We began meeting via the internet two weeks ago and we have another meeting this evening. I’m glad we did, because it has helped me keep my focus on prayer despite all the temptation to binge on social media and bad news.
During this time of social distancing and isolation, many of us are experiencing anxiety, loneliness, and fear. Some of us have had loved ones who have become sick or have died; some of us have loved ones who work on the front lines in the healthcare industry or as hospital chaplains; some of us have lost our jobs and none of us knows what the future holds regarding the economy.
Prayer helps ease these fears because it draws us closer to God who is the Prince of Peace.
However, maybe some of us are finding the old tried and true methods of drawing closer to God are not “working” in the same way they used to. Even with the imposed extra time we have at home, maybe we’re finding it’s not that easy to pray—and that maybe the excuse we had that we were “too busy” masked something deeper that now comes to light.
One of the classics in the English Catholic mystical tradition is The Cloud of Unknowing and now might be a time to revisit this patrimonial work. To help with that, David Torkington kindly send me a chapter of his book Wisdom from the Western Isles on The Cloud with permission to post it here on the blog.
The Cloud of Unknowing
Once again Peter arrived almost half an hour late. It was most uncharacteristic of him, but I knew he had a lot on his plate.
“Now that I have briefly outlined the mystic way,” he said, “let me come to the predicament in which you find yourself.
“Everybody who prays seriously and consistently for any length of time will eventually find themselves on the other side of first fervour, at the threshold of the night. This is the moment when the vast majority who come this far in prayer usually pack it all in – I know I nearly did. All my attempts at prayer were a complete failure. Each time I tried to pray in the way I once could I simply got nowhere. The Scriptures, the devotions, the meditations that moved me before moved me no more. Two tormentors always accompanied me to prayer. The first was a raking desire for God, the second was a mind full of distractions that drove me crazy, because I couldn’t do anything about them. So my heart was restless inside and outside the prayer that I thought was pointless. I was continually tempted to pack it all in and do something more constructive with my time.”
“That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling,” I said, “and the truth is I have been making a run for it, but I don’t seem to be getting very far because nothing satisfies me any more. I can’t even get any pleasure out of the hobbies and the enthusiasms that used to excite me before.”
“Right,” said Peter. “All that you are saying confirms that you are on the right, not the wrong, path. In this strange new world in which you find yourself, it’s as if you are caught between heaven and earth. Your heart wants to reach out and touch the love that has already touched you, but endless distractions vie with one another to draw you away from what you desperately desire. What you must now learn to do is to keep your heart’s gaze fixed upon God, come hell or high water – nothing else matters. You can forget all the forms of prayer that helped you so much in the past, because they won’t help you to continue in the future. Now you must learn to travel by contemplation, not by meditation.