Prayer - One Quaker's experience

14th August 2023

We invited Friends to reflect on aspects of their spiritual life. Marina tells us what ‘prayer’ means to her:

A few years ago I led a short discussion on prayer, at our local Quaker meeting. I chose the subject because I wanted to explore my own relationship with prayer, which at that point I’d thought was pretty much non-existent. However, through the process of preparation for that discussion, I was surprised to discover that prayer was still a part of my life – it was just that it looked a bit different to how I’d expected.

Do you try to set aside times of quiet for openness to the Holy Spirit? All of us need to find a way into silence which allows us to deepen our awareness of the divine and to find the inward source of our strength. Seek to know an inward stillness, even amid the activities of daily life. Do you encourage in yourself and in others a habit of dependence on God’s guidance for each day? Hold yourself and others in the Light, knowing that all are cherished by God. (Quaker faith & practice, Advices & Queries, 3)

When I was a child I prayed, as many of us did at that time, in school each day. I wasn’t taken regularly to church but I had a children’s prayer book at home and I knew The Lord’s Prayer and would sometimes pray before I went to sleep at night. As a young teenager I became interested in religion and began to go to church regularly – this meant regular, earnest prayers. I learnt what prayer should consist of – giving thanks for my many blessings and the space in which I could ask for guidance, comfort or help, for myself or for others.

When, in my 30s, I stopped going to church and my prayers became less and less frequent. In the end I felt that I could only pray to give thanks, as it felt wrong to pray to ask for help when I prayed so infrequently. This became more confusing still, when I realised that my God wasn’t actually the omnipotent being that I’d previously thought him to be – seemingly making prayers in the traditional sense, redundant.

Yet, I’d noticed in meeting that some Friends spoke of prayer – occasionally of the kind of prayer that I was used to in my church-going days but sometimes of a very different type of prayer. This form of prayer was a freer, holistic-type of experience – something that didn’t need words. In the way of Quaker worship, it was a stillness, listening, a seeking for connection with something beyond oneself. Some Friends found it in music, art or architecture but many reported finding it most easily in nature.

So, reflecting on these forms of prayer – ways of connecting with things much bigger than myself – I began to see that perhaps I did still pray. My prayers no longer consisted of words but the experience of connection that I found I could achieve in other ways was just as strong, if not stronger, for not being ‘drowned out’ by the words. So, to my surprise, I discovered that prayer was still a part of my life; it was simply a case of learning to recognise it.

Perhaps this approach to prayer was best expressed by Quaker Elfrida Vipont Foulds in 1983:

I read that I was supposed to make ‘a place for inward retirement and waiting upon God’ in my daily life, as the Queries in those days expressed it… At last I began to realise, first that I needed some kind of inner peace, or inward retirement, or whatever name it might be called by; and then that these apparently stuffy old Friends were really talking sense. If I studied what they were trying to tell me, I might possibly find that the ‘place of inward retirement’ was not a place I had to go to, it was there all the time. I could know the ‘place of inward retirement’ wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, and find the spiritual refreshment for which, knowingly or unknowingly, I was longing, and hear the voice of God in my heart. Thus I began to realise that prayer was not a formality, or an obligation, it was a place which was there all the time and always available. (Quaker faith and practice, 2.21)

Marina Raywood - Beccles Quaker Meeting - website - Facebook