from the Committee on Ministry and Counsel
The Light Within
What do you see? Really, what do you truly see? It is not unusual to ask that of myself repeatedly at intervals when engaged in radicalizing a pattern of facts. Why do I ask myself those questions? Two words: paradigm shift. The paradigm shifts I have experienced via the Inward Light have been very humbling and received with thanksgiving. For example, I surprisingly learn that what had appeared to be self-evident ... actually was not. Or a third way appeared where only a dichotomy was apparent.
What do I see? What do I really know? The answers to each of those questions depend on if I am embracing that light whose qualities are subject to the changes of the human condition or if I am embracing that Light which does not change. The excerpt below from The Mystery of Quaker Light by Peter Bien (Pendle Hill Pamphlet #384, 2006) reinforced for me a valuable understanding of how early Friends viewed the composition of the Inward Light. ~ Darryl Newell
Contemporary Quakers not only ask that folks in trouble be held in the Light, they also speak about their own Inner Light. If you ask them what the Inner Light really is, they may answer “the indwelling Christ” but probably will not repeat Robert Barclay’s “The implanted ingrafted Word, which is able to save the soul.” Some Friends, of course, may come close to “the quality of grace by which God makes Himself known” – the beautiful summary of Light provided in the tenth century by Symeon the New Theologian. But how many contemporary Friends realize that George Fox never used the term “Inner Light” at all? He spoke instead, although seldom, of “Inward Light” and most often of “the Light Within.” John Punshon explains why “inner” is not appropriate. Light, he writes,
operates at a personal level to redeem those who turn to it; but it would
be a mistake to regard it as a part of human nature, a personal possession,
a fragment of divinity, our bit of God. The light is in all, but it is the same
light that is in all, not sparks from the eternal flame. There are not many
lights, but only one.
It is better, therefore, to speak of Inward Light – a power that enters us from outside – rather than of Inner Light, which sounds too much like something all our own that we possess internally. Punshon states categorically: “The light is that of God within you, and is not your conscience or intellect.” And John Milton, as always, says everything in few words in Paradise Lost (III.51-55) when, lamenting his physical blindness, he adjures the outward light to shine inward, entering his soul and enlightening him:
So much the rather thou Celestial Light
Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
Irradiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence
Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight.