This poem by St. John of the Cross, I Entered Into Unknowing, captures one of the most amazing aspects of mental prayer so well, that I could not help but post the whole thing after reading it tonight.
The poem describes one of the happy paradoxes of progressing in the unitive way: as the soul increases its intimacy with God, he gains greater love for God, and greater comprehension of God’s love for him. But, paradoxically, he also begins to understand how very little he understands, and delights in it.
None of this can happen without profound humility and purity, of course. A prideful person would never take solace in lack of comprehension, even when the topic in question is truly incomprehensible and ineffable.
Which brings me to the other reason I thought it was appropriate to post the poem tonight: It is ok to not understand exactly what is going on. It is ok to say “I don’t know.” You are not responsible for predicting the future.
You are simply responsible for 1) loving God with your whole heart, mind, and soul; 2) your neighbor as yourself; 3) for keeping the Commandments, and speaking the Truth of Jesus Christ and His Church.
It is absolutely true that fulfilling those obligations often means that we have to speak out on a controversial issue these days. But, it is also true that more people, myself included, need to be comfortable simply saying: “I don’t know.” Believe me, there is peace in that.
Here’s the poem:
I entered into unknowing, and there I remained unknowing transcending all knowledge.
1. I entered into unknowing, yet when I saw myself there, without knowing where I was, I understood great things; I will not say what I felt for I remained in unknowing transcending all knowledge.
2. That perfect knowledge was of peace and holiness held at no remove in profound solitude; it was something so secret that I was left stammering, transcending all knowledge.
3. I was so ‘whelmed, so absorbed and withdrawn, that my senses were left deprived of all their sensing, and my spirit was given an understanding while not understanding, transcending all knowledge.
4. He who truly arrives there cuts free from himself; all that he knew before now seems worthless, and his knowledge so soars that he is left in unknowing transcending all knowledge.
5. The higher he ascends the less he understands, because the cloud is dark which lit up the night; whoever knows this remains always in unknowing transcending all knowledge.
6. This knowledge in unknowing is so overwhelming that wise men disputing can never overthrow it, for their knowledge does not reach to the understanding of not understanding, transcending all knowledge.
7. And this supreme knowledge is so exalted that no power of man or learning can grasp it; he who masters himself will, with knowledge in unknowing, always be transcending.
8. And if you should want to hear: this highest knowledge lies in the loftiest sense of the essence of God; this is a work of his mercy, to leave one without understanding, transcending all knowledge. (St John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, Fourth Stanza)