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…