The book counsels a young student to seek God, not through knowledge and intellection (faculty of the human mind), but through intense contemplation, motivated by love, and stripped of all thought. This is brought about by putting all thoughts and desires under a “cloud of forgetting”, and thereby piercing God’s cloud of unknowing with a “dart of longing love” from the heart. This form of contemplation is not directed by the intellect, but involves spiritual union with God through the heart:
“For He can well be loved, but he cannot be thought. By love he can be grasped and held, but by thought, neither grasped nor held. And therefore, though it may be good at times to think specifically of the kindness and excellence of God, and though this may be a light and a part of contemplation, all the same, in the work of contemplation itself, it must be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And you must step above it stoutly but deftly, with a devout and delightful stirring of love, and struggle to pierce that darkness above you; and beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love, and do not give up, whatever happens.”
In a follow-up to The Cloud, called The Book of Privy Counseling, the author characterizes the practice of contemplative unknowing as worshiping God with one’s “substance,” coming to rest in a “naked blind feeling of being,” and ultimately finding thereby that God is one’s being.
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I’ve always wanted to read this. I really like the idea of a cloud of unknowing, or just the general idea of a level of existence that’s not graspable by objective concepts. It corresponds with the notion of “non-thinking” in Lars Iyer and the idea of transcendence or “the comprehensive” in Karl Jaspers’ Christian existentialism. I think it also fits with an OOO-informed idea of flat ontology (“weird realism”) or Zizek’s idea of the ontological incompleteness of reality.
I also really like that cover art engraving. It occurred to me that I would kind of like that as a tattoo, which is not something that occurs to me often.