This portion of the liturgy is designed to be a contemplative practice for those who have not received training in what to do with their mind. It is based largely off The Cloud of Unknowing, a medieval text book on the contemplative life. However, there are also influences from the Ignatian tradition and the teachings of various modern contemplatives. The practice involves both sitting in silence and journaling. You will not keep the book at the end, so use a new journal and not one to which you are attached. You should give the journal a name, something meaningful to you.
There are six stages of the practice to coincide with the six weeks of Lent and mirroring the first six days of creation. The first four days of Lent are the section titled Introit. This practice intertwines with the fasting and study included in this office, though it can also stand on it’s own. Silent prayer should be daily, at least 30 minutes. There are also journaling practices every Friday on top of the weekly schedule of contemplative prayer.
Fridays during Lent are a time of sorrow in remembrance of the passion of Christ. Sin and repentance are themes for Fridays, both the sin of individuals and the sins of the world. For that reason there is a focus on understanding sin in the Friday writing. The Cloud of Unknowing tells us to devote thoughts to this endeavor when it says they are “good and holy thoughts, so valuable, in fact, that anyone who expects to advance without having meditated often on his own sinfulness, the passion of Christ, and the kindness, goodness, and dignity of God, will most certainly go astray and fail in his purpose.
But a person who has long pondered these things must eventually leave them behind beneath a cloud of forgetting if he hopes to pierce the cloud of unknowing that lies between him and his God.” So, we prepare to do just that during this lenten liturgy. We meditate on sin and bury it under a cloud of forgetting, and at the cross of Jesus, so that we might experience true contemplation.
During this time sit in silence with your thoughts. Simply be present to the silence – do not try to do anything in particular. If your thoughts demand to be heard, hear them. Pray with words if the Spirit leads you. Become accustomed to creating a sacred space where you are. Be comfortable. Be present. Be yourself.
Friday: Spend a little time in your journal. Give it a name. Write your hopes for this lenten season. Write your concerns.
For the first couple weeks, do not try to oppose your thoughts. Simply allow them to come, see them, and allow them to pass. Try not to engage with them or direct them. Notice how they happen even without any effort on your part. After you finish your silent prayer, or perhaps in the middle of it if it feels appropriate, write the most pressing thoughts in your journal. As you tried to sit in inner silence, what mental noise pressed against that silence? Writing down the stream of consciousness that comes to your mind will help you to understand your own inner condition. After you have seen what thoughts come to you regularly, try to separate them. Separate wisdom from folly. Name what is wise and what is foolish within you. Separate the light from the darkness.
Friday: Spend time in your journal coming to understand your personal sin. Write a list of sins you have personally committed against others. Include sins of omission when you failed to do what was required of you. Include sins of acceptance, when you allowed and accepted evil even though you could have stopped it. Be honest and thorough.
After you finish your silent prayer, or perhaps in the middle of it if it feels appropriate, write down the emotions which have come to you. Did the thoughts that arose in your silence lead you to feel proud? Ashamed? Excited? Nervous? Writing down the emotions that direct your inner life will help you to understand yourself. After you have come to understand the emotions behind your thoughts, separate the wisdom from the folly. Name what is wise and foolish within you. Separate the waters and allow an empty space to form. It is within this space that the spark of contemplation will take hold.
Friday: Spend time in your journal coming to understand sins which have been committed against you personally. Write a list of evils that have come to you at the hands of other people, sins which harmed you and were beyond your control. This could include a variety of experiences. It could be an abusive parent in your childhood. It could be a spouse or a friend who betrayed you. It could be a complete stranger who stole your bicycle. Be honest and thorough.
During your silent prayer focus all of your awareness on yourself. Not on your physical qualities, not on the roles you play in society, not the deeds you have done or will do. All of those thoughts and feelings recorded in the previous weeks are not you. Focus only on your existence, your place in time – in the present moment. Do not think your existence, do not feel your existence, simply witness your existence. See yourself beyond the thoughts and feelings which happen to you. Focus on the one who sees the thoughts, not the one who is the thoughts.
Friday: Spend time writing in your journal about how personal sin has shaped who you are. How the sins you have committed have become part of your inner self. How the sins others have committed against you have become part of your inner self. Do you carry shame because of these sins? Do they influence your thoughts and feelings and behaviours?
During your silent prayer take a new approach. Do not simply allow your thoughts and feelings while observing them. Whenever a thought or feeling comes to you place it under a cloud of forgetting. While you are able to maintain the inner silence reach up into a cloud of unknowing. You are to raise up (metaphorically, not physically upwards) into the cloud of unknowing which is between you and your God. You are to place below you (metaphorically, not physically below you) all your thoughts and feelings into the cloud of forgetting. Separate the lights from the darkness and do not allow anything to interfere with your interior silence and your constant piercing into the cloud of unknowing.
Friday: Spend time in your journal writing about corporate, or communal, sin your people commit. It is important here to look at the systemic injustices which your people have committed and, perhaps, you yourself benefit from. This may include the prolific availability of manufactured goods kept inexpensive by overseas child labour. It may include systemic and institutionalised racism which provides you with unearned privilege in society. It may include the oppression of one gender by another, or the denial of rights to those with different sexualities. It could include the rampant destruction of creation and this beautiful garden God has made. Be honest and thorough.
The sacred name of God, YHWH, is meant to imitate the sound of breath. Try saying it, without vowels the way it is written. The first syllable is the in breath and the second syllable is the out breath. As you sit in silent in prayer hear the name of God in your own breath. When thoughts or feelings come to you focus on your breath and the presence of God therein. As you go, you may find you do not need to say the actual name but only think about saying it. Notice how your thoughts stop when you focus on the name and work towards stopping your thoughts by merely preparing to say the name.
Friday: Spend time journaling about corporate sins others commit which affect you. This may include injustices of race, creed, gender, social status, disability, sexuality, or caste. It may also include being part of a nation which commits atrocities and how your are unwillingly implicated. It may include the media which has been presented to you or the social norms you were given. Every person is affected by the society in which they live and perhaps even societies which they are not a part of.
During your silent prayer, focus only on God. Not on the attributes of God – not on God’s love or God’s power or God’s forgiveness. Focus only on God’s being. Do not think about God or try to have feelings for God, simply witness God’s existence. Allow your awareness of your own self to slip away as you become aware of nothing other than God’s pure essence. The pure essence which is beyond thought and beyond feeling. The pure essence which resides fully within you and fully beyond you. Do not think about God’s deeds in the world or in history or in the future. Know only God’s presence in the moment you find yourself without trying to understand or even feel love for that presence.
Friday: Spend time journaling about how corporate sin has shaped who you are. About how the influences of your society have molded you since birth. Take time to see the collective consciousness of your people playing out in the personal sins you have committed and which have been committed against you. Take a long hard look at how your family has made you who you are and how you have in turn passed that along to others in your family. See that you are not isolated alone, but part of something larger than you – for better or for worse, with or without your consent. Then bury your journal. Sing a hymn that touches your soul and say goodbye to all you are leaving behind.
Bury all the things which you are not. Bury them just as Christ was buried. Crucify the false self your journal now contains so that your true self may rise up on Easter morning. With your false self offered as a living sacrifice to God be free as the risen Christ is free.