Christianity, Contemplation, and the Search for the Other

I have been on a perplexing journey throughout my undergrad career. Being a recent convert to Christianity, I jumped from major to major, settling on biblical studies near the end of my junior year. Biblical studies is fascinating to me, for it peels back the layers of the text and gives you the tools to uncover meaning – that no pastor can really provide for you. I loved it. And I became very good at it. I’ve been eager to graduate and join the gruff old men who dominate the field, and breathe life into it. But I have been feeling that this is not enough.

I may sound cliche, but I’ve come to a point where I realize that right knowledge and knowing the Bible is not all that Christianity is about. This has caused me to existential spiral, for within my Protestant circles, the Bible informs how you think and ultimately your worldview. To say that the Bible is not all that there is to the religion strips it of its purpose for Christians. So what is faith, then? Why do I even follow a religion whose tenets are based solely on the Bible? To be quite honest, I’m surprised I haven’t apostatized because of how much this has wrecked me.

Being disillusioned with the Bible and its errors have left me questioning, but I believe that I need to go beyond the Bible and seek God. It sounds counter-intuitive, especially to me and what I was taught, but I believe that God is not confined to the pages of the Bible, and likewise, existed before the Bible. It’s simplistic and obvious, but think about it. If one only learns about God within the context of these stories and never experiences God outside of that context, then the Bible becomes the only source for divine encounters. What I seek now is not of this world, but this Divine Other, who is so beyond my comprehension that I don’t even know where to begin within my tradition.

What I seek now is Christian mysticism. This in part is due to an interview Michael Gungor and Mike McHargue have with Richard Rohr on the subject. Rohr’s insightful responses and dialogue about the issues I’m facing, as well as numerous other disillusioned Christians, have brought me to a better place in understanding the experiential nature of Christianity. It also brings me back to a text I read a year ago, The Cloud of Unknowing. An anonymous text from the Middle Ages, the writer guides the reader through the art of contemplative prayer. Often cryptic and hard to follow, two images have stuck with me nevertheless.

Seeking God is like thrusting your head into a cloud of unknowing. It’s scary and it’s like trying to conceive what cannot be conceived with our minds. Yet one still thrusts their head into this murky unknowable cloud trying to seek the Divine. The author also presents the image of a cloud of forgetting – while trying to seek God and find him, one is left without a sense of self. It’s as if everything fades away as unimportant and your identity is left in this seeking of God. This process feels futile at first, but when one’s exhausted and frustrated and finally quiets themself, then it is when the Divine appears and is present with them.

I believe that I am maturing in my understanding about God, and about the religion I follow. This mysticism has left me feeling very out of place, if not mildly heretical. Yet it is this space, of unknowing and forgetting that I believe God breathes and is with me. As the Cloud of Unknowing puts it, “For love may reach God in this life, but knowledge may not.”

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