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Quaker Disciplines (Spiritual Practices)

(The information on this page does not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of all Friends of Humboldt Friends Meeting.  All resources are taken from Quaker sources)The word "discipline" comes from the Latin word disciplina "instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge"; related to "discipulus "pupil, student, follower." 

I found two senses of the word in Quakerism.  One was the practices and laws of church conduct as in the Book of Discipline (aka Faith and Practice) created by Yearly Meetings that regulate the internal affairs or observance of moral conduct.  In the early Society of Friends, the association with disciplinary punishment seems to be still linked when those rules were not followed.

Some people attribute  Richard Foster, a Quaker minister and author, with the association of the word discipline with spiritual practices, starting with the

publication of his book Celebration of Discipline written in 1978.  Foster defines disciplines as the "'path of disciplined grace' . .   the means God uses to build in us an inner person that is characterized by peace and joy and freedom.”

There is frequent advice in Quaker literature that Friends practice spiritual disciplines during the week in preparation for Meeting for Worship.  Prayer, reading of the Bible and other inspirational literature, and meditation are some of the most frequently mentioned disciplines but the entire list is long, broad interdenominational.  mtk


But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.   Then your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not  keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.   Matthew 6:6-8

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks for all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

"I fasted much and walked abroad in solitary places many days, and often took my Bible and went and sat in the hollow trees and Lonesome places. . ."  In George Fox's Journal when speaking of the period early in his wanderings in 1647 .  from  Early Quakers and Fasting by Kenneth L. Carroll Quaker History. Vol 97. No. 1. Spring 2008


"Sweet Hour of Prayer" by William W. Walford:



Instructions for a Dark Night by Annette Carter

Some black night

Stretch out on a summer field,

Breathe grassiness into every bone.

Then the deep ocean of darkness will bloom

Stars beyond count,

Ancient beyond imagination

Wait for stillness,

Watch the scatter of stars slowly crawl from

Horizon to horizon,

Feel earth spin through deep

Darkness in a cadence of

Time longer

Than human memory.

We are only children on the shore

Imagining the vastness before us

Just beyond our fingertips.


PATRICIA MCBEE: The very question of spiritual discipline is complex for contemporary Friends. . . Some of us bristle at the term “discipline,” thinking of it as something administered by a teacher or parent rather than simply as a practice that develops proficiency. And among Friends “spiritual” can have a wide, and sometimes troubling, range of meanings. Patricia McBee.

WILLIAM TABER: It is also no accident that daily "retirement" (a time of reading of the Bible and inspirational writings, personal prayer, reflection and worship) has been frequently recommended throughout Quaker history. "Four Doors to Meeting for Worship" p. 4 by William Taber. PHP 306 excerpts of this pamphlet can be found at:

CAROL CONTI-ENTIN: Just as Mozart tailored each aria to fit the singer who would be performing it, the Inner Guide will gladly propose the variations {of spiritual disciplines} appropriate to your life's theme. Improvisation and "Spiritual Disciplines" by Carol Conti-Entin PHP 288 p. 3. [The author goes on to list and expound on Sabbath Observance, Bible Reading, Journal Keeping, Tithing (time or money), Praying]

CRAIG BARNETT: Each day is filled with countless opportunities for going though the Door before [the week before Meeting for Worship] for dipping into brief moments of communion with that eternal yet ever present stream . . .Even the busiest life can usually provide a few minutes for unhurried contemplation of a Bible passage or a few paragraphs of inspirational reading, some active prayer and a time of quietly being present before God. Beginning and persisting in some form of this discipline seems to be one of the most important steps toward spiritual growth and toward experiencing a more solid and meaningful meeting for worship. ibid p. 6 I would give four suggestions which come from my own experience and from pondering the wisdom of spiritual guides who have gone before. p8. [summary and paraphrase: simple, regular spiritual practice recommended by some authority you trust (and with which you can feel comfortable) and persist in it, even if you do not see immediate results. . . .Slow out-loud reading of a portion of scripture or other inspirational writing may help relax you into the wider state of consciousness which opens the spiritual senses. . .cultivate your capacity to feel beauty and to experience wonder. . .whether in nature, music, visual arts, sculpture literature, machinery, the faces and graces of people or the endless texture, configurations and wonder of our everyday environment . . . find at least one or more spiritual friends with whom you can talk about your spiritual journey and with whom. you can worship informally. *. It is easy to have the form of a Quaker meeting without the reality. On the surface, a group of people sitting in a circle, perhaps with someone occasionally standing up to speak, looks like Quaker worship. But an authentic meeting for worship is much more demanding than it appears; it requires the whole group of worshippers to faithfully practice the disciplines of listening and speaking. Transition Quaker blog by Craig Barnett ANONYMOUS comment on the above blog "If, as Quakers, we have given up all the liturgical preliminaries for arriving in this space, then it's vital that our daily lives become the preparation instead." CRAIG BARNETT'S RESPONSE: "I like your suggestion that our daily lives can be the 'liturgical' (which literally means 'work of the people' apparently) preparation for worship." Craig Barnett

RON B. REMBERT: [During a workshop] Recalling a query heard in meeting for worship "Do I live in thankful awareness of God's constant presence in my life?" I began to write. Suddenly the words began to flow and energy for the project began to increase. . .by continuing to write prayers in response to queries, I find myself more open to other leadings that I am now ready to share with others in meeting and beyond. Writing a prayer is only one form of praying among many, but for me this approach revived my use of queries and intensified my practice of prayer, for which I am very thankful. p 4 and 34 "Queries as Prayers" by Ron B. Rembert. PHP 423.

PACIFIC YEARLY MEETING: Friends who thoughtfully prepare to come together with clear minds and open hearts enhance the depth and quality of Meeting for Worship and for Business. Preparation may include regular prayer and worship, the reading of Scripture and other devotional literature, reflection and other ways of experiencing God's presence. Pacific Yearly Meeting. p. 18

PATRICIA LORING: (Patricia Loring's "Listening Spiritual Volume 1 " is subtitled "Personal Spiritual Practices Among Friends." The entire book is devoted to developing spiritual disciplines.) "Earlier Friends were clear that nothing was more important than this daily "set aside" time -- time unambiguously for God. If God is truly God, there can be nothing more important than making space to give ourselves over fully to developing our relationship with him/her." p.9. Patricia Loring. "Listening Spirituality Volume 1: Personal Spiritual Practices Among Friends." [Other suggestions Patricia offers are The Jesus Prayer, Prayer invo vling mantras, chanting, icons and idols, praying with visual symbols, discursive meditation, and journaling]

BALTIMORE YEARLY MEETING P.5: Only you can discern to what discipline or practice you are being led by Spirit. And there are many. The traditional Christian disciplines include prayer, contemplation, scripture study, lectio divina, religious readings, and journaling. Other traditions include yoga, meditation, and t’ai chi. You may create your own. A daily walk in the woods can do wonders. A spiritual practice is right for you if it stills your soul, brings you to rest in God, and holds you in The Light. It is in those moments of rest and reflection that the pilgrim recognizes the journey is inward. And home."Sacred Intersections", Spiritual Formation Program. BYM. pg 5

MATHILDA NAVIAS: So what’s a spiritual practice? It’s an activity you do that deepens your spiritual life, and it can be almost anything. Lists of Spiritual Practices with descriptions: Prayer and Contemplation (Centering Prayer, gratitude, guided meditation, holding in the Light, practices of awareness of the presence, practicing compassion, a prayer, seeking divine guidance in whatever way works for you, silent grace, spending time in nature, walking a labyrinth, walking meditation); Shifting Awareness (Cultivating an awareness of beauty, cultivating a sense of wonder and awe, eating mindfully, listening to meditative music); Supporting One Another (Faithfulness groups, Spiritual Direction, spiritual friendship); Emotional Cleansing (Grieving, Lamentation); Working with a Text (Journaling, Lectio divina, memorizing, Reading spiritual journals, biography, autobiography, or memoirs, reading and/or studying the Bible or another Text). Mathilda Navias.

PATRICIA MCBEE: The following are abbreviated from the "Friends Journal" Article. See article for more expanded ideas.) - Retirement: Retirement may be the practice most accessible to contemporary Friends. Our meetings for worship are times of retirement. Walks in the woods or sitting by the ocean can be times of retirement, as can retreats extended over several days. Thomas Kelly wrote that we can be in contact with “an amazing sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a divine center.” Times of retirement are the times when we pull back from the chatter and busyness of our outward lives, enter that amazing sanctuary, and allow our inner wisdom, the Inward Teacher, to rise up in us. and Prayer: For me, prayer is entering into relationship with the Other. If retirement is a time of going inward and contacting the Inward Teacher, prayer is entering into relationship with that which is beyond and outside. Living the Cross: This term will sound entirely foreign to many contemporary unprogrammed Friends, and too Christocentric for some, yet the practice it represents is often found among us, even among those whose spirituality is not based in the Christian concept of the Cross.“Living in the Cross” is to put our own will aside, and to submit to the guidance discovered through retirement and prayer. It means not to turn away from the suffering world, but to face even the suffering that we are powerless to alleviate. It means to allow the Light to shine into our dark spots and show us the way—and to follow that way even when we are tempted to take an easier path. Keeping Low: Here is another term that is foreign to our vocabularies, but we know the discipline and sometimes practice it.To keep low is not to put ourselves above others but to know our own need to be reformed each day. To keep low is to be teachable and open to the workings of the Spirit—both in times of retirement, and in the lessons that come in our outward lives. To keep low is to be taught by everyone we meet: children, bus drivers, the folks who disagree with us in meeting for business, government officials. We know this practice. It is at the core of Quaker business process. - Discernment: First generation Quaker Isaac Penington wrote in a letter, “It is not the great and main thing to be found doing, but to be found doing aright, from the teachings and from the right spirit. . . . A little praying from God’s spirit in that which is true and pure is better than thousands of vehement desires in one’s own will and after the flesh.” "Spiritual Retirement for Busy People" by Patricia McBee.

OTHER IDEAS: - When feeling tense, take a breath and recite a line like "Guide me" or "This moment is sacred." - Say Buddhist Metta (Loving Kindness Meditation) for annoying people. - Say thank you to the beauty you see. - Smile more often. - Find small spaces in your day and: - Make a mental list of three things you are grateful for - Take three deep breaths: breathe in love and safety and breath out, feel the tension leave you - Say the Jesus Prayer or the Prayer of St. Francis - Invite God's presence with words like "Help me open to you" or "Be with me now" or "Show me the beauty in this situation - Inwardly sing a line from a hymn or song that helps bring you back to center. Patricia McBee

OTHER AUTHORS: Moving meditations sometimes recommended for spiritual practices include ecstatic dance, Qi gong, Sufi dance, tai chi, Yoga, Prayer Walks, Labyrinth. From Cynthia Bourgeault's (author of "Wisdom Jesus"). "The Wisdom Way of Knowing". p102. Presence, meditation, sacred chanting, lectio divina, surrender, welcoming, Examen, Keeping the Sabbath Also check out the book: "Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us, " Feb 2017 by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun "The Miracle of Mindfulness" by Thich Nhat Hanh Also the Quaker organization Woodbrooke periodically offers a course on "Everyday Spirituality."

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