“Quaker prayer arises from a life of continuing devotion. We learn by experience.” (David Johnson, A Quaker Prayer Life)
“…when God doth work who shall let [i.e. hinder] it? And this I knew experimentally.” (George Fox, 1647)
It is sometimes said that Quakerism is an experimental faith, and this is nowhere more true than in prayer. Quakers (unprogrammed ones, at least) have no written prayers, and even in spoken ministry, direct prayer seems rarely to be heard. What we learn in prayer, whether in the silence of meeting for worship, or in our own personal practice, we learn by experience.
It seems to me that this word “experimental”, both in its modern sense of “using a new way of doing or thinking about something” (Merriam Webster) and in George Fox’s sense of “experiential”, implies much about Quaker prayer – as about mystical prayer in general, perhaps. Mystical prayer can take place only in the present, and so is to that extent always “a new way of doing”; and it can only be real in the actual experience of the one praying. Such experience seems rarely if ever to come at first attempt. It really does seem to be “a life of continuing devotion” that opens the heart to the tides of the Spirit, and season by season changes it to receive the gift of new life as its own…
[For a few thoughts on how the word “prayer” might be defined in a Quaker context, read this earlier post.]