Quaker prayer arises from a life of continuing devotion. We learn by experience.
The first step is a daily and continuing practice to centre down, turning to the inward light no matter how dim at first, and cultivation an inward listening. Disregard the intrusions of thoughts… “Stand still in the Light” inwardly refusing to be diverted. Submit everything to the scrutiny of the inward Light; sink low and allow the Light to judge and dispel these illusory thoughts…
The second step is a mental willingness and desire to be free of all the imaginations and workings of the mind so that the entire being is directed inwardly to God. This inward yielding is an act of humble submission, and an acknowledgement that all is in God’s hands and in God’s time. We admit our dependence on God. The sanctification or purifying of the heart and soul is done in the inner darkness, unknown and unfelt by us at the time. That is why we must learn to reside in the inner darkness without expecting wonderful spiritual delights and consolations every time we spare time for prayer. Coming wholeheartedly to prayer is more important than the results of the prayer.
The third step is to love the Light as it begins to show us what to do and what needs to be remedied in our lives to make us more acceptable in God’s sight… We need to give priority to the small voice or dim light within us and allow that to judge what is more worldly. We must reverse the usual behaviour of allowing our mind to judge the small, divine seed hidden beneath this veil of worldly commentary. We must “keep low” within ourselves…
David Johnson, A Quaker Prayer Life, 2013
“The sanctification or purifying of the heart and soul is done in the inner darkness, unknown and unfelt by us at the time.” This is perhaps the key to understanding what is involved in the practice of contemplative prayer. It requires an utter, implicit trust in God to pray like this, unknown and unrewarded even by ourselves, which is of course part of the paradox of prayer itself. The call to prayer, and the trust required to pray with no visible “answer”, is pure grace; such grace is only to be reached in prayer.
Paradox it may be, but it works. Women and men through all the history of humanity have found – been shown – the way. The heart’s wisdom is far greater than the mind’s inquiry, and it is in the heart that the “small, divine seed” sets itself. All that is required is an inner yielding, a hope in that not seen. The apostle Paul, a far greater teacher on prayer than he is often given credit for being, wrote to the Romans (8.24b-25; 5.5):
Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience… and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
David Johnson concludes his book:
It is clear that this inward yielding and obedience to the Light was the source of the extraordinary connectedness with God experienced by the early Quakers. It is also the source of their inspiration, inward clarity, steadfastness and courage that “turned the world upside down”.