We each have an amazing inner connection to divine wisdom and guidance. It’s always available; the challenge is to turn our attention toward the divine Presence within us and stay focused.
In spite of regular attendance at church, I never clearly learned while growing up that the presence of God within us all can offer specific guidance and teaching. Then in my late twenties, a teacher showed me how to focus inwardly on God and encouraged me to pose a heart-felt question and wait with a quiet mind for an answer.
When I tried this, I wasn’t always sure if I heard a response. When a thought or impression came into my mind, I questioned whether it had a divine source or was merely one of my own ideas. However, I began to notice that I was receiving some valuable and trustworthy insights and guidance. Sometimes this came in a dream, or when I was peacefully working with my hands. At other times, if I held a particular question in prayer, day after day, for long periods of time, a clear understanding would grow in me. On other occasions when I cleared my mind and turned toward God, something was revealed almost immediately: words, a phrase from scripture or a song, an image or story, a memory, a clear knowing, or a very subtle impression. If I paid attention on a regular basis, the divine Teacher let me know when my behavior had been motivated by fear or envy or anger, and revealed a more loving and truthful way to be.
Over time, I grew better able to discern–more able to identify guidance or instruction that came from a divine source, as distinct from ideas generated by my mind or memory. I discovered that others with deep spiritual experience could help me with this discernment, too. In searching for the best way forward or trying to understand a difficult situation, my deeply-ingrained habitual mode had been to consult my thinking mind first. Even today, after decades of experience receiving trustworthy guidance from a divine inward source, it still takes an effort to quiet the activity of my thinking mind and turn my attention to a more subtle level of awareness.
The reality of the divine presence within was news to me in 1984, but it had been a fundamental truth of Quakerism since the middle of the seventeenth century. The pivotal discovery of the first Quakers was that God and Christ can teach directly, from within. After Richard Farnsworth stopped attending church services filled with too many words, he remained at home on Sundays, waiting in silence for the direct revelation of God. Eventually Christ spoke within him, saying, “I will teach thee freely myself, and all the children of the Lord shall be taught of the Lord, and in righteousness shall they be established.” George Fox declared, “Christ is come to teach his people himself.” Esther Biddle wrote to her country’s political and religious leaders, declaring, “The Lord doth not speak to us in an unknown Tongue, but in our own Language do we hear him perfectly, whose voice is better than life….”
The first Friends identified the inward divine Presence as the Light of Christ within, the same Light described in John 1:9, “the true Light, which enlightens everyone.” Christ often communicated to them in words of Scripture, which they heard inwardly with particular clarity and authority, speaking directly to their own lives. They discovered the Light of Christ to be a formidable teacher: stern, humbling, loving and, ultimately, empowering. The Light revealed eternal Truth, and also, bit by bit, revealed everything within society and in their own behavior that was contrary to the loving, just, and peaceful ways of God.
This kind of revelation can feel like stinging judgment. Love is its ultimate purpose, however, not condemnation. If heeded, the Light brings transformation and healing. When we learn to turn toward it and pay attention, this wise source of truth imparts an intimate clarity about every aspect of our lives and also provides loving guidance about steps toward healing and wholeness. Its purpose is to restore the divine nature in which each of us was created, in the image and likeness of God. As we learn to be responsive to the divine presence, teaching, and guidance, we learn to participate in the work of making manifest the Kingdom (or Kin-dom) of Heaven on Earth.
We all have the deeply ingrained habit of allowing our often disordered and fear-based thinking to control us. Our analytical minds have an important role to play, but if they don’t operate in concert with divine guidance, they can take us in harmful directions. It takes regular spiritual practice to develop the habit of giving our attention first of all to the subtle divine presence of God. Fortunately, a Quaker meeting for worship is designed precisely to help everyone tune in more clearly to the guidance available from within. Gathering together with this purpose can help God’s presence and guidance be more clear for each of us. However, one hour of worship a week is not enough to develop a habitual orientation to the Light. More practice is needed. Every day at Pendle Hill Retreat Center begins with a half-hour meeting for worship.
It can be a tremendous help to gather in silent worship with others, but it’s not essential. Sitting alone in prayer and meditation on a regular basis is also a way to become more receptive to God’s subtle inward teaching and guidance. I have sometimes found it supportive to have some spoken words that guide my solitary prayer and meditation. One helpful form of guided meditation, created by British scholar Rex Ambler, is called Experiment With Light. Borrowing from the meditation called Focusing and using words from George Fox about “minding the Light,” the 40-minute meditation intersperses brief instructions with periods of silence. In future blog posts I will write more about this and other spiritual practices that can help us open to divine guidance.
For the new year, I wish to offer a link to a 22-minute guided meditation. Like Experiment With Light, it suggests you invite the Light to show you several areas of your life in which there is an uneasy sense about something. Next you choose to focus on one of these situations and wait with an open mind and receptive heart for the divine teaching and guidance that is available.
Receiving the wisdom imparted by the Light can be like learning a new language, sometimes hard to comprehend at first. For certain issues, it may require more than one period of meditation before clarity comes. It is more than worth the effort, however, for divine guidance is far more valuable than the ideas and solutions we generate on our own.
A Meditation to Reveal and Heal is my gift to you as we head into a year when the world needs more of us to pay attention to divine instruction and guidance. If you try the meditation, I would love to hear about your experience.
Opening to Divine Guidance: What is your experience of being guided directly, from within, by God, or Christ, or the Light? If you tried the the Meditation to Reveal and Heal, did you receive any new insight or guidance?
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Starting in January 2017, Pendle Hill is offering an online course entitled Exploring the Quaker Way, facilitated by Marcelle Martin. It includes weekly webinars, readings, online discussions, videos, interviews with guest teachers, and more. For more information, click HERE.
Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, by Marcelle Martin, is available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. The book was designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their own experiences of ten elements of the Quaker spiritual journey of faithfulness. It is also available from QuakerBooks, which provides a discount for quantities of six or more books ordered for study groups. For links to an excerpt, a study guide, and book reviews, click HERE.
For information about Marcelle’s upcoming courses and workshops, go to Teaching and Upcoming Workshops.
© 2016 Marcelle Martin