The Centering Prayer tradition is informed by the fourteenth century spiritual classic, The Cloud of Unknowing, contemporized in William Meninger’s book, The Loving Search For God. “The Cloud” in the title refers to Jesus’ transfiguration in a cloud on Mount Tabor and God’s appearance to Moses in a cloud on Mount Sinai (Luke 9:28-36, Exodus 34:29).
When we go deeper into silent prayer, God becomes less tangible and distinct. There’s an “unknowing” in God’s presence…visceral, real, yet indefinite like a cloud. The unknowing quality of silence makes it mysterious and scary. Yet, the inexplicable silences give an instinctive feeling that silence is good and benefits us. After silent prayer I feel the same way I do after a run: healthy and good. Many mainstream health enthusiasts now teach the therapeutic effects of silent prayer. However in the deep silences there’s this “cloud of unknowing” that goes against our cultural conditioning and makes us uncomfortable.
The author of The Cloud teaches us to be “unclothed” in our approach to God. In other words, to be naked of all thoughts, concepts, perceptions… We can only come before God nude, stripped of all knowing and all images (Exodus 20:4). This is complete surrender. Nakedness was Adam and Eve’s state in Eden before separation from God.