‘Experiment with Light’ – Friends share their experiences

sunlight‘Experiment with Light’ is a method for actively engaging with the silent worship practised in Quaker Meetings, inspired by early Friends’ experiences, as illustrated by their writings. It was originally devised by the British Quaker Rex Ambler, and has since been continued and developed in various Quaker study centres and Quaker Meetings.

An ‘Experiment with Light’ workshop was held at Ennismore Retreat Centre and Cork Meeting House from 11th – 13th November 2016. The workshop provided an introduction to this practice, as interpreted by the two facilitators – John Spencer of Rochester Meeting in West Kent and Medhina of Lewes Meeting in Sussex. A number of Cork Friends organised and supported the workshop, which had 18 participants from 7 Meetings and Worship Groups within IYM. Below are impressions from 5 of these participants.
On arriving at Richard and Denise’s house on Friday evening, we were greeted by a lovely group of people. We had a wonderful meal, and this was a great opportunity to meet everyone. That evening, at our first session in the retreat centre, we had a good introduction into the practice.

On Saturday, we moved into the second session, “Experiment with Light based on the individual”. After preparing us for the session, Medhina guided us through a meditation, taking time between each step for us to sit in silence. The meditation was aimed at helping us to focus on the concerns in our lives, and it was wonderful to feel the warm energy moving between us. A strong bond formed between us – people seemed to rejoice in each other’s company. I liked the part when we moved into small groups and put on paper by writing and drawing what was happening inside ourselves. This opened up some deep discussions between us.

In the Session 3, we moved into group concerns. This felt quite different – in the individual session, we all seemed to be deeply involved with our own issues, whilst still being totally there for each other – the energy was very alive and full of colour. In the group session, it felt like we were on a different level, as if we were connected in a stronger way. The individual session was truly “Experiment with Light”, but in the group session, it felt as if we were now “dwelling in the Light” – there was a peace among us, a “presence of the Spirit”. Several people talked afterwards about how relaxed and at ease they felt, so much so that one or two felt sleepy; “resting in the safety of the Spirit” was how it felt to me.
John dressed up like George Fox in Session 4. This was so well done, and people reacted in a very natural way – our problems of today being so relevant to the solutions of George Fox. Some good “rants” developed.

On Sunday we had our closing sessions, ending with some great yoga exercises with Lu. A high point of Sunday was the course participants getting together with Cork Quakers for Meeting for Worship at 11.00. After lunch (lovely soup), we drove home to Glengariff.

I am now looking forward to the fruits of our course – hopefully some “Light Groups” will be established soon.
— Patrick Goyvaerts (Bantry Worship Group)
I was very happy to attend the “Experiment with Light” weekend in Cork. It began with a well organized and tasty meal, prepared by Richard at his and Denise’s house. This was a lovely way for us all to meet and get to know each other. We then traveled to the Retreat Centre for a short introductory session.

On Sunday, we wound up the workshop at the Cork Meeting House and joined Cork Friends for Meeting for Worship.

The weekend was well organized, the tutors were clear, honest and warm-hearted, and Denise as Elder was a steadying and reassuring presence.

I personally only got faint glimmers of illumination, but I am excited about the process. For me, it represents the essence of Quakerism, because it teaches us to discover and respond to the Light within. I feel encouraged by my faint glimmers and will continue to work with it. I am hoping to form a local Light Group.

— Sarah Goyvaerts (Bantry Worship Group)
As a recent addition to the Religious Society of Friends, with over 4 years as an Attender in Monkstown, I delighted in the recent weekend “Experiment with Light” in Cork this November.

I believe instinct to be a main driving force in my understanding of Meeting for . I atteip right from the first day I arrived at MonkstnWorshownded my first Yearly Meeting in Cork in 2013, and upon reading the programme for that weekend, the workshop by Rex Ambler struck me as something of interest. Having attended the workshop then, I knew that I was coming to something that would be helpful in the future. But I knew not what.

In was suggested that my first meeting in Monkstown in June 2012 was a Homecoming. I now can saw with safety that I agree with that notion. The weekend this November on “Experiment with Light” is like an extension of that Homecoming. Another door has been opened on the same ground, but I sense now more on a fertile plain. It appears that the early Quakers found a direct way to God, and I believe that way is available to every Friend in Meeting for Worship. I believe that this can strengthen that link for me. I am finding this almost accidentally and by instinct.

What I know is little, but what I feel is immense! I encourage those who are curious to delve into this process, “Experiment with Light”, to see if it is for them. I sense that it could be a way forward for me, but I need to practice and require more time to pronounce with certainty as to its long term benefits. — Conor Hayes (Monkstown Meeting)

I was delighted for this opportunity to experience the method developed by Rex Ambler from his research on the writings of George Fox and other early Friends. I enjoyed the fellowship and the time spent with Friends from throughout Ireland Yearly Meeting. I hope that we will have further opportunities to practice the method and speak of our experiences in what has proved to be a powerful learning environment. While there was an emphasis on individual experience of settling down and centering, there was also a challenge to reconnect with the energy and passion of early Friends, in relation to our Meetings and to the Society as a whole. I believe that we will all continue to use the method and hopefully we will be able to share our learnings with those interested Friends in our Meetings who could not get to Cork on this occasion.

It was great to see that the invitation extended to the Amblers to bring the experiment with Light to Yearly Meeting in Cork 2013 had resulted in this workshop organised by Denise Gabuzda, making me anticipate what may emerge from Limerick’s experience of hosting YM in 2018.
— Pauline Goggin (Limerick Meeting)
This was for me an amazing week-end! Because I had heard Rex Ambler talk to us at our IYM held in Cork about the early Quaker understanding of “inner light”, I expected great things from this week-end. In fact, it exceeded my expectations.

Also, I felt that each of us participating was caught up in a feeling that something special was in the air. Maybe it could be called a “gathered” week-end? We owe a deep debt of gratitude to Denise Gabuzda and Cork Friends for making it all possible and the two British Friends who facilitated.

As I write this report two weeks later, I can now better put words on the something very special that this week-end was, for me. Up to this I have found myself, much too often, explaining Quakerism to others, in terms of what it doesn’t have, rarely in terms of what it does have! And yet I know that this is crazy! Something very special must have happened to enable George Fox and early Friends, a group of ordinary people with no pretensions to any specialized knowledge of spiritual matters or social issues to, first of all, do the hardest of all human tasks – change their own hearts – and then have the courage to go forth and seek to change the world! This week-end threw light for me on what this something special was and from now on this new understanding will be central to what I say to others about what Quakerism is.

Over our week-end, through various in-puts and exercises, all was clarified through a special understanding of an ordinary word – LIGHT.

When light isn’t just the electric light that I can turn on with a switch but a light deep within me that I, alone, am incapable of turning on but must let God’s inner spirit do the turning on – then, in the very simple but very profound words of Fox, “what can be known of God, is revealed within you”. Incredible! That put an end to all the big tomes of Christian theology and brought us much closer to the simple parables of Jesus.

In this light all personal and global problems can find new understanding. In this light early Quakers had the courage to sally forth and they dared to change the world.

Next time I am asked what is Quakerism, I am going to try to put this new understanding of Light into a simple but wonderfully positive sentence. Can any Friends help me?

— Irene Ni Mhaille (Monkstown Meeting)

This piece was originally published in the January – February 2017 edition of ‘The Friendly Word’.