Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I recently read 'A Quaker Prayer Life' by David Johnson, published by Inner Light Books. I found it a rewarding read, an insipring read, and a helpful work. I posted the following review at amazon:
This short book, 67 pages of actual text, is an articulate, lyrical, and inspirational guide to the prayer of inward silence and stillness as practiced in the Quaker tradition. It is a practical book rather than theological or argumentative. That is to say it is an actual manual that individuals can use to put this type of prayer into practice. For Quakers, it is a great resource. For non-Quakers it is a valuable addition to the practice of contemplation which you may want to integrate into your own contemplative practice.
The author, David Johnson, by using numerous quotations from early Quaker sources, places the prayer of inward silence at the heart of the Quaker tradition. Johnson has clearly spent much time with these early sources and is able to present the essence of the method of the prayer of inward silence in a way that is accessible and, at the same time, sensible. His writing is easy to follow, clear, and the instructions will benefit both newcomers and those who have engaged in this style of prayer for many years.
I also appreciate how Johnson embeds this type of prayer in a Christian context. There are frequent scriptural citations, particularly from the Gospel of John, but other parts of the Bible are referenced as well. And the tradition of apophatic prayer in Christianity is brought in by referencing such works as ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’. I think this is especially important today because among some Quakers there is a tendency to diminish the centrality of Christianity for this type of prayer practice and, among a few, for the Quaker tradition in general. At the same time, Johnson judiciously notes certain commonalities the prayer of inward silence found in the Quaker tradition has with other types of practice, including passing references to non-Christian practices found in, for example, Buddhism. Yet the presentation is appropriately weighted towards the tradition out of which Quaker prayer practice emerged -- Christianity.
‘A Quaker Prayer Life’ in many ways reminds me of ‘A Guide to True Peace’. Both of them are manuals, guides, for the prayer of inward silence in the Quaker tradition. For both of these works the primary focus is instruction in the prayer of inward silence. The ‘Guide’ was published in the early 1800’s and, in a way, I think of Johnson’s book as a kind of renewal of the message of the ‘Guide’ for the generation of the 21st century. The ‘Guide’ was very popular among Quaker for more than a century. One historian wrote that the ‘Guide’ was found in every Quaker household for several generations. I would wish that the same would happen for Johnson’s book for a new generation.
Johnson has done the Quaker community a great service. ‘A Quaker Prayer Life’ is an excellent guide to Quaker Prayer. It offers step-by-step instruction, touches on difficulties, and offers suggestions for daily practice of this type of prayer. It is a great blessing and a work that rewards frequent reading.
A Quaker Prayer Life
Inner Light Books
$12.50 paperback, $18.00 hardback