(See my other blog for more general musings about prayer.) 

What I understand Quakerism to say about prayer is that we can encounter God at any time, in any place, or in any circumstance. I get that from the Quaker refusal to designate any particular time, place, or person as the primary conduit of the Holy. And I get that from my favorite quote in the banner above: “There is one, even Jesus Christ, that can speak to thy condition.” What I understand this to mean is that we will be spoken to, whatever our condition. This means that there is no human condition in which God cannot speak to us. God can use any form – verbal and non-verbal, sensory and non-sensory, intuitive or tangible.

George Fox seems to me to be saying not that a mainline church service is necessarily wrong but that repetitive or required acts of worship have a tendency to dull our spiritual awareness. He disliked any priest who based his authority on something other than the Power of the Lord, but George absolutely believed that the Lord gave tremendous Power to the words and acts of someone who is animated by the Holy Spirit.

What this means for silent worship is that we can be in prayer when we sit in expectant silence, but that is not the superior way. Indeed, silent worship, too, can become a spiritually dead structure. Silent worship or prayer is not superior to other forms of worship and prayer.

What sets us apart as a denomination is that we are not surprised when we encounter God outside of the Meeting’s agreed-upon times and places of worship. As people who take the priesthood of all believers more literally than most denominations, we believe that any person or even any living being can be a “priest”, someone who draws us into an awareness of God’s presence.  

So although many of my deepest times of worship have occurred while sitting in expectant waiting in my Quaker Meeting, there are many other instances, too. Here are some of them:

Standing at the top of the Sears Building in Chicago, looking out on the city lights one night, I felt one of the most powerful urges to call upon God that I have ever felt.

A dozen Young Adult Friends were in the swimming pool one late night at Norway Yearly Meeting annual sessions, when quite spontaneously we fell into a deep worshipful silent communion.

While working at Swedish Hospital, an elderly Catholic gentleman asked me to give him communion and turned down my offer to call a Catholic chaplain. He said that being served communion by a Quaker would speak more powerfully to him of the nature of God, which is to transcend all human-made boundaries. When we both took the bread and wine in the name of Christ, the Spirit bound this woman, the gentleman, and Christ together with Eternity.

Listening to a sermon, when ideas that were separate suddenly come together or when an AHA! occurs – and new Truth is opened to my understanding.

During the World Gathering of Young Friends in Belgium in 1991, we had a silent meal at the centuries-old Catholic monastery where the gathering took place. I sat in the dining room, soaking in the presence of other Quaker men and women from all over the world, and tried to attune myself to my table companions in particular and know what they might need without them speaking or gesturing. We were One.

Tears of deep joy trickling down my cheeks as I understood the Christmas message in a new way in looking at my then two-month old daughter: The mystery of strength made perfect in weakness; salvation through giving oneself over to Life – both its joy and its suffering; and how God’s very essence can be revealed by human form.

Researching something in the Earlham College Library one day, I lifted my eyes up from the reference book to see a cherry tree in blooming pink splendor, and the Power of God filled my very core, so all words and thoughts fell away.

Sitting in private prayer one day, deeply remorseful over a mistake I had made, I suddenly was filled with the pride-stripping awareness that I was a human – neither better nor worse than a co-worker who had inhabited my thoughts for months because of her unrelenting insistence that I was a bad person. In prayer, I felt united with her in human-ness and was liberated so I could forgive her and attach my awareness to more wholesome projects.

Holding a dying woman’s hand, sadly being the only one to stand with her, I held her in the Light as her breathing slowed and then ceased.

Being a Quaker allows me not to be surprised – indeed perhaps to expect – that God may appear in any kind of situation and transform that moment into a moment of prayer.

Query for prayerful consideration:

What are my experiences of prayer? What is my understanding of prayer from a Quaker perspective?