“In the Gospel of Saint Luke it is written that when our Lord was in the house of Martha, Mary, her sister, sat at His feet all the time while Martha was busy preparing His meat. And while Mary was listening to His word she paid no attention to what her sister was doing although that was very good and holy work, being truly the first part of the active life. Neither did she pay attention to the preciousness of His blessed body, nor to the sweet voice and words of His manhood, although it would be better and holier to do this since it is the second part of the active life and the first part of the contemplative life.

“But she did perceive with all the love of her heart the ultimate wisdom of His Godhead though it was covered over with the dark words of His manhood. Therefore she would not move from where she was for anything that she saw or heard, or for anything that was being done around her. Rather, she sat in perfect stillness of body with the sweetest secret urgings of love pressing upon that high cloud of unknowing between her and her God.

“This one thing I tell you, there has never yet been a pure creature in this life, nor shall there ever be one so completely transported by contemplation and the love of the Godhead that there will not still remain a large and wonderful cloud of unknowing between him and his God. It was in this cloud that Mary was occupied, pressed by many a secret love. And why was this so? Because it was the best and holiest part of contemplation that may be possible in this life, and from this she would not move her desire for anything. In fact, when her sister Martha complained about her to our Lord, and asked Him to tell her to get up and help so that she would not have to work so hard by herself, Mary remained sitting in perfect stillness, not answering a single word and not even showing an angry gesture against her sister’s complaint. And there is no wonder in this; for Mary had another work to do that her sister knew not of. And that is why she had no leisure to listen to her nor to answer her complaint.”

The Cloud of Unknowing
See also Mary Magdalene
See Rembrandt’s depiction of this scene