Hold in the Light
Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting
Pastor Bob Henry
March 10, 2019
I have had several things on my mind this week. As we concluded our busy weekend last weekend and were just about heading to the store to get our week’s groceries on Sunday evening, Sue and I were stopped in our tracks reading a very difficult Facebook post about a dear friend and member of our former meeting in Silverton, OR. She had recently just retired to begin traveling with her husband but had not been able to beat some sickness that she was currently fighting. She thought it was related to her asthma. But after going to the doctor, she was put in the hospital with Stage Four cancer and a grim outcome. Her cancer had already spread quickly from her uterus, to lymph nodes, and even to her lungs. Sue and I were in shock to say the least. This woman has been part of our lives in profound ways and we have been part of her life in so many ways, as well.
Then on Friday morning, my day off, I read another Facebook post that our friend Joe Lynne passed away. Only 6 days from going into the hospital.
Sometimes life doesn’t make sense. A Facebook post announces a fatal diagnosis and people (including me) begin to post about “thoughts and prayers.”
I need to be honest, I have come to prefer the Quaker phrase “holding you in the Light.” It seems to command more substance than just sending “thoughts and prayers” which often seems to lack sincerity or at least sound hollow in our current day and age. No words fully grasp what you are trying to say in these moments.
Now, for many, “holding someone or some situation in the Light” is simply keeping it in their thoughts and prayers, but when looking deeper at the meaning of this phrase, I found it to resonate in my own soul and cause me a deeper spiritual exploration.
The New York Monthly Meeting writes this about the phrase, “Hold in the Light.”
To “Hold in the Light” means to ask for God’s presence to illumine a person, situation, or problem, whether in concern or thanksgiving.
I spent several days this week trying to find the history behind this Quaker phrase, but I came up empty handed. I even asked a couple weighty Friends and professors I know, and they are now on the search to find it’s origin. The closest I came was in an article from Friends Journal which stated,
“The metaphorical image of ‘holding’ someone ‘in the light’ didn’t appear until a 1969 poem by Barbara Reynolds which included the couplet: ‘First take your thought, this baby thing/ And hold it to the Light.” (it wouldn’t become common in prose for another decade).”
Even my weighty Friends were not sure if that late of a date is correct, but I have learned in the research that many of our Quaker phrases are modern additions but sound as though they could be foundational.
I remember when I first had someone tell me they were “holding me in the light,” it honestly took me back to when our oldest son, Alex was born. When we brought him home from the hospital he was a bit jaundice and the doctor recommended we, “hold him in the light” to allow the light to heal him. I didn’t get that beautiful metaphor for this spiritual principle as a young parent, but I am starting to now.
I find for someone unfamiliar with this Quaker terminology, it causes them to wonder or even try and imagine this Divine Light.
If you look at early Quaker spirituality, you find that the image of light often represents the mysterious presence of God (much like it often does in Scripture.)
Like Quaker Edward Burrough (one of the Valient Sixty) who said,
“All that dwell in the light, their habitation is in God, and they know a hiding place in the day of storm; and those who dwell in the light, are built upon the rock, and cannot be moved, for who are moved or shaken, goes from the light, and so goes from their strength, and from the power of God, and loses the peace and the enjoyment of the presence of God.”
Or George Fox, himself, who said simply,
“The first step of peace is to stand still in the Light.”
John 1:15 actually says, “God is Light.” And there are verses that describe God as the “Father of Lights” and “Light of the World,” or even God as a sun and shield.” Quakers have multiple ways to describe this light – everything from the Holy Spirit, the Inward Light, the Spiritual Christ in You to even “That of God in Everyone.”
Yet, to hold someone or a situation in the light, I believe is to seek to bring that person into deeper contact with the Divine Presence or Present Teacher. Some Quakers imagine the person for whom they are holding in the light to actually be bathed in a beautiful, gentle light, or picture them surrounded with a halo-like quality or aura.
Obviously as followers of Christ, the scriptures use the illustration that Jesus is the Light of the World and that his Spirit “illumines” our lives and brings us into Truth.
So, for me personally, when I hold someone or a specific situation in the Light, I imagine God’s grace, love, joy, wisdom and peace engulfing and surrounding their life and situation. That is what I thought last Sunday evening when I was reading the Facebook post about our friend from Oregon.
A Quaker from Ann Arbor Friends Meeting put it this way,
“I like to think of ‘holding in the light’ as being ‘holding in Love.’ The Light to me represents God’s love and some of its qualities, and so when I think of holding someone in the Light, I picture them surrounded by visual, bright Light, but also surrounded by something with warmth and a soft texture. In the Psalms there is reference to being born up on the wings of an eagle, and I like the image of an eagle’s wings as part of God’s love. The wing can be powerful, strong, and uplifting, but on the ground the wing can encircle us in a warm and comforting way. Thus, I envision someone being held in brightness, warmth and softness.”
As an artist who sees painting as a spiritual discipline and form of prayer, I can really relate to the visual nature of holding someone in the Light or in Love – the colors, the textures, the images all speak to how I sense that “holding” taking place. It also reminds me of this beautiful poem by Rumi:
“I know you're tired but come, this is the way...
In your light, I learn how to love.
In your beauty, how to make poems.
You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you,
but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.” ― Rumi
This morning, I want to pause a couple of times in my sermon to give us an opportunity to practice this: Let’s take a moment right now and practice holding some people or groups in the Light or in Love. Close your eyes and allow yourself to imagine…
· Someone that you know who needs to sense or feel the presence of God in their life right now. (Like our friend in Oregon.)
· Or maybe you want to hold a group or a specific ministry or service organization in the Light – maybe our gathered meeting this morning..
· Or maybe you want to consider holding yourself in the Light.
I don’t know about you, but often holding oneself in the Light is the hardest to imagine or even do. As I facilitated the conversation for the pastor’s last week at our WYM Pastor’s Conference, I mentioned how we often do not take the time we need to inwardly process our own thoughts and beliefs. And that means we probably don’t take much time to hold ourselves in the Light – to be held in Love – to ask God to illumine our own lives, problems, and situations. Please understand this is not a selfish act – no, rather I believe it is an essential act.
Our scripture text for this morning is what I consider a verbal expression of what may go through one’s mind as we hold ourselves in the Light. The text is a Psalm of David. Many times, I find David’s writing as though he is holding himself in the Light and seeking the presence, attributes, and love of God. As David often does, he shows us just how hard it is to enter the presence of God and get our own selfish thoughts and needs out of the way, so we can truly enter into the presence and hear the voice of God.
In the Matthew Henry Commentary it says,
“It is probably that David penned this psalm  when he was persecuted by Saul; some passages in it agree particularly to the narrow escapes he had at Keilah (1 Sa. 23:13), then in the wilderness of Maon, when Saul marched on one side of the hill and he on the other, and, soon after, in the cave in the wilderness of En-gedi; but that it was penned upon any of those occasions we are not told. It is a mixture of prayers, and praises, and professions of confidence in God, all which do well together and are helpful to one another.” [and that sounds like David is trying hard to hold himself in the Light.]
Now, holding yourself, someone else, or a situation in the Light is more than utilizing a wrote prayer or formula. Sometimes those are helpful when we don’t have words, but often when we don’t have words we need simply to hold that situation in the presence of God until something further is revealed. When I consider holding someone/thing in the Light it is (just as Matthew Henry put it) a mixture of all sorts of things - of prayers, praises, and professions of confidence in God and I don’t know about you, but for me there is often some doubt, frustration, even first shaking at God and big questions from the depths of my soul.
Let’s take a look at one of David’s moments of holding himself in the Light – I think you will see his interesting “mixture” coming forth.
To make it a bit more personal or relatable, I would like to read Psalm 31 from a modern translation titled Psalms/Now by Leslie F. Brandt.
As I read this, try and imagine holding yourself in the Light and allowing these words to express or bring to the surface your own personal feelings, images, or thoughts – if it helps, close your eyes. I have included in your bulletin a copy of this Psalm that I will have you look at in a minute. For now, just listen to the words and let them speak to your condition.
I am up a blind alley, Lord.
The props have been knocked out beneath me.
I feel as if I’m grappling with the wind.
for some support or security.
I’ve been pulled up short, Lord.
Now, I realize how much I need
something or someone
beyond and above myself.
To give stability to my tenuous existence.
Maybe it was Your doing, Lord.
It is Your way of bringing me back to home port,
of correcting my focus
and reassessing my goals.
I return to You with empty hands, Lord.
You know well, my sorry plight.
I did not find that secret treasure,
that pearl of great price.
The bright lights that beckoned
only led me astray.
I became entangled in the bonds of self-service.
Everything I touched turned to dust in my hands.
I despise myself today, Lord.
Even those I thought my friends
Turn their faces from me.
There is no place to go, nothing to cling to.
I can only come back to You
and cast myself on Your loving mercy.
You are my God.
You have never let me out of Your sight.
Even when I strike out on my own,
You pursue me and hold on to me.
I’ve stopped running, Lord.
From this point on
I will dedicate my hours and days
into Your loving hands.
I seek only Your guidance
and the grace and strength
to carry out Your purposes.
Restore me, O God,
To Your program and design for my life.
Thank You for taking me back, Lord,
for renewing my relationship with You.
I seek now to walk in Your course for me.
I shall abide forever in Your steadfast love.
I will proclaim Your praises
and live out Your Purposes.
Enable me to be faithful to You.
whatever the consequences,
and to celebrate Your love
and communicate it to everyone around me.
As I said before reading this Psalm, there is a copy of it in your bulletin this morning. I would like you to take it out now, read over it to yourselves. Take a moment to further process and hold yourself in the Light in lieu of these words.
What speaks to me?
What is God trying to say to me?
How am I entering the presence of God and holding myself in the Light?
Now that you have had some time to process this, I would like us to look at the last section of this Psalm. Just as we seek to reflect and hold ourselves in the Light. I want to encourage you to do the same for First Friends. We are a Beloved Community – a people trying hard to seek awareness both personally and spiritually. I have said this on several occasions lately, “I believe something special is happening at First Friends.” And I sense more than ever we need to hold First Friends in the Light and Love of God as we go forth with those purposes.
To help us do that, I have changed the last section of Psalm 31 to be from us as a gathered body. Yes, we need to do some personal work to be brought into the presence of God, but we also need to do some communal work as well.
Think about this, what if these words were our commitment to holding First Friends in the Light through the coming months and years, as we grow and learn, and continue to be a solid voice and face of Quakerism in Indiana?
Just listen again as I read…
We’ve stopped running, Lord.
From this point on
We will dedicate our hours and days
Into Your loving hands.
We seek only Your guidance
and the grace and strength
to carry out Your purposes.
Restore us, O God,
to Your program and design for First Friends.
Thank You for taking us back, Lord,
For renewing our relationship with You.
We seek now to walk in Your course for us.
We shall abide forever in Your steadfast love.
We will proclaim Your praises
and live out Your purposes.
Enable First Friends to be faithful to You,
whatever the consequences,
and to celebrate Your love
and to communicate it to everyone around us.
Will you stand and join me in reading this together aloud.