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Can I Pray the Episcopal Liturgy as a Quaker?

Can I Pray the Episcopal Liturgy as a Quaker?
Ten years ago, I lived as part of a “new monastic” community in Richmond, Indiana. It was a community steeped in prayer. We prayed together three or four times a day, using a liturgy based out of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

As a Quaker, the Episcopal liturgy was a very different experience from the style of worship and prayer that I had been exposed to. Quakerism taught me that prayer should be spontaneous, “Spirit-led.” Anything I did should be rooted in a palpable sense of God’s guidance in that moment.

But as part of the Renaissance House community, I discovered that there is real power in a set liturgy. I prayed the same words, every day, in community, for months. I got to the point where I could speak through the prayers without really thinking about it. I memorized the words, and they became a part of me.

This was very different from the extemporaneous prayer and silent worship I was taught to seek in the Quaker tradition. Still, it was very effective and compelling in its own way. In the brief time that I practiced it, I found the liturgy molding me. I felt invited into a space of prayer and devotion to God in a way I had never experienced before.

I’ve recently begun praying the liturgy again. Using the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer as a template and guide, I’ve put together my own prayer book. I’m experimenting, tweaking the liturgy, finding what works best for me. I’m using the liturgy four times a day – at waking, midday, evening, and before bed. The prayers includes psalms, prayers, music, creeds, and responsive readings.

The Quaker tradition has taught me to be skeptical of rote prayers. Empty words, spoken without conviction or understanding are dangerous. Rather than fostering devotion, such compulsive religious habits get in the way of relationship with God.

But at this time in my life, I’m finding the liturgy to be a welcome aid in my desire to seek after God, to live in his presence. Especially now, as I inhabit the life of a husband, father, and full-time tradesman. I am re-discovering the power of liturgy to shape my life and open a space for prayer. The liturgy serves as a default, a routine that I can rest in while I seek deeper inspiration. If I don’t feel particularly inspired today, this week, or this month – I can keep praying anyway.

I’m amazed by how often God shows up in the liturgy. Sometimes when I’m simply reading through the prayers, joy bubbles up within me. The liturgy allows for silence, or freestyle intercessory prayer and thanksgiving. I find myself opening up to God in ways that I simply wouldn’t have without the default script of the liturgy.

At this stage in my life, I’m far busier than I would like to be. In this context, the liturgy is amazing. It holds open space in my life where prayer is automatic, regardless of how tired I am or how uninspired I’m feeling. It provides opportunities each day to stand before God. If I’m not feeling enthusiastic, I can examine myself and ask why not. Or I can just accept it. I can thank God for the grace he gives me to keep praying, in season and out of season. The liturgy helps me show up for relationship with God, regardless of my subjective feelings.

To my Quaker friends, this may all sound crazy. Maybe even heretical. But for me, at this point in my journey, it’s the power of God. Thanks be to God.

Related Posts:

Are Quakers Guilty of the Sin of Pride?

How My Faith Blew Up and I Learned to be Human Again

  • Francis Boyle

    Hi Micah. I moved from a Roman Catholic liturgical upbringing to the Open Brethren who have no liturgy. I had a whole series of good reasons to discard the idea of liturgical prayer. It was many years later and as a Quaker I used to attend Sung Evensong in Gloucester Cathedral, just because of the beauty of the music and also because I would openly admit I missed music as a part of worship. I had spent several years as a professional musician and music always brought me into a sense of being ‘in the midst’ of God. Of course, attending Evensong meant I had to share in liturgical worship. To cut a long story short I made the same discovery that you have. I hardly feel I dare mention Evangelicals again after the last discussion but I found that the so-called ‘extemporaneous prayer’ they (and I) indulged in was, in fact, repetitious, formulaic and always had as its subject matter one or two variations from a very small selection. It did not seem to do much for our spiritual growth and its main effect seemed merely to excite people’s emotions for a short time. I see Liturgy and Silent Worship (with occasional Ministry) at opposite ends of a spectrum. Much as I love Silent Worship I recognise that there is a real place for Liturgical worship for the reasons that you have discovered. This is supported by my friends who come from Liturgical backgrounds and have explained to me why it is so spiritually meaningful to them. This, for me is clearly a case of “Vive la difference!” if in a different context than the norm!

    • Thanks for sharing these insights, Francis. I don’t think it’s coincidental that the early Quakers had been *steeped* in the liturgical tradition throughout their childhood and young adulthood. I feel that they had already so internalized the liturgy that they were much more free to “play jazz.” But for those of us who come to faith without such an experience of formation, solely the silent form of Quaker worship can be unsustainable over a period of years or decades.

      I also don’t think it’s any coincidence that Friends effectively invented our own liturgy – known as the advices and queries – which Conservative Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting still actively use in worship.

      • Francis Boyle

        Hi Micah. You know I never thought of the Advices and Queries in that way – quite illuminating. Here in the UK we really only have one ‘form’ of Quakerism, unlike in the States, which is the in-programmed, non-pastoral Silent tradition. Here we have a constant ‘balancing act’ between embracing sensible modernity and yet keeping in touch with our roots. It leads to some interesting debates!

        • You may be aware of this, but there is a *very* small Conservative Friends community in Britain. There’s a small group of folks in London, for example, who gather for worship as Christian Friends.

          • Francis Boyle

            Ha! Ha! Just typical of me that I need someone from across the Atlantic to tell me about something in my own country! My only excuse is that I live on the other side of the UK from London in rural Devon which has a thoroughly deserved reputation of being a somewhat introverted and even slightly isolated county. That’s why we all love it here. But it does mean we look a bit ignorant sometimes!

          • It is a very small group, and I doubt most Quakers in London are aware of it.

          • Francis Boyle

            Sounds interesting. I’d like to know more. Have you got any contact details or do I have to do some detective work?

          • barbara.hrrsn@gmail.com

            Look up Quakers in Europe on Skype

          • Francis Boyle

            Thanks

          • Terry H

            You might also beinterested to know that there is an experimental Quaker Meeting in Shropshire that includes music and poetry etc. A course at Woodbrooke in October explores this further.

          • Francis Boyle

            Thank you. I will investigate this further.

  • Paul J Ricketts

    Like many Quakers Micah I find
    the holy spirit first and foremost in human relationships.Gently
    nudging Friends toward restoration and healing, towards
    experiential knowledge of Jesus. I find the benches and architecture of
    the meetinghouse become signs, or at least reminders of holy spirit
    presence in the gathered meeting for worship. The real presence of the
    holy spirit is encountered in, with, and under the silence of
    unprogrammed worship. This is sacramental, indeed.

    That being
    said, I think Fox was stuck in either/or thinking. He knew that it is
    more important to experience Christ’s presence in holy silence than to reenact anything
    on the altar, or to say what we believe in the form or a creed. He
    knew that what is important about the cross is surrender, humility, and
    love, and that these three things are not in wood or stone. Yet he
    claimed that all those who bowed to crosses of wood or stone were
    worshiping not the living Spirit but mere wood or stone. He seemed to
    think that anyone who expressed faith thru a prayer books like yourself
    or liturgical worship was unaware of the Presence of the Spirit in the midst. I
    suspect he was unable to see that one could both worship liturgically
    and live their faith with integrity. I suspect also he was unable to
    see that one could be moved by a stone cross and still very much
    understand the true significance of the cross we cannot see.

    Yes,
    there were hypocrites in his day just as there are today, but it is not
    helpful for anyone to see only the hypocrisy.The wheat and the weeds
    grow together in the same field. The field is neither all wheat nor all
    weeds. This why I am still a Quaker.

    The stark, Puritan-era worship of Quakers( Brethren
    Mennonites ) has its place. As I have shared before with Friends it seems to me there are
    auditory, sensory, visual, even textile experiences for me are tangible
    reminders that I am fully human and fully alive. After all, I am not
    pure spirit. I have a body, a very real body, and I am affected by
    stimuli all the time. Protestants have always had issues with the human
    body.

  • Michael Jay

    I sometimes pray from the liturgy. The liturgy reminds me that there is much more things to pray about than I remember at the moment. Am I a Quaker? well, that depends on who you ask.

    • The further I get into this journey, the less concerned I am with whether I count as a “Quaker” – or most other labels that could be applied.

    • Maggie Meehan

      I think using a liturgy to “support” a prayer discipline is very Friendly. Especially as described here.

  • Here’s a note from a friend who couldn’t get Disqus to work for her:

    “Hi Micah and Friends,:
    I useta fuss and complain that people recited prayers without thinking about them and making sure they really meant every word they said to God. But as my relationship with God became more intimate, I made an important connection between an intimate relationship with another human, and my intimate relationship with God. When I told my husband I adored him, I might or might not FEEL adoration at that moment, but I was still speaking truth. When we live in intimacy, we may be passionate sometimes, even often, but…maybe what I’m learning is that passionate love is on a spectrum. Sometimes we’re high, sometimes we’re carrying out the trash, but when we carry out the trash while saying “I love you,” it’s still the truth. Feelings are not facts; they may color the facts, but the fact of loving God, or husband, or cranky kid is still the core of the experience.
    Blessings,
    Mariellen Gilpin”

    • Francis Boyle

      Wow! that is so true and so well put.

  • BCZ

    This does sound heretical (oh my Barclay! You idolater you ;-), though I do understand what you mean about the power of liturgy… or as I’d put it even more basically… simply routine. I won’t go into my own history in detail other than to say I get it.

    That said…

    I’d recently reread Barclay’s proposition XI and led me to question my morning reading (usually a Quaker passage from a devotional or stoic philosophy), meditation, prayer practice after my (early) morning run. I recently dropped the prayer in response and now only do it when so moved. I also paired it with my stoic practice to be more mindful of the here and now throughout the day and being more aware of the moving of the spirit… such that I’d pray (even if only for a moment) at those times. This has worked for me in a major way that far outpaced my routine… but it did take work and sometimes ‘sufferings’ when this path interned with my secular responsibilities.

    I sometimes worry that Quakers don’t first try to double down into their traditions more when facing hardship and ‘the sufferings get tough’. It’s not about ‘counting as Quaker’ (that’s clearly irrelevant for a Faith as hostile to institutionalism as Quakerism.. what could be more aquaker than not caring about that!? 🙂 but it is about taking seriously the notion of integrity, naturalness, and sincerity in that relationship with God… and not about ‘feeling better about it because, busy’. A lot of things make us feel better in our relationship with a God but may not be *as good and true* as following the path of original discipleship (which often didn’t only lack liturgy but even the Gospels we have today as well for early Christians).

    One concern might be that you get stuck in what social scientists call a ‘local optima’ in your relationship with God. You find the liturgy by chance in your earlier experience so it’s at hand. You have yourself in a low point because of all the stuff going on, and you find that you are dissatisfied and look for so,etching to improve the situation, you reach for what’s at hand (to you) and discover… wow! Better! That’s good.

    But, what if that is just a local maximum? What if the global maximum is what was not as much at hand, and thus as easy? What if that path of greater resistance is the best path? This is the danger of the ‘I’m just on a journey, man’ approach to religion or even a personal philosophy. We’ve got to constantly question these choices lest we find ourselves drifting unknowingly rather than actively seeking. It’s a challenge to all on the journey.

    Just a more against the grain comment (since folks tend to be unconditionally supportive in comments very often 😉

  • Paul J Ricketts

    Like many Quakers Micah I find the holy spirit first and foremost in human relationships.Gently nudging Friends toward restoration and healing, towards
    experiential knowledge of Jesus. I find the benches and architecture of
    the meetinghouse become signs, or at least reminders of holy spirit
    presence in the gathered meeting for worship. The real presence of the
    holy spirit is encountered in, with, and under the silence of
    unprogrammed worship. This is sacramental, indeed.

    That being said, I think Fox was stuck in either/or thinking. He knew that it is
    more important to experience Christ’s presence in holy silence than to reenact anything on the altar, or to say what we believe in the form or a creed. He
    knew that what is important about the cross is surrender, humility, and
    love, and that these three things are not in wood or stone. Yet he
    claimed that all those who bowed to crosses of wood or stone were
    worshiping not the living Spirit but mere wood or stone. He seemed to
    think that anyone who expressed faith thru a prayer books like yourself
    or liturgical worship was unaware of the Presence of the Spirit in the midst. I
    suspect he was unable to see that one could both worship liturgically
    and live their faith with integrity. I suspect also he was unable to
    see that one could be moved by a stone cross and still very much
    understand the true significance of the cross we cannot see.

    Yes, there were hypocrites in his day just as there are today, but it is not
    helpful for anyone to see only the hypocrisy.The wheat and the weeds
    grow together in the same field. The field is neither all wheat nor all
    weeds. This why I am still a Quaker.

    The stark, Puritan-era worship of Quakers( Brethren
    Mennonites ) has its place. As I have shared before with Friends it seems to me there are auditory, sensory, visual, even textile experiences for me are tangible
    reminders that I am fully human and fully alive. After all, I am not
    pure spirit. I have a body, a very real body, and I am affected by
    stimuli all the time. Protestants have always had issues with the human
    body.

  • BCZ

    This does sound heretical (oh my Barclay! You idolater you 😉 *his woes, not mine), though I do understand what you mean about the power of liturgy… or as I’d put it even more basically… simply routine. I won’t go into my own history in detail other than to say I get it.

    That said…

    I’d recently reread Barclay’s proposition XI and led me to question my morning reading (usually a Quaker passage from a devotional or stoic philosophy), meditation, prayer practice after my (early) morning run. I recently dropped the prayer in response and now only do it when so moved. I also paired it with my stoic practice to be more mindful of the here and now throughout the day and being more aware of the moving of the spirit… such that I’d pray (even if only for a moment) at those times. This has worked for me in a major way that far outpaced my routine… but it did take work and sometimes ‘sufferings’ when this path interned with my secular responsibilities.

    I sometimes worry that Quakers don’t first try to double down into their traditions more when facing hardship and ‘the sufferings get tough’. It’s not about ‘counting as Quaker’ (that’s clearly irrelevant for a Faith as hostile to institutionalism as Quakerism.. what could be more aquaker than not caring about that!? 🙂 but it is about taking seriously the notion of integrity, naturalness, and sincerity in that relationship with God… and not about ‘feeling better about it because, busy’. A lot of things make us feel better in our relationship with a God but may not be *as good and true* as following the path of original discipleship (which often didn’t only lack liturgy but even the Gospels we have today as well for early Christians).
    One concern might be that you get stuck in what social scientists call a ‘local optima’ in your relationship with God. You find the liturgy by chance in your earlier experience so it’s at hand. You have yourself in a low point because of all the stuff going on, and you find that you are dissatisfied and look for so,etching to improve the situation, you reach for what’s at hand (to you) and discover… wow! Better! That’s good.

    But, what if that is just a local maximum? What if the global maximum is what was not as much at hand, and thus as easy? What if that path of greater resistance is the best path? This is the danger of the ‘I’m just on a journey, man’ approach to religion or even a personal philosophy. We’ve got to constantly question these choices lest we find ourselves drifting unknowingly towards an epicurean path at best and a soft hedonist path at worst rather than actively seeking. It’s a challenge to all on the journey.

    Just a more against the grain comment (since folks tend to be unconditionally supportive in comments very often 😉

  • Here’s a comment from BCZ, which they posted earlier but didn’t show up for some reason:

    “I tried to post this to your Blog Micah, but disqus is tripping. I’m less sanguine on this move despite how strongly I sympathize with it (in more ways than I reference here)… so I’ll rhetorically come at this from a less supportive angle than constitutes my view of *your personal situation* than I really hold and which is the norm for our group (which tends to be almost pathologically, if beautifully supportive) for rhetorical purpose to try and make a not-too-benighted-and-reactionary and challenging point :

    So, let’s start with a bang!

    This does sound heretical (oh my Barclay! You idolater you 😉 *his words, not mine), though I do understand what you mean about the power of liturgy… or as I’d put it even more basically… simply routine. I won’t go into my own history in detail other than to say I get it.

    That said…

    I’d recently reread Barclay’s proposition XI and led me to question my morning reading (usually a Quaker passage from a devotional or stoic philosophy), meditation, prayer practice after my (early) morning run. I recently dropped the prayer in response and now only pray when so moved. I also paired it with my stoic practice to be more mindful of the here and now throughout the day and being more aware of the moving of the spirit… such that I’d pray (even if only for a moment) at those times. This has worked for me in a major way that far outpaced my routine… but it did take work and sometimes ‘sufferings’ when this path interned with my secular responsibilities.

    So, I sometimes worry that Quakers don’t first try to double down into their traditions more (and encourage each other to do so) when facing hardship and ‘the sufferings get tough’ spiritually speaking. In short, I think we reject the discipline and difficulty of Quakerism too quickly and then pat ourselves on the back in a self-satisfied and prideful way about what darn eclectic seekers we are… AREN’T WE BEAUTIFUL! (To reference another excellent recent blog post of yours dealing with Quaker pride not terribly obliquely :-). Someone on Facebook posted something like ‘all seeking is beautiful’ and I just don’t agree. That’s the whole point of discernment. Some seeking is impulsive nonsense. Others may be just unwise. Still others are, um, idolatrous. Lol

    And my point is not about ‘counting as Quaker’ (that’s clearly irrelevant for a Faith as hostile to institutionalism as Quakerism.. what could be more Quaker than not caring about that!? 🙂 but it is about taking seriously the notion of integrity, naturalness, and sincerity in that relationship with God… and not about “feeling better in that relationship because, ‘busy’ has gotten in the way”… or… “oooh, this seems easier and this is ‘works for me’ and therefore praiseworthy and do not question my discernment because… liberal-Quakerism-and-my-personal-light-we-got-a-Nobel “. (I’m being a little flip here for effect and to respond about a deep issue now simplified once in your post and again by my flip treatment… I do get it… I hope I’m communicating my sense)

    A lot of things make us feel better in our relationship with a God but may not be *as good and true* as following the path of original discipleship (which often didn’t only lack liturgy but even the Gospels we have today as well for early Christians, as you and anyone with a basic course on the Bible well knows). But, we won’t ever know if we don’t try that…

    One concern (somewhat more gently put than Barclay’s charge of idolatry) might be that you get stuck in what social and systems scientists call a ‘local optima’ in your relationship with God. You find the liturgy by chance in your earlier experience so it’s at hand. You have yourself in a low point because of all the stuff going on, and you find that you are dissatisfied and look for something to improve the situation, you reach for what’s at hand (to you) and discover… wow! Better! That’s good.

    But, what if that is just a local maximum? What if that ‘good’ is exactly the false promise that Barclay argued it was? What if the global maximum is what was not as much at hand, and thus as easy? What if the path of greater resistance is the not only better but best path? This is the danger of the ‘I’m just on a journey, man’ approach to religion or even a personal philosophy. We’ve got to constantly question these choices lest we find ourselves drifting unknowingly towards an epicurean path at best and a soft hedonist path at worst rather than actively seeking. Eventually, we can become caricatures of the flaky new age spiritual bargain shopper.

    It’s a challenge to all on the journey. Like I said at the outset I’m just trying a more against-the-grain comment (since folks tend to be unconditionally supportive in comments very often – and where is the challenge in that! ;-). But, I sense that we may be more in a similar area theologically and attitudinally with regard to Quaker faith and Practice so I am going to hope that you are picking up what I am trying to lay down here.”