The light within

I begin each day by reading from “Peacemaking Day by Day”, a book of daily readings published by Pax Christi in 1990. After nearly 20 years of use, my little book has fallen apart into two unequal halves, but it is still useable. The reading for today, 16 November, is from the Tales of the Hasidim:

A young rabbi said to the master, “You know, when I study and when I join others in great feasts, I feel a great sense of light and life. But the minute it’s over it’s all gone; everything dies in me.”
The old rabbi replied: “It is just this feeling that happens when a person walks through the woods at night, when the breeze is cool and the scent in the air is delicious. If another joins the traveller with a lantern, they can walk safely and joyfully together. But if they come to a crossroads and the one with the lantern departs then the first must grope her way alone unless she carries her light within her.”

We Quakers are convinced that we each – everyone, not just Quakers – carry an “Inward Light”, a divine spark, within us.

I’m currently reading “Dimensions of Prayer” by Douglas Steere, a Quaker who was Professor of Philosophy at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. In a passage which I read this morning, he quotes Bede Griffiths:

“It is only in prayer that we can communicate with one another at the deepest level of our being. Behind all words and gestures, behind all thoughts and feelings, there is an inner centre of prayer where we can meet one another in the presence of God.”

I’m reminded of the meaning of the Hindu greeting, “Namaste”, explained by Ram Dass in “Grist for the Mill”:

“In India when we meet and part we often say, ‘Namaste’, which means: I honour the place in you where the entire universe resides; I honour the place in you of love, of light, of truth, of peace. I honour the place within you where if you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us …. ‘Namaste’.”

How often are we able to honour each other in this way? Very rarely, I fear, at least in my experience. It is something that we all need to learn to do much more often: to see and honour the place of light and love and truth within ourselves and within the people we meet. We need to honour not only our “brothers” and “sisters” within our own church or faith community. We need also to honour our “brothers” and “sisters” in other faith communities and, perhaps especially, those who are not in a faith community.

Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, recognised a Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, as his “brother” and wrote a short essay entitled “Nhat Hanh is my brother.” This was at the height of the Vietnam War and Thomas Merton was appealing to Americans to listen to the young Buddhist monk from Vietnam. Americans needed to recognise Vietnamese people as their brothers and sisters.

Now we who profess to be Christians need to recognise Jews as our brothers and sisters. And Jews need to recognise Muslims as their brothers and sisters. And Muslims need to recognise atheists as their brothers and sisters. In fact we all need to recognise each other as brothers and sisters. Then peace will break out and it won’t matter whether there is a two-state solution or a one-state solution or two states within a state in Palestine/Israel.

My copy of “Peacemaking Day by Day” has fallen apart at August 22, where there is another story from Tales of the Hasidim:

An old rabbi once asked his pupils how they could tell when the night had ended and the day had begun.
“Could it be,” asked one of the students, “when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it’s a sheep or a dog?”
“No,” answered the rabbi.
Another asked, “Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it’s a fig tree or a peach tree?”
“No,” answered the rabbi.
“Then when is it?” the pupils demanded.
“It is when you can look on the face of any man or woman and see that it is your sister or brother. Because if you cannot see this, it is still night.”


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