The Cloud of Unknowing: A Book by an Anonymous Monk

The Cloud of Unknowing

In 1974, Father William Meninger, a Trappist monk and retreat master at St. Josephs Abbey in Spencer, Mass. found a dusty little book in the abbey library, The Cloud of Unknowing. As he read it he was delighted to discover that this anonymous 14th century book presented contemplative meditation as a teachable, spiritual process enabling the ordinary person to enter and receive a direct experience of union with God.” —Some History of The Cloud of Unknowing

“The Cloud of Unknowing”
by Ray Yungen

Mystical silence is accomplished by the same methods used by New Agers to achieve their silence–the mantra and the breath! Contemplative prayer is the repetition of what is referred to as a prayer word or sacred word until one reaches a state where the soul, rather than the mind, contemplates God. Contemplative prayer teacher and Zen master Willigis Jager brought this out when he postulated:

Do not reflect on the meaning of the word; thinking and reflecting must cease, as all mystical writers insist. Simply “sound” the word silently, letting go of all feelings and thoughts.1

Those with some theological training may recognize this teaching as the historical stream going back centuries to such figures as Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Julian of Norwich. One of the most well-known writings on the subject is the classic 14th century treatise, The Cloud of Unknowing, written by an anonymous author. It is essentially a manual on contemplative prayer inviting a beginner to:

Take just a little word, of one syllable rather than of two … With this word you are to strike down every kind of thought under the cloud of forgetting.2

The premise here is that in order to really know God, mysticism must be practiced–the mind has to be shut down or turned off so that the cloud of unknowing where the presence of God awaits can be experienced. Practitioners of this method believe that if the sacred words are Christian, you will get Christ–it is simply a matter of intent even though the method is identical to occult and Eastern practices.(from A Time of Departing, 2nd ed., p. 33)

Notes:
1. Willigis Jager, Contemplation: A Christian Path (Triumph Books, 1994), p. 31.
2. Ken Kaisch, Finding God, citing The Cloud of Unknowing, p. 223.

Related Research:

The Mystics of the Past

The Desert Fathers

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