The essential experience of Friends is that of a direct, unmediated relationship with the Divine. Friends have used many terms or phrases to refer to the inner certainty of our faith: the Light Within, the Inner Light, the Christ Within, the Inward Teacher, the Divine Presence, Spirit, the Great Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, that of God in every person, and the Seed. In his journal, George Fox referred to “that Inward Light, Spirit, and Grace by which all might know their salvation” and to “that Divine Spirit which would lead them into all truth.” Today Friends continue to use these terms and have added others out of a sense of ongoing revelation. For some Friends, “spiritual energy” best describes their personal experience of that which enlivens and empowers them in seeking truth for themselves and in community. In contrast with early Friends, not all Friends today consider themselves to be Christians or even theists. Friends come from very diverse religious backgrounds and experiences and apply their different perspectives as they encounter the Light Within. Regardless of the journey that brings individuals to explore the Quaker way, the invitation to enter into an unmediated, inward relationship with the Divine continues to be at the heart of Quaker experience.
Through this relationship, each person encounters the Spirit, active in the world, and providing guidance for everyday living. The reality of this spiritual relationship within each worshipper brings the Friends meeting together as a community of faith. Friends understand that faithfulness to Spirit can produce a spiritual energy within their faith community that encourages them to support each other within that community, and most of all, to live in harmony with the Divine. Friends also understand that the experience of God continues to unfold and that the record of God’s presence in human lives continues to be written.
Friends find that the Light Within:
- Accompanies, comforts and loves us as we seek Divine truth;
- Reveals who we are, including what we would prefer not to see about ourselves, and leads us out of spiritual darkness or dryness;
- Illuminates, inspires and transforms us;
- Shows us how to live with love, compassion and justice towards others;
- Gives us energy and power to change ourselves and the world in small ways and large;
- Leads us to the right decisions in our meetings for worship with attention to business;
- Provides ongoing revelation of God’s truth.
- The Light Within is not the same as the conscience or moral faculty. Conscience is conditioned by education, personal experience, and the cultural and social environment. Only when the conscience is illuminated by the Light of Christ can it serve as a dependable guide to a Spirit-led life.
Recognition that God’s Light is in every person helps us to overcome our apparent separation and differences from others; it leads to a sympathetic awareness of their needs and a sense of responsibility towards them. Friends believe that the more widely and clearly the Light is recognized and followed, the more the human family will come into harmony and peace. “Therefore,” wrote George Fox, “in the Light wait, where unity is.”
This is the opening section of Faith & Practice of Philadelphia YM (2018 edition), which can be purchased from QuakerBooks.