What does Quaker prayer look like? Australian Friend David Johnson says it’s something every human being does naturally, and it leads to inordinate spiritual refreshment.
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Quaker prayer is a matter of letting go of outward words, and of our thoughts and imaginations, and of centering down into a place of silence where we can wait and notice the movements of God within us.
A Quaker Prayer Life
I’m David Johnson. I live in far North Queensland, Australia. I’m part of a small worshipping group; my monthly meeting is Queensland Regional Meeting.
I’ve written many small pieces in Australia, but the two main things I’ve done recently are to collate–with some of my own comments–many quotes on Quaker prayer from the first- and second-generation Quakers.
A Heart Prepared By God
There’s a difference here between an outward prayer of a known prayer or a liturgy, which for some people–and I’ve used it myself–is a very helpful anchor. When I first kneel by a bed or when I first sit down to say a prayer, it’s a very helpful anchor and an introduction. But that is different to the prayer which emanates from the heart, and the early Quaker William Penn identified his experience when he said that “true prayer can only come from a heart prepared by God.”
A Natural Contemplative Practice
Our Quaker prayer life is one of the inheritors of this very ancient, very natural contemplative practice. This is very natural for the human being. We can see this practice coming down in many strands. We can see it in the mindful breathing in the Buddhist faith. We can see it in the constant invoking of the name of God in the Orthodox Christian faith. We can see it in a similar way in the Sufi faith.
The Quaker prayer life, for me, is a way of going inward, using normally one of these practices as an entry point: using deep breathing, using the same repetitive saying of a sacred word, so that my attentiveness moves from up in here, gradually and sinks down into here where I’m enabled, I don’t actually do it, I’m actually enabled to give up my own willing, give up my own running of my own mind, sinking down, breathing down, centering down into where the spirit of God is present in the heart, and where the presence of God can actually minister to me, convey things to me that I then have a choice about.
The Steps of Quaker Prayer
So the first step as we go inward, which is identified in the Quaker prayer life, is actually being very attentive inwardly in the heart to the Light and the movements there, what the early Quakers called “mind the light,” be attentive to it.
The second step, when the light shows us something, is actually to welcome it. What George Fox, the early Quaker called, “love the Light” no matter what it shows you. Because the Light is showing parts of you that may be in error (what others call sin) so that it might be remedied and you might become purer of the heart.
And that’s my experience, that when I welcome those signs–and they come quite often– that I was out of line spiritually, when I welcome those and sit with them, the light shows me some reparation or there is some healing. There is some reconciling going on towards peace within me.
Experiencing Inward Refreshment
The Quaker experience is that as we continue that letting-go of outward forms and just sinking inward, we find we’re being helped. Something is actually working with us. We can call that the grace, we can call that the presence of the Light, or of Christ, or another word for it, is the anointing within us–it comes to help us in this path. And as we do this, we find that it gradually goes deeper and starts to take hold of us. We begin to let go of those expectations. We begin to find, eventually, for small times at first and then for longer ones–that that deep silence is actually accessible to every one of us, and that it is actually–even though we don’t hear anything–we begin to realize that the first language of God is actually silence.
And when we’re sitting there, we come out of that space with a feeling of inordinate refreshment inwardly, and the normal and natural response within that is a breathing from the heart of gratitude and joy.
- “The first language of God is silence.” What do you suppose David means by this? What has been your experience of the ways God speaks?
- In his experience of “minding the light,” David Johnson says he sometimes experiences clarity about areas of his life where he may have been in error, or have some possibility of reconciliation. Have you experienced this kind of light-shining when you go into worship? What did it show you?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.
11 thoughts on “The Prayer Life of Quakers”
There is absolutely no way anyone can honestly state that “every human being” prays “naturally”. This statement is wrong on so many levels, and automatically labels any person who does not pray as “unnatural” or “other.”
Mr. Johnston actually didn’t make this statement quite this way. The blurb writer should go back for a more careful reading.
Not all Quakers pray, let alone all people. I believe anyone should freely state their beliefs, but not presume to speak for “all Quakers” or all people .
What a lovely gentle message. I am never sure just what prayer is but I see it as carrying a message or concern in your heart. I live near an airport where an Air Ambulance helicopter is based. I often see it passing overhead. I can see it returning to base – at slower cruising speed. If it is going that way it is to our local main hospital. If it is going that way at speed it is even more serious to a major head injury hospital. Each time I have a little prayer for those involved. The casualty that is in great need, or even the staff who are attending or perhaps not needed this time. All need my support. And tomorrow it might be me!
Thank you for your thoughts and description. It rings true to me and at the same time suggests a deeper experience is always possible. His words illuminate the light waiting to be found in each and everyone
with practice, time and patience.
This is a beautiful message. I try to live a life of prayer and contemplation.
thanks interesting , quietness of mind allows the spirit to speak .
Thank you Friend, David, this little video has captured much of the essence of the Quaker experience of prayer. We tend to forget that silence and dialogue are important when coming into the presence of God. I wonder if the words silent and listen are just coincidental to having the same letters in them?
Silence is soothing and it is so important to illuminate the light within us and feel the love and joy. A very thoughtful video.
I have missed silent worship since moving to Montana. It does not always come naturally; it takes practice and mentoring, especially for those of us under pressure to achieve. Very easy to slide into allow ing the material world to take over. There is much value in centering down: in putting oneself in a position to focus on what the Spirit might be saying. It is not easy to empty one’s mind, but is possible and a wonderful experience.
“I wonder if the words silent and listen are just coincidental to having the same letters in them?”
Thank you both.
As a child growing up attending regular Meeting for Worship, I became familiar with the concept of “listening to God” in the silence and the richness of learning to dialogue with him. However, in retrospect I don’t recall being formally taught prayer, or how or when to pray. Maybe this is because Quakers regard the relationship with God to be a personal and an individual one – unique and different for each of us – and don’t want to be prescriptive. But I think on reflection, I might have benefitted from being taught ‘how to pray’ …..
prayer is the only way through which we connect with God
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