Quakers are individualists, so it is no surprise to find wide views on the topic of prayer or ‘holding in the Light’. I tend to see all of life as a prayer. I have not achieved such, but believe in the practice of ceaseless prayer. I envision it as a link to God. Lovers talk; it is how we connect and get to know one another intimately and it is possibly the closest space to God we can get to in the present. I use the terms interchangeably and I like the phrase to ‘hold in the Light’, as it reminds me that it is more about abiding rather than a list of requests to check off at day’s end.
I never learned rote prayers as a child. I approach prayer with awe and respect, but much as a child in natural conversation as I go about my day uttering whenever I am led. I often find myself praying for others, for an issue, or asking God what is up with a certain situation, what direction I should take or if I am being released from something. I pray for forgiveness and many times, I am just silent. It is then I feel God reaching out and initiating to me more. I am grateful for that form of prayer, knowing I may rest in it and I am covered.
Because I believe in an open universe view, I feel we can co-labor with God. He holds his plans and purpose, but in some mystical way I know that it is possible for him to change them through that of God within us. I don’t feel that is a ticket to peppering God with requests or bargaining, but rather another avenue to discern and align myself with him. It’s not all about wishes, dreams or winning a prize, but a process of transformation. My thoughts on this evolved through years of physical challenges that started in my early adulthood and while getting to know others with chronic illness and pain.
John Woolman said, “The place of prayer is a precious habitation...” I often wonder why prayer is so infrequently discussed and consistently lacking as part of a meeting for worship. No, it usually will not bring back a baby, stop a friend from dying, mend a family or cure a disease–though it could. Possibly, it could do more, like cure my rotten heart attitude, comfort, or heal in another unexpected manner.
I recall as a teen asking my youth group leader why my best friend could not be healed and had to die. He told me, God did heal her but it was just not how I wanted. I’ve taken that with me throughout life and believe while I cannot see all the purposes in that, I have been the recipient of good and a life road map from her–a way of living unto dying. What once was broken in me is a mended treasure wrought from years of prayer and memories from that experience.
Something in me about prayer opened up wide about four years ago. I wrestled for pain relief, amongst other serious items for myself and others. I came to the conclusion that although God loves me, he is not as interested in my physical well being as he is in my soul. During those first few years I learned about yielding to his path rather than grasping for my own or what I perceived others to need. I often feel that God heals on different levels, in his own time and often to our surprise. Back then, some of my experience was painful, but when I revisit it now I can behold the beauty and the way I was never forsaken. I’ve learned that holding others and myself in the Light is a process of God initiating a change in me and my desires more than anything else. God does not need my suffering to act, but if I remain open, I may know more of him. It is an honor Friends have to commune in this miraculous space, and a humble privilege to whisper prayers on behalf of others that are placed before me by the Spirit.
This practice of being a Friend has reinforced to me the importance of moving slower as led. It has also helped explain to me why I’ve been uncomfortable being on large prayer lists of people who I do not know. At one point, when I was very fragile, I had literally hundreds of people praying for me, many groups who did not know me. When no answers were seemingly in sight, I longed to rest in that and accept that as my answer. I needed it to stop. Not many people understood. At silent times I tend to recall the times in which I’ve felt closest to God and find comfort in knowing he remains the same. I also began to sense that if I did not feel the connection of those praying, or I did not feel the prayers were paralleling God’s will at the time, they were futile. I could be mistaken, but they felt more than futile, they were unsettling to me and possibly disobedient for me personally, though a comfort to others. I fervently believe in prayer, but often times it becomes a very personal item to me as I’m sure it is to others. I was then shown my need to learn to respect other people more.
Likewise, when I became strong enough to volunteer in the chronic illness ministry, I was overwhelmed with the sheer number of encouragement and prayer requests. I was quickly given good advice to take on those cases that which I felt empathy for. Jesus himself often was moved by compassion and said to come like children to a father. I learned to distinguish amongst them what was my concern or what I call my “inner yes.” If I sensed a certain dread, I set that case aside in trust that it was for someone else. Most of these people are not asking a way out of their problems or diseases, but rather seeking a touch from others, God’s presence and the grace to endure. The most life-changing thing I’ve learned from these dear ones is that prayer puts pain in it’s place, which is not before the priorities of God. I’ve watched healing of the heart occur, bitterness melt away and hope be born of suffering. I’ve touched spirit to spirit with some of the most courageous souls and together we have learned that prayer is a means of connection and ability to come into an awareness of the Divine Presence working in us and through us. I have so far to go. They continue to teach me, and I find that prayer is no longer like that of a chore from childhood, but an invitation. It is alive, moving and breathing communication that is summed up in Thomas R. Kelly’s words that are left for us:
“How then should we lay hold of that Life and Power, and live the life of prayer without ceasing? By quiet, persistent practice in turning of all our being, day and night, in prayer and inward worship and surrender, toward the One, who calls in the deeps of our souls...Begin now, as you read these words, as you sit in your chair, to offer your whole selves, utterly and in joyful abandon, in quiet, glad surrender to the One who is within...Walk and talk and work and laugh with your friends. But behind the scenes keep up the life of simple prayer and inward worship. Keep it up throughout the day. Let inward prayer be your last act before you fall asleep and the first act when you awake.”