cloud of unknowing

We woke up to a thick fog this morning. There was a feverish dampness to the air, leaving the skin unsure if it was hot or cold.

I`m finally reading Elizabeth A Johnson`s Quest for the Living God. She lays down the ground rules for this quest in the opening pages,

The first and most basic precept is this: the reality of the living God is an ineffable mystery beyond all telling. The infinitely creating, redeeming, and indwelling Holy One is so far beyond the world and so deeply within the world as to be literally incomprehensible. (p.17)

An anonymous 14th century author described this as a cloud of unknowing. As soon as we think we have God tied up in a neat little package, we know that we`re way off the mark. We must continually let go of our own human preconceptions and arrogance, and embrace with humility the depth of unknowing that lies before us.

It`s like (but not like!) a fog. I stepped out with my camera this morning to see if I could capture the mood. What I got was this picture. The green of the shrub popped out in contrast to the fog veiling the field behind it. The only reality that I could be sure of, was the shrub in front of me. This is what I could touch, see, and smell. Therefore, it was real. Of course, I knew there were other riches hidden in the fog. But my focus was on the shrub because of its clarity.

We tend to do this with God. We cling to the wee bit of God that we think we know and understand. We take comfort in knowing the known. It`s easier than stepping into the fog of unknowing.




4 thoughts on “cloud of unknowing

  1. “The infinitely creating, redeeming, and indwelling Holy One is so far beyond the world and so deeply within the world as to be literally incomprehensible. “(p.17)
    The “Cloud of Unknowing” and Moses “burning bush” confirm for me Elizabeth Johnson’s words: the “indwelling Holy One is so far beyond the world and so deeply within the world as to be literally incomprehensible”.

    Scripture tells us on Horeb, , the angel of Yahweh appeared to Moses in the shape of a flame of fire coming from the middle of a bush. There was the bush blazing, but it was not being burnt up. “I must go and look at this strange site,” Moses said, “and see why the bush is not burnt.” Now Yahweh saw Moses go forward to look, and Yahweh called to him from the middle of the bush. “Moses,” he said, “come no nearer. Take off your shoes. For the place where you are is Holy ground.” Then Yahweh said, “I have seen the miserable state of my people in Egypt. I have heard their appeal to be free. I am well aware of their sufferings. And I mean to deliver them. So I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people up.” Exodus 3:18

    The message is most dramatic. Just at moment that would seem to be Moses’ total immersion in the mystical presence of God, God stops Moses where Moses is, to teach him that his holiness depends on finding holiness right where he stands; and to take that holy energy to other people for their liberation. Moses learns that holiness is made about virtues, not visions. He learns that holiness depends on being for the others. Moses learns that holiness depends on being something greater than the self. Moses learns that holiness is being present to the Presence, everywhere it is, and even where it seems it isn’t.

    An image comes to mind of the American bishops standing before this “burning bush” that is Elizabeth Johnson and saying “how dare God speak to us like this, through a women”. What a sad group they are.

  2. Thank you for this reflection, Ray. Seeking God surely takes great humility. So much persecution and violence has taken place over the centuries….all for the purpose of keeping one, specific interpretation of the Divine pure and unadulterated. It`s so sad to see it continue today, whether it`s among different faith traditions or among members within one. It`s such a wasted opportunity for dialogue.

    Have you read Johnson`s book yet? As is to be expected, it experienced a rise in sales after all the negative publicity from the US Bishops. I`d love to hear from anyone who has read it.

  3. Isabella, I do have her book, I am not finding it a quick-read but I am studying it for topics for retreats. What has worked for me as a severe introvert is to ponder such a book over a period of months. Then when planning a retreat I extrovert my intuition on the material in the books I read, people appear to like this.
    I love her research and writing on Mary; i.e, “Truly Our Sister”, and “Dangerous Memories”.

    If I were addressing my response above directly to the bishops, regarding Elizabeth Johnson, I would have titled it: “Don’t Shoot the Messenger!”.

    1. I agree that it’s not an easy or a quick read. Johnson’s books are meant for chewing and pondering. I really like your approach. It shows a desire for grasping the core of the message rather than regurgitating or obsessing on details. Hmmm…wish some of her critics did more of this! 😉

      Please do keep us posted on your reading….

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