Cloud of Unknowing

A call divided by two

…those called to salvation and those called to perfection. Whether you feel called to one or the other is unimportant. What is important is that you attend to your own calling and do not discuss or judge God’s designs in the lives of others. Do not meddle in His affairs: whom He stirs and calls and whom He does not; when He calls, whether early or late; or why He calls one and not another. Believe me, if you begin judging this and that about other people you will fall into error….If He calls you, praise Him and pray that you may perfectly respond to His grace….

Be at peace in your own calling. Whether you wait outside in meditation or come within by contemplation, you have no cause to complain; both are precious…..

…two kinds of evidence for discerning whether or not God is calling….interior sign is that growing desire for contemplation constantly intruding in your daily devotions…If they (devotions) are filled with the memory of your own sinfulness, considerations of Christ’s Passion, or anything else pertaining to the ordinary Christian way of prayer…know that the spiritual insight accompanying and following upon this blind desire originates in your ordinary grace…a sure sign that God is not calling you to a more intense life of grace…second sign is exterior (through the senses) and it manifests itself as a certain joyful enthusiasm welling up within you, whenever you hear or read about contemplation….if the joyful enthusiasm persists, remaining with you when you have left your reading. If it disappears immediately or soon after and does not pursue you in all else you do, know that it is not a special touch of grace. If it is not with you when you go to sleep and wake up, and if it does not go before you, constantly intruding in all you do, enkindling and capturing your desire, it is not God’s call to a more intense life of grace… –‘The Book of Privy Counseling’

I recall purchasing ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ and ‘The Book of Privy Counseling’, along with ‘Secret of the Rosary’ by St Louis de Montfort, decades ago, yet I do not recall the readings. I know I read them, however my thoughts are not there. What were my impressions as a young man approximately in my twenties? I have no idea regarding specifics. What I do know is that an attraction existed, an affinity that could not be denied. I struggled mightily as a young man, yet when these books were in my hands nothing else mattered. Nothing else mattered when I read the books.  Within the pages, my destiny reposed. The message was beyond the books. Other books also carried the message. The personal key was the unlocking of an interior door, the planting and nurturing of a seed by the grace of God. Now I read ‘The Book of Privy Counseling’ and everything crystalizes. I like the two signs for discernment in regards to distinguishing whether one is to pursue the contemplative life, or remain simply within the grace of salvation. I am convinced it is important to distinguish the calling of others. That is not a call to judgement, nor must the effort drain energy. The key is the preservation of energy and faculties in order to heighten contemplative efforts. Those who identify themselves as contemplatives, desiring to instruct, assist, and attach themselves to true contemplatives must be identified. Like an electrical short circuit carrying amperage directly to ground, wasting potential energy for work, the self-assigned contemplative is a destructive spiritual force. An individual working through sheer free will within a self-identified calling presents intense spiritual danger. Typically such individuals will be focused upon sharing, instructing, dominating the spiritual lives of others. They concentrate upon social and exterior efforts, rather than prayer; stuck in a meditative approach, dependent upon reason, imagination, and linear thought. They are doing everything based upon their desires and efforts. Satan will attempt to use them to destroy the authentic efforts of those being called to a deeper life. Without confrontation, the contemplative pursuing the hearkening of God must learn whom to trust, while loving everyone as equals. It is not only important to master self-knowledge—for it is only through humbly knowing my strengths and accepting my imperfections that I can expand upon grace—yet it is also being able to know and accept others for who they truly are. I must develop keen insight into others, allowing proper identification, able to distinguish those living lives of delusion.

Quickly for I am exhausted, the weekend has been interesting, complex on many levels. Friday night with the Benedictines at St Andrew Abbey, I was welcomed even further. Another brother I met from the open house ushered me in, insisting I sit amongst the monks. It was a blessed evening of prayer and adoration positioned amongst the religious brothers. Humbly, I felt empowerment within my prayer efforts. Friday and Saturday evenings, I viewed at the Cleveland Cinematheque the first two Bengali films in the Apu Trilogy by Satyajit Ray. Incredible black and white Indian films intensely realistic in detailing the life of an impoverished Indian family. The images are incredible. The films provide a powerful contemplation upon the experience of being human.  Regarding attached video: not the best quality, yet absorb these images and sounds.  Music by Ravi Shankar

A final note. I endured another embarrassing wrathful explosion upon Ann Najjar that I would like to highlight.  She proves to be an enlightening individual by demonstrating how not to conduct a deeper spiritual life.  Once again, detailed above, it is vital for a contemplative expanding upon grace to comprehend those not called to the contemplative life.  If God is not calling someone to the contemplative life, they should not be involving themselves in the contemplative life of others.  Another important spiritual lesson, a teaching of Abbot Lehodey, is to understand that complexities, problems, and messes I make within my life are not spiritual crosses to bear.  They are mistakes.  Bad decisions leading to difficult consequences are not crosses to bear.  There is no grace in suffering through them.  It is pretentiously presumptuous and erroneously arrogant to think my blunders and ignorance are to be offered up as righteous suffering to God.  I cannot inflict free will upon others and life and then when dilemmas arise from my poor choices and behavior play the martyr, informing everyone that I will endure the cruelties of life in order to love God greater.  That is nothing more than the multiplying of spiritual waywardness.  The spiritual lesson to be garnered is the understanding and attaining of virtuous thought and behavior–improving and transforming myself is the call of duty.  My mistakes demand I make improvements.  Errant thought demands I undergo a psychic change.  Nothing more. Absolutely, no opportunity for playing the hero exists within self-inflicted wounds.  That correlates with the idea of God closing one door in order to open another.  It is a Dr Nichta thought, and a good one to think about.  The majority of time when God removes us from a situation, it is because we have made such a mess of a situation that He is forced to create conditions allowing us a fresh start.  I cannot leave disaster after disaster in my wake, arriving in new situations and environments with the mindset that what is important is to figure out why God placed me in a new opportunity, focusing solely on the new things in my life.  I must understand my accountability for the messes God was forced to remove me from. I cannot be fired from jobs time after time, dealing with the situation by concentrating upon why God wants me in a new job, accepting the firings as harsh cruel realities of the world, seeing myself as a victim. The situation demands I figure out what in the world I was doing so horribly wrong. It was not God who had me fired. I got myself fired. I must comprehend and learn from my past in order to properly work through God within my future.  All a part of the necessity of thorough self-knowledge.

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Storms come and storms pass. Patience fortified within virtue.

Great storms and temptations shall doubtlessly arise during this journey, leaving you bewildered and wondering which way to turn for help, for your affection will feel deprived of both your ordinary grace and your special grace. Yet I say again: fear not. Even though you think you have great reason to fear, do not panic. Instead, keep in your heart a loving trust in our Lord, or at any rate, do so as best you can under the circumstances. Truly, he is not far away and perhaps at any moment he will turn to you, touching you more intensely than ever in the past with a quickening of the contemplative grace. Then for as long as it remains, you will think you are healed and that all is well. But when you least, expect, it will be gone again, and again you will feel abandoned in your ship, blown hither and yon, you know not where. Still, do not lose heart, I promise you he will return and soon. In his own time he will come to your rescue and receive your anguish. As often as he goes, he will come back. And if you will manfully suffer it all with gentle love, each coming will be more marvelous and more joyful than the last. Remember, all he does, he does with wise intent; he desires that you become as spiritually supple and shaped to his will as a fine Roan glove is to your hand.

…In the absence of all enthusiasm he will have you learn the real meaning of patience. With your enthusiasm gone you will think you have lost Him, too, but this is not so, it is only that he wishes to teach you patience. For make no mistake about this; God may at times withdraw sweet emotions, joyful enthusiasm, and burning desires but he never withdraw his grace form those he has chosen, except in the case of deadly sin. Of this I am certain. All the rest, emotions, enthusiasm, and desires, are not in themselves grace, only tokens of grace. And these he may often withdraw, sometimes to strengthen our patience, sometimes for other reasons, but always for our spiritual good, though we may never understand. Grace, we must remember, in itself, is so high, so pure, and so spiritual that our senses and emotions are actually incapable of experiencing it. The sensible fervor they experience are the tokens of grace, not grace itself. These our Lord will withdraw from time to time to deepen and mature our patience.  –The Book of Privy Counseling

lightning-storm-at-sea-wallpaper-2

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The extending of grace

…outside of God’s special intervention, I believe it is humanly impossible for a sinner to come to a peaceful repose in the spiritual experience of himself and of God until he has first exercised his imagination and reason in appreciating his own human potential, as well as the manifold works of God, and until he has learned to grieve over sin and find his joy in goodness. Believe me, whoever will not journey by this path will go astray. One must remain outside contemplation, occupied in discursive meditation, even though he would prefer to enter into the contemplative repose beyond them. Many mistakenly believe that they have passed within the spiritual door when, in reality, they are still outside it. What is more, they shall remain outside until they learn to seek the door in humble love. Some find the door and enter within sooner than others, not because they possess a special admittance or unusual merit, but simply because the porter chooses to let them in.

And oh, what a delightful place is the household of the spirit! Here the Lord himself is not only the porter but the door. As God, he is the porter; as man, he is the door. And thus in the Gospel he says:

I am the door of the sheepfold
He that enters by me shall be saved.
He shall go in and go out
And find pastures.
He that enters not through the door
But climbs up another way
The same as a thief and a robber.

‘The Book of Privy Counseling’

Jesus child shepherd

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Detachment from self on into passive activity

If we keep the vanity of all things constantly in our thoughts, we will be able to withdraw our affections from trivial things and fix them on eternal things….We must be very careful, for as soon as we begin to grow fond of small things we must withdraw our thoughts from them and turn our thoughts to God….we must become detached from ourselves. It is difficult to withdraw from ourselves and oppose ourselves, because we are very close to ourselves and love ourselves very dearly.

This is where true humility can enter. True humility and detachment from self always go together. You must embrace them, love them, and never be seen without them. –Teresa of Avila ‘The Way of Perfection’

Although I have encouraged you to set out in the contemplative way with simplicity and boldness, nevertheless I am certain, without doubt or fear of error, that Almighty God himself, independently of all techniques, must always be the chief worker in contemplation. It is he who must awaken this gift in you by His grace. And what you must do is make yourselves completely receptive, consenting, and suffering His divine action in the depths of your spirit. Yet the passive consent and endurance you bring to this work is really a distinctively active attitude; for by the singleness of your desire ever reaching up to your Lord, you continually open yourself to His action. –‘The Book of Privy Counseling’

This beautiful artwork by J. Tissot presents the Virgin Mary prayerfully kneeling on Mt. Calvary. She casts her eyes downward to the hole that held the Cross her Son died upon. She embodies the forsaking of self, allowing the ascendancy of God within one’s life

This beautiful artwork by J. Tissot shows the Virgin Mary kneeling on Mt. Calvary and praying. She looks down at the hole that held the Cross of her Son, Jesus Christ. She embodies the forsaking of self, allowing the personal ascendancy of God within one's life

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Abandonment while participating

Now it is enough to worship God perfectly with your substance, that is, with the offering of your naked being….Leave the awareness of your being unclothed of all thoughts about its attributes, and your mind quite empty of all particular details relating to your being or that of any other creature. For such thoughts will not satisfy your present need, further your growth, nor bring you and others closer to perfection. Let them alone. Truly these meditations are useless to you now. But this blind, general awareness of your being, conceived in an undivided heart, will satisfy your present need, further your growth, and bring you and all mankind closer to perfection. Believe me, it far surpasses the value of any particular thought, no matter how sublime. –‘The Book of Privy Counseling’

I remember when I first came across the book combining ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ and ‘The Book of Privy Counseling’. It was during my confusing, wandering young adulthood, leaving the home of my parents to embark upon the life of an artist/writer, or whatever it was I was doing—a young observer of the world, heart open, seeking worldly experience. Consumed with a call, yet knowing nothing about where I was going, psychologically disturbed, lacking self-discipline, irresponsible, reckless, wounded and broken, immature emotionally, immature intellectually, open minded to the point of foolishness, I can only look back and identify divine providence as keeping me safe from harm’s way. God was watching over me–Mary my personal protector. The mentioned book containing two works, I purchased at a Salvation Army store in Toledo, Ohio, located on Sylvania Avenue in the early eighties. The moment is still right there before me. I discovered the book along with St Louis de Montfort’s ‘The Secrets of the Rosary’ digging through the stores large collection of paperbacks. Instantly, the cover of both books captivated, fascinating to a point of immersion—eliminating all other voices, creatures, and personal experiences. The books were found right next to one another. At that time, unemotionally, without great opinion, lacking all persuasion, I knew this was my path. Other avenues would be explored, however there was nothing I could do about matters. It was grace. It was not my decision. Here was my way. It continues to be my path. Now thirty years later, through much turmoil, the conviction remains, advancing to the solitary.

I find the inclusion of photography in my personal endeavors expanding. Images replacing thought. Vision replacing analyses. Observing replacing commentary. The living of that which is quoted above. Regarding photography, there is much to learn, not only taking photographs, yet also handling and editing. I am experimenting with aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings, as well as editing techniques, truly figuring out how to take and present quality photos. I am thinking about taking a class. I like the idea with respect to increasing my social activity in a healthy adult manner. There are several personal pursuits that demand patience. I admire the time calling me to do nothing. To busy myself with useless activity, flooding my life with new people, in order to obfuscate self-knowledge is dangerous. I am confident God desires that I prove I can turn my attention solely and simply upon Him. The Hospice of Western Reserve paperwork is filed. I must wait until classes in September for further qualifying for the volunteer work centered upon the Rosary. Alluring religious correspondence I hold in reserve, granting dignity and privacy, also slowly simmers upon a backburner. I learn to take photos and wait.

I offer a prayer/poem from Pope John Paul II.

O blessed Rosary of Mary,
Sweet chain that unites us to God,
Chain of love that unites us to the angels,
Tower of salvation against the assaults of Hell.
Safe harbor in the universal shipwreck,
We will never abandon you.
You will be our comfort in the hour of death,
To you the last kiss
Of our dying life.
And the final words on our lips
Will be your sweet name,
O Queen of the Rosary of Pompeii,
O dearest Mother,
O refuge of sinners,
O sovereign comforter of the afflicted.
Be everywhere blessed, today and forever,
On earth and in heaven.
Amen.

I was working with ISO settings and shutter speed, yet the heart of the photo proves greatest. My basketball friends bring a smile. Cliff, an 86 year old gentleman who plays with us, lost his wife over the weekend.

I was working with ISO settings and shutter speed, yet the heart of the photo proves greatest. My basketball friends bring a smile. Cliff, an 86 year old gentleman who plays with us, lost his wife over the weekend. Notice Ron warming up in the background.

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Grace oppossed to the sin of presumption, vain presumption boiling over

Be aware of pride; it is blasphemy against God in His gifts and it makes the sinner bold. If you were truly humble you would understand what I am trying to say. Contemplative prayer is God’s gift, wholly gratuitous. No one can earn it. It is the nature of this gift that one who receives it receives also the aptitude for it. No one can have this attitude without the gift itself. The aptitude for this work is one with the work; they are identical. He who experiences God working in the depths of his spirit has the aptitude for contemplation and no one else. For without God’s grace a person would be so completely insensitive to the reality of contemplative prayer that he would be unable to desire or long for it. You possess it to extent that you will and desire to possess it, no more and no less. But you will never desire to possess it until that which is ineffable and unknowable moves you to desire the ineffable and unknowable. Do not be curious to know more. I beg you. Only become increasingly faithful to this work until it becomes your whole life. –‘Cloud of Unknowing’ 34

….

Vainly considering himself clever and sophisticated about the spiritual life, it is not long before he begins to interpret what he hears in literal, material terms, entirely missing the deeper spiritual meaning. And so he foolishly strains his physical and emotional resources beyond reason. Neglecting the inspiration of grace and excited by vanity and conceit, he strains his endurance so morbidly that in no time he is weary and enervated in body and spirit. Then he feels the necessity to alleviate the pressure he has created by seeking some empty material or physical compensation as a relaxation for mind and body.

…spiritual blindness and the abuse he inflicts on his body in this pseudo-contemplation (for it can hardly be called spiritual) may lead him to arouse his passions unnaturally or work himself into a frenzy. And all this is the result of pseudo-spirituality and maltreating the body. It is instigated by his enemy, the fiend, who takes advantage of his pride, sensuality, and intellectual conceit to deceive him.

Yet unfortunately, these people believe that the excitement they feel is the fire of love kindled in their breasts by the Holy Spirit. From this deception and the like springs evil of every kind, much hypocrisy, heresy, and error. For this sort of pseudo-experience brings with it the false knowledge of the fiend’s (Satan’s) school just as an authentic experience brings with it understanding of the truth taught by God. Believe me when I say that the devil has his contemplatives as surely as God has his. –‘Cloud of Unknowing’ 45

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