Candle, Kingdom and Consciousness
Gerard Guiton, New South Wales Regional Meeting
Imagine a candle nearing its end. The flame is about to go out but it continues to flicker nevertheless. However, you need light so you get another candle. You light it from the flickering flame. You now have two candles for a very short time before the first one finally dies. This is repeated until it becomes a kind of cycle of renewal—something dies only to be replaced. But the night remains.
This is Quakerism today. It’s flickering to its end. Should we let it die? Should we try to renew it? We opt for renewal but the old practices, the old cycles, are not working. Decline continues. We try harder. New ideas come up. For a time the flame gets strong. But we know the candles themselves are old. The cycle itself is repetitive and ageing. So where is the true and constant light in this dark night? Does it exist? William Penn in his Reply to a Pretended Answer (1695) said this:
this word consciousness supposes a knowledge, together with something else that gives us that knowledge . . . And what is that but that Divine Light which gives light to the candle for a candle cannot light itself.
The candle cannot light itself. All organisations flicker. Sometimes they die. But sometimes they can be renewed and continue to give light. Their life is thus extended, and it’s OK that it is. However, they need outside help. Better still, they can get help from the inside. Help that is new though it appears old. Help that is already tested. Help that is waiting to get going. What is this ‘help’? Back to Penn.
The idea of ‘consciousness’ was going the rounds in the 1690s. His friend, John Locke, had published An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689/90). It was instantly influential and, among other things, dealt with consciousness. He was not the first to do this in England. The Cambridge Platonists (they were mostly Anglican clergy) and their friend, the Quaker Anne Conway, were also keen on the subject. But it was Penn who saw consciousness as equalling the Inward Light.
Another name the early Friends gave to the Inward Light was the ‘Kingdom of God’. An enormously high proportion of their tracts (90%+) mention the ‘Kingdom’ at least once, some many times over. It was their central focus largely because it was also Jesus’. It was pivotal to their daily life. The outward manifestation of the ‘Kingdom’ or Inward Light was their ‘Lamb’s War’.
The Inward Light or Divine Consciousness is an ancient idea—the Rg Veda sang its praises 3,500 years ago!—but it is forever fresh. Here is the help that is definitely old but new. Why is this? One reason is that in God-Consciousness there’s no time. Hence the Light is always in the present (where there’s no time); the present immediately disappears into the past. So the Light is always in the now. And thus always new (as well as old). This Light resides in all of us. It is old and young which means we can give our Light, the Light which is always new, to the flickering light of Quakerism because the candle of Quakerism cannot light itself. It needs us.
So what kind of Light do we bring? Answer: Kingdom = Consciousness. Study this oneness and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find. You’ll light your own candle and then that of our ailing Society. Together, our Light will be bright indeed and will shine its peace, justice and compassion gloriously in the world. It’ll be 1652 Pendle Hill in the present, now. Thus a newly and greatly gathered Quakerism will have old and new Light, a common purpose and language that speaks to the times. It will be alive and well, and attractive to new generations. And it will grow. Imagine that!
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