The Hope of Unknowing

Dear friends,

Being a person today naturally means having hopes for tomorrow. We might hope for healing and comfort for ourselves or others. We might hope for an end to injustice, violence, and suffering. We might hope that tomorrow is a little better than today. Especially when today is a time of crisis and anxiety, hoping for a better tomorrow seems perfectly reasonable. As Christians, though, our hope is in something more, or, looking at it in a different way, less.

Our contemplative tradition teaches us that the purest way of knowing God is through “unknowing.” Unknowing means letting go of our attachment to thoughts and feelings, as well as attachment to memories of the past and anticipations of the future. When we “unknow” all things, we rely only on God, coming to rest in the Divine Nothingness of God’s eternal Presence where we find God’s Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

Saint John of the Cross was referring to this contemplative unknowing when he wrote of living in perfect and pure hope. He suggested that we should learn to turn from our worries, distractions, and preoccupations, and, in the emptiness of everything rememberable, turn toward God’s love. Unlike our other hopes for particular outcomes and for a better tomorrow, this hope is pure because it rests only on the mystery of God present in each moment, right now.

John Sanford in his book The Kingdom Within writes that “This hope is not that this world will one day be a perfect world, but that there is a reality, a Divine Order, beyond what is immediately visible to us in this world.” The ancient desert monastics spoke of a “spiritual intellect” by which we sense this Divine Reality, God’s Presence within and among us. They described a path by which we know God’s Presence with a combination of radical acceptance of God’s will and a confident expectation of God’s love.

This pure hope may sound too good to be true, but that’s only when we measure hope by human standards. This pure hope may sound naïve, but in truth it’s the second naiveté of unknowing. The pure hope of resting in the eternal Nothingness of God’s Presence doesn’t imply that “worldly” hope, like hoping for an end to injustice, ceases to have relative importance. Instead, the pure hope of resting in God’s Presence provides the foundation from which we see ourselves and the world as God sees us, and from which we allow God’s will be done.

Our hope is in this pure hope of abiding in God’s Presence, and so recognizing the Beauty, Truth and Goodness all around us. We might pray, then, that if someone were to ask us “What do you hope for tomorrow?” we can answer from that place of pure hope, “That tomorrow be as beautiful as today.”

Peace and Be Well,

Br. Nicholas Bartoli


  1. Suzanne Crawford on October 31, 2020 at 10:23

    Good Morning on this day of the Eve of All Saints Day,

    I had two very painful losses this summer. The first was my beloved friend from kindergarten. She was killed on August 13, 2020 in Concord, MA as she was crossing the street. Although she never stopped me from meditation or prayer when I visited, she did not want me to talk about it. I do know and believe she is in Jesus’ loving arms for all eternity. The second loss was when Brother David Eastman Allen died. I have wept countless tears. He was my favorite brother. I understood his writings. He was succinct. His face was pure love. I recently viewed and listened to his message on Gratitude. His voice and smile were especially soothing. I only wish I could have spent an afternoon with him. I know he too is in Jesus’ loving arms for all eternity.

    Prior to David’s death I was also drawn to your meditations. This one has touched me… the unknowing…. I use to call a friend when something wonderful or painful occurred in my life. I realized rather recently that the ONE I should turn to is My Father in heaven. I find it more comforting and supportive and the most loving action I can do.

    So, I thank you for this meditation. My favorite expression that you write is as follows: When we “unknow” all things, we rely only on God, coming to rest in the Divine Nothingness of God’s eternal Presence where we find God’s Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

    God’s blessing I give to you!
    Suzanne Crawford

  2. Patricia Betts on October 31, 2020 at 06:19

    This is so encouraging but I have to leave aside many non essentials, deliberately simplify my life to
    Enter this awareness. Thank you.

  3. John Boehmer on October 24, 2020 at 09:24

    Thank you for this. I have always found returning to be a recurring theme of my own faith journey. I fall away, I forget, I remember, I return (often like a dog that has run off showing up at the front door with its tail between its legs). But God is always there to open the door with a smile to see my returning. I know this. This seems to be the rhythm of my own life of faith.
    Thank you for beautiful post. It has been a useful reminder to me.

  4. Nancy Simpson on September 17, 2020 at 23:55

    Thank you – Just what I needed to hear today! This is much needed food for my soul. May God’s peace be with you.

  5. Nan Holcomb on September 17, 2020 at 15:28

    Many thanks for today’s reflection. I read it several times and will share it with friends. It is so easy for me to slide into thinking I am in control of the world’s problems, and they are mine to solve. I’m going to rest awhile on the foundation of God’s love and powerful presence, listening to what God is saying, rather than my frantic planning and strategizing.

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