Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Ministry of Silence – more QFP Chapter 2

Friends have never regarded [worship] as an individual activity. People who regard Friends’ meetings as opportunities for meditation have failed to appreciate this corporate aspect. The waiting and listening are activities in which everybody is engaged and produce spoken ministry which helps to articulate the common guidance which the Holy Spirit is believed to give the group as a whole. So the waiting and listening is corporate also. This is why Friends emphasise the ‘ministry of silence’ and the importance of coming to meeting regularly and with heart and mind prepared.

John Punshon, 1987; QFP 2.37

The first that enters into the place of your meeting … turn in thy mind to the light, and wait upon God singly, as if none were present but the Lord; and here thou art strong. Then the next that comes in, let them in simplicity of heart sit down and turn in to the same light, and wait in the spirit; and so all the rest coming in, in the fear of the Lord, sit down in pure stillness and silence of all flesh, and wait in the light… Those who are brought to a pure still waiting upon God in the spirit, are come nearer to the Lord than words are; for God is a spirit, and in the spirit is he worshipped… In such a meeting there will be an unwillingness to part asunder, being ready to say in yourselves, it is good to be here: and this is the end of all words and writings to bring people to the eternal living Word.

Alexander Parker, 1660; QFP 2.41

I have been very much struck recently by the clear distinction between the practice of contemplative prayer – in my case based on the Jesus Prayer – and meeting for worship, even the little times of worship Susan and I (and Tifa the cat) share each morning before breakfast.

When we settle into silence together, we settle into each others’ presence, and the Spirit links us, becomes a bright lake of being in which we rest; whose ripples join us together, and communicate to each, human or feline, our presence within that Spirit. In a truly gathered meeting on Sunday morning the same thing happens, only on a larger scale: there are long tides in the silence that ebb and flow among us, the little waves of Friends’ concerns lapping at our feet like the wash of some passing boat, far out on the mere of our shared stillness.

It seems to me impossible to plan for these connections, or to bring them about by any exercise of will; they are gift only, and the best we can do is try to ensure that we don’t allow the fretfulness of our own hearts to obstruct them when they do appear. Some of the best advice I have read on avoiding this is that given long ago by Isaac Penington, again in the earliest days of the Quaker movement:

Give over thine own willing, give over thy own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee and be in thee and breathe in thee and act in thee; and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of Life, which is its portion.

Isaac Penington, 1661; QFP 26.70

The Mercy Blog – a new start

It seems to me to be time to begin posting regularly again on my other blog. This blog here at Silent Assemblies will continue, but I seem to be coming to the conclusion that I need a space to discuss contemplative prayer in general, and the Jesus Prayer in particular, without feeling the need to put things in a specifically Quaker context.

The practice of contemplative prayer, especially that of the Jesus Prayer, is not so much a matter of personal choice as of leading, and, as the Pilgrim found, being faithful to that leading is not always an easy matter. It shouldn’t be thought that contemplative prayer is an easy alternative to either action or to verbal prayer. Opening one’s heart to God in this way opens it to God’s love for our brokenness; allowing Christ to dwell in our hearts by his Spirit involves us in the love of Christ, and its consequences: as Paul once wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2.19b-20a)

The author of The Cloud of Unknowing wrote: “It is not your will or desire that moves you, but something you are completely ignorant of stirring you to will and desire you know not what.” It is in simply willing to follow that desire that we are led, like the Cloud author, into the way of contemplation.

For all I have said about the seriousness of the call to contemplative prayer, it really is very simple indeed. Irma Zaleski, in her classic Living the Jesus Prayer, wrote:

The Kind of awareness that the Jesus Prayer may lead us to is very simple. We do not try to imagine that Jesus is there, and even less what he looks like or what he says. We do not engage in any imaginary conversations with him. We simply try to be aware of him and attentive to him in a similar way as we are aware of the presence of someone we love in the next room, or as a mother is attentive to what her children are doing, however busy she is. We believe – we know by faith – that God in Christ is here, with us and in us. Our task is to try and remember him and be attentive to him. It is this attentiveness that is the door to our experience of the presence of God. We cannot summon this experience at will. We cannot grasp it as if it were a possession. It is, like the Prayer itself, a gift. Ours is only a discipline of faith and perseverance…