What Light Doth Thee Shine?

by Roy Allen 
Rochester Meeting


History is an interesting space in which to learn how to live our lives today. A life without historical reflection is full of chance, gamble, and experimentation. Of course, all three are prone to failure, despair, and lost dreams. Charles Dickens wrote in 1859, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.” 


America, in 2019, is no different than Europe in Dickens’ time—full of challenges and opportunity, depending on which light is cast and from whom. Many people believe there are two Americas, one for the rich and another for the poor—one rule of law for politicians and another for the average citizen. Our own Civil War clearly illustrates what happens when radical polarization divides us. Yes, we need to act upon our faith, but how do we discern right action? How might we embrace Dicken’s sense of a “season of Light” as Quaker outreach, an important goal of the Society of Friends?


Recently, I heard Denzel Washington speak to a group of students that the reason few people realize their dreams is because they don’t correlate dreams with goal making, action, and hard work. He said, “You pray for rain, you gotta deal with the mud too. That’s a part of it.” How often, in our Quaker space, do we wish, pray or listen for change, but shy away from the rain and the mud? 


I became a “registered” Quaker just a year ago. Like many, I’ve probably been a Quaker all my life, I just didn’t know it. My father’s family has roots to George Allen who sailed from Weymouth, England in 1635 and settled in Sandwich, Massachusetts. George was an Anabaptist, but his daughter Rose married John Holloway, creating one of the strongest Quaker families in Massachusetts. 


So, the seed was planted for my Quaker experience by George, Rose, and John, yet left for me to harvest these 383 years later. What might I learn from George? To begin with, he must have been very brave to cross the Atlantic and join his sons in a new land at the ripe old age of 67. I will be 65 in March and have recently relocated to be part of my grandchildren’s life, so I can empathize. George also had a strong sense of civic duty, becoming a Juryman, elected to solve community problems. I, too, work within the community introducing school children to the wonders of nature. Serving others is a good way to learn how to best serve self.


I believe that America, today, mine and yours, our children and grandchildren’s, remains the same one George experienced in 1635, a place of hope and freedom, a place to live, breathe, and act with Christian love, and yes, a place of significant challenges and opportunity, all dependent on which light we shine.


Margaret Fell wrote, “Let us beware of separating or looking upon ourselves to be more holy, than in deed and in truth we are.” Lucretia Mott reminds us that being a pacifist is not the same as living a passive life. Quaker and American history have taught me to create and be the man I seek. What light doth thee shine on these?