Longing love

It was only when I heard the definition of prayer as ‘attention’ that it began to have some meaning for me. As the French mystic Simone Weil wrote: ‘Prayer… is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable towards God.’ I began to see prayer as an act of faith and will. Preparing myself, opening myself to God’s will, and making myself a channel for God’s love. It is a passive state and sometimes less like praying and more like being prayed through… An act of intention, it includes adoration, wonder and contemplation.

Twelve Quakers and Prayer (No.2)

It is hard, sometimes, to find a Quaker paradigm for prayer. Advanced patterns of language to allow us to think about prayer can be found in many religious traditions, where prayer as generally practiced by Quakers is often referred to as mystical or contemplative prayer. (This is discussed at length in the opening sections of David Johnson’s excellent book A Quaker Prayer Life). Part of the difficulty, it seems to me, is that, as I wrote earlier, prayer is so often understood as petitioning a reluctant God to grant the pray-er some favour. The anonymous second Friend quoted above writes,

Praying for things, for ourselves or for others, praying that our wishes be fulfilled, no longer made sense to me. How would I know what to wish for? Who am I to think that I know it? Asking for an outcome makes an assumption about my own knowledge and expresses my need to be in control. Hard as it may be, a difficult situation may be just what is needed for spiritual growth, and indeed, recognition of that helps me consider difficulties to be learning opportunities…

The idea of praying for someone or something, when we might consider that all is known to God in any case, seems unhelpful… We do not pray to affect God, but that we ourselves may be changed in the process. It is an act of sharing with God, not an attempt to prompt God into action. It is a holding in the Light, both inward and outward. We pray not to God for others, but for God for them.

For me, prayer is not a matter of reason or invention, but merely of longing love. All our means and methods of prayer amount to no more than getting the selfish mind out of the way of that longing love, so that that love can flow both ways, to and from all that we mean by “God”, and so too through our own compassionate longing to the least of our fellow creatures, human or otherwise. The heart’s prayer can’t be any less than this.

8 thoughts on “Longing love

  1. Pingback: Longing love: prayer for Quakers - Martin Kelley / Quaker Ranter

  2. treegestalt

    Sometimes we really do care about an outcome. We’re human beings, and not supposed to be anything other than that. Yes, we should and do want some escape clause in there — some form of: ‘if it be Thy Will’ — because we wouldn’t want some silly wish to fnurgle the foundations of the universe…

    but Jesus prayed _for_ things for himself and other people, recommended that we ask for what we need and expect to receive it.

    Jesus didn’t always get what he (would have) wanted — but then ‘faith’ was an essential ingredient. Not ‘faith’ in the sense of ‘credulity’, but ‘faith’ in a different sense — which I say is ‘belief based on our intuitive sense of God’s intention’ (which might or might not turn out anything like our conscious, ‘reasonable’ view of a situation.)

    We ask for some good result we want; in Julian of Norwich’s way of looking at this, we do so because God also desires this good and is allowing us to participate in its realization, as an expression of God’s ‘courtesy’.

    Unless I am gravely mistook — The lack of petitionary prayer among modern Friends is far more the result of a lack of faith among us than anything else.

  3. Mike Farley Post author

    Many thanks, Friend, for your thoughtful comments. I wonder, though, if the “lack of petitionary prayer among modern Friends” is not more the result of a deep faith in God as love as the ground of being, rather than as an external, arbitrary ruler who must be persuaded (or magicked, by some incantation) to do our will. I think Jesus’ faith was probably of this kind – certainly his “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” reflects this depth of trust.

    This is really what my post was supposed to be about: our love as one with God’s, “really… car[ing] about” the least of our companions.

    Thank you, by the way, for the word “fnurgle”. No-one has used that in a comment before, and I am delighted to make its acquaintance – superb word!

    1. treegestalt

      That does not seem to be the case among the Friends I know. “Ground of Being” and “Love” turn out to both be pointers to God, but that’s not an axiom; it’s a discovery. To find many modern Friends willing to use the G-word you need to go to a place like Pendle Hill — where I also found that petitionary prayers for the healing of various people were a regular practice.

      It isn’t that God is external (or safely ‘internal’ either) — but that God isn’t arbitrary, simply sees farther and deeper than human beings. We don’t hesitate to micromanage the creation physically, emotionally, or intellectually — sometimes disasterously so — and this is putting our spirit & our conscious attention into it, ‘fixing’ on a level where the feedback can be far more conscious and intentional.

      We should ask for things because it is better for us to know what we want — for us to trust that we’re free to do so and expect a reply. On some occasions that reply may merely be a feeling that we don’t know which outcome is actually best for someone, or that we’ve asked for something not available in this case — but it is a reply, even if we need to stretch to grasp its meaning — and we can trust that any refusal is necessary and purposeful.

      We aren’t meant to be passive or uncaring. A ‘rational’ prayer might be abstractly, impersonally Good, for the greatest good of the greatest number etc. — but that kind of prayer has no juice. A prayer had better be about someone specific whom we have a connection with, even if it’s only that someone has asked for a prayer.

      We humans are still learning, still negotiating what our optimal relationship to God (& each other & ourself) ought to look like. But pretty clearly Jesus was placed to provide us guidelines on how to grope our way closer; and God as a wise but loving parent was the model he described. Overall I think we’re short of that; we couldn’t have gotten beyond it without going through it — which would have rearranged the landscape remarkably!

  4. Pingback: This ‘God’ word… | Silent Assemblies

  5. Mike Farley Post author

    Friend treegestalt, I haven’t neglected to reply to your long comment really – the following two posts came directly from thinking through what you had written – thanks!

  6. Pingback: A life of continuing devotion | Silent Assemblies

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