Between Knowing and Loving
Some six hundred years ago, in what has become a classic of Western spirituality, the anonymous English author of The Cloud of Unknowing is trying to show us the only way we can approach God: “No one can fully comprehend the uncreated God with knowledge, but each one, in a different way, can grasp him fully through love.” This love, understood as pure presence and connection, can only be experienced in the silence beneath words and the rational thought that speaks them.
But even this pure experience must still take place within the context of scripture, ethics, and the needs of our own human relationships so that our experience of love doesn’t become so subjective and inward that it actually becomes abusive. It’s a balance between knowing and loving that takes us to God’s presence, a balance between the concepts and teachings that limit error, and the love-as-presence that is unlimited enough to embrace God as God really is.
Jesus as poet and teacher shows us this balance especially clearly in his Sermon on the Mount. At the same time he’s using the tools of poetry: metaphor, hyperbole, figures of speech, imagery, humor to evoke the experience of presence, he’s also laying out concrete commands that ground us in human relationship: how to pray, loving the enemy, letting go of judgment and worry. It’s the balance between knowing and loving in a poetic package aimed at an audience with no real ability to write.
The Sermon is poetry meant to be easily remembered in its original language—to be repeatedly spoken or sung out loud, memorized and passed on in an oral tradition like the Songlines of Australia’s Aborigines. A portable spirituality that we can never lose because we ourselves have become the book.
Poetry aimed at the ear and not the eye, at hands and feet rather than head balances us between passive thought and love in action—between love as free and immersive as the air we breathe, and the desire to steadily work our Way to the vulnerability and gratitude that are the only Way to embrace an unseen gift as it really is.