And so I urge you, go after experience rather than knowledge. On account of pride, knowledge may often deceive you, but this gentle, loving affection will not deceive you. Knowledge tends to breed conceit, but love builds. Knowledge is full of labor, but love, full of rest.
—  The Cloud of Unknowing (14th Century, Anonymous). Taken from Jacob Needleman’s blog. He will be teaching a course at Stanford on How To Read a Spiritual Classic in May.
To put it more simply, let that mysterious grace move in your spirit as it will and follow wherever it leads you. Let it be the active doer and you the passive receiver. Do not meddle with it, but let it be… Your part is to be as wood to a carpenter or a home to a dweller. Remain blind during this time cutting away all desire to know, for knowledge is a hindrance here. Be content to feel this mysterious grace sweetly awaken in the depths of your spirit. Forget everything..

Two remarkable quotations that share the theme of our current Fall issue: “The Unknown.” These are cited from James Walsh (ed.) “The Cloud of Unknowing” (New York: Paulist Press, 1981):

When I say “darkness”, I mean a privation of knowing, just as whatever you do not know or have forgotten is dark to you, because you do not see it with your spiritual eyes. For this reason, that which is between you and your God is termed, not a cloud of the air, but a cloud of unknowing.
–Ch. 4, p. 128.

Humility…is nothing else but a true knowledge and experience of yourself as you are.
–Ch. 13, p. 181.

The photograph is by Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884), “Seascape, study of clouds,” albumen print from a collodion glass negative, ca. 1857. From the Parabola weekly newsletter


Guy Laramee - The Cloud of Unknowing

Tribute to Gerhard Richter

“The eye and fantasy feel more attracted by nebulous distance than by that which is close and distinct in front of us”
-Caspar David Friedrich

“I have nothing to help me, no idea that I can serve in return for being told what to do, no regulations that tells me how, no belief to show me the way, no image of the future, no construction that I can place on things in order to be given an overriding meaning…”
-Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter, Romantic painter from the 20th and 21st century, discovered a principle which I have called “The Richter principle”. This principle stipulates that the blurring restitutes the spectator to him/herself. In the blur, we have a chance of seeing ourselves, while we fabricate the work of art. But in fact Richter did not invent anything. In the 13th century, a contemplative who remains anonymous up to now, wrote the classic “Cloud of Unknowing”, which establishes more or less the same principle, but from a different point of view : to access the Real, one has to suspend the “I” and to do so, one has to pass through a state where one no longer knows anything. But the discoveries of these two men had already been anticipated by the Chinese Taoist Lao-Tseu, who in the 6th century was already writing :

“With less one finds,
With too much one loses oneself.”

All this amount saying that a thing is true if and only if it is ourselves who discover it. Ultimately, what we discover is not “things” but ourselves. Once applied to art, the idea is simple : we must let the spectator enough space so that in discovering the work, he/she discovers him/herself. It is the fact of “looking” for that creates the artwork.

Since 2003, my travels lead me in countries where “the sky covers the earth”, landscapes where clouds wrap up mountains, as if to protect them. This image became a directing symbol in my work. The fog is now my way to pay tribute to those artists who looked for freedom, not in an hedonist imagination or in the security of concepts, but in the heart of uncertainty.

“…Beat away at this cloud of unknowing
…with that sharp dart of longing love.”
-The Cloud of Unknowing

from "The Cloud of Unknowing"

And wene not, for I clepe it a derknes or a cloude, that it be any cloude congelid ofthe humours that fleen in the ayre, ne yit any derknes soche as is in thin house on nightes, when thi candel is oute. For soche a derknes and soche a cloude maist thou ymagin with coriousté of witte, for to bere before thin ighen in the lightest day of somer; and also, agenswarde, in the derkist night of wynter thou mayst ymagin a clere schinyng light. Lat be soche falsheed; I mene not thus. For when I sey derknes, I mene a lackyng of knowyng; as alle that thing that thou knowest not, or elles that thou hast forgetyn, it is derk to thee, for thou seest it not with thi goostly ighe. And for this skile it is not clepid a cloude of the eire, bot a cloude of unknowyng, that is bitwix thee and thi God.

let go

Let go
this ‘everywhere’ and this 'everything’ in exchange for this
'nowhere’ and this 'nothing.’
Never mind if you cannot fathom this nothing,
for I love it surely so much better.

It is so worthwhile in
itself that no thinking about it will do it justice.
One can feel this nothing more easily than see it,
for it is completely dark and hidden to
those who have only just begun to look at it.

Yet to speak more
accurately, it is overwhelming spiritual light that blinds the soul that is experiencing it,
rather than actual darkness or the absence of physical light.

Who is it then, who is it then, who is calling it 'nothing’?
Our outer self, to be sure, not our inner.
Our inner self calls it 'All’,
for through it he is learning the secret of all things,
physical and spiritual alike,
without having to consider every single one separately
on it’s own.

~ The Cloud of Unknowing with thanks to The Beauty We Love and Bill Lindley

What I am describing here is the contemplative work of the spirit. It is this which gives God the greatest delight. For when you fix your love on him, forgetting all else, the saints and angels rejoice and hasten to assist you in every way – though the devils will rage and ceaselessly conspire to thwart you. Your fellow men are marvelously enriched by this work of yours, even if you may not fully understand how; the souls in purgatory are touched, for their suffering is eased by the effects of this work; and, of course, your own spirit is purified and strengthened by this contemplative work more than by all others put together. Yet for all this, when God’s grace arouses you to enthusiasm, it becomes the lightest sort of work there is and one most willingly done. Without his grace, however, it is very difficult and almost, I should say, quite beyond you.