For Friends who have spent decades practicing quietude, or even just reading about it, an inevitable question arises: how can anyone write anything new about silence? In A Quietness Within: The Quiet Way as Faith and Spirituality, Elaine Pryce does exactly that. She traces a lineage that made the Religious Society of Friends what it is today by bringing old Quaker teachings on quies (resting in God) and contemplation (attending specifically to the soul and its connection with God in silence and often solitude) out of the archives and into the light. “The quiet way is in essence a life project for spiritual venturers,” she tells us. “As such it relates radically to the life we live now and to the way we co-create the conditions for our own transformation.”
“See and feel the Lord’s presence amongst you,” wrote George Fox, “and know one another in the power of it.” Sacred presence and the power of it were vital to Fox’s spiritual essence. He often wrote specifically about quies, the quiet way of practicing intentional focus, self-surrender, truth-seeking, and silent waiting. For Fox, qualities of inner quiet, peace, and spiritual fulfillment can be acquired only through direct personal encounters with God in silent worship.
What constituted the condition of quiet for Isaac Penington? He found attentive passivity necessary for inward encounter with divine presence. “A deep inner stillness, alert with expectancy, naturally results in an experience of unity with God and the subsequent transformative effect of God’s visitation to the soul.”
William Penn summed it up in instructions to his children: “So, soon as you wake, retire your mind into a pure silence from all thoughts and ideas of worldly things and . . . wait upon God to feel His good presence. . . . Do the same,” Penn advises, “before you sleep. When this is your practice, you will act justly toward God, self and neighbor.”
Pryce misses an opportunity, in my opinion, to cite The Cloud of Unknowing, a spiritual classic penned in the Middle Ages, yet her strength lies in bringing forth wisdom from writings on quietude not only among Friends, but from mystics of all traditions ranging from Meister Eckhart to Annie Dillard.
Generous endnotes and discussion questions offer guidance for Friends ready to study and practice the quiet way.