The Cloud of Unknowing
THE FIRST TIME you practice contemplation, you'll only experience a darkness, like a cloud of unknowing. You won't know what this is. You'll only know that in your will you feel a simple reaching out to God. You must also know that this darkness and this cloud will always keep you from seeing him clearly by the light of understanding in your intellect and will block you from feeling him fully in the sweetness of love in your emotions. So be sure you make your home in this darkness. Stay there as long as you can, crying out to him over and over again, because you love him. It's the closest you can get to God here on earth, by waiting in this darkness and in this cloud.
This cloud in which we are to make our home is not a literal one or one we might draw with our imaginations. Such thinking is unhelpful. Indeed, we cannot approach God with our intellect or with our imagination. We can reach God only through love, with our hearts.
To aid ourselves in our practice, we must put everything else, all of creation, under a "cloud of forgetting." Nor should we think of God's qualities or of our love for God. All we need is a "naked intent for God." To help us, we can gather this focus into one word, one syllable, such as God or love or Jesus, which we can fasten on our hearts and use as a sword or a spear with which we beat upon the cloud of unknowing. For our task is to rid ourselves of all extraneous thoughts, even those that seem holy and helpful, so that we can come out of ourselves and approach God.
We cannot love and praise God fully while we are about the business of life. God asks of us complete dedication. In this exercise that we practice, of seeking to beat upon the cloud of unknowing between us and God, the author advises no moderation. Far from it. We are to indulge ourselves in contemplation. Excess in contemplation leads to balance in the rest of our lives. He writes, "I hope you'll never stop doing this loving work as long as you live."
Taken from The Cloud of Unknowing, author unknown, trans. Carmen Acevedo Butcher (Boston, Shambhala 2009) pp. 12, 24, 93.