Trust in the Inner Light is the distinctive theme of Quakerism.
The Light should not be confused with conscience or reason; it is
rather that of God in everyone, which allows human beings an
immediate sense of God's presence and will for them. It thus
informs conscience and redirects reason. The experience of
hearkening to this inner Guide is mystical, but also practical.
Meetings to worship God and await her/his word are essential to
Quaker faith and practice. Although the inward seed can work in a
solitary person, Friends do not meditate in isolation. It is in
the pregnant silence of the meeting of true waiters and worshipers
that the Spirit speaks.
The importance of the Inner Light to the
- a panel from the Quaker Tapestry
Sometimes there are few messages to be heard, and
sometimes there are altogether silent meetings. Although these are
spiritually beneficial to the participants, ideally someone has
reached a new understanding that demands to be proclaimed. She or
he - for it has always been important to Friends for women to have
equality in worship - speaks or prays and thus ministers to the
meeting, which weighs this "testimony" by its own
experiences of God. Friends have historically rejected a formal or
salaried clergy as a "hireling ministry." If God can
provide his own living testimony, the Bible and the learning
necessary to read it can take a subordinate place, and creeds and
outward sacraments can be dispensed with altogether. But despite
their emphasis on silent waiting and their historical distrust of
"creaturely" activity, Friends are no more accustomed to
passive than to solitary meditation. Often the "opening"
of the Inner Light is a "concern" for the sufferings of
others and a mandate laid upon the conscience to take action to
alleviate that suffering. Such concerns typically are laid before
a meeting and thoroughly considered; there must be a consensus for
any corporate action. But slow as such action sometimes is,
Friends have taken the lead in opposing slavery,
brutality in prisons and insane asylums, oppression of women,
militarism, and war.