chau.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: 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 . . . You must also know that this darkness and this cloud will always be between you and your God, whatever you do.The Cloud of Unknowing

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