Brian Wilcox. 'The Union of Two'
God is a pure no-thing,
concealed in now and here:
the less you reach for him,
the more he will appear.
Angelus Silesius (b. ca. 1624)
Shitou (b. 700) is one of the two possible sages from which all branches of Zen flow. One of his disciples asked him about the essence of the Buddha-teaching (i.e., Buddhadharma). Shitou answered, “Not to attain, not to know.” The disciple asked whether there was any other pivotal point. Shitou said, “The wide sky does not obstruct the white clouds drifting.”
* * *
A Christain shared with the Sage about a change in her relationship with her Lord.
I trust my Lord remains close to me. But now, though it's intimate, it doesn't feel personal. I mean, it's intimate but obscure. I seem unable to know what my Lord is, even what to call Him, or Her, or whatever. I used to be so certain.
Your experience sounds like that many Christian contemplatives speak of as the Cloud of Unknowing.
So, is this a common experience?
Yes, for those who descend into the Heart. This move is from a sense of disunion from the Beloved to the experience of union. All you had known about your Lord was based on being separate from your Lord. Even if you trusted He was near, you related to Him only as an object, like a thing you could name. Yet, your Lord is not a thing; your Lord is Nothing, or no-thing. Your religion did not give you a vocabulary for Nothing, only your Lord as a something. There is no language or imagery for Nothing.
How can you image spaciousness?
What do you say it is?
Can one rightly speak of One,
when there is no not-One or more-than-One?
Interesting and a little confusing, but I think I understand what you mean. Now, what is this Cloud of Unknowing?
The Cloud of Unknowing signifies what you have spoken of as your experience. You can no longer know your Lord as you did, such as the teachings, ideas, and images by which you knew Him. This loss happens for you undergo un-knowing. This un-knowing does not mean not-knowing; un-knowing means you know anew through the previous way of knowing being transformed in the Fires of Love. Paradoxically, the more you un-understand your God, the more you know your God.
I don't know whom I can speak with about this. Those I worship with might think I'm crazy or heretical.
They might, yes. Even if you have someone you can share this with, you must go this way alone, and this can feel lonely. But keep going. You will come out on the other side. And receive guidance from someone who has gone through this, if you can. Avoid sharing this with anyone you are not sure will be in sympathy with your experience.
* * *
Shitou speaks of this not-knowing. He adds, "The wide sky does not obstruct the white clouds moving." All things can freely move through sky. The sky never says to a cloud, "No," but is welcoming.
I, when a teen, delivered the morning message on Sunday at a church. I was to speak at the night meeting too. After the morning worship, a family invited me home for lunch and to stay there until that night. In the early evening, the family prepared to go back early for a class, leaving me at the house. I assured them I knew the way back to the sanctuary.
I left later and got lost trying to find the way back to the church. I drove around, somewhat fascinated with not knowing where I was, and where I was not. I came upon a church, not the one I was looking for, and that congregation was already in its worship meeting.
I got out of my Cutlass Supreme and walked inside, interrupting the meeting while standing in the middle aisle. I told the congregation who I was, that I was lost, and the place I needed directions to. The people smiled, seeing the humor in my lostness. Someone spoke out the directions. I walked out, drove away, and soon arrived at the destination. I walked inside, down the middle aisle, and sat on the front pew, while the congregation was singing a hymn. Later, as I stood to speak, I shared the story of the return. They found it a funny matter. I did too.
On that journey of lostness, I felt like Shitou's unobstructed cloud, while I drove those rural roads. I did not know the way. Yet, I felt a freedom, a humorousness. I, when younger, often felt that way when lost on the road.
See, being lost, not knowing the way through what she was in, for the Christian devotee who spoke with the Sage, meant something important was happening. Her relationship with her Beloved was as real as before. Her role, as the Sage said, was to be the spaciousness where the unknowing could evolve, so her relationship with her Lord could be transformed into a more subtle, intimate one. This transition was not meant to be drudgery. If she relaxed into the unknowing, affirming her love for her Beloved, she would find adventure in the deepening of her love for her Lord.
I often feel this need to relax into the unknowing. I find it easier than when I was going through the intensity of unlearning what I had believed about God. In our spiritual path, we may go through over and over, to varying degrees, this unlearning into unknowing. We never come to the bottom of the depths of Grace, so we never come to the end of letting ourselves sink into the Unknown.
* * *
we two within
the cloud dark
so dense with
ardent longing for
I could no longer find
while pining, and more,
for Your Embrace
but did think was heard
the beating of a Heart
following it, I lay my head
in the night
upon Your breasts
and found such bliss and rest
I cannot tell
only that somehow
I know not how -
we two awoke
in the Morning
©️ Brian Wilcox, 2020
*Angelus Silesius was a Catholic priest, mystic, poet, and physician. His poem is in Roger Housden. For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics.