27 November 2009

Seeking to Pierce the High Cloud of Unknowing

This particular piece is from “The Cloud of Unknowing,” familiar to many as an anonymous latter half of the fourteenth century work on Christian mysticism. If you’re familiar with the various English versions, you might find this a bit unique. I translated it from Italian, even though it is a Middle English work; and I think it translates a bit more contemplative/monastic friendly, so to speak. I hope you enjoy it! The final two small paragraphs in this post are from the follow-up work and is believed to have been written by the same author. This work is titled: “The Epistle of Privy Counsel.” Remaining fixed on God is never easy and the final two paragraphs briefly address this.

In the Gospel of Saint Luke it is written, that our Lord was received in the home of Martha, the sister of Mary. While Martha is preparing lunch, Mary sits at the Feet of the Master. While listening to His Word, she does not behold the business of her sister, although her business was full of goodness and holiness, for truly it is the first part of the active life.

Mary does not yet even behold the preciousness of the sacred Body of Christ, nor of the human gentleness of His Voice and His words, even though this indicates progress, as this is the second part of the active life and the first part of the contemplative life.

What’s interesting is the supreme wisdom of Mary in the Lord’s Divinity, although veiled by the words of His Humanity, she beheld with all the love of her heart. Despite what she sees or hears from what is being done around her, she sits at the Feet of the Lord without batting an eyelid. In her privy, a secret longing for love and many sweet impulses, she seeks to pierce the high cloud of unknowing that stands between her and God.

I will say this: there never has been and never will be in this life a creature, however pure and ecstatic in contemplating and loving God, who has not always had between himself and God, this cloud of unknowing so lofty and mysterious. Precisely in this cloud Mary was occupied with many secret eruptions of His love. And why? Because it is the best part of contemplation, that there may be more holiness in this world. She would have left the world for this occupation; so much so that her sister Martha complained about her to our Lord and begs Him to tell her to get up and help her, and not to leave her alone in doing all the serving. Mary is sitting, not saying a word. She shows no sign of resentment or protest against her sister, for any complaint she could make. And no wonder: Mary was busy doing other work, of which Martha did not realize. Therefore she hadn’t the time to listen to her, nor to respond to her complaints.

You see, my friend, all that happened between the Lord and the two sisters is an example for what will be until the day of doom, both actives and contemplatives will be in the Church.

Charity is only the love of God for Himself above all creatures, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, for love of God should not be understood otherwise.

In this work, God is loved for Himself, and above all creatures, because in essence this work is nothing but a pure desire directed unto God for Himself, and Him alone.

Yes, I called it a pure desire because from this work comes into being a true contemplative who does not expect relief from fatigue or an increase in reward. In short, he asks for nothing more from God and does not care anymore about his pain or bliss; his only concern is the will of Him Whom he loves. Thus it seems in this occupation that God is loved for Himself, perfectly and above all creatures.

Experience shows that in the second commandment of charity: that of relating to others is also perfectly fulfilled. How is this possible? The true contemplative does not take into account any particular person whether that be, relative or stranger, friend or foe. All men are his brothers and no one is a stranger. He comes to regard as his dear friends those that cause him pain and suffering, and feels compelled to will them as much goodness as his homeliest friend.

You may say: All I feel is toil and pain, not rest. On the one hand, my faculties hound me to give up this work and I will not. On the other hand, I long to lose the experience of myself and I cannot. If this is rest, I think it is a rather odd kind of rest!

Yes, I know it is painful and toilsome. And yet I call it rest. Persevere in it with humility and great desire, for it is a work which begins here on earth, but will go on without end into eternity.