Love never fails.
But where there are prophecies, they will cease;
where there are tongues, they will be stilled;
where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part…
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror;
then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part;
then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain; faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
I Corinthians 13:8-9a,12-13
When we open ourselves to God in prayer, we encounter mystery. In wonder and awe we open ourselves to our Creator, whom we only know in part.
Mystery is not a part of the spiritual diet many of us were raised on. Many of us have been taught that when it comes to God, it is vital for us to know all the right answers to all the right questions. This leaves very little room for mystery. In fact, people who talk about mystery may seem suspect in some way. As a result, God is too often reduced to something that can be controlled, analyzed, intellectualized and contained.
But Scripture teaches us that we see but a poor reflection. We can only know God in part. God is beyond our wildest dreams. God’s love and grace and power and beauty and goodness are beyond anything we can imagine.
When we enter a relationship with God in prayer, we enter a relationship with One who cannot be boxed or quantified. We enter a relationship with mystery.
This does not mean that God is unknowable. It does mean that our knowing will always be limited, especially our intellectual knowledge. So how do we embrace One whom we can only know in part? The answer in this text is that we know with our hearts. We embrace God and God embraces us in love.
The author of the Cloud of Unknowing, an anonymous book on contemplative prayer from the 14th century, put it this way:
He whom neither men nor angels can grasp by knowledge can be embraced by love. For the intellect of both men and angels is too small to comprehend God as he is in himself….No one can fully comprehend the uncreated God with his knowledge; but each one, in a different way, can grasp him fully through love. (The Cloud of Unknowing edited by William Johnston, Image Books, New York, 1973. Page 50,)
When we realize that the “knowing” that Scripture calls us to is the knowing of love, we are freed from the fear and the limitations of having to “understand God correctly.” We are freed of our pride and judgments. We are freed to allow the Spirit to continue to teach us. And most of all, we are freed to know ourselves as loved and to love with greater humility and adoration, the One who is our Maker.
Prayer is embracing and being embraced by the mystery that is God.
You are beyond knowledge.
Your love and power and goodness
are too vast for me.
You are beyond my understanding.
Free me from my belief that I need to
analyze and dissect and quantify you.
Free me to humble myself
before the mystery of your Love.
Free me to open my heart
to embrace you
and to be embraced by you,
and thus to encounter you in awe and joy.
Reflect on all the ways you have experienced yourself embraced by God’s love and embracing God in love. Allow yourself to open your heart in love and humility to the God who is mystery.
from An Enduring Embrace: Experiencing the Love at the Heart of Prayer,
by Juanita Ryan, 2012