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The Cloud of Unknowing

So, you pick up a book with the confusing title, The Cloud of Unknowing and read these words: "I charge and beg you, with all the strength and power that love can bring to bear, that whoever you may be who possess this book you should, quite freely and of set purpose, neither read, write, or mention it to anyone, nor allow it to be read, written or mentioned by anyone unless that person is in your judgment really and wholly determined to follow Christ perfectly." Still interested?

This little book of 75 short chapters was written by an anonymous author in the 1300s. His purpose was instruction in what was (and still is) known as the contemplative life. Since this book was written in the Middle Ages, he understood that only a certain few were called to this life, namely those who had roles in the Catholic Church such as monks, nuns, priests, etc. That is why he began his book with that "warning." In essence he was saying, "Donít tell those who canít understand."

But we live in a different time, when each person is encouraged to "contemplate" or focus on God. Therefore, many today can feel themselves part of those "really and wholly determined to follow Christ perfectly." As such, these 700 year-old words may be for you:

Chapter 2: "Look forward, not backward. See what you still lack, not what you have already; for that is the quickest way of getting and keeping humility.

Chapter 8: "In the higher part of the contemplative life a man is definitely reaching above himself and is inferior to none but God."

Chapter 12: "Hate to think about anything less than God, and let nothing whatever distract you from this purpose."

Chapter 14: "The secret love of a purified soul, continually pressing into this dark cloud of unknowing between you and God, truly and perfectly contains within itself that perfect humility, seeking as it does nothing less than God."

Chapter 24: "The perfect apprentice asks neither to be spared pain, nor to be generously rewarded, nor indeed for anything but God himself. So that he cares not whether he be grieved or glad, but only that the will of him whom he loves be fulfilled."

Chapter 28: "All the while a soul lives in this mortal body he shall experience the obstruction of this cloud of unknowing between him and God." [And now you know from where the title of the book comes.]

Chapter 43: "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."

Chapter 59: "In contemplative praying we should forget all about time and place and body."

Chapter 62: "Everything physical is external to your soul, and inferior to it in the natural order. Sun and moon and stars may all be above your physical body, but they are beneath your soul."

Chapter 75: "Farewell, spiritual friend, with Godís blessing and mine upon you! I pray Almighty God that true peace, sound counsel, and his own spiritual comfort and abundant grace may ever be with you . . . ."

©2005 Mark Nickens

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