Eastern Light: Awakening to Presence in Zen, Quakerism, and Christianity
Reviewed by Judith Favor
By Steve Smith. QUPublishing, subsidiary of Quaker Universalist Fellowship, 2015. 232 pages. $22/paperback; $8.99/eBook.
“Who, other than Friends, are genuinely interested in helping people to fall in love with the Inward Guide?” For all the fascinating personal parables in Steve Smith’s self-disclosing volume, these words from Marshall Massey (spoken in 1985 at Pacific Yearly Meeting) resonate powerfully with me, for I see the author living by them. I engage in sitting meditation in the Zen tradition under Steve’s guidance; we have worshipped together for 18 years at Claremont Meeting. I became a convinced Friend in part because Steve Smith showed me how to fall in love with the Inward Guide.
Born to an Iowa Quaker family, this retired professor of philosophy and religious studies “writes in the language of the deep listener,” as Friend Connie Green puts it. Smith says he loves to write; his bedrock relationship with Sacred Presence shines in every chapter. “Writing is a labor of the heart . . . an attempt to find my own way to a foundation of love in my own life.” Depth writing in these pages “is very different from the corrosive labors that led me in the wrong direction.”
Eastern Light is a compilation of stories: personal crisis; hard-won spiritual practices; and wise reflections on Quakerly approaches to peace, passion, nature, and service. Its nine chapters are organized according to the classic stages of the mystic’s path:
- Purgation: dropping all self-denial and self-deception, facing one’s brokenness
- Illumination: out of such radical self-honesty spring moments of grace and insight
- Union: the gladness of awakening to our intrinsic bond with all creation
Young Friends and others wounded in “the war of the sexes” may find solace in “Healing Gender Hurt.” Quaker educators will resonate with “Friendly Pedagogy” as Smith “teases out the implications of Friends’ spirituality for humane, effective teaching.” In “In the Love of Nature,” he explores Friends’ responses to “the gathering storm of global climate change and environmental decay.” Personal memories and struggles are set in italics for the general reader; the scholarly reader will appreciate Smith’s robust set of endnotes.
Through the power of loving attention, this lifelong Friend uses clear language to probe the complexities and mysteries of Quaker faith and practice. Eastern Light contains a rich mix of themes, all moving toward helping people fall in love with the Inward Guide.