As a Quaker, I belong to a community that experiences the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit. Through this shared spiritual experience, we have discovered that Jesus Christ is not merely an historical figure that we can read about in the Bible. Like the first disciples, we are witnesses to his resurrection. We know from practical experience that he is alive and present to show us the way.
I can see how the Friends doctrine of the Inward Light of Christ could lead to spiritual arrogance. If I believe that Jesus speaks to me directly, why listen to anybody else? This is a real temptation, especially for those of us who live in a culture that exalts the individual above almost all else.
But this kind of pride cannot survive long in the real presence of Jesus. In him, I encounter a God who is far beyond my own narrow ways of imagining the world. The revealing power of his light forces me to see how self-interested and feeble my attempts at love really are. All of my hopes, dreams and lofty ideals are brought low in his presence.
I often fail to comprehend what God is doing in my life. Though I am good at coming up with elaborate narratives about what God is up to – why I am being moved in a certain direction – these convincing guesses of mine are usually wrong. God’s ways are often mysterious and unpredictable! But if I can find the courage to let go, I know that the Spirit will work through me in beautiful and surprising ways.
I am comforted by the words of Thomas Merton, who writes out of his own encounter with this humbling power:
My Lord God I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that my desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
What is your experience of Christ’s presence within? How have you been humbled, delighted, surprised?