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.