Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Place of Prayer

In "The Place of Prayer Is A Precious Habitation" John Nicholson summarizes for Friends the testimony of John Woolman about his rich and varied prayer life. He also helps us understand how it moved from direct prayer to living the spirit of prayer.

John Nicholson is a birthright Friend and was the long-time head of the Westtown School middle school. He gave this address as the principal speaker at a Quaker Universalist Fellowship gathering at London Grove Meeting, Pennsylvania, on November 9,1991. The topic of the gathering was “Listening Within: Prayer as a Resource.”

Nicholson shapes the life of John Woolman and his approach to prayer in four ways. First of all, there must be a center wherein prayer is grounded. Such a focus is described by John Woolman in his essay, The True Harmony of Mankind.
I feel it my duty to love my heavenly Father with all my soul and with all my strength. This I have learned through the precious operation of divine love, and ardently desire both for myself and for all who have tasted of it, that nothing may separate us from it.

The next focus is perhaps the most difficult factor, the surrender of will. In the same quotation from The True Harmony of Mankind, one finds,
I feel that pride is opposite to Divine love. And if I put forth my strength in an employ which I know is to support pride, I feel it has a tendency to weaken those bonds which, through the infinite mercies of God, I have felt at times to bind and unite my soul in a holy fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.

Thirdly there is continual preparation through practice, reading and study. As to practice, Woolman’s writings reflect a life of almost continual prayer. It is interesting to note that earlier in his Journal he often speaks of prayer, while later on his writing reflects the spirit of prayer, rather than using the word itself, an indication of ever-growing spiritual maturity.

Finally, writes Nicholson, we need to divest ourselves of the distractions and cumber that cloud the working of the spirit, and wait patiently for the answers that come in God’s time, not ours. Patient resignation in love can lead us to understanding that the answer is God’s, not ours.

Perhaps the crowning summary of Woolman's view of prayer is his vision of the Kingdom of God which is ever present.
The place of prayer is a precious habitation, for I now saw that the prayers of the saints was precious incense. And a trumpet was given me that I might sound forth this language, that the children might hear it and be invited to gather…before the throne of God and the lamb. I saw this habitation to be safe, to be inwardly quiet, when there were great stirrings and commotions in the world. Prayer at this day in pure resignation is a precious place. The trumpet is sounded; the call goes forth to the church that she is to gather to the place of pure inward prayer, and her habitation is safe.

View the complete Quaker Universalist pamphlet:
The Place Of Prayer Is A Precious Habitation by John Nicholson

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