“Beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with the sharp arrow of longing and never stop loving”

Lift up your heart to God with a gentle stirring of love. Focus on nothing but him. 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.

This is the work of the soul that most pleases God. All saints and angels rejoice in it, and they’re always willing to help you when you’re spending time in contemplation. They rush to your side, their powers ready. But contemplation infuriates the devil and his company. That’s why they try to stop you in any way they can. You can’t know how much. This spiritual exercise even lessens the pain for souls in purgatory. And no other discipline can purify your soul as deeply or make you as virtuous. But it’s the easiest work of all, when a soul is helped by grace to feel a pure desire—contemplation follows. Otherwise, it’s hard, nearly impossible to do.

So stop hesitating. Do this work until you feel the delight of it. In the trying is the desire. The first time you practice contemplation, you’ll only experience a darkness, like a cloud of unknowing. You won’t know what this is. 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 him clearly by the light of understanding in your intellect and will block you from feeling him 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 him over and over again, because you love him. 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. …

I know you’ll ask me, “How do 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, 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. He can be loved, but not thought. By love, God can be embraced and held, but not by thinking. It’s good sometimes to meditate on God’s amazing love as part of illumination and contemplation, but true contemplative work is something entirely different. Even meditation on God’s love must be put down 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 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.

The Cloud of Unknowing

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2 Responses to “Beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with the sharp arrow of longing and never stop loving”

  1. MJH says:

    Reblogged this on the pocket scroll and commented:
    Some challenging but beautiful thoughts from the Cloud of Unknowing

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Matthew Hryniewicz says:

    “Lift up your heart to God with a gentle stirring of love.”

    I am deeply thankful for this quiet admonition. Even a damaged heart, tired and afraid of the tempests of life can feel that gentle stirring and look up to the Father. The most beautiful spiritual moments of my life have been when I have seen myself as a small child at my Father’s feet. I would raise my hands and utter only the word “up.” I have yet to utter any prayer more profound than that single word and I doubt that I ever will.


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