Patricia Hofer

Cloud of Unknowing

Excerpt from Yielding To Wonder, pages 114-115

More recently I’ve been reading the thoughts of Christian mystics throughout the centuries. One book that I’ve found to be helpful is Cloud of Unknowing, likely written by a 14th century cloistered monk who was devoted to the contemplative life. The writer has since come to be recognized as a Christian mystic of genius and originality (Evelyn Underhill v).

Cloud of Unknowing—a 14th century anonymous work written by a priest and mystic.

In his older language, he wrote of the importance of being “meeked” (made meek), and he defined meekness as “a true knowing and feeling of a man’s self as he is” (Underhill 27). We are “meeked” in an imperfect way, he writes, as we acknowledge and accept our frailties and failures and sinfulness. And we are “meeked” in a perfect way through God’s “overabundant love” and by our need for that divine love and forgiving grace (27).

Both are essential. We cannot skip the travail that comes with the imperfect way. With “true knowing” we admit to and mourn the worldly sins that have manipulated us and distracted us and falsely attracted us (29). For any Christian to skip this admission is to be “belapped in foul stinking pride” (Underhill 30).

But self-knowledge alone isn’t going to strengthen us or make us meek. In fact, the thoughtful priest writes that we shouldn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the “foul stinking fen and dunghill” (34) of our sins but rather look only to God’s love. He points out that the woman who came to Jesus when he was at the Pharisee’s house did not make a long story bemoaning her sinfulness and her sorrow. Being “meeked” in the imperfect way, she wept, expecting nothing. Being “meeked” in the perfect way, she washed his feet and “loved much” (KJ Luke 7:47).