As we… hear the Voice of the Spirit which speaks from within our Being, it will usually express Itself in familiar language. In the words of Jesus… “I and My Father are One.”
This Oneness is infinity, a mystical experience, existing within all traditions, and embracing all creation. Yet even expressed in religious language, it is beyond all religious ideas. Through it, as the Tao Teh Ching tells us, “Differences are ironed out, knots untangled and true harmony restored.” (Ch. 4)
It is good to set aside a period of meditation each day for the needs of the world. The same principles apply, and even more so, for it we do not know how to help individuals, how much less do we know how to take care of the needs of the world. We can only realise that the world is what the Tao Teh Ching calls ‘a sacred vessel’ (Ch.29) or, to put it another way, it is ‘in the hands of God’ and thus truly spiritual in nature. Then, in the Stillness, comes the reassurance, “All is well,” and we know we have done our part.
By honestly admitting out human limitations we come to know God as unconditional Love and Power, and free from all limitation. We can experience God as both personal and impersonal, beyond all our possible imaginings, yet as our Life itself. Infinite Compassion is Its very being, and we are able to take from It all we can use for ourselves and for the benefit of others. All we can do is to be still and allow God to be God in the Silence.
Praying like this is one of the strongest leadings, or if you like, instincts, or calls on my life, that I know. Sometimes I wonder, or am tempted to wonder, whether I am doing any good praying like this. Yet there are reassurances more than even the most hesitant heart ought to need, not only directly, as Jim Pym describes above, but in Scripture (Romans 8.26-27 being the most obvious one I know) and in the teachings of contemplative prayer in all traditions.
Last weekend, Susan and I were privileged to attend a retreat led by Laurence Freeman OSB at the Gillis Centre in Edinburgh, under the auspices of the Edinburgh International Centre for Spirituality & Peace (EICSP), and in both Fr Laurence’s own talks, and most strikingly in the workshop periods, this came up again and again. Our practice, be it Christian contemplation or Buddhist Nembutsu or Zazen, is not for ourselves alone. “As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child, even so should one cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings. With goodwill for the entire cosmos cultivate a limitless heart.” (Metta Sutta)
It seems to me that when we meet for Worship we’re not just doing something for the benefit of each of us, nor even for the benefit of the Meeting as a whole, but something of far wider effect, and this effect is not limited to those present merely being ‘inspired’ to do practical things for those in need, for instance. As Jim Pym says, God is free from all limitations: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1.17) As L Hugh Doncaster said (Quaker Faith & Practice 26.43)
The heart of the Quaker message does not lie in a doctrine expressed in abstract terms, but in an experience of power and grace, known in our hearts and also related to the structure of the universe; also known individually and recognised as belonging to all. At the same time this universal spirit is focused and made personal in Jesus in a way which makes it appropriate to speak of the Universal Light as the Light of Christ.
Our prayer, be it one of simple silence, or an opening of the heart such as the Jesus Prayer or Buddhist Metta practice, is, just as the apostle James said, “powerful and effective” (5.16) and in it we may hold all beings in the Light that gives each of us our life.