The Cloud of Unknowing is a book about contemplative prayer written by an unknown author from the 14th century. It was originally written in Middle English, most likely by a mystic monastic leader from the Middle Ages. It is one of the earliest Christian writings written in the English language, and it is possible the most influenced work on contemplative prayer ever written. This book has been a major influence in monastic prayer for centuries, from the 16th century St. John of the Cross to the 20th century Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Merton.
The book counsels the reader in seeking God through contemplation rather than by knowledge and intellect. The premise it that since God is love, He is best known by love, and in pure love, stripped of all cognition, one can “press in” to the cloud of unknowing and experience the loving presence of God.
The teachings found in this book form the basis for the more contemporary practice of Centering Prayer. Contemplation differs from meditation in that where meditation focuses on something, an idea, scripture, allegory, discipline, etc., contemplation focuses on someone. It isn’t an exercise of the mind, but rather an exercise of the heart, of emptying the mind and directing all of the soul, all feeling, desire, love, will, toward Christ in reckless abandon.
This book changed my prayer life. This is not a spiritual practice for everyone, and it takes a lot of discipline and practice to learn this type of stillness. But it is powerful, edifying, and I’m learning and growing as grace allows me.