Come to the Light
Indianapolis First Friends
Pastor Bob Henry
March 11, 2018
A few months ago, I read to you a description of Quakers by Rex Ambler in one of my sermons. It has come to resonate with me and many of you, and I find it speaking to our condition again and again. This week as I was reading more from Rex Ambler, I returned to his description as a grounding statement for us as Quakers, but also as a way to focus our attention on the Quaker spiritual experience that I am planning to lead you through in a couple of minutes. For now, I would like to read Rex’s description once again as a way to begin our process of centering down this morning.
Quakers sit in silence because they want to know something that words cannot tell them. They want to feel something or become aware of something that they can really make connection with. It is something fundamental to their life, they know that, indeed it is the underlying reality of their life, but they are not normally aware of it.
They are preoccupied with other things. They are taken up, like others, with the relatively shallow things of life, encouraged by the media and contemporary culture generally, and they hardly feel the depth of it all. So they feel the loss, the distance, and want somehow to get close to this deeper reality.
They want to become "the Friends of Truth," as they liked to call themselves at the beginning. Not any truth, but a truth that relates specifically to their deepest felt needs, and to the needs of the world. They are looking for a truth by which to live, that is, a sense of reality that tells them who they are and how they should live.
Part of the reality of their life, of course, is their relationship with one another and with other people, both near and far. So they want to "discern" what happens between people, what makes for a good life together, and what makes for a bad one.
They want to learn in their own experience how relationships that are broken can be mended, how conflicts can be resolved, and how "the Friends of Truth" can work together to make these things happen in the world. (pp.10-11 from The Quaker Way: A Rediscovery)
John 3:19-21 (NRSV)
19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
Sarah just read to us a very Quakerly passage of scripture – “but those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
Quakers are always taking about “the light.” We use the phrase to say things like,
“I am holding you in the light.”
“We need to mind the light.”
“I am seeking my inner light” or “the light within.”
It also has been associated in Quaker circles with the historical Christ and as well the metaphorical understanding of Christ. We have a variety of names for Christ that speak of light:
Light of the World.
Father of Lights.
Light of Lights.
Light of God.
And the list could go on.
But for most Quakers our obsession with “the light” metaphor goes back to our founder, Geroge Fox. Here is a modern English translation of George Fox’s words:
“So long as you live in the light nothing can trip you up, because you will see everything in the light. Do you love the light? Then here’s your teacher! When you are out walking it’s there with you, in your heart – you don’t have to say ‘Look over here’, ‘Look over there’. And as you lie in bed it’s there with you too, teaching you, making you aware of that wandering mind of yours that likes to wander off, and of your attempts to master everything with your own thought and imagination – they themselves are mastered by the light. For if you follow your own thoughts you will soon get lost. But if you live in the light it will reveal to you the root of your wrong doing, and the distortions of your life, and the degraded condition in which you live, and your endless thinking about everything.”
That sounds very similar to our scripture reading for this morning. The light is our inner teacher and is shedding light on the darkness of our life – bringing awareness, capturing our wandering mind, and helping us find direction.
The problem is that for many people, we have a hard time connecting to that inner light on a daily basis – especially in our busy lives. Rex Ambler in his studies started to wonder similar things. His journey took him back to the early Quakers to see how they found joy, peace of mind and courage to share it with others even when beaten and imprisoned for doing so.
Rex knew that Quakers didn’t have specific spiritual practices of this nature and honestly, “how to” manuals weren’t that big in the 17th century. But as he looked through the Early Quaker writings he found a clear pattern emerge. Which Rex shares in his book, Light to live by: an exploration in Quaker spirituality.
On his website “Experiment with Light,” Rex identified 4 stages of a spiritual practice which early Friends used and described.
1. Mind the Light. This means stopping to consider what the Light within you shows you about what is happening in your life. Is anything causing you unease? Is there anything you need to attend to?
2. Open your heart to the Truth. Be honest and open with yourself and with God. Let the Truth emerge of its own accord. Don’t try to evade or excuse anything that you are shown. But don’t let yourself become confused or guilty.
3. Wait in the Light. Instead of worrying over what the Light shows you, or trying to come up with solutions, be calm and patient. The Light itself, as it shows you the Truth, is a sign of something of God which is in you. Its power can show you what you need to understand (or to do!) in order to achieve peace of mind—providing you don’t lose yourself in troubled emotions. “Be cool” said Fox in his longest account of the process (GFJ, p.346).
4. Submit to the Truth. Fox wrote in a letter, “When you have seen what’s going on in your mind, and the temptations there, do not think but submit... You will then receive power. So, stand still in the Light, submit to it, and all the rest will quieten down or disappear”. At times, the Light impels you to a necessary course of action, and then submitting means obeying it.
So to help modern Quakers understand and find a practical use for what the early Quakers knew and taught, Rex created what he called an “Experiment with Light.” In creating this, Rex realized these steps were very similar to psychologist Eugene Gendlin’s therapeutic process of “Focusing.” This led Rex to finding a way to re-introduce the early Quaker spiritual practice to us today.
This morning I sense we need to experience Rex’s “Experiment with Light” based on Early Quaker understandings. For several weeks we have been wrestling deeply with issues in our lives and country, and our minds and lives are full. Several of you have asked me about how to center down and mind the light in your personal lives but in the manner of Friends. This is one helpful way that I have found to allow myself to focus on the light and let it be my present teacher.
Don’t worry, you will be able to stay right where you are seated. I will be reading a prompt and then giving about 4 minutes after each prompt to allow you to experience the light. In the times of silence, please stay silent – this will be both our teaching time and our waiting worship. At the very end I will give you a chance to share if you are so led. Then we will greet each other and sing the closing hymn.
Let us begin the “Experiment with Light.”
1. Relax your body and mind. Make yourself comfortable. Feel the weight of your body on the pew or chair. Let all the tension go, in each part of your
body (start with your head and work all the way down to your toes). Let your immediate worries go, your current preoccupations. Be relaxed,
but alert. [Control your breathing.] Let yourself become wholly receptive.
2. In this receptive state of mind, let the real concerns of your life
emerge. Ask yourself, 'What is really going on in my life?', but do not try to answer the question. Let the answer come. You can be specific: 'What is happening in my relationships, my work, my country, my Meeting, in my own heart and mind?' And more specifically still: 'Is there anything here that makes me feel uncomfortable, uneasy?' As we gradually become aware of these things we are beginning to experience the light.
3. Now, focus on one issue that presents itself, one thing that gives you a sense of unease. Try to get a sense of this thing as a whole. Deep down you know what it is all about, but you don't normally allow yourself to take it all in and absorb the reality of it. Now is the time to do so. You don't have to get involved in it again, or get entangled with the feelings around it. Keep a little distance, so that you can see it clearly. Let the light show you what is really going on here. ‘What is it about this thing’, you can ask, ‘that makes me feel uncomfortable?’ Let the answer come. And when it does, let a word or image also come that says what it's really like, this thing that concerns me.
4. Now ask yourself what makes it like that. Don’t try to explain it. Just wait in the light till you can see what it is. Let the full truth reveal itself, or as much truth as you are able to take at this moment. The answer will come.
5. When the answer comes welcome it. It may be painful or difficult to believe with your normal conscious mind, but if it is the truth you will recognize it immediately. You will realize that it is something that you need to know. Trust the light. Say yes to it. It will show you new possibilities. It will show you the way through. So, however the news seems to be at first, accept it and let its truth pervade your whole being.
6. As soon as you accept what is being revealed to you, you will begin to feel different. Accepting truth about yourself is like making peace. Something is
being resolved. If none of this seems to have happened, do not worry. It may take longer. Notice how far you have got this time and pick it up on another occasion. In any case this is a process we do well to go through again and again, so that we can continue to grow and become more like the people we are meant to be.
When you feel ready, open your eyes, stretch your limbs, and bring the meditation to an end.
At this time, if you are led to speak out of the silence, you may.