I am grateful for the discussion that has taken place this week in response to the question: Are Quakers Christian, non-Christian, or both? I especially appreciated the discussion of the Inward Light, since the second part of the workshop I have been asked to lead addresses the question: What is your spiritual experience?
As Marshall Massey rightly points out, the experience of the Inward Light is not always pleasant since this Light reveals to us our “sins” (I put this word in quotes because it is often misunderstood or at least interpreted in very different ways). I would like to know how you have experienced the Inward Light, and especially how it has changed your life. And I recommend you read some the comments posted in this blog:
Marshall Massey wrote: George Fox wrote of that Voice that it is that which “shows you sin, and shows you evil … which lets you see lying is sin, theft, drunkenness and uncleanness….” Penington, similarly, wrote that “The first way of meeting with the Spirit of God, is as a convincer of sin. Here is the true entrance; this is the key….” Barclay described the Voice as “somewhat in [a person’s] heart reproving him for some things evil which he hath done, threatening a certain horror if he continued in them, as also promising and communicating a certain peace and sweetness, as he has given way to it, and not resisted it. … …That little small thing that reproves them…, however they have despised and neglected it, is nothing less than the gospel preached in them: Christ, the wisdom and power of God, being in and by that seed seeking to save their souls.”
Historically, it has been this Voice, speaking within Friends’ consciences, condemning them when they hurt a fellow feeling creature, or fail to give aid to the poor and vulnerable, that has led Friends to take James’s doctrine as binding, and to unite with Martin Luther King’s message and the Golden Rule. (The rest of his text is in the comments section.)
Yeshe responds: I feel I have a living direct relationship with Jesus (as King and Friend) and Buddha (as Guru and Friend). The Buddhist mind training I feel, help to remove the impediments to a clear intimate reception of the Loving Voice of Jesus Christ. And receiving the warmth of the Christ Light, helps me in the engaged practice of Bodhicitta (mind of awakening, love , compassion)….to put it into immediate action in the world here and now. Thus my view of what I consider True Christianity it is simultaneously Universal…. My experience of this convicting Spirit, is one of Tenderness, and penetrating warmth. The conviction can lead to gentle sweet tears and supplications. It is a very loving transformative, cleansing, process that results in a more loving disposition to all and a tenderized conscience towards the sufferings of others, even the least of these our brethren.
Others have also given responses worth reading. What canst thou say?
I plan to share some of my experiences of the Inward Light with Friends in Tucson and invite them to share theirs. I’d like to know more about your experiences.
Here are some of my thoughts about the Inward Light.
1) The inward Light/Christ is the basis of our Quaker faith, not any external doctrine, creed or theological position. The Inward Light has two main characteristics. First, it is an inward experience that reveals our shortcomings (sins) and second, it guides us towards a better life. Many liberals don’t feel comfortable with the word “sin” so I’d like to suggest a definition that is both biblical and compatible with our Quaker ideas. “Sin” in the Bible is not primarily about morality; it is about ethics. Jesus didn’t condemn the adulterer; he lambasted religious hypocrites and those in power, especially the 1%. The Bible is more concerned with justice than with personal morality. According to the Bible, sin is anything we do or say that alienates us from each other and from God, the source of Goodness. James, who was supposedly the brother of Jesus, defines sin as “partiality.” In his letter, which was a favorite text for early Friends, James writes: “Whenever we show favoritism, it is a sin.” This is the basis of our equality testimony. Whenever we discriminate based on class, race, or gender, we are hurting ourselves as well as others. From a biblical standpoint, it’s not only a “sin,” it’s also a deadly sin. Racism, sexism, and economic injustice (capitalism) are all deadly “sins” because these “isms” keep us from experiencing our deep interconnectedness with our fellow human beings and with Spirit. Carried to the extreme, theses isms lead to violence and war. When we “see the Light,” we can no longer rationalize our hurtful behavior or attitudes. It was this Inward Light that revealed to John Woolman it was wrong to notarize a document authorizing slavery. The Inward Light is also a source of joy and peace. George Fox’s heart “leapt for joy” when he heard an inward voice telling him “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to your condition.” Fox realized he didn’t need to go to priests, pastors, or other “experts” to solve life’s problems; the answers were within him, if he lived a life faithful to the Inward Light. What a liberating realization! This liberating Light is identified with the Logos, the Creative Word of God, described by John as the “the Light that shines in the darkness.” John also said that this Light is the Spirit that created and sustains the universe.
2) Universalist. The Light shines on and in everyone, regardless of sex, nationality or religious persuasion. “The Light that enlightens everyone was coming in the world” (John 1:9). This Light, which Quakers believed was fully embodied in Jesus Christ, is a universal light, the source of wisdom, inner peace, and just/righteous living for everyone. Those who turn away from the Light are doomed to a life of darkness and misery since this Light is the loving energy that created and sustains us and the universe. Those who turn towards the Light find peace, joy, and fulfillment (what some Christians call “salvation” or “holiness” and others call simply “wholeness.”).
What are your thoughts about the Light, and about “sin” and about the experience of grace/inner peace?