Prayer changes everything?

It seems to me that prayer is a word that still gives pause to Friends, as it does sometimes to those who have no religious background, or any! Prayer appears to imply – etymologically if in no other way (the word is derived from the Latin precari “ask earnestly, beg, entreat”) – asking of some authority that our desires might be granted, our pain eased, our fears assuaged.

But Quakers don’t believe in that kind of a God. Stephen Fry says he doesn’t, and many Christians would agree with him. So where does that leave prayer, or those of us for whom prayer is as deep and irresistible an impulse as breathing?

If prayer as presenting our requests to God is problematic, how much more might be contemplative prayer, a practice which amounts to – again doing a bit of etymological unpacking – spending “time with” God?

Michael Ramsey once wrote, “Mystical experience is given to some, but contemplation is for all Christians… [It] means essentially our being with God, putting ourselves in his presence, being hungry and thirsty for him, wanting him, letting heart and mind move towards him; with the needs of the world on our heart.”

If God is love, and it seems there is no other way to understand this God word anyhow, then God knows what will heal our broken hearts, and the wounds of those for whom we ourselves feel love. Spending time with God is then somehow indivisible from a kind of helpless love that arises when we look at the suffering of the innocent, human and other, no less than at the hearts of those who cause suffering, through cruelty, greed or ignorance.

But in its helplessness, this love is anything but helpless. This comes very close to a vision of the Cross. If ever there was a helpless man, it was Jesus crucified; yet Paul was able to write, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

That prayer changes us is undeniable. That prayer changes everything is the mercy of Christ.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…

10 thoughts on “Prayer changes everything?

  1. Pingback: Prayer changes everything? | QuakerRanter Archive

  2. Bill Rushby

    Thanks for the essay on prayer! You wrote: “But Quakers don’t believe in that kind of a God.” It is not a good idea to make sweeping generalizations about what Friends do and do not believe. I for one often ask God for personal help, easing of pain, assuaging of fears but, most of all, for protection and healing for others. And I have been a Friend for approximately 55 years.

    1. Mike Farley Post author

      Thanks, Bill.

      You’re right, of course: it is always perilous to make any generalisation about Friends! Perhaps I should have said that none of the Quakers I have met or read believe in a tyrannical, authoritarian God, the kind that Stephen Fry doesn’t believe in. I suspect that, if you were to watch the Stephen Fry interview, I could include even you in my “sweeping generalization”! I too do the things you do – but I see them in the way that I described, not as pleading my case before a tyrannical authority.

      In Friendship


      1. Bill Rushby

        Hello, Mike Farley!

        I have noticed that some Friends get caught up (or is it ‘entangled”?) in cerebrating about God and other spiritual matters. What one can and cannot accept or believe becomes the focal point of their spirituality. I find this intellectualizing about religious matters quite tedious, and I see it as a poor launching pad for one’s spiritual journey!

        When I approach the Throne of Grace, I don’t ask myself lots of questions about God’s character, His “ways and means,” or other related issues. If I wonder about God, I turn to the Bible, and sometimes to the great “cloud of witnesses,” including believing Friends, for answers to my questions. Does this solve all the puzzles Christian faith presents? No, not by any means! But then, I recognize that the finite human mind will never fathom the depths of the mysterium tremendum.

        “…he that cometh to God must believe the he is, and he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Hebrews 11:6. I don’t need solutions to all of life’s intellectual puzzles. I need to a relationship with God and His son, and to commune with the Holy One! And this is where prayer enters the picture!

        May the Lord bless and keep you!

        Bill Rushby

  3. Craig Dove

    Thanks for this – I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer lately myself, what it is (and is not), what it is for. “Spending time with God” is a very apt way of putting it!

  4. flofflach

    prayer is frequently on my mind in my heart at the moment. The last two Mettings for Worship that I have attended – 2 different locations – have offered me visualisations, spontaneous visual experience within the worship, yet still in the room, that is the vision is not at some other location. Also I have an ongoing project that overlaps art with life and is about prayer/meditation/contemplation – well ot about those things it is those things. I worked on the project with someone who became my close friend, she sadly died last september. We took 3 years of doing talking – and doing the 6 hour annual ritual – to come up with a word we both agreed on to describe what we were doing, becuase she had difficulty with “prayer”. The concept we met on was devotion – a devotional act.
    For me prayer is not really about asking. I might on occassion say “help”! It is about waiting, about being with god.
    Currently I am looking at Teresa of Avila. I have bought a book of daily prayers, but shocked on day three a prayer talking of mnot wanting to keep the company of the timid [and others] – who are not trying to reach god. Day one and two were powerful, not entirely easy…but now I am not sure if I want to continue. But I have her biography and translation of one of her works to look at…
    Also I am hoping to do some movement prayer – my most “successful” way of praying, but requires a proper space and a good floor. Must go book it now!

  5. Mike Farley Post author

    Dear Friends, thank you all for your comments. I’m sorry not to have replied individually, or earlier, but as you’ll have seen from my recent posts, we’ve moved home, and I was rather distracted from minding this blog!

    Bill Rushby, you are so right about the tendency of Friends to cerebrate too much, and sit still too little. As I said in my later post, John Bellows’ words are a good resource here: “I know of no other way, in these deeper depths, of trusting in the name of the Lord, and staying upon God, than sinking into silence and nothingness before Him… So long as the enemy can keep us reasoning he can buffet us to and fro; but into the true solemn silence of the soul before God he cannot follow us.”

    Teresa of Avila I have found difficult, Flo Fflach. Temperamentally, I am far closer to the Russian mystics than the Spanish, and I turn to people like Sophrony Sakharov and Irma Zaleski where some look to Teresa and St John of the Cross. Being a clumsy sort of a person, movement prayer, sacred dance, and things like that, leave me untouched – whereas (some, anyway) improvised music fills me with wonder and peace. I’m thinking especially of people like Jan Garbarek and Matt Borghi.

    Craig Dove, your words remind me of the Fernley Hartley Lecture by J Neville Ward, The Use of Praying (now sadly out of print), where he spends a whole short book looking at just exactly what prayer is for!

    Thank you all for your careful reading and kind words.

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