The Cloud of Unknowing

Beverly Lanzetta Meditations, Prayer

For the next several weeks, I will post a reflection on portions of The Cloud of Unknowing, a masterful guide to the contemplative life.

In the fourteenth century, in a monastery in Leeds or Nottingham, an unnamed monk (most likely male) sat down to write a guide to the interior life for a younger disciple. We do not know who the monk was or whether the nameless disciple was a real person or a literary trope. The title of the work—The Cloud of Unknowing—and the person who scribed it remain obscure; but, there is no doubt that the author was a master of the spiritual life. Intended as a guidebook for fellows monks seeking to progress in their contemplative vocation, The Cloud begins with a personal invitation to share in the spirit’s work of love:

O God unto whom all hearts lie open
unto whom desire is eloquent
and from whom no secret is hidden;
purify the thoughts of my heart
by the outpouring of your Spirit
that I may love you with perfect love
and praise you as you deserve. Amen.

This prayer encapsulates the essence of The Cloud: loving God with a pure intention of the heart and a single desire of the mind. Our monk does not question whether we can love or whether we are made for love, but speaks out of and through love. His heart is an open meadow of divine desire, through which everything the heart longs for is given. He shows that by praying to be holy, we grow nearer to The Holy. Recognizing our intimacy with the Divine, we forget our cares, and sing praises of our earthly glory!


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