The Light Within

The Religious Society of Friends has created some unique expressions to explain our beliefs to others unfamiliar with our practice. They frequently refer to the Inner Light or the Light Within. This description refers to our belief that there is "that of God in every one."

Little is ever said regarding the brightness or wattage of this light. It must vary from person to person. For some highly regarded Quakers their light shines as a flood light that illuminates a large area. Some Friends have the mystical gift for prophesy. Their light would cast as a beacon. For most, I suspect, their illumination might be closer to the wattage of a refrigerator bulb.

In fact the thriftiest of Friends only open the door when they feel the need to check their spiritual path. When satisfied they are still on it, they shut the door and the light goes out.

They are very conscious of the environment and want to conserve the power that makes the light. They might be designated Green Quakers.
I’m not certain they know if the light goes out when they close the door. They believe that it does. Few of us ever stay inside to check it out. I’m willing to take it on faith that it does. I take a lot of things on faith that I can’t prove, like God.

I suspect the term Inner Light is a metaphor for some kind of universal energy or power that is available for our use. It may come from God, or it may just be there. But it is there for everyone, and must be downloaded so that it can work through us to become of practical use to us and to others.

If there is that of God (or Spiritual Energy, if that better describes God for you) in every person, then I think we must also acknowledge that there is evil in every person. This is an observable fact. I suspect this universal energy is neutral by nature and absent of conscience. Like electricity, it can warm a cold house or blow it up depending on how it is used. This comparison suggests our Inner Light comes with a switch, and that it is our finger, and only ours, that moves the toggle.

Another interesting human factor, temptation, is thrown into this switching practice. Why is it that the seductive nature of temptation always appears so alluring and immediate, while its negative consequences appear so well camouflaged as to seem improbable?

We are constituted as creatures of reason and emotion. Temptation is the messenger that challenges us to keep the two in balance. This is a difficult task, for many of our emotional responses such as pleasure and fear are both glandular and natural.

This suggests that if we do not maintain a balance between our reasoning ability and our emotional desire for immediate pleasure, we may, in a moment of emotional high, move the switch to our own detriment and plunge ourselves into darkness.

Error is a given part of our nature. Is it possible to find the switch and restore the light again? I think it is, but it comes with a high interest penalty for the misspent energy used in the brief misguided choice. The process by which we restore our energy credit rating is called forgiveness. The choice not to make the same mistake twice is the path to wisdom.

Henry Swain

Henry Swain is a member of Bloomington (Ind.) Meeting and the author of Leaves for the Raking and Why Now? The Evolution of a Conscientious Objector.