“Prayer” by Any Other Name Would Sound as Sweet

“Prayer is a tough word for a lot of Friends; if you need to do so, translate it into a more comfortable word as you read along. Many contemporary Friends want no part of a practice in which one dials up God to make demands. Some Friends don’t believe in a personal God who is there to hear and respond. Others think that making demands is a poor way to enter into relationship with a personal God. They would get support from Teresa of Avila who wrote, ‘If we want the Lord to do our will and lead us just as our fancy dictates, how can this building possibly have a firm foundation?’

“Prayer at its fullest is something more than importuning God. I have discovered that many Friends have practices that I regard as prayer in this fuller sense, though they may not consider them to be prayer.

“For me, prayer is entering into relationship with the Other. If retirement is a time of going inward and contacting the Inward Teacher, prayer is entering into relationship with that which is beyond and outside. Even if we do not experience a personal God, many Friends find themselves in awe of the larger whole and of our interconnections with one another and the mystery of the universe. Prayer can be as simple as acknowledging that awe when we see a sunset or a newborn baby or a flower growing in an unlikely place.

“Prayer can take the form of gratitude. Meister Eckhart is said to have written, ‘If the only prayer you say in your life is thanks it would suffice.’ Dag Hammarskjold expressed this in his Markings: ‘For all that has been, thanks; for all that will be, yes.’

“Prayer may be lived out in our longings. Patricia McKernon, who has shared her music at Friends General Conference Gatherings, writes in one of her songs, ‘Your longing is your surest love of me.’ Bill Taber, a teacher from Ohio Yearly Meeting, says that yearning (what we today might call longing for wholeness) was the underpinning of early Quaker seeking.

“Prayer expresses our hope and intention to enter into an awe-filled relationship with the Divine. An individual who becomes practiced in prayer can have the experience of sinking down into the Divine in which no words are needed.

“Contemporary Friends talk of ‘holding in the Light.’ By this we may mean holding someone in loving thoughts while they go through a hard time—or perhaps we mean holding a vexing matter quietly in the back of our consciousness and allowing new possibilities to emerge. And we speak of seeking guidance or being open to guidance, perhaps from the Inward Teacher, perhaps from the wisdom of the universe.

“Just the sincere act of trying to enter into a relationship with God can be transformative for the person praying. Through a discipline of prayer one can create within oneself an environment that is more receptive to God, more sensitive and more open to God’s presence in the world, and more receptive to and aware of guidance.

“Whether or not we call it prayer, it is important to our spiritual discipline to recognize our place in the wider scheme of things. We are not the center. We can recognize that there is wisdom without as well as within, and we can salute the sacredness of other people and of the entire universe. Acknowledging this place provides a foundation for the disciplines that follow.”

— Patricia McBee, 2003
“Quaker Spiritual Disciplines for Hard Times,” Friends Journal.

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What is the value of spirituality in your life?

When I was 14, my father told me I didn’t have to go to Mass or Sunday school anymore, but I did have to attend some kind of weekly service from a religion; it was up to me to find my religious home, if any. I have enjoyed many different spiritual paths in the 54 years since then. The path I walked the longest was being a public school teacher. Every day, I was a servant to my students, offering a caring environment in which they would hopefully grow intellectually, socially, and individually. And, in those moments when they were engaged, working together, seeking knowledge eagerly, the world, the universe, hummed.

Spirituality is seeking a connection to something greater than the one, a connection to the world & to the generations past & future. Thich Nhat Hahn refers to that as the “ultimate dimension.” Some refer to it as God. It’s a way to seeing life beyond the obvious. 

I’m looking at my breakfast banana. If I could look deeply, I’d see the atoms, and spaces between. In fact, the atoms at the edges of the banana would blur into those of my plate. Spirituality helps us see the atoms, the spaces, the blur, the unity with the ultimate dimension, with the spirit, the love and breath of God.

When I’m connected to my spirituality, I am aware of that connection as I read, pray, ponder; as I love, cry, laugh; as I walk the park with my dog; as I laugh with or comfort a loved one; as I teach a yoga class. I am connected to all and with all. The world hums.

Toni W., Burleson, TX, USA
I can define spirituality on my side as a deep closer getting to know God more and more. The more I get myself occupied with Godly work, the deeper I get to understand myself in the vision of God. I have found myself involving in daily Morning Bible devotion, more time of praying and listening from God.

George B., Bura-Tana, Tana River, Kenya
Spirituality, for me, is our connection with everything outside of ourselves. When people are at a sports game and feel that connection with each other, I believe that is a sense of spirtuality. When we empathize with somebody and attempt to understand them, that is spirituality. When we help an animal, or even take a moment to watch the trees blow in the wind and recognize how we are a part of everything, that is spirituality. I used to think that spirituality meant obedience or submission. Now I believe that the servitude that is spoken of, is to each other. The praise that is spoken of, is for each other. 

In the sermon on the rock, Jesus said that what we do for each other we do for him. He taught us that we are all created in God's image and are brothers and sisters. The best way to serve God is by serving each other. The best way to practice our connection with God, our spirituality, is by connecting with each other.

Jorden M., Chula Vista, CA, USA

What makes you feel close to Spirit?

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