From Silence to Peace: A Brief Guide to Quaker Logos Spirituality — via Mother Teresa

Greater love than this no one has, that one bestows one’s soul upon those whom one loves.1

I recently came across a captivating instruction from Mother Teresa of Calcutta which, interpreted from a classic Quaker perspective, can serve as a compact description of the Quaker way that I call “Logos spirituality.” In unpacking Mother Teresa’s statement from that perspective, I will focus on the practical implications of the theistic imagery, leaving any further “translation” to the reader. Here are her words:

The fruit of silence is prayer,
The fruit of prayer is faith,
The fruit of faith is love,
The fruit of love is service,
The fruit of service is peace.2

Although one might expect a Catholic to begin with faith as the prerequisite for the spiritual life, Mother Teresa begins with silence. Silence here not only precedes faith but is two steps prior to it in a causal sequence; it is the very first step on the path that leads us to peace. That view is quite congenial with the Quaker experience: silent worship is for us the gateway to spiritual life.

Spiritual silence, as we Friends know it, is not simply the absence of sound. Nor, although this, too, may be a component, is it simply the absence of thought. It is, in our tradition, silence of the human will. Because the will is the self-assertion of our fundamentally self-centered world-view, spiritual silence is the stilling of the human logos, the normal human way of making sense of the world. It is the stillness in which the divine Logos, the Word of God, may speak. Such silence, says Mother Teresa, leads to prayer. And prayer leads to faith.

“Faith” is generally considered to be synonymous with “belief,” and one who understands prayer in the usual way may assume that prayer presupposes belief. But here we are told that prayer begets faith. How can that be? How can one pray to a God in whom one does not yet have faith? A Quaker view of prayer and faith can illuminate that.

The standard model of prayer in Christianity is the Lord’s Prayer. Taught by Jesus to his disciples, it comprises words of praise and supplication (along with some embedded paraenesis, or moral exhortation). It is the prayer of a human being to a God who is already the object of belief. But the Lord’s Prayer was taught to the disciples before the day of Pentecost, before they received the holy Spirit.3 Post-Pentecost, prayer is worship “in spirit and in truth”;4 that is, the Spirit of Truth prays within us in “inarticulate groanings.”5 Prayer is no longer a matter of the human will flattering and beseeching the divine will: it is the wordless speech, the Logos, of that divine will within us. To hear that speech, we need silence, including the silence of beliefs, which are but signs, “figures,” of the reality. The experience of spiritually “hearing” the Logos leads to faith as Friends understand it. In order to explore that experience here, we’ll begin, so to speak, at the beginning.

In the very first words of the Bible, God, speaking that creative Logos, introduces order into chaos and light into darkness, order and light that he recognizes as “good,” as like himself.

In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth. And the earth became chaos and emptiness, and darkness over the faces of the abyss. And the spirit of Elohim vibrates over the faces of the waters, and Elohim says, “It shall become light,” and it is becoming light. And Elohim is seeing that the light [is] good, and Elohim is dividing between the light and the darkness.6

The initial phrase of that passage, “in the beginning,” is twice repeated in the prologue of the Christian narrative book of John, which is sometimes known as the “Quaker scripture.”

In the beginning was the Logos, the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and nothing has come into being without him.7

John goes on to say of the Logos that

In him was life, and that life was the light of the human race. And the light is shining in darkness, and the darkness grasped it not.8

That life is the divine nature, which, as John tells us in his first epistle, is love. John says that the love which is the Logos of God is a light shining in our (postlapsarian) darkness, although our darkness does not understand it, cannot grasp or control it. But the important thing is not to attempt to grasp it, but simply to accept it.

It was the true light which is enlightening every human being coming into the cosmos. He was in the cosmos, and the cosmos came to be through him, and the cosmos did not know him. He came into his own, and his own did not accept him. But to as many as accepted him, to those putting trust in his name, he gives the power of becoming offspring of God …. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling in us. And we see his glory, glory as of an only-begotten beside a father, full of grace and truth.9

The world-creating and ordering power that proceeds from and is love lives within us, is the life that makes divine order of our chaos, the light that breaks through our darkness, the day star that rises in our hearts when we stop trying to understand or control it and simply allow it to shine and to speak its prayer, to speak itself, in us. And in that Pentecost-like experience of the Spirit of love in us, faith is born.

Faith, then, as the fruit of the inward prayer of the Spirit, is not belief (an ally of the human logos) so much as trust in and fidelity to the inarticulate Word that speaks in our silence. When we feel the Spirit praying within us, lifting up the deepest need of our hearts, which is to love as God loves, we are moved to “trust in his name” — and, in the Quaker tradition, “name” means “power”10 — and begin to allow the divine Logos to displace the human logos and re-order our world. From that trusting surrender develops identification with love itself: as self-will is continually stilled in faith, we become one with the Logos, “partakers of the divine nature,”11 “the offspring of God.” Therefore, “the fruit of faith is love.” United with divine love through trust in the Word within us, we are the body of Christ in the present world; as Mother Teresa would say, we “let him live in us [and] through us in the world”12 so completely that when people look at us they see only Christ.13

And “the fruit of love is service.” Many of us know the old joke about the newcomer to Quaker worship who, after sitting through half an hour of silence, whispers to the Friend next to her on the bench, “When does the service begin?” The Friend’s reply is “When we leave this room after worship.” For us, worship is not “the service”: Quaker worship is the inwardly sacramental14 experience that moves us to and equips us for service. In worship, we undergo the transforming process of entering into pure silence of the human logos and will; of allowing the Spirit of love to utter our deepest spiritual need and to groan within us in solidarity with the world’s suffering; of accepting our oneness with the suffering and, therefore, the glory of Christ the Logos; of giving our flesh and blood over to be inhabited by that Logos. Thus, taking on “the mind of Christ”,15 we are “partakers of the divine nature,” which is kenotic, self-emptying, love. That love speaks the creative, right-ordering Word out of silence into the darkness and chaos of our world, giving itself to its beloved in and through us.

When we are at one with that kenotic love which naturally expresses itself in service, we are at peace. Inwardly, we are at peace with ourselves, united with the deepest need and desire of our hearts. Outwardly, we are at peace with others, loving them by working to understand them and to alleviate, as much as is possible, their suffering. Loving others in their actuality and not in order to gratify our own wills, we are detached from results, incapable of becoming hatred even if love costs us everything: “so far as it depends on [us], living in peace with all.”16

Mother Teresa’s instruction outlines for us a path, beginning in the spiritual poverty of pure silence, that takes us out of the world of self-centeredness and contention into a new world of love and service. Surrendering our normal human logos and enfleshing the divine Word of love, we live in that new world, as sign and sacrifice of peace, within the old. This is a path that Friends have walked from the beginning. If we sometimes need a reminder of where our way lies, we can be grateful to Mother Teresa for her succinct summary.


[1] John 15:13 (my translation, following Tyndale).

[2] Kolodiejchuk, Brian, M.C., Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light — The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta” (New York: Image Books, 2007), page 315.

[3] See Acts 2:1.

[4] John 4:24.

[5] Romans 8:26.

[6] Genesis 1:1-4. Scriptural translations in this essay are close — i.e., nearly literal — renderings.

[7] John 1:1-3.

[8] John 1:4-5. In context of these lines from John, two fragments from “the weeping philosopher” Heraclitus (c. 535 – c. 475 BCE) are very interesting: “Though this Logos is true forever, humans are as unable to comprehend it when they first hear it as before they have heard it at all. For although all things come to pass in accordance with this Logos, humans seem as if they had no experience of them …. But other humans know not what they are doing when awake, even as they forget what they do in sleep.” And “… although the Logos is common, the many live as if they had wisdom of their own.” (Heraclitus, Fragments DK B1 and B2.) The Stoics would later elaborate the concept. In addition, the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, used “logos” to translate “word,” as in “the word of the Lord.” John seems to have woven those threads into something new: the identification of the Logos with Christ.

[9] John 1:9-12, 14. The more literal translation accords well with the Quaker experience, as George Fox initially made us aware.

[10] For example, James Nayler (d. 1660): “[T]he name of Christ consists not of letters and syllables, but in righteousness, mercy and judgment, &c., which name none can know but by the [L]ight of the [W]orld ….”

[11] 2 Peter 1:4.

[12] Kolodiejchuk, page 275.

[13] Mother Teresa spoke in such terms on a number of occasions. See, for example, Kolodiejchuk, page 294.

[14] Silent Quaker worship is sacramental in that we can experience therein spiritual baptism — the death of the human logos — and communion — union with the divine Logos.

[15] See Philippians 2:5.

[16] Romans 12:18.

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