Cloud of Unknowing

... You will seem to know nothing and to feel nothing except a naked intent toward God in the depths of your being. Try as you might, this darkness and this cloud will remain between you and your God. You will feel frustrated, for your mind will be unable to grasp Him, and your heart will not relish the delight of His love. But learn to be at home in this darkness. Return to it as often as you can, letting your spirit cry out to him whom you love. ...

So says the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, a fascinating Christian-mystical guide to meditation written in the late 1300s, stark in its focus on transcendence, emptiness, and the unknowable. Pure contemplation exists, it suggests, between a "cloud of unknowing" above which is God, and a "cloud of forgetting" below which all created things exist only to be let go of. Like Zen.

The above "translation" from Chapter 3 is by William Johnston; the original as edited by Patrick Gallacher [1] is archaic but readable with effort:

... For at the first tyme when thou dost it, thou fyndest bot a derknes, and as it were a cloude of unknowyng, thou wost never what, savyng that thou felist in thi wille a nakid entent unto God. This derknes and this cloude is, howsoever thou dost, bitwix thee and thi God, and letteth thee that thou maist not see Him cleerly by light of understonding in thi reson, ne fele Him in swetnes of love in thin affeccion. And therfore schap thee to bide in this derknes as longe as thou maist, evermore criing after Him that thou lovest; for yif ever schalt thou fele Him or see Him, as it may be here, it behoveth alweis be in this cloude and in this derknes. ...

Compare that with the 1922 Evelyn Underhill rendition [2]:

... For at the first time when thou dost it, thou findest but a darkness; and as it were a cloud of unknowing, thou knowest not what, saving that thou feelest in thy will a naked intent unto God. This darkness and this cloud is, howsoever thou dost, betwixt thee and thy God, and letteth thee that thou mayest neither see Him clearly by light of understanding in thy reason, nor feel Him in sweetness of love in thine affection. p. 73

And therefore shape thee to bide in this darkness as long as thou mayest, evermore crying after Him that thou lovest. For if ever thou shalt feel Him or see Him, as it may be here, it behoveth always to be in this cloud in this darkness. ...

Maggie Ross [3] comments and compares these and other versions. Like Coleman Barks and Rumi, all are different, all are good, in diverse ways.

^z - 2018-08-30