Thanks to everyone who posted their thoughts on Quakers and Prayer on my Facebook profile. I used many of your suggestions during my talk at Church of the Redeemer, which seemed to go well. I won’t try to recount everything I said here, but I will share a few things I figured out along the way.
After the usual disclaimer about how hard it is to generalize about Quakers, I started with “that of God in everyone” and the Quaker belief that we are all always connected to God and can feel that connection at any time and in any place, though we are not always attentive to it. Prayer, I suggested, is any attempt to pay attention to the Divine. It may take the form of speaking to God from our heart, like Mary Pennington in the wonderful story Marshall Massey posted. Singing or reciting a prayer may also kindle that connection for us, though I shared Bill Taber’s warning that we should use words “only when we are profoundly and alertly awake.” For unprogrammed Friends, silence is a common way we become alert to our connection, though silence by itself is not automatically worship.
Prayer can take place in a house of worship, in a home, or in a kayak, which is one of my favorite places for it since a wonderful meeting for worship last summer when my family was visiting a Friend in the Adirondacks. My son seemed unusually centered as his kayak drifted around a pristine lake where we were the only humans and where our connection to each other and the Divine felt as supportive and fluid as the water beneath us. I shared a few other experiences of worship as well, such as one time when a message I gave spoke in an unexpected way to a visitor and another when a message I had judged as trite spoke profoundly to a dear friend (an experience that made me more humble about judging other people’s messages).
Although I had explained at the outset the diversity of our theology and practice, the questions still focused on issues for which it’s hard to give a pithy answer: So are Quakers Christian? Do you read the Bible? How do you educate children in your meetings? Although these questions were not unexpected, they were striking given that at least two-thirds of these Main Line Episcopalians raised their hands when I asked how many had been associated with a Friends school. One man came up to thank me afterwards, saying that his child had gone to a Quaker school for ten years, and he never could figure out what Quakers believed. He said he had learned more during my forty-minute talk than in those ten years. As a former School Committee member for my children’s Quaker school, I wonder how many of our families would say the same. Given that many in my audience seemed to resonate with my message, I am wondering today how we can share what is alive and meaningful in our form of prayer, both in our schools and in the wider world.