Transcending All Knowledge

As readers of my blog already know, I am drawn to thinking about the space between uncertainty and hope. As we turn the calendar to a new year, I often find myself revisiting Stanzas Concerning an Ecstasy Experienced in High Contemplation by St. John of the Cross, which moves me to think about the mysteries of life and what’s to come. I’d like to share his words.


I entered into unknowing,
yet when I saw myself there,
without knowing where I was,
I understood great things;
I will not say what I felt
for I remained in unknowing
transcending all knowledge.


That perfect knowledge
was of peace and holiness
held at no remove
in profound solitude;
it was something so secret
that I was left stammering,
transcending all knowledge.


I was so overwhelmed,
so absorbed and withdrawn,
that my senses were left
deprived of all their sensing,
and my spirit was given
an understanding while not understanding,
transcending all knowledge.


He who truly arrives there
cuts free from himself;
all that he knew before
now seems worthless,
and his knowledge so soars
that he is left in unknowing
transcending all knowledge.


The higher he ascends
the less he understands,
because the cloud is dark
which lit up the night;
whoever knows this
remains always in unknowing
transcending all knowledge.


This knowledge in unknowing
is so overwhelming
that wise men disputing
can never overthrow it,
for their knowledge does not reach
to the understanding of not
transcending all knowledge.


And this supreme knowledge
is so exalted
that no power of man or learning
can grasp it;
he who masters himself
will, with knowledge in
always be transcending.


And if you should want to hear:
this highest knowledge lies
in the loftiest sense
of the essence of God;
this is a work of his mercy,
to leave one without
transcending all knowledge.




How often have you heard someone diagnosed with a serious illness say, “What’s happening to me?” Of course, there can be medical explanations but most of us are at a loss to make sense out of this shocking news. I find comfort in the words “remain in unknowing without understanding, transcending all knowledge.” Yet, I do not believe that living in an unknowing state means that we are immobilized. To the contrary, we must try to live our lives in ways that have meaning and ask our doctors to help us fulfill what matters most at times of uncertainty.


May all of your hopes and dreams be realized in the New Year!

(2) Comments

  1. Amelia Silver

    Love this St. John of the Cross poem so much! Thank you for sharing it!

  2. Nancy Krauss

    Thank you for this thoughtful piece on New Year’s Day. It’s perfect with its opportunity to examine the ‘in between’ for hope and purpose in the present moment.

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