In The Cloud of Unknowing
"Don't give up then, but work away at it till you have this longing. When first you begin, you find only darkness, and as it were a cloud of unknowing...."
Prescient symbolism literally fills the recorded visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich. Her life of Christ begins way far back into the Hebrew Bible , with prophecies, symbols, and holy people, as the great scripture scholar G. B. Caird said in his commentary on Luke ....people agog with anticipation for the coming of the Messiah. In the Life of the Blessed Virgin (taken out of the 4 volumes of the life of Christ ) there is the true sign given to Elijah in 1 Kings 18 : 44 of one single cloud appearing in the sky, which ends a terrible drought. Catherine sees the cloud as symbolic of the Blessed Mother herself ; Mary's entrance into our world ends the drought of waiting for the Messiah.
Maybe we are all in a dark cloud at this moment? And some people in the world are suffering in every way - beyond what we can imagine. Whether you have been given the vocation to be an activist or a contemplative or both, you are probably struggling to live in a peaceful, nonviolent way at this time. I first read the anonymous medieval classic The Cloud of Unknowing in 1970 (translation of 1961) when I was still very young, and included the imagined archer and cloud in the border of my last self portrait with symbols. It's still me - trying to pierce the cloud with the arrow of as much love as I can gather inside. There are few writings as beautiful as the cloud, which I'll partially share with you now, I think this is the "right or kairos" time. And this book has been printed so often, even though the author (like the Kabbalah), says not to share it unless people are serious and ready. Ready or not ... here's an excerpt ...which may lead you to actually be ready ?
"God is ready when you are, and is waiting for you...
Lift up your heart to God with humble love:and mean God himself , and not what you get out of him ...Try to forget all created things that he ever made, and the purpose behind them, so that your thought and longing do not turn or reach out to them either in general or particular. Let them go, and pay no attention to them. It is the work of the soul that pleases God most... Moreover, the whole of mankind is wonderfully helped but what you are doing, in ways you do not understand ... But now you will ask me, 'How am I to think of God himself, and what is he? ' For with this question you have brought me into the same darkness, the same cloud of unknowing where I want you to be!...Strike that thick cloud of unknowing with the sharp arrow of longing love, and on no account whatever think of giving up."
From chapters 2 - 6
Just a further note... Carmen Acevedo Butcher who put together a great spiritual reader on Dr. St Hildegard of Bingen, has an excellent new translation of The Cloud of Unknowing. Scholars have conjectured it was written around 1370 in Middle English.
The same Middle English used by Lady Julian of Norwich to write her masterpiece of Showings ( Revelations ) of Divine Love ... which may become the source of another blog to come. And I might write on the self - portraits and what I've learned and haven't yet learned :)
Fr Bill McNichols