The Cloud of Unknowing Sorta

By: Brian Robertson



bozo the clown bop bagI’m sure some people out there still remember the blow-up toys of childhood — I think mine was a version of Bozo the Clown — that you could punch and it would spring back up, smiling, happy for another sock on the jaw.

It accomplished that small feat by having a weight in it’s base that brought it upright each time. Alan Watts said that our life was sometimes like that — seven times down, eight times up. He also made a point that one of the problems in the West is that all the weight is not in the gut, centering, but, rather, in the head.

In other words, sometimes we think too much.

I’m more than guilty of that. Part of what it means to be drawn onto the spiritual path in life is to think things through, sometimes through and through and then back again. I don’t doubt that theological arguments or, if we’re being charitable, understandings, can and are an important part of it all. Great conclaves in the first five hundred years of Christianity were called together to discuss and settle points such as the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the exact nature and makeup of Jesus — divine or human or both and in what percentage. All this was done with an exceedingly straight face — including a few tortures and book burnings — as if our ideas and concepts hold even a lit match to the blowing wind of God’s Truths.

Where God unites, beliefs separate us. Furthermore, anyone who calls him or herself a Christian who doesn’t wrestle with ideas and concepts and doubts doesn’t have a clue as to what it means to be a Christian. At some point you have to stumble along in those times when all about you is dark, when you can’t yet see but somehow keep expecting to see that face, the one you’ll know even if you’ve never see it before, it’s features moving toward you or briefly hinted at by the slightest parting of shadows. We are Christians not because we always know, but because we are always known by God, not because we are certain, but because that confusion, that sense of being lost, is nothing but a load that has been taken off our shoulders and the yoke that remains is gentle, not harsh. If we do not arrive, we travel hopefully, not in arrogance of the mind but in the humble nature of the heart.

cloud funThe famous inspirational book on contemplation, The Cloud of Unknowing (free here through our ebooks), very wisely notes all this about too many ideas and concepts and advises that one must, in trying to approach God, fashion for one’s self a barrier of unknowing above us, as it were. It is through that cloud one can do only what one can do — throw darts of the love of longing toward the target that faith and experience say is on the other side, unknowable itself.

In more practical terms, my prayers have always been toward God and my conversations have always been toward Jesus, that shadowy figure who seems, sometimes, to be walking or sitting next to me, sometimes silent, sometimes nodding, sometimes saying, perhaps with a sigh, “Me, too.” I don’t have a grand theological slice of dogma to flash the way the cops in old movies sometimes flashed their badges when they wanted attention and passage, but usually on the sly. I can only listen to my heart and I can only see where my heart leads and how the spirit (or Spirit) in me expresses itself.

The closest I can come, often, is to know that Jesus is that which points us toward God, the Way which makes what cannot be grasped by the intellect or understood with the theories at long last accessible. The questions aren’t answered, but they can be safely set aside for a while, and it is when I try to impose myself — the weight in my head — between myself and Jesus or myself and God that am farthest away from what I believe to be my true home.

We don’t have a sense of the rational and the gift of pondering and thinking in spite of God, but, rather, because of God. That is because the journey is one of the mind and the heart (which is closest to what the Biblical-era heart meant) and if we are simply to respond on a binary basis of on/off, God/no God then what is the purpose of freedom of will and the other freedoms that make us fully human, the range of thoughts that leads beyond itself as if climbing a ladder into the cloud itself?

St. John of the Cross put it this way:

I entered in, I know not where
And I remained, though knowing naught,
Transcending knowledge with my thought.

We have thoughts and we have theories because somehow we have to know within ourselves that that particular road can be exhausted, can lay down a false trail, and somehow the ego with its demands and showboating and self-worth has to be unmasked at last as the Wizard in Dorothy’s adventure who, at the time of discovery, blusters, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” It is at that point in the movie, almost shrugging, it finally fesses up to the truth — I’m an illusion, I’m not in charge, I can be seen through, I’m not the real you, I really don’t even have that power, certainly not in the way you’ve thought all along, so far in your life.


Rev. Brian Robertson