From self-preoccupation to self-forgetful release:

Wisdom from the Book of Privy Counselling


Immediately before teaching us the Lord’s Prayer[1], Jesus introduces us to a way of prayer which resonates deeply with his practice of communing with God in solitude and silence.

When we pray like this, we should not do so in a way which draws attention to what we are doing, whether this is the attention of others or our own as we get caught up in trying to watch our own progress.[2]

“But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”[3]

In meditation, we lift our attention off ourselves (our thoughts, our feelings, the content of experience) and focus it on silently reciting our prayer word in unison with the flow of our breath.

By this simple means, we leave the outer rooms of self-conscious preoccupation and come to the inner room of self-forgetful release, to rest in silent (“secret”) communion with God.

As prayer deepens, it becomes less and less a matter of what we think about, say and do, and increasingly a matter of simply being.

I’d like to invite you to listen to how the anonymous author of the Book of Privy Counselling outlines a wonderfully simple way of coming to the inner room of who we are and engaging with this text as an exercise in prayerful reading.

The sentences of the text have been deliberately laid out with additional space between them in order to support you in dwelling with the words prayerfully, in silent, grateful awareness.

First, let me remind you of some simple guidelines for this.


The purpose of Prayerful Reading

In prayerful reading we are seeking wisdom, healing, communion – not information.

Approach the text as a gift to be gratefully received, not something to be analysed.

Allow the text to approach you.

Most of the time we read at great speed. We race from word to word, hardly noticing what we are doing. With prayerful reading, we want to slow down and be aware of what we are doing. We want to know we are reading.

Allow yourself to dwell with each word and fully encounter it, returning as many times as you need to.

Listen with the ear of your heart.


Before Prayerful Reading

First, take a few slow, deep breaths. Following the flow of your breathing, begin to gather your attention in the present moment.

Ask God to help you hear his Word with the ear of your heart.


During Prayerful Reading

Read slowly. Dwell with the words you are reading. Sit with them. Allow them to open and welcome you into their meaning.

When you have finished reading, say thank you to God for this precious time and what you have encountered.

Then simply rest in God’s presence, leaving all your words behind.


After Prayerful Reading

Try carrying a word or short phrase with you to repeat throughout the day, to help the fruit of your prayerful reading blossom into prayerful living.

From the Book of Privy Counselling

When we turn to this work of contemplation, we should not think about what we are going to do next.

When thoughts arise (as they will), we should lay them aside, regardless of whether they appear to be good thoughts or not-so-good thoughts.

Release all that arises in the surface mind and rest in a naked intent reaching out to God, without clothing this intent with any thought about God.

Let God be God and be content to accept that he is as he is without forcing God into any other shape or seeking to understand him with intellectual cleverness. Trust that God is God and let this be your foundation.

Accept this naked intent, rooted in trust, to be nothing but a blind awareness of your own existence, as if you were inwardly saying to God, “That I exist, Lord, I offer to you, with no thought about you.”

It’s as if you’re saying to God: “That I am, Lord, I offer to you, without adding any thought about you, but simply accepting you as you are — and nothing beyond that.”

Add no thoughts about yourself, just as you do not add any thoughts about God, so that you may be one with him in awareness, without any division or scattering of mind.

For God is your being, and you are what you are in him.

And so, in this work of contemplation, open your mind to God as you do to yourself, and to yourself as you do to God, accepting that he is as he is and you are as you are, so that your thoughts are not dispersed or divided, but one in him who is All.

He is the ground of being both to himself and to all things; and that all things have their being in him and he is the being of all things means that he is one in all things and all things are in his oneness.

In this way shall your thoughts and feelings be oned[4] with him in grace without separation, if all your curious thinking about the attributes of your mysterious being, and of his, are pushed far back; so that your thought may be naked and your awareness unclouded, and you, in your nakedness, by the touching of grace, may be secretly sustained in your awareness by him simply as he is and beyond your seeing…

Look up then lightly, and say to your Lord, whether in words or in the silent purpose of your heart: “That I am, Lord, I offer to you, for it is you.”

And be aware, nakedly, plainly and simply, that you are as you are, without anything added.[5] 

In meditation, we dwell with God in the “inner room” of our being.

We offer ourselves and receive ourselves, in the silent prayer of naked awareness.

[1] Matthew 6:9-13.

[2] Mathew 6:5.

[3] Matthew 6:6.

[4] “Oynd”, a Middle English term indicating the realisation (unveiling) of essential oneness.

[5] Translated from the Middle English edition The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counselling, edited by Phyllis Hodgson (published for The Early English Text Society by Oxford University Press); text altered slightly; emphasis added.

School of Contemplative Life
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