How the Work of Contemplation is To Be Undertaken, and Why It Surpasses All Other Spiritual Works

"Lift up your heart towards God with a humble stirring of love; and think of himself, not of any good to be gained from him. See, too, that you refuse to think of anything but him, so that nothing acts in your intellect or will but God himself. And do what you can to forget all of God's creations and all their actions, so that your thoughts and desires are not directed and do not reach out towards any of them, in general or in particular. But leave them alone, and pay no heed to them.

"This is the work of the soul that pleases God most. All the saints and angels rejoice in this work, and hasten to help it with all their might. All the devils are driven crazy when you do this, and try to frustrate it in all ways they can. All people living on earth are marvellously helped by this work, in ways you do not know. Yes, the very souls in purgatory are relieved of their pain by the power of this work. You yourself are cleansed and made virtuous by this work more than any other. And yet it is the easiest work of all and the soonest completed, when a soul is helped by grace in the desire it feels; but otherwise it is hard, and you can do it only by miracle.

"Do not give up, then, but labour at it till you feel desire. For the first time you do it, you will find only a darkness, and as it were a cloud of unknowing, you do not know what, except that you feel in your will a naked purpose towards God. Whatever you do, this darkness and this cloud are between you and your God, and hold you back from seeing him clearly by the light of understanding in your reason and from experiencing him in the sweetness of love in your feelings. And so prepare to remain in this darkness as long as you can, always begging for him you love; for if you are ever to feel or to see him, so far as is possible in this life, it must always be in this cloud and this darkness. And if you are willing to labour eagerly as I tell you, I trust in his mercy that you will reach your goal."

--The Cloud of Unknowing (late 14th century), chapter 3, trans. A.C. Spearing (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2001), pp. 21-22.


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