August 30, 2005

Qualities of the Inner Light

Sometimes what helps me articulate my faith and my belief is what I call having something to push against. At times, that "something" takes the form of another individual who sees things very differently from how I see them. Friends recently have pointed out to me that perhaps I am being "honed" spiritually and theologically as a Friend as a result.

I find I am being exercised by the Spirit as I step into the space between the differences of belief and practice that exist between myself and more liberal Friends. It is in that space, the space between our differences, where continued seeking, deep listening, and long struggle occur.

I more and more frequently encounter Friends who appreciate the theological diversity within liberal Quakerism; I encounter fewer and fewer Friends who, like me, talk about the discipline of waiting for God's guidance or even the centrality of God/Christ/Spirit/the Light in their faith.

What's going on here?

Apparently, early Friends spoke so frequently about the Inward Light, the Inner Light, the Light Within that they were known by others as Children of Light.

The other day, as I was remembering a few traits about the Light, I came across a couple references that speak to these traits. I've been going back and forth on whether to cut-and-paste long quotes from certain Quaker authors and have that be the post itself, but it seems to me that Quaker bloggers and their readers prefer to read firsthand what the blogger herself has to say on a subject. So:

Qualities of the Inner Light

1. The Light is constant; the Light is forever. When I center down and strip away all distraction, when I sense a clear pulse and direction around where to bring my life, I believe I am experiencing the same Light, the same Spirit that was available to early Friends, to early Christians, to Jesus the carpenter-turned-rabbi, to the peoples on the planet before Jesus... And it is the same guiding Light that my niece will experience at times of her greatest distress and during her clearest moments; the same Light that I am experiencing today.

2. The Light cannot be extinguished. Though it can be ignored or neglected.

3. The Light is free. It cannot be commanded, it cannot be purchased, it cannot be chained. The Light cannot be manipulated or deceived. Neither does it manipulate nor deceive those who seek the Light or those who deny it. The Light is free in much the same way that the air is free. We do not choose to breathe the air, we just do. We do not manufacture air for our own gain; it simply exists.

4. The Light is accessible, directly. When we pay attention to the Light, when we open ourselves to receive the Light, we can engage with it in a way that transforms us. We need no go-between to listen on our behalf or to interpret the Light to us. It matters not if we are well-read in Scripture, if we can speak in tongues, if we have the gift of vocal prayer, or if we are a preacher's kid. As soon as we begin to seek or to listen, we gain access to the Light Within.

5. The Light is with us. It is neither above us, like God on a mountain or angels in the heavens; nor is the Light away from us, like a light at the outer rim of a tunnel. We and the Light are part of the same thread that weaves humanity together, that holds our cells together. We do not need to search for the Light nor pray that it be with us, for it already is with us. We need only pay attention to it, remembering that the Light is already with us, next to us, within us, surrounding us.

6. The Light is indivisible. This point is tricky. The fullness of the Light is within each of us, yet we each have our own measure of light. But the Light cannot be divided so that one individual or country or religion has "more," leaving another with "less." The Light is whole within each of us, and it is the same Light within each of us. The metaphor of the candle flame comes to mind, in that the flame from one candle can be passed onto another candle, and each flame is whole unto itself, yet each flame has the same characteristics as its brother and sister flames.

7. The Light favors harmony, wholeness, and balance. It desires harmony among all creation, and when that harmony is fractured, the Light travels both with the bringer of disharmony and with those who are harmed by the disharmony, for the purpose of healing and of reunification.

Other writings about the Light

Having shared my own thoughts about the Light, there are a variety of brief summaries online, such as this one; and I also will lift up these two other writings, by Samuel Caldwell and Wilmer Cooper (adding numbers, boldface, and italics to help pull out parallel threads), in a separate post.



Robin M. said...

I am always glad to hear what thee has to say.

Clarification: Is it that you are meeting more Friends who appreciate the diversity (D Friends) or is it that as you become more aware of Friends who also cherish the value of unity and commitment (U Friends), you are noticing this about the D Friends more?

When you say that the Light is like the air that we breathe, always with us, not created by us, I am reminded that we must breathe or die. We can live without food or water for days, but without air for only minutes. If we don't have it, we can damage our bodies permanently. Maybe we can live without noticing the Light, but we damage ourselves in ways we don't notice either.

Also we have the ability to pollute the air that we breathe. I think of this as being like we can block out the Light, we can clutter up the space and time around us, we can live in the shadows if we choose, but our tradition reminds us that the Light is still there, it is still with us.

Liz Opp said...

Robin, thanks for your ever-interesting, probing questions and rich comments!

I feel as though I have been meeting more and more Friends who place spiritual/theological diversity at the center of their Quaker experience, as opposed to placing the Inner Light at the center of their experience:

"I like meeting because it doesn't matter what I believe."
"I come to meeting because I'm not told what I have to do."

Perhaps what is happening, for me in my Quaker circles at home, is that in the past 6 years or so, there have been at least 4 "movements" (ad hoc committees; meeting-wide conversations; individuals sharing written statements) for the monthly meeting to talk about and discern who we are as a meeting. A part of the rhetoric seems to have pointed to the meeting's gift of welcoming attenders from all sorts of religious upbringing, rather than to what are various Quaker beliefs, practices, and traditions.

It may be that more "secular Quakers" (borrowing from the idea of the existence of secular Jews) are finding their voice, since they are finding spiritual homes among Friends meetings.

But I don't think the perceived increase in numbers of Friends who appreciate the spiritual diversity is due to my recent focus on Friends who cherish the Divine and who place the Inner Light at the center of their faith.

As for the air metaphor, I too had thought about how we might pollute the air. I came up with some similar thinking as you, and decided to let it stand, rather than not include the metaphor at all.