"For when you first begin to undertake it, all that you find is a darkness, a sort of cloud of unknowing; you cannot tell what it is, except that you experience in your will a simple reaching out to God. This darkness and cloud is always between you and your God, no matter what you do, and it prevents you from seeing him clearly by the light of understanding in your reason, and from experiencing him in the sweetness of love in your affection...For if you are to experience him or to see him at all, insofar as it is possible here, it must always be in this cloud and this darkness."
-The Cloud of Unknowing, author unknown-late 14th cent
The more I seek and learn in life, the more I realize what I don’t know, or rather the more I recognize is unknowable.
As a youth, I entered the world of spirituality in an atmosphere that claimed all things are black and white; all things are absolute. However, as life brought challenges and questions, those simplistic answers often fell short. The first time my spirit was truly shaken was as an Americorps member, serving in one of the most destitute homeless shelters in Atlanta. Where was God? This idea that God always provides fell flat as I met day in and day out with people whose faith was no less devout than mine and yet found no divine provision. Where was God? The simplistic answers to why God let bad things happen just failed to make sense in the face of all I saw. Everything certainly didn’t happen for some deeply spiritual reason. Rather, the systems of oppression in our society that hold some back while others thrive- that was the reason. God that could fix this but did not… hmm I don’t think that is satisfactory. I suspect this could be (will be) a whole post unto itself. But in short, something had to shift. The faith framework I was given was lacking in its ability to make sense of the world around me, let alone my own experiences.
As my journey has continued, I find so much is a mystery. Many things don’t make sense. Many things are simply better when we let them be unexplainable.
In my first year of Seminary I learned about some of the well-known Christian mystics. I’ll spare you the details, but one thing that was often a common thread was the idea of “the negative way” or via negativa. This way of speaking about God moves beyond using any human concepts of language for God, and instead moves us toward what God is not, trusting only in the presence of the Divine. So, while positive theology or “kataphatic theology” might say “God is Love” or “God is truth,” the negative way, or apophatic theology, moves beyond these concepts of the Divine, recognizing that they ultimately fall short of the Divine reality. Mysticism then seeks to experience the Divine which is beyond words, beyond understanding or concepts, a mystery. The quote above from The Cloud of Unknowing speaks this reality- if we are to fully experience the Divine, it isn’t in our intellect, our words, or our theology. Rather it is in this place of unknown, as we simply reach out into the Divine presence.
As someone who wrestled with so many questions, this sense of mystery as a means of connecting with the divine resonated with me. It was comforting. I found myself at peace in this place of unknown. A place my mind couldn’t articulate but my heart could rest in the presence of Love. Perhaps everything didn’t have to make perfect sense. Perhaps everything didn’t need a well-articulated argument or thesis. Perhaps some things are beyond our understanding or words and are simply something to be leaned into.
As we move through this journey of life, sometimes we find wisdom. Sometimes we find things that work. Other times we find… just questions. Often people come to me as a clergy person looking for answers. I write not to offer all the answers or solutions. I don’t have them. I write to share where I’ve found wisdom, love, peace, joy, or comfort. I hope you’ll share your experiences. Maybe I’ll write about life, or spirituality. Maybe I’ll write about dogs, parenting, music and woodworking. It’s all life and all spirit.
While I don’t have all the answers to offer you, I promise to not be afraid of the questions. Friends let us explore this journey of life together. Let us dance with the mystery of the Divine.
About This Blog
I will write from my own experience and place in life. My goal is to share what I’ve found to be helpful in my life. It may or may not be something that works for you. I aim to share, not to “should” on you. I invite you to explore and reflect with me.