One of the joys of working for Quiet Spaces is that the meditations you write months ago seem to come back when you need them. So this morning, the latest edition arrived in the post, reminding me of a prayer practice that had slipped away.
For this issue, packed with good things, I wrote a series of meditations and explorations of The Cloud of Unknowing. The 14th century text is an extraordinarily rich resource for anyone interested in contemplative prayer. It feels very necessary and timely to me right now, and with the Archbishops’ initiative for a week of prayer before Pentecost, I am finding it helpful to look again at this way of praying.
The Cloud seeks to remind us that God is above our knowledge, but accessible in love. It asks us to wait, to lose our discomfort with “unknowing”, to be prepared to be in what can feel like a cloud. We are often afraid of mystery, and sometimes prefer knowing to loving, so this type of prayer calls for humility, and patience with ourselves. It seems to deepen our ability to connect.
Here is my first suggestion to begin – it may help if you are following the week of prayer.
You may wish to establish a pattern for contemplative prayer. For example (you could) turn off technology, find a place, light a candle, do some steadying breathing. Begin with this verse:
“My soul thirst for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”
Calm your mind. Let go of thoughts. Focus your loving attention on God, who is always present. Stay in the stillness, the silence, for as long as you can. When your mind wanders, try again.
“Lift up your heart to God with humble love”
The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 3
This act of prayer begins with the act of lifting up your heart, and directing your loving attention, to the source of love.
The Cloud of Unknowing is well worth reading. It is broken into small sections, which helps slow down the process and make it less about mastering a technique, or gaining knowledge, and more about entering into presence.
Penguin classics have an excellent version, and you can also access an online version here