The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5
When the shape of our current political, social, and environmental landscape triggers fear and anger, I remind myself that visible realities spring from invisible depths, and that genuine transformation comes only by healing root causes. Becoming aware of the deepest causes requires opening our inner senses and paying attention to things that cause discomfort. We may have been born with open hearts, exquisitely sensitive to spiritual, energetic, and interpersonal realities, but most of us quickly learned to shut off certain kinds of perception and to erect protective barriers over our hearts. Taught that we have only five senses, we come to believe that the totality of reality can be known—perhaps with the help of instruments—solely through sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, and through mentally pondering what these five senses reveal.
My father, a physicist, taught me to challenge conventional notions of reality. When I was a child he read aloud Mr. Tompkins Explores the Atom. The book declares that atoms and molecules are real, even though you can’t see them, and that inside atoms you find very little matter. In other words, my father explained, even though material things look and feel solid, they are mostly empty space. That fact stayed with me.
One sunny afternoon when I was a teenager, standing on my family’s grassy lawn in Mystic, Connecticut, I looked into the blue sky, and contemplated the vastness of the universe. So huge! Then I imagined the possibility that our whole solar system might fit into a shoebox on a shelf in a forgotten closet of the cosmos. This thought made me dizzy. During moments of desolation, I sometimes walked outside at night, looked up at the stars, and felt they had abandoned me. I never examined the feeling that there had once been a connection, a relationship with the stars.
As a freshman in college, after studying the French Existentialists, I stopped attending church services, joining my father as an agnostic. For many years I was satisfied to pursue intellectual knowledge and sensory experience of this wonderful manifest world and its creatures. Then, in graduate school, a doctor thought I might have cancer and someone I loved was convinced he had a terminal illness. Suddenly, understanding reality and the nature of consciousness took on utmost importance.
I had no hope that my graduate studies at the University of Massachusetts could reveal the true nature of reality to me. My professors were earnestly imparting what they knew, but they didn’t seem to have a clue about ultimate truth. I started reading all the spiritual books I could find in the local library. The studies and stories I read suggested there are methods of perception that do not involve the usual mental cognition; they also suggested that those who choose to heed their inner senses are not believed by society at large.
For many months, I walked the hilly streets of Amherst at night with my big questions. Between graduate class assignments, I spent hours writing in my journal, becoming aware of painful parts of my psyche: hidden habits of fear, inhibition, and self-loathing. I needed to know: does consciousness end at death? Who are we, really? I wouldn’t have called my questions prayers. Nonetheless, I was whole-heartedly seeking to know God.
One dark night, as I walked home on Lincoln Ave., I remembered my teenage sense of a connection with the stars and looked up into the sky. I told myself there was no possible relation between me and the stars that were light years away. I felt alone in an impersonal universe, the random result of chemistry, biology, and physics. I gave up hope of attaining greater understanding through my own efforts.
That’s when divine reality became visible. Suddenly, an inner eye opened. I “saw” that the stars and I are intimately connected in a larger Oneness. I experienced a divine Light flowing through all things, including me and those far-away lights. They were in me, and I was in them. I felt this Light flowing up my legs and through my heart and arms, out my fingertips into the world. I became aware of an invisible Power great enough to heal any problem on Earth. I discovered my true existence in this vast, radiant wholeness. It was more cosmic than any notion of God I had been given in my religious upbringing, and more powerful. The experience altered my awareness and re-oriented my life forever. It was years, however, before I was able to use the word God for the awesome, all-pervading Mystery I had glimpsed.
That moment of revelation was a call upon my life, a call to learn to become a pure channel for the divine Power that is ready—if we will open to it—to heal the human world and our planet. Other “openings” followed, along with the unfolding of new kinds of perception and inner abilities. I sought out a teacher who taught methods to invite the Light to show me the hidden habits and beliefs that work contrary to the power of God, and that gradually dissolves those inner barriers. I learned a variety of spiritual practices, ways to participate in the Spirit-led inner unfolding that over time has helped me increasingly trust divine reality. Eventually I experienced a call to help others open to that same transforming spiritual power.
Thirty-five years after that dark, starry night in Amherst, it is still a challenge to see the underlying wholeness of reality in a steady way. Regular spiritual practices have been essential in the process of re-orienting to the truth. I have been fortunate to have found a community—Quakers—that has supported me in following direct divine guidance. I have had the benefit of collective Quaker practices for opening to spiritual reality, for discerning God’s leadings, and for living a faithful life. I have witnessed how we can help each other strip away layers of conditioning and allow our true selves to emerge, help each other gradually become who we really are and what we were created to be. I have witnessed healings and transformations of many kinds, and I have seen the power of the Spirit move through a group, creating heart-felt unity where there has been deep division. I have seen people empowered to take up courageous and prophetic tasks, and have been part of communities energized to engage in the movement of the Spirit.
In 2018 my nation stubbornly continues its non-sustainable extraction and use of resources. We continue to disrupt our environment and put at risk the lives of all future generations. Scientists have been explaining for decades that if we would not curb our carbon emissions, climate change would develop slowly, then suddenly accelerate in catastrophic ways. Collectively, however, we have looked the other way, distracting ourselves and refusing to soberly commit to a sustainable and healing way forward. Likewise, we are struggling to acknowledge a multitude of other serious challenges.
We are called to courageously address the physical, social, economic, and political dimensions of our problems, and to learn to live in sustainable ways. We are also called to address these challenges on the deepest level of causality. Our problems are inter-related and fundamentally grow out of an unwillingness or inability to open our inner senses and place our trust in the divine reality which gives life to everything and which connects us all. We are called to look into the darkness and to see the Light that shines in everything. We need to walk with our feet in both visible and invisible realities. When we do, then the divine Light will be able to move through us and heal even the greatest problems on earth.
The Light That Shines in the Darkness: Have you glimpsed the sacred wholeness that gives life to all worlds? What spiritual practices help you open to divine Reality?
© 2018 Marcelle Martin
Marcelle will be facilitating an April 15-19, 2018 short course at Pendle Hill entitled Nurturing Faithfulness. Participants in this course will learn the Faithfulness Group process and explore spiritual practices to support themselves and others in noticing the movements of the Spirit and responding with an open heart.
Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey, by Marcelle Martin, is available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website. Reviewed by Friends Journal, 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.