A life of continuing devotion

“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.]

2 thoughts on “A life of continuing devotion

  1. Johan Maurer

    Programmed Quakers also don’t depend solely on written prayers. In my experience, unwritten prayers occur more often among programmed Friends than unprogrammed, but I’ve heard them in both contexts. I can remember times in unprogrammed meetings when a direct prayer emerged with powerful effect.

    I am glad that the freedom is there to minister vocally in prayer in an unprogrammed meeting for worship. Maybe I’m also glad that it hasn’t become routine. But let it happen often enough that we can remember it is completely possible, acceptable, and precious.

    1. Mike Farley Post author

      Thank you, Johan Maurer. The relationship between silent and vocal prayer is interesting, isn’t it? In liturgical churches who are open to the contemplative tradition of course it’s quite well-defined; it’s slightly paradoxical that many Friends, at least in this country, are a little less clear!


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