George Fox described himself during his early adulthood as “a man of sorrows in the times of the first workings of the Lord in me.” Shortly later, he stated, “After this did a pure fire appear in me, a spiritual discerning came into me.” By the following year, while he was 24, a major transformation had occurred, “In the year 1648, as I was sitting in a Friend’s house . . . I saw there was a great crack to go throughout the earth, and a great smoke to go as the crack went, and that after the crack, there should be a great shaking. This was the earth in people’s hearts which was to be shaken before the Seed of God was to be raised out of the earth . . . and great meetings we began to have.” He discerned the reason for this change was because “the Lord God had opened to me by his invisible power how every man was enlightened by the divine Light of Christ; and I saw it shine through all.”
For Friends, the Light is more than just a metaphor or symbol. It is the foundational reality of our beliefs, our service, and our lives. But exactly what is the Light? During the evenings of June 10 -13, 2015, Friends attending the Intermountain Yearly Meeting in Abiquiu, New Mexico, were invited to respond to the query. Thirty-six Friends accepted the opportunity.
Some spoke briefly, others at length. Several reflected that their understanding of the Light could change. One Friend commented, if you asked this question tomorrow, my answer would be similar but different. In this respect, these Friends’ sharings can be considered a snapshot in time, a prismed view of the Light. Taken as a whole, when Friends pondered the Light and its impact on their lives, their reflections fell into six general categories. Throughout this article, Friends’ comments are italicized.
1) The Light is God: Half of the Friends who spoke with us specifically cited the Light as God, the Divine, or the Sacred. It is not only the attribute by which God is known, but is the Divinity that pervades all existence. One Friend reflected, the Light is changing and unchanging, and it is God.
2) The Light provides clarity and wisdom: When one’s heart is opened to the Light, an initial result is clarity and wisdom. One Friend describes the experience as when I’m reflecting, looking for direction, or some sense of resolution to some conflict that I am experiencing, I will have a swirling sense of turmoil in myself that settles down. Then there is an energy that emerges out of it, that has a swirling sensation, that goes up and out and back around again.
A result of this experience is a transformation of perception and perspective. Friends describe the immense wisdom in it that can guide us to new ways of thinking and doing that we could never reason our way to. It is through seeking that Inner Light that we become new people. The growth and change that happens is not always an easy process. Another Friend gives this as an example: The Light has the capacity to help me to truly understand something I might be wrestling with or understand something someone might be communicating with me, with my inner self. It is piercing in that it has stripped away things that prevent me from being true. That piercing is sometimes painful, but when it is coupled with illumination, I have experienced deep love
Another Friend amplifies this insight further: my experience of the Light has been an experience of the truth, in the dark areas of my own soul that I don’t want exposed. The truth of our inner connectedness. The Light has been the experience of total and complete acceptance without abandon – and irrepressible love. Another Friend witnesses, it is the “holding in the Light” that I think of as a healing, soothing, aspect of the Light, an empowering, prayerful sense of the Light. Then there is the aspect of the Light that challenges us, forces us to look at things in our inward shadows. Light challenges us to look at those and confront those things we don’t want to confront . . . The Light is a guide that is available for us to follow if we are willing to take the risk.
This struggle is common to all: That which we most desire to hide, the Light illuminates. It is personal revelation in the most immediate sense, when all the masks and facades are torn off, and our hearts stand exposed. This is where the deepest transformation can begin. After the shock, fear, and embarrassment subside, we can see ourselves, our relationships, and our very being in new ways.
3) The Light is the source of love, joy, truth, and peace: Other Friends shared contemplations on the qualities of the Light – of this sense of the sacred – that include joy, love, truth, and peace. Friends reflected on ways that the Light is unconditional and pure love and that it results in a gradual increase of hope, faith, love, acceptance in my lif,e and seeing that in others. Even as the Light reveals to us that which we had hoped to remain hidden, it comforts us, and gives us new hope and new strength.
4) The Light urges us toward action and service: This observation describes “inspiration” in the truest sense of the word, the entering of the spirit into one’s heart. When this happens, a dynamism occurs – a prioritization within the heart that commands response. Several Friends discussed the openings that they had experienced as a result of inner illumination of the Light. I try to do God’s will as I get older, and I get indirect communication . . . A number of life-changing decisions [have come] after. Light has been irregular, but Light has come and lets us know where to go and what to do. I never would have dreamed about those things, but they happened. Isn’t it scary to let go? Yes, but it is wonderful. I didn’t know what step would lead to the next, a lot unpleasant and dangerous, but [I was] led to what I was supposed to do. Kept working on social justice. Light leads in smaller ways, too – what to do in other situations. More you learn to live in the Light, the easier it is.
Another Friend discussed some of the consequences of fully opening up to the Light. I used to think of the Light as the proverbial little candle that you can rely upon to show you the way. As I age, I see it as a much more dangerous thing . . . The Light leads you into prison terms. In my own case, I am too much of a coward, so I haven’t done prison, I’ve been arrested for peace, though, and I very much admire those [who go to prison].
I remember the first time, a young lady was part of my affinity group, and we went trespassing at the nuclear test site. She was weeping. I turned to one of the guys and asked, “Why is she crying? They are just going to throw us in handcuffs and take us five hundred miles away to stress out the peace group.” He said, “Don’t you know, this is the third time, she is facing six months.”
Friends connect this personal inspiration with the faith community. It is always about the community, to test our inspirations, our leadings, to test our experience of the Light among other Quakers. For me that is crucial, it is absolute critical. The Light doesn’t mean anything apart from community.
5) The Light draws us into relationship: This brings us to a paradox of sorts. The experience of the Light is intensely personal. It drives into our being; it illumines our heart. Sometimes sitting alone in nature, something comes along and you know, “Yes. It is real.” The divine presence is there, always around us. Yet the Light also draws us into new and deeper relationship as well. Our experience of the Light is tested by the community, and oftentimes the community is tested by the Light. One Friend describes this experience as, the Light is my bridge to you, the connection among us, the inner foundation of being that sustains us when we feel lost and without direction, it gives us courage when we are afraid, is the essence of our life force. Another Friend says, The Light is the sense of love, the sense of a gathered meeting
Relationship uproots the self-centeredness that can seize our hearts. We are drawn out of ourselves, sometimes with passion, sometimes gently. We enter into rapport with others. As one Friend describes this, it was as if something outside myself took over my thinking. There was this realization that there is nothing like a shell [separating me from others], but there is a relationship between people. It was a profound insight because I had been laboring so hard on this. That dissolved, and I experienced this sense of warmth, connectedness, held by the universe. Another Friend describes this as new orientation to self and others, my sense of the Light is the acknowledgement of where we are, relative to each other in time and space.
6) The Light results in compassion and caring for others: The Light clarifies our understanding of love, of those around us. It is the driving force of compassion. One Friend describes how the Light reaches everywhere because it is everywhere. It truly illuminates the reality of our existence, the truth we hold in ourselves in the world. The Light is the realization that you have, the Light is the love you have for your family and the people around you. The Light is everything good you ever saw in a stranger’s eyes. Another Friend comments on the deepening of the heart that occurs, the Inner Light is attending to others and the divinity in others, and sharing emotional or spiritual presence with the cared-for other.
In the not too distant future, Friends will begin the fifth century of our journey with the Light. To what end does the Light illuminate us, draw us into relationship, and impel us from the world of contemplation into the world of action? One Friend responds: Our humanity is the end the Light will bring us to. ~~~
– Todd Swanson has been traveling throughout Greece and Northern Africa since August 2015, visiting archeological sites and completing a book on the Eleusinian Mysteries (eleusinianmysteries.org). He is a member of Mountain View Meeting (IMYM).