Remembering Prayer

I imagine that you are, like I am, still processing and trying to understand the events of the last couple of weeks in our country. Our souls were shocked to see such violence and disrespect—disregard for the well-being of people and traditions and institutions. And we are still on edge as we hear about safety concerns for the inauguration this week. Twenty-five thousand National Guardsmen and women are now stationed in Washington, D.C. It is truly hard to believe that this is where we are as a country today. And yet, so it is.

With so much happening outwardly—and the recent and ongoing threats of violence are only one part of it; there is also a pandemic that continues to spread and take lives and a growing economic crisis that makes a huge percentage of our population insecure—it becomes more important than ever to remember to turn inward; to listen to and strengthen our connection with God; to renew, if necessary, our path to hope and peace and healing. And not only does that help us in a moment of struggle, but the practice of prayer reconnects us in a very real way with the best parts of ourselves—that of God in us: the higher angels of our nature, as Abraham Lincoln put it. When we pray, we attune our hearts and minds to the One who loves purely, who is peace, who provides harmony, abundant life—even joy–for all.

The title for our message today, “Remembering Prayer,” serves two purposes. First, I want us to spend some time together letting go of all the words and images that fill our heads, the worries we are carrying in our hearts, and make a quiet journey together—following Friends who have gone before us—to move into the quiet of prayer where we can find rest and reflection. So this message will be a little different, based on the writings of early Friends about prayer. We’ll follow each reading with a few moments of stillness, as we listen for God and keep our hearts and minds open to Christ’s teaching.

This kind of waiting in the quiet before God brings a sense of rest that is hard to describe, truly the peace that passes understanding, a remembering that we are loved. It also makes it possible for God to show us where we have blocks to love that can be dissolved, boards in our eyes, things that need to be forgiven or changed. If we are willing, God’s light shines into our hearts when we pray so that we can be honest with God—and with ourselves, letting go of any remaining fig leaves we hide behind. The psalmist says it this way:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

When we pray, we invite God’s light to shine in and see us fully, warts and all, and then lead us down a better and more loving path: the way everlasting.

Secondly the idea of “Remembering Prayer” is about what happens to us all together when we pray. We are “re-membered” into a family of God. We reclaim what we’ve forgotten because of our anxiety, our upset, the loudness of it all. We aren’t alone and small and vulnerable; we are directly connected to God and to each other, the ocean of light George Fox saw, that is the loving family of God. God’s love of goodness and harmony, peace and mercy is the root of all we do. And this “re-membering” helps us find balance and calm and see the path forward when the world is full of crisis and conflict.

Jesus himself taught us how to pray in this way, as a member of the family of God. Luke 11 tells it like this:

11 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father,[a] hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.[b] 3 Give us each day our daily bread.

4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.[c] And lead us not into temptation.[d]’”

So with the words of the psalmist and the prayer of Christ as our guides, let’s listen to the wise words of Friends together.  We’ll start with an idea from George Fox:

“Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit from thy own thoughts, and then thou wilt feel the principle of God to turn thy mind to the Lord God, whereby thou wilt receive his strength and power from whence life comes, to allay all tempests, against blusterings and storms. This is it which moulds up into patience, into innocency, into soberness, into stillness, into stayedness, into quietness, up to God, with his power.”

[pause for reflection]

REFLECTION ONE

Quaker William Littleboy, who gave the Swarthmore Lecture in 1917, asks us to consider the way Jesus prayed:

“Consider now the prayer-life of Jesus. It comes out most clearly in the record of St. Luke, who leaves us with the impression that prayer was the most vital element in our Lord’s life. He rises a great while before day that he might have some hours alone with His Father. He continues all night in prayer to God. Incident after incident is introduced by the statement that Jesus was praying. Are we so much nearer God that we can afford to dispense with that which to Him was of such vital moment? It seems to me that this prayer-habit of Jesus throws light upon the purpose of prayer.

I think of those long hours alone with God. Quite obviously petition can have had a very small place in our Lord’s thought. We cannot suppose that He whose chief desire was that God’s will be done in all things could have been incessantly asking, asking. There must have been a sacred interchange far deeper than this. Especially are we sure that He was not praying for material blessings to be enjoyed by Himself alone. On the only occasion recorded in which He asked (in perfect submission) something for Himself, at Gethsemane, His request was not granted. We pray, not to change God’s will, but to bring our wills into correspondence with His.”

[pause for reflection]

REFLECTION TWO

In Lamentations 3: 28-30 from The Message translation of the bible, we hear a reflection on how to pray when times are hard:

“When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face. The “worst” is never the worst. Why? Because the Master won’t ever walk out and fail to return. If he works severely, he also works tenderly. His stockpiles of love are immense. He takes no pleasure in making life hard, in throwing roadblocks in the way.”

[pause for reflection]

REFLECTION THREE

Author and philosophy professor Thomas R. Kelly wrote beautifully about what it means to be in the presence of God. Here he reflects on prayer:

“DO WE PRAY, or does God pray through us? I know not. All I can say is, prayer is taking place, and we are graciously permitted to be within the orbit. We emerge from such experiences of infused prayer shaken and deepened and humbled before the Majesty on High. And we somehow know that we have been given some glimpse of that Life.”

[pause for reflection]

REFLECTION FOUR

Contemporary Friend and author Marcelle Martin wrote these inspiring ideas on praying for others:

“Over the years, praying for others and holding them in the Light has become a frequent practice for me. I’ve explored many ways of doing it. Sometimes I address a mental request to God for health or well-being of another, usually acknowledging that I don’t fully understand the situation, and that I’m really asking for the best for that person, whatever that may be. Often, however, my prayer doesn’t include mental words or any specific requests. Sometimes I visualize that person filled and surrounded with light or imagine them being held by God or experiencing radiant health, peace, or joy. On other occasions, I visualize the light within them – divine love and wisdom – shining brightly. Often my prayer feels simply like love, without images: I focus on the other person in a tender, grateful way, from the place of my own deepest connection to the Spirit… Prayer on behalf of others is mysterious, but fundamentally it seems to be an opportunity to participate in divine love.”

[pause for reflection]

So however we feel led to pray this week, Friends, let’s take the time to allow the quiet to fill our minds and hearts. Let’s invite God to search us and test us and show us where we need God’s light. Let’s be honest about the state of our hearts and confess where they have grown hardened, or cynical, or afraid. Let’s welcome the guiding of spirit as we start down a new and more loving path to a better world, a kinder country, a flourishing meeting we –with God’s grace—will create.

RESOURCES:

  • OT Psalm 139: 23-24
  • NT Luke 11: 1-4

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