A Quaker Perspective on Prayer

We pray, and yet it is not we who pray, but a Greater who prays in us. Something of our punctiform selfhood is weakened, but never lost. All we can say is, Prayer is taking place, and I am given to be in the orbit. In Holy Hush we bow in Eternity, and know the Divine Concern tenderly enwrapping us and all things within His persuading love. Here all human initiative has passed into acquiescence, and He works and prays and seeks His own through us, in exquisite, energizing life. Here the autonomy of the inner life becomes complete and we are joyfully prayed through by a Seeking Life that flows through us into the world of men. (“A Testament of Devotion” by Thomas R. Kelly)

Kelly, who was a Quaker writing in the first half of the 20th century, presents here a notion of prayer that is far removed from what I was taught. Kelly saw prayer, not just as something we do, but as something that is done to us. Prayer is a spiritual process that we can tap into if we humble ourselves, find an always elusive purity of heart, and open ourselves up to the Infinite.

But here I have posed a problem for the old “concrete thinking” lew that still abides in the depths of my heart and he wants to shriek, “This is nuts!” And, I might add that occasionally in my Sunday School class, where we approach spirituality in similar “non-duality” terms, I will occasionally facetiously announce, “This is nuts!” For, I know that my friends also see how complicated and subtle this approach to spirituality is and how that it does not fit the mind and temperament of everybody. Approaching spirituality in this vein involves the ability to hold contradictory notions in the mind at the same time and most people can’t do that. And, I might add, most people should not do that and should approach spirituality in their own way. For, God works through us all and expresses Himself through us all, even through those that I might disagree with or at times even dislike!

But, at times it is hard to maintain this humble approach in the face of an old “un-literary” lew with his (its!) concrete thinking shrieking at him, who wants to proclaim from the rooftops, “THIS IS THE TRUTH! BELIEVE LIKE ME! TURN OR BURN!” I have the nagging need to “be right” which I keep at bay most of the time. But at times it gets triggered and then the black hole that it is gnaws at my soul for a few days. For, the need to “be right” is a black hole and will devour a soul if given into. It is much easier to “know” that you are right than to have hope, confidence, and faith that there is a “Right” that is present in this universe that is seeking expression through us all, even those that believe differently than I do.

And let me close with Shakespeare’s profound observation about prayer in Hamlet, where King Claudius kneels and prays, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” And then T. S. Eliot noted, “Prayer is more than an order of words, or the sound of the voice praying, or the conscious occupation of the praying mind.”



2 thoughts on “A Quaker Perspective on Prayer

  1. Pingback: Day 242: Who Prays? | Finding God in 365 Days

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