Sometime during the last half of the 14th century, somewhere in England's East Midland area, some anonymous Carthusian monk (or priest) created one of the most enduring how-to books on prayer—The Cloud of Unknowing. His intentional anonymity illustrates his main message: Christ must become more visible as his followers grow kinder and humbler. Anonymous wants readers "sincere in their intentions to follow Christ" in love. A series of letters written by this master teacher to his student, the Cloud represents the ancient tradition of Christian contemplative wisdom. This tradition began with the third-century Desert Mothers and Fathers who practiced a life of prayer in Egypt's Scete desert, followed by the earliest Benedictines who dedicated themselves daily to regular times of lectio divina—the "sacred reading" of Scripture done in a deliberately prayerful manner.

For the first 16 centuries of the church, all Christians engaged in this silent form of prayer. Both then and today, contemplative prayer is practiced in the orthodox context of communal Christian worship and intense Bible study. Since it acknowledges the inadequacy of language to describe God, contemplative prayer is often called the via negativa ("negative way"). In the 16th century, John of the Cross embraced this prayer, saying that it purifies us and prepares us to love. Teresa of Avila taught that this "prayer of quiet" revives a "desolate and very dry" soul, creating an intimacy with God that is like "rain coming down abundantly from heaven to soak and saturate" the gardens of our hearts. Christians of all backgrounds are returning to this simple Jesus-centric prayer to grow their souls and learn to love in an increasingly complex post-modern world. ...

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