A life committed to experiencing the presence of God is a life in which prayer prevails. Prayer takes many forms. It may be consigned to a particular part of each day or exist continuously as one dimension of the project of living. Prayer means surrender to the Light Within. Prayer means seeking guidance from the Light. Prayer listens and prayer petitions. In all cases, prayer responds in love to the reality of God.
Friends sometimes resist formal instruction in how to pray, perhaps in an effort to acknowledge the multitude of valid approaches to practicing the presence of God. Instruction may be helpful, however, so long as the unlimited variety of answers to the question "How do I pray?" is appreciated.
Still and Cool in Thy Own Mind
Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit from thy own thoughts, and then thou wilt feel the principle of God to turn thy mind to the Lord God, whereby thou wilt receive his strength and power from whence life comes, to allay all tempests, against blusterings and storms. That is it which moulds up into patience, into innocency, into soberness, into stillness, into stayedness, into quietness, up to God, with his power.
George Fox: Journal, ed. John L. Nickalls, 1952, p. 346 (Fox's letter to Lady Claypole, 1658).
Pray One for Another
Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.
Isaac Penington: Letters, ed. John Barclay, 1828, p. 139. Letter LII, 1667
Underlying and Undergirding Worship
Underlying and undergirding the unprogrammed worship of Friends is prayer: the prayerful corporate waiting which takes place in any meeting when it has centered down. As we go deeper and deeper, prayer is our task as individuals and as a group a loving attention to God, a surrendering of our minds and our wills to that same spirit which found expression through Jesus, the man, and which, after the crucifixion, was recognized by the first Christians as the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, and by the first Friends as the indwelling Christ, the spark, the seed. This is a very special kind of attentive waiting: waiting for God, Simone Weil has called it. Waiting for God might well describe in a phrase the special function of a gathered meeting for worship.
Helen G. Hole: Prayer (Pendle Hill pamphlet, no. 123), 1962, pp. 10-11.
Simple Prayer and Inward Worship
How, then, shall we lay hold of that Life and Power, and live the life of prayer without ceasing? By quiet, persistent practice in turning of all our being, day and night, in prayer and inward worship and surrender, toward Him who calls in the deeps of our souls. Mental habits of inward orientation must be established. An inner, secret turning to God can be made fairly steady, after weeks and months and years of practice and lapses and failures and returns. It is as simple an art as Brother Lawrence found it, but it may be long before we achieve any steadiness in the process. Begin now, as you read these words, as you sit in your chair, to offer your whole selves, utterly and in joyful abandon, in quiet, glad surrender to Him who is within. In secret ejaculations of praise, turn in humble wonder to the Light, faint though it may be. Keep contact with the outer world of sense and meanings. Here is no discipline in absent-mindedness. Walk and talk and work and laugh with your friends. But behind the scenes, keep up the life of simple prayer and inward worship. Keep it up throughout the day. Let inward prayer be your last act before you fall asleep and the first act when you awake. And in time you will find as did Brother Lawrence, that "those who have the gale of the Holy Spirit go forward even in sleep."
Thomas R. Kelly: A testament of devotion, 1941, pp. 38-9.
To Renew Your Strength
To many there are difficulties in prayer; how can we influence God? Ought we to try to do so? How can we pray aright? What are we to think when our prayers go apparently unanswered? No solution of these problems can here be attempted. We would only say that the testimony of multitudes who have persisted in prayer is that it is the most real fact of experience and that whether or no it receives its answer in the sense of gaining the immediately desired object, it always ultimately attains the far fuller end of knowledge of God and increase of His power to life. To those therefore who feel these difficulties we would say, do not wait till you have solved them but pray.
No living creature can create energy; the physical energy which we derive from our food comes from the sun's light and heat. So also we cannot create spiritual power; we can only draw on the springs which flow from God. Prayer is the attitude of mind in which we may get into contact with God and renew our strength. In it our desires are brought before God with an open mind to try to understand His will. This attitude involves a complete surrender on our part.
We would encourage Friends, therefore, reverently yet daringly to make fuller experiment of the life of trust and consecration through prayer, that they may know relief from the burden of anxiety and perplexity and realize the joy of health and victory, whereby they may become centres of radiant energy for the help and healing of others.
London Y. M.: Christian faith and practice, 1960, no. 312.
Prayer is Communion
Prayer, then, is communion, whether it take 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: The meaning and practice of prayer, 1937, p. 10. Article in The Friend (London), vol. 95 (1937), p. 176, reprinted as a pamphlet.
The Aspiration of the Soul
Prayer is the aspiration of the soul. It is man's communion with God and is an essential to religious life. The result of prayer becomes apparent in the nobler lives of those who are constant in its exercise. We, individually, should cultivate the habit of turning to God at all times, and of seeking Divine guidance in all things that we may, in truth, be led by Him. Vocal prayer, when prompted by a deep concern and a sense of human need, is a vital part of public worship and often helps those assembled to come into the consciousness of God's presence.
New York Yearly Meeting: Discipline, 1950, p. 9.
The Riches of their Interior Lives
When I first became associated with the Society of Friends my interest in prayer as a meaningful possibility for adult people was revived. This was largely because so many of the Quakers I knew displayed such a positive attitude to life. Their personalities and characters revealed an integrity, power and security to which their practice of prayer clearly contributed. For them prayer was a joyful, natural thing: the possession of the riches of their interior lives. They spoke of it as the means by which they held a regular simple communion with a loving God, which coloured their lives with tranquillity. I was particularly struck by the fact that those of them who seemed most sincere, real people were reluctant to use the word prayer too easily. At the time that I was going to my tribunal as a conscientious objector, and specially needed their support they said they would "think of me." Whereas most other Christians would have offered to "pray for me." I knew that the thinking of my Quaker friends would be a deeply sincere imaginative, involved activity based upon their loving concern for me as a person, and coupled with their real experience of a loving purpose arising within but transcending normal life.
George H. Gorman: The amazing fact of Quaker worship (Swarthmore lecture), 1973, p. 82.
The Right Relationship With God
And let us remember that true prayer begins when we put aside spasmodic, erratic and irregular efforts, when we take ourselves in hand and subject ourselves to a discipline, when we order our existences according to the principles which will deepen the life of prayer, knowing that the right relationship with God is of prime importance and that prayer is at the heart of it. Gradually, irrevocably, we find as we walk the path that every part of our lives calls for revision: routine, recreation, relationships with others, perhaps even our vocation all must be brought together so as to operate from the center.
Helen Hole: Prayer (Pendle Hill pamphlet, no. 123), 1962, p. 19.