Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Year of Unknowing

Every year, just before the new year, like many of my spiritual friends I seek God for a guiding word to accompany me on the journey. To be honest, I hadn't thought much about it this holiday season, as my shifting family life, work and--Lordy mercy!--seasonal affective disorder crowded my brain. Despite my dismal lack of focus I've had occasions to surf the net, especially in my post iPad life. Oh, how easy it is to consume web content now. And when I'm groovin' the ginormous in cyberspace, I don't think about the writer's block that's been ailing me. I was reading Chrstine Valters Paintners blog recently, and came across a thoughtful post about letting a word choose you, when suddenly the word "unknowing" seized me by the shoulders, compelling me to look it right in the face. "You've gotta be kidding, God," was my inward response.

I have to admit, unknowing sounds a little more ominous than peace, joy, or my personal favorite, love. It requires radical trust from go. Actually, it demands crazy trust long before you pack a bag and roll out with it. Now that think about it, unknowing whispers like a kind soul mama, "Baby, you don't need nothin' for this journey." But you know me, Mair needs a little hand holding, or at least a reliable guide for this trip that promises to be a trip. My companion will be Paraclete Press' THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING. I love, love, love their contemporary English translations, this one edited by Bernard Bangley.

I have read only a short compilation of passages from the Cloud, and that was years ago. I don't remember much, so essentially I'll be starting over. A little research today, via Wiki, revealed this:

"The book counsels a young student to seek God, not through knowledge and intellection, but through intense contemplation, motivated by love, and stripped of all thought. This is brought about by putting all thoughts, except the love of God, under a "cloud of forgetting", and thereby piercing God's cloud of unknowing with a "dart of longing love" from the heart. This form of contemplation is not directed by the intellect, but involves spiritual union with God through the heart."

Friends, if the idea of a cloud of unknowing sounds a little unsettling, that cloud of forgetting sounds pretty incredible. Last night, before I toasted in the new year, I said goodbye to 2010. It was one hell of a year that felt marked by more failure and fear than triumphant victories--though there were a few (Xavier University LA's Institute for Black Catholic Studies!). I'm not sad to see such a hard year go. I've lost my beloved. If I didn't see the failure of my marriage coming, the Lord did, and this call to unknowing sounds to me like an invitation to a rendezvous.

Tonight, as I consider contemplative prayer, which I assume is the heart of THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING, I'm thinking not so much of stripping all thoughts away, but rather offering them to my good Lover as if they were a gift. I imagine myself lying supine, like the Shulamite woman in the Song of Songs, dark and lovely, with a lover enraptured enough to lie all night between my breast. And I will embrace my Jesus, my house--not just my body, but my mental faculties--all stilled, as St. John of the Cross wrote so beautifully about in his luminous poem, The Dark Night. This, to me, is contemplative prayer.

The year of Unknowing? Bring it on!

In Love,


GailNHB said...

Blessings on you, Mair, as you begin this new year in the cloud of unknowing - all the while walking with the all-knowing One. Even when we cannot see and do not know the outcome, we walk closely, we lie down with the One who knows all things.

Peace be with you, dear sister. And with all of us as we enter into the new year.

ragamuffin diva said...

Happy new year to you, too, beloved Gail. I am so excited for us!

Kay Day said...

Sounds like an exciting journey, but I understand your reaction. My word is "Trust." Holy what? My reaction to the word showed me just how much I need it.
And I thought I had that one figured out.

(You got the iPad! Good for you!)

Bella Scarlett said...

He is not a tame lion, is he?

I thought after 30 some years of serving God that I "knew" him. When we moved to a new town and were completely alone and I got lyme, I realized just how little I did know. These last few years have been a process of "unknowing" and unlearning all that I thought I knew. It's an odd place, somewhat like a desert. But I still choose to cleave to the faithfulness of God.

Blessed New Year.