I once overhead a Friend say ‘Quakers don’t do prayer.’
My immediate response was ‘well, this one does’.
I think what the Friend meant was that Quakers don’t talk about prayer, that no-one stands up in meeting for worship and says ‘let us pray’, that we don’t use formal prayers reciting a pre-determined formula. And her observations are right. But that is not the same thing as not praying.
So what do I mean by prayer?
I mean thinking caringly, lovingly of someone I know to be ill or in some other distress. I mean holding a situation in the Light and waiting with it to see if the Light indicates an action I should take. I mean just being quiet and still so that I can be aware of the ‘promptings of love and truth’. I mean listening to God.
I also, at times, mean somewhat more structured prayer with other groups of people including traditional formulae or extempore prayer with Christians, Muslim prayer with a set physical as well as verbal pattern (though I don’t know the Arabic), chanting with Buddhists, Hindus and Sufis, metta meditation, druid ritual. It is a great privilege to pray with others in their tradition and I borrow some of what I learn to use in my daily life. While I haven’t learnt the Hebrew, the Jewish tradition of having a prayer to give thanks for everything, yes,everything, giving thanks for waking up, for getting dressed, for different foods (not just for eating in general), for seeing a flower, etc is a great inspiration towards a life of constant prayer and gratitude.
In my experience Quakers do also pray communally. Last Sunday in our meeting for worship, we had been almost silent, except for a Friend who was crying quietly in a corner (a ministry that opened my heart), until late in the hour a Friend rose and, telling us a little of the situation of some Friends who were absent, suggested that we spend our last five minutes together upholding those Friends. It seemed to bring together the praying that many of us were already doing in the silence.