In June 2018 Ipswch Quakers held a series of Quaker Quest events in which visitors were invited to come and find out about what makes people Quakers. The format was for three Quakers to each give a short talk on the topic for the evening after which there was a discussion on what was said. Some of those who spoke have kindly agreed to share their talks on our blog.
This is David Cadman’s talk on Prayer.
When Virginia asked me if I would share some thoughts on prayer with the Ipswich meeting, I accepted. And I did so because I had recently become interested in the matter of ‘prayerfulness’, and thus in the question: What is it to pray? By this I did not mean asking for things or following a set liturgy or ritual. I meant what it would be like to dwell in prayer, to live prayerfully, to surrender one’s self to that great mystery of which we can know almost nothing.
Quaker Faith and Practice 2.21: ‘Thus I began to realise that prayer was not a formality, or an obligation, it was a place which was there all the time and always available.’
This is an act of faith.
As I have explored this matter I have come to see that the directing force of prayer is Love, which is to say that to live prayerfully we have to ‘dwell in Love.’ In this way of being, prayer is continuous, and it is lived a breath at a time. In surrender, we say something like: ‘Here I am, show me the way.’
An example of this manner of being, this continuous prayerfulness, is found in the Eastern Orthodox Hesychast tradition in which the Jesus Prayer – ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’ – is repeated again and again to the measure of the prayer rope, sometimes shortened to the repetition of ‘Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.’
In the Buddhist tradition, it might be the mantra: ‘Om mani padme hum,’ or ‘Om ah hum,’ the meaning of which seem to be varied and somewhat uncertain, but it seems that it is in the regular repetition of the words that the manner of prayerful being arises.
So, the question that I ask myself is this: what does it mean to pray without ceasing? And what is my manner of being when I do so? Because so far, and this is only so far, I have come to believe that in order to be able to see things as they truly are and in order to be able to things as they might be, I have to practice prayer without ceasing. And in this, my experience of Quaker silence and waiting is and has been a wonderful training ground.
I cannot accept someone else’s mantra, Hesychast or Buddhist, for example. I have tried and it doesn’t work. And so I have to sit quietly and wait. I have to deliberately return to this quietness and this waiting ‘with every breath.’ I have begun and still struggle! But one thing I have learnt from talking to those of other traditions and it is this: in more than one tradition, the ‘monastic life’ is characterised by a threefold order – work, study and prayer. Work for the body, study for the mind and prayer for the heart. And there may be something here that is worth reflecting upon, especially since it places prayer in the realm of the heart and not the head! I wonder what it would be like to live the monastic life, not in a monastery but at home and at work – work, study, prayer.
The following quotes are from Quaker Faith and Practice:
2.18 to 34
18. ‘Be still and cool in thine own mind.’ Being still and waiting on God. George Fox, 1658.
19. Letting God flow into our hearts
20. Making time for ‘waiting upon God in prayer’. Praying for others and holding them ‘in the presence of God’.
21. Finding inner peace or retirement for spiritual refreshment. ‘Thus I began to realise that prayer was not a formality, or an obligation, it was a place which was there all the time and always available.’
22. Living the life of prayer without ceasing:
By quiet, persistent practice in turning all our being, day and night, in prayer and inward worship and surrender towards Him… Let inward prayer be your last act before you fall asleep and the first act when you awake…
Thomas R. Kelly 1941
23. It is marked by a kind of relaxed readiness, a ‘letting; go of the problems and perplexities with which the mind is occupied, and waiting in ‘love and truth.’ Prayer is not words but a ‘reaching down to love.’
30. A silent pause before a meal.
31. Prayer is:
Communion, whether it takes the form of petition, intercession, thanksgiving, or whether it be just the quiet unveiling of the heart to a trusted friend, the outpouring of the soul to the one who is nearest of all.
William Littleboy, 1937