Some Reflections On Union With Christ

Very little is known about the Author of “The Cloud of Unknowing” which was written in the latter half of the 14th Century. But the content of this book is now often quoted by Christians who are interested in understanding and exploring Contemplative Prayer. Perhaps one of the most famous quotes relates to how we can experience union or oneness with Christ.

"For He can well be loved, but he cannot be thought. By love he can be grasped and held, but by thought, neither grasped nor held. And therefore, though it may be good at times to think specifically of the kindness and excellence of God, and though this may be a light and a part of contemplation, all the same, in the work of contemplation itself, it must be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And you must step above it stoutly but deftly, with a devout and delightful stirring of love, and struggle to pierce that darkness above you; and beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love, and do not give up, whatever happens.”

The Author of The Cloud does not reject the value of “thinking specifically” on various areas of doctrine. But he goes further and speaks of a longing love that seeks to meet with and encounter God in the depths of the heart – “He can well be loved, but he cannot be thought.”

The cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ are at the heart of the Christian Gospel. The necessity for atonement is required due to the alienation of men and women from a God who longs for relationship and intimacy to be restored. At-one-ment is made possible through the propitiation and expiation of the cross of Jesus. He satisfied the justice of God and took away our sins. The possibility of justification by faith hinges on the cross of Jesus. The possibility of reconciliation and relationship restored is offered to all. God has spoken decisively in history that he is for us and not against us. But relationship has always been a two way street. Through faith we can mindfully align with the at-one-ment of Jesus and begin to experience union with God through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

What is rather intriguing is the way that many forms of western Christianity have on purpose or sometimes by default sought to divorce propositional truth from experiential reality. Martyn Lloyd Jones was well aware of this danger of dead orthodoxy when he described some as “perfectly orthodox, perfectly useless!” According to Blaise Pascal “there is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which only Christ can fill.” Not a doctrine, a precept, a theology or a list of commandments but a Person. It is at this point that theological orthodoxy must meet with the contemplative life. Christian mindfulness reclaims the experiential possibilities of oneness with Jesus Christ.

The stress and pressures of modern life have for many reached breaking point. A recent study by the American Psychological Association shows that 1 in 3 “feel like they are living with extreme stress” and that stress levels in the last five years (2009 to 2013) have increased substantially. It is in the face of these realities that many are turning towards mindfulness and meditation as a way of regulating thoughts and feelings and building greater resilience against stress. The value of meditation and mindfulness is causing many to re-evaluate their approach to religious practices and meditative forms of spirituality. Personally I do not see this as a threat to biblical or orthodox Christianity. Quite the opposite.

The oneness offered through the at-one-ment of Christ crucified offers a place of rest and peace to all hearts. But sound doctrine is not enough. Christian contemplation offers a missing part of the jigsaw that has for too long been shunned and ignored. Holistic spirituality can be fully biblical but also relate to the whole person. This means we can grow in awareness of ourselves, of others and of our oneness with Christ through our faith in the at-one-ment. There is no part of our being that remains untouched by redemption. It is because of the cross of Jesus that mindful awareness can be experienced in the light of God’s Presence and through the smile of his love radiating within.


© Richard H H Johnston