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    Anyone Can Repent

    By Anonymous

    May 15, 2022

    Translated from The Cloud of Unknowing, a work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English in the fourteenth century.

    Know this. True repentance is never considered presumptuous. Anyone can repent. Even the worst sinners alive may offer God this humble impulse of love, secretly pressing against that cloud of unknowing between them and God. The only requirements are the desire for contemplation, the consent of a spiritual mentor, and approval from your conscience. Mary Magdalene represents all sinners called to the contemplative life, and our Lord said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Did he forgive her because her godly sorrow was profound or because she was mindful of her sins or because she had reflected on her weaknesses until she was humbled? Why did he tell her, “Your sins are forgiven”? Because she loved much – amazing! Look how powerful this secret nudge of love is. It gets the Lord’s attention. It’s stronger than anything.

    I completely agree that Mary Magdalene was also filled with godly sorrow. She wept painfully for her sins, and in being mindful of them, was humbled. We must do the same. Those of us who have been awful, chronic sinners all our lives must embrace a cataclysmic, life-altering sorrow and regret. We must know what it’s like to be humbled, aware of our sinfulness.


    Paul Cezanne, Landscape, 1870 (Public domain)

    But how? Do as Mary did. Her way is best. She could not stop feeling a deep, heartfelt regret for her sins, for this pain accompanied her wherever she went, a burden wrapped up and secretly hidden in the hole of her heart, but not forgotten; and yet we see in Scripture that she had an even more heartfelt sorrow and a sadder longing and a deeper sigh and a greater despair – even almost to the point of death – for the inadequacy of her love, though she had a great love. Don’t let this surprise you. It’s simply the nature of true lovers. The more they love, the more they long to love.

    Why did he tell her, “Your sins are forgiven”? Because she loved much – amazing! Look how powerful this secret nudge of love is. 

    She knew she was the worst sinner of all. Deep down, she knew this saddest truth. She also knew that her sins were a gulf separating her from the God she loved so much, and she understood that they made her feel terribly sick for failing in love. So what did she do? Did she come down from the heights of her loving desire into the depths of her sinful life, so that she could search there in the polluted, stinking swamp and dung-hill of her sins, scrutinizing each one up and down, analyzing every circumstance, and weeping over each one separately? No, she didn’t do that at all. Why not? God taught her deep within her soul, by his grace, that this approach would be futile. But if she had tried this way, she would probably have revived in herself a willingness to sin, rather than gaining full forgiveness of her sins.

    So Mary hung up her love and longing in this cloud of unknowing and learned to love what she could never clearly see with her mind nor feel with her emotions. Sometimes she became so immersed in this sweetness that she had little real awareness of herself as a sinner. It’s true! In fact, I expect that because Mary deeply loved her Lord’s divinity, she hardly noticed his beautiful human self. She didn’t have eyes for his sacred, blessed, gorgeous body, or for the way he moved when he sat and spoke with her. In fact, the Gospel suggests that when he taught her, she became oblivious to everything in this world.

    The Cloud of Unknowing: With the Book of Privy Counsel, trans. Carmen Acevedo Butcher (Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications, 2009), 43–45. Copyright © 2009 by Carmen Acevedo Butcher. Reprinted by arrangement with The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Shambhala Publications Inc.

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