BookLog: The Cloud of Unknowing: A New Translation
The Cloud of Unknowing is a 14th century Christian classic, the primary source-text for Centering Prayer and other forms of meditation and “prayer of the heart.” This beautiful new translation by Carmen Acevedo Butcher has a more devotional quality than most previous translations of The Cloud and its “sequel,” The Book of Privy Counsel. Butcher’s versions of these texts are easy to read, and she captures the passion, deep faith, and occasional humor of their anonymous author.
Butcher begins with an extended introduction to The Cloud, giving us the history of the book as well as what we do and do not know about its author. This introduction also gives us a summary of the theology and spirituality of the text, which, while solidly rooted in 14th century Christian faith, has been a deep inspiration to contemplatives of many other faith traditions throughout the last five centuries. The fact that this new translation is published by a Buddhist press shows that The Cloud transcends barriers of tradition and is a truly timeless classic.
One of the “hidden treasures” of Butcher’s translation is the Notes section at the end of the book, which give us a wealth of insight into the text. She occasionally quotes the Middle English to show us the wordplays and other aspects of the original text, and she also includes references to Scripture and other writings to illuminate various passages of The Cloud. It’s definitely worth the trouble to flip to the back of the book to read the endnotes.
I fell in love with The Cloud of Unknowing about 15 years ago through William Johnston’s classic translation, and now I’ve fallen in love with it again. I feel like I’ve been re-introduced to an old friend. Even if you’ve read The Cloud in other translations, I highly recommend reading it again in Butcher’s new and vibrant translation.
If you live in Metro Atlanta, please join us at The Group of Unknowing, a small group of interfaith friends (Christians, Sufis, and others) who are gathering to read through The Cloud together. For more information, visit the group’s Facebook page.