Contemplative Profiles: The Cloud of Unknowing

One of the most influential books on contemplative prayer was penned anonymously in Middle English in Midland England during the latter half of the 14th century. The monk, presumed to be a Carthusian dedicated to constant silence and contemplation, shared a series of instructions presumably with a student.

A series of 17 manuscripts preserved the book, and a handful of scholars and contemplatives studied it over the years. However, it finally took on a wider notice in the 1900’s as the contemplative prayer movement sought to make the prayer practices of the historic church accessible for all. While contemplative prayer was quite common among all Christians until the 1600’s, it has enjoyed a revival thanks to the faithful work of this solitary monk and those who have continued to practice the loving search for God.


We read the following about this anonymous monk in Christian History:


“His intentional anonymity illustrates his main message: Christ must become more visible as his followers grow kinder and humbler. Anonymous wants readers “sincere in their intentions to follow Christ” in love. A series of letters written by this master teacher to his student, the Cloud represents the ancient tradition of Christian contemplative wisdom.”


We can’t think our way to God. That’s why I’m willing to abandon everything I know, to love the one thing I cannot think. He can be loved, but not thought. By love, God can be embraced and held, but not by thinking.


You only need a naked intent for God. When you long for him, that’s enough. If you want to gather this focus into one word, making it easier to grasp, select a little word of one syllable, not two. The shorter the word, the more it helps the work of the spirit. God or love works well. Fasten it to your heart. Fix your mind on it permanently, so nothing can dislodge it.


Read more about the Cloud of Unknowing in the updated work by William Meninger, The Loving Search for God: Contemplative Prayer and the Cloud of Unknowing.



Ask the Holy Spirit to show you a word or phrase you can focus on for five minutes today.