Sometimes, “our world needs us to share secret delights and the secret recipes that feed our souls. This special soul food is ‘a revealing, guiding and discerning aspect of God’s presence within,’” says Doug Gwyn in Words in Time, Sink Down to the Seed (1996).
The two of us have discovered that the practice of “Experiment with Light” offers an experience of “discerning aspect of God’s presence within,” a practice that works for individuals as well as communities.
Rex Ambler began developing the Experiment with Light framework in response to some challenging questions from one of his graduate students at the University of Birmingham, questions about the meaning of difficult, old Quaker texts. Ambler’s curiosity was sparked when he could not answer those questions. So, he dedicated his next seven years to researching, meditating, and deepening his engagement with the writings of early Friends.
Ambler applied his training as a systematic theologian to the project of distilling the essence of Friends’ practices. He winnowed through passages and discovered a process that early Friends used to delve deeper into the reality of our lives. He believes this process can be followed by anyone. He developed an explicit practice, Experiment with Light, which he began to share with Friends in England.
In 1994, Ambler began writing and speaking about this discovery more broadly. As a result, numerous Experiment with Light Groups began forming and taking root among Friends throughout England, where they have continued to flourish. One strength of Experiment with Light lies in its ability to help Friends answer two fundamental twenty-first-century questions:
How does the Light of Christ help a person deal with the basic human problem of the ego?
How might we cultivate compassion within individuals and between people?
Two practitioners of Experiment with Light, Ann Banks and Helen Meads, have described its benefits this way, “In essence, it is about building a relationship with the Light, the Universe, God, the Christ: it doesn’t matter what you call it, it is beyond what we think of as ‘religion’, it is beyond words. The Experiment helps us to really know ourselves, which is the key to peace.” (2011)
Practically speaking, Experiment with Light is a guided meditation that follows four steps, along with guiding instructions at the beginning and end of each session.
The four steps are:
1.) Mind the Light.
(Pay attention to what is going on inside you, particularly where there is something that makes you feel uncomfortable.)
2.) Open your heart to the truth.
(Do not run away from anything that is difficult or that you do not want to face, but keep a little distance from it: “Be still and cool in thy mind.”)
3.) Wait in the Light.
(Be patient; let the Light show you what is really going on; ask questions if what is being offered to you is not clear or if you want to know more; wait for the answers to come; do not try to explain.)
(Accept and welcome the information or images that come to you during the meditation, and the insights, dreams, and perceptions that may come later, and allow them to show the truth.)
At the conclusion of each Light meditation, participants are advised to take note immediately of what arose during the meditation – by writing, drawing, or reflecting on it. Then, in the manner of worship sharing, each person can share what arose for them during the Experiment. When shared in community, a different dimension of the Light can work. These are the simple ingredients in the secret sauce of the early Friends.
In the summer of 2018, we participated in a “Deepening the Practice” retreat, hosted by the U.K. Light Network and held at Swarthmore Hall in England. The individual components of the Experiment (Mind the Light; be Open to the Light; Wait on the Light; Submit to the Light) were given extended time and focus over two days. We maintained silence as we moved from the Swarthmore Hall to the “Barn” of the Swarthmore Meetinghouse, where the insights that arose during meditations found expression in the form of paint and paper. This use of expressive art was new to us and led us to new depths of insight.
We were also allowed ample time, space, and safety to explore these depths. Moving from individual work to small group settings, and then to the large group, fostered a strong sense of connectedness among the community of retreat participants.
Previously, we had participated in a sizable circle of Friends, which included Rex Ambler and Lois Yellowthunder of Minneapolis Friends Meeting, who met at the 2016 gathering of Friends General Conference and discussed the possibility of developing an Experiment with Light Network in North America. From this initial discussion, and with the help of the Light Network in England, a North American Light Network has been slowly growing ever since. In 2018, the two of us became the liaisons between the North American Light Network and the worldwide network, based in England.
New Light Groups continue to form across the U.S. as individuals learn about Experiment with Light, one way or another. We are able to support those new Light Groups when they connect with us through the “Contact” tab on the main Experiment with Light website, www.experiment-with-light.org.uk. We help maintain a list of North American Light Groups, which allows us to connect seekers with local groups and to help nurture the formation of new Light Groups.
Light Groups continue to grow organically in North America, even though our network is not very visible. You might say the Experiment with Light is a secret sauce. We hope to see it become a common practice in North America. This coming fall, we plan to contact everyone on the current list to learn how each group is doing; to listen to ideas, needs, and questions; and to offer support in any way we can. We would love to hear from you and have you become part of the Light Network. Please feel free to contact us directly at: [email protected]. ~~~
Jaimie Mudd is a member of Pima Friends Meeting (IMYM) and is currently serving as Pastor for Greensboro Monthly Meeting. Daniel Mudd began as a Friend with Pima Meeting. Jaimie and Daniel believe that Friends hold a unique gift and commission – to wait in silent worship for the Light to illuminate our lives, to live according to the teachings of Christ Jesus, to recognize that of God in everyone, and to share this way with others.