Monday, January 14, 2013

Friends?

Prayer is an exercise of the spirit, as thought is of the mind. To pray about anything is to use the powers of our spirit on it, just as to think clearly is to use our mental powers. For the best solution of every problem, the best carrying out of every action, both thought and prayer are necessary... To pray about any day’s work does not mean to ask success in it. It means, first to realise my own inability to do even a familiar job, as it truly should be done, unless I am in touch with eternity, unless I do it ‘unto God’, unless I have the Father with me. It means to see ‘my’ work as part of a whole, to see ‘myself’ as not mattering much, but my faith, the energy, will and striving, which I put into the work, as mattering a great deal. My faith is the point in me at which God comes into my work; through faith the work is given dignity and value. And if, through some weakness of mine, or fault of others, or just ‘unavoidable circumstances’, the work seems a failure, yet prayer is not wasted when it is unanswered, any more than love is wasted when it is unreturned. 
Mary F Smith, 1936, in Quaker Faith & Practice 20.08
Over the years many Friends have told me that they no longer need regular daily prayer. I don’t want to suggest that I am a better man or that there is only one way but simply that this has not been my experience. I am not emotionally strong, and the expected, and even more the unexpected, needs of patients, students, colleagues, family, friends and strangers leave me empty and exhausted. I could not face the next day without a time in which life is renewed. I shall not describe this in detail. The essence is regularity and time - time to reach down to the level where I can begin to see myself and my work straight, where that strength we call love can break through my anxiety and teach me how to respond instead of react, where I am not ruled by conscience but by Jesus the true man within; the level where I can accept my whole nature and forgive myself and others. Prayer alone can reopen the road to the spirit, blocked repeatedly by busyness, self-importance, self-indulgence, self-pity, depression or despair.
Donald Court, 1970, in Quaker Faith & Practice 20.09
Love silence, even in the mind... Much speaking, as much thinking, spends; and in many thoughts, as well as words, there is sin. True silence is the rest of the mind; and is to the spirit, what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.
William Penn, 1699, Quaker Faith & Practice 20.11

More and more the Quaker understanding of prayer and worship makes sense to me. To relate directly with God, without the need for classification, ritual, equipment (physical as well as intellectual) lies at the root of all contemplative prayer—and here is a group of people who have based their entire lives on this principle for several hundred years. Experience of worshipping with them alone teaches that this is a vital, living way of unmediated encounter with God. I have found myself comparing it to sticking my finger in an electric socket.

Being stuck at home this Sunday with a dreadful head cold has been an unexpected blessing. Neither able to take part in regular worship at my own local church, nor attend the Friends’ Local Meeting, I have been thinking, and reading, and it seems right to share these few things here. With God’s grace I shall continue these investigations, and when something more crops up that seems good to share on this blog, that’s what I shall do. As always, your prayers are truly valued.

2 comments:

  1. It's interesting how one navigates that balance, that need to be so fully with the Silence and the Peace, and the rituals or forms that ones tradition offer. I have found myself quite fond of the old Tridentine Mass, for example, because of the long silences and the slowness of it. Or mass at the local convent, where the priest does not hurry (because no one has anywhere to rush off to!). I enjoy my daily silent sitting at home, and often enjoy a rosary more when I say it alone, allowing Silence to carry me when God wishes it, letting my voice drop away into dark stillness if God wishes it. But I also find joy in participating in the "noisier" celebrations and rituals - God is no less present in those activities. Even in the fidgeting, fussing, whispering and impatience that can occur in a congregation. And in the bustle of city streets, traffic, and grocery lines.

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  2. Thank you, Ona. It's true, all of it. I've found crowded trains, even on the London Underground, surprisingly good places to pray, too!

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