Finding God In The Cloud of Unknowing - The Spiritual Agnostic
Seek The New Experience
". . .And so I urge you, go after experience rather than knowledge. On account of pride, knowledge may often deceive you, but this gentle, loving affection will not deceive you. Knowledge tends to breed conceit, but love builds. Knowledge is full of labor, but love, full of rest." ~ William Johnston, from the Cloud of Unknowing: And the Book of Privy Counseling
Humanity has entered a time of unsettling uncertainties. The familiar has become strange and the strange has become common.
This is a good time to allow uncertainty to cloud your thoughts of the sacred divine, to release your surety of the nature of 'God'.
When the cloud lifts, your relationship with the divine will be renewed, deepened, matured.
Preconceived ideas often cloud our experience of the absolute. We often miss the truth of our spiritual journey. We're blinded by our own self-induced, myopic images, of what the spiritual journey should look, feel or be like. When we become so fixated on the form, the image, the mode of our seeking that we miss the fullness of the experience of the divine. This causes us to miss the eternal Presence. There comes a time when the dedicated, devoted pursuit of Spirit becomes the very thing which blinds us to the wholeness. Every journey requires a season of agnosticism, a sacred withdrawal from all that you think you're sure of about God. A time when we're under the Cloud of Unknowing.
The Cloud of Unknowing
The Sacred Agnosticsm
The Cloud of Unknowing' is a fourteenth century book of unidentified source, the writings, first published by a Christian mystic identifying himself, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.
It is believed that The Cloud of Unknowing was originally written around 500AD. The work, afterwards selectively circulated by a group of English mystics in the late fourteenth century.
The teachings in The Cloud of Unknowing weren’t far distributed at the time of its publication, literacy in the late middle ages wasn't common. Commoners were at the mercy of the aristocracy and clergy for information and understanding of the world. The people were repressed, even unto death, from straying outside the confining doctrine of their parish priest and aristocracy, the parish priest himself constrained by the same consequence. Lay people were forbidden from even questioning about the bible. The public, intentionally and by circumstance, kept ignorant, was not trusted to even interpret the bible for their own understanding.
Contemplative prayer is the main theme of The Cloud of Unknowing.
"Contemplative Prayer differs from Christian prayer in that the intent of the technique is to bring the practitioner to the center of his own being. There he is, supposedly, to experience the presence of the God who indwells him. Christian prayer, on the contrary, centers upon God in a relational way, as an independent power apart from oneself but realized intimately through the Holy Spirit. The confusion of this technique with Christian practitioners arises from a misunderstanding of the indwelling of God. The fact that God indwells us does not mean that we can capture his presence by mental techniques. Nor does it mean that we are identical with him in our deepest self as gods. Rather, the Creator God indwells us by grace that does not blend human effort and His divine presence."
Alan Watts - The Cloud of Unknowing
Experience More Than Knowledge
Simply listening to a cliff diver describe in vivid detail, every sensation, tingling nerve instant and emotion of their peak leaping experience, doesn't give one the direct, participatory experience for oneself. We often hear extreme sports enthusiasts tell us that despite their florid descriptions, "the feeling is indescribable". The same is true for the experience of God. Words are a poor approximation for the direct, heartfelt experience.
God can be known and experienced in oneself, as oneself and others. That which we call God, is less something 'out there' and more an experience of the heart, a personal experience.
Contemplative prayer, also known in the Christian mystic tradition as 'centering prayer' shares a common origin with all of the ancient mystical teachings. Jesus in the desert, Moses on the mountain, Muhammad in the cave and Buddha under the Bodhi tree; all passed through the cloud of unknowing. This is not a doubting of a transcendent Spirit. It is a setting aside of everything one presumes to know about what this transcendent spirit must be like. Letting go of all intellectualized facsimiles that block our direct inner experience of the divine in us.
" 'The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won't let go of your life. Your memories, your attachments. They burn 'em all away. But they're not punishing you,' he said. 'They're freeing your soul.' Relax. Good. So the way he sees it, if you're frigh"tened of dyin' and you're holdin' on, you'll see devils tearin' your life away. But if you've made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freein' you from the earth. It's just a matter of how you look at it, that's all." ~ Meister Eckart (paraphrased by the character Louis in the movie Jacob's Ladder)
Fear of Letting Go
The same can be applied to living, especially our spiritual lives. But instead of death, the fear is of straying from the familiar. Clinging to old ideas, stories and traditions. Worshiping old books and dead people. Not envisioning that which we call God as a living breathing Presence in us...but as an old, far away, idolized father that we can never please.
Rumi says -
The inner consciousness
of the saint
is the true mosque
where all should worship,
God lives there.
Meditation is not contemplative prayer, meditation is an essential component of contemplative, centering prayer. Contemplative prayer is articulated silently within the Presence. It is unmistakable when one achieves the introspective center of the spiritual practice...Yoga, Tai Chi, Sufi whirling dances, breath techniques and reciting mantras, among other practices, are also roads to the contemplative centered knowing of the God in you. Where all ideas, icons and idols crumble before the sacred authentic you. The you that you've relegated to the basement of your heart, yet your authentic Self whispers from the heart cellar..."Be still and Know"
"“We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners, all our life!” ~ Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer