Surrendering into Silence: Quaker Prayer Cycles
by David Johnson
reviewed by Jean Hand Triol
In this small book (55 pages) of informative essays, David Johnson begins by defining what he means by Quaker prayer. He says it is a contemplative practice of surrendering into silence, seeking the presence of God, or the Light, which is hidden within our beings. The author further describes Friends’ worship tradition as a practice where life and religion are not based on accepted belief or ritual, but on firsthand knowledge of God’s presence. The main focus of the book is how one finds access to that sacred inner knowledge.
Surrendering into Silence reflects the author’s own personal life journey as a seeker, but it is apparent to the reader that his personal experience is firmly based on deep knowledge and an exceptionally clear understanding of contemplative worship in Quaker and other traditions. He wrote this book mainly for individuals, not directly for religious communities or groups of worshipers. Yet this isn’t a basic text for beginners; it seems to be addressed to those who already have some experience with the practice.
Individuals who have tried to develop a personal practice of silent or contemplative meditation often find it is not easy. They may soon come to ask themselves: Why am I doing this? What, if anything, is happening? What shall I look for? Why is it so hard? Is it worth the struggle? Johnson is a gifted teacher who is able to describe and explain complex truths in ways that satisfy and encourage the individuals he calls “seekers,” seekers of the truth. He acknowledges the struggles; he encourages over and over again to persevere. He assures his readers that personal contemplative meditation and prayer are worth the struggle.
The author provides five effective diagrams to promote understanding and answer common questions about the structure and benefits of contemplative meditation. He calls these diagrams “Quaker Prayer Cycles.” Note that it is Cycles, not “Circles.” The diagrams represent outer and inner cycles of consciousness or awareness, with the innermost layer being the pure Light of God, the Inner Light. Through awakening, risings, the process of perseverance, the Prayer Cycle is completed. Each diagram is thoroughly discussed in the essays.
Every short essay in this small book is followed by a group of quotations called “Reflections.” The work is enriched by these words from early and modern Friends, biblical verses, and other well-known teachers of meditative practices.
I enjoyed reading this work and finding answers to my own personal questions about meditative practice. For instance: How do enlightened persons continue to function in the world after they have totally surrendered their egos? Unfortunately, I have not experienced the answer to that question yet. But I wanted this book to give me ideas and perhaps some answers, and I was not disappointed. ~~~
Jean Hand Triol is a member of Glacier Valley Worship Group in Kalispell, Montana (NPYM).