Mind the Light
Mind the Light: Learning to See with Spiritual Eyes
by J. Brent Bill
Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2006
Reviewed by Karen Frank
As I sampled J. Brent Bill’s “Illuminating Moment” exercises sprinkled throughout Mind the Light: Learning to See with Spiritual Eyes, I was surprised by how many memories surfaced. Some of the questions seemed irrelevant to me until I tried them. For example, when Bill asked, “What time can I remember when artificial light marked an emotional or a spiritual experience?” (p. 98) I immediately returned to the day ten years ago when my partner’s father died in a nursing home, under artificial lights, and I felt the presence of his sweet spirit hovering in the room.
Bill begins by describing a spirituality of "seeing" which combines his Quaker beliefs and his training in photography. He tells us how learning to take pictures and develop them in the darkroom helped him begin to appreciate different kinds of light and see the world from a variety of perspectives. As he learns this appreciation Bill notes that "my sight was slowing down" (p. 29). With his slower sight, Bill began to see beauty, God, and redemption everywhere. He engaged in “minding the light” in the everydayness of life.
Minding the light is Bill's central concept, which is taken from an old Quaker phrase. He interprets the phrase as not only paying attention "to the movement of God in our souls" (p. 15), but as seeing it in creation and in other people. He notes that Quakers originally referred to themselves as "Children of Light" (p. 15) because they wanted to follow the path of the light of God and encourage others to do so.
One of the more surprising chapters in Bill's book deals with the impact of artificial light on the spiritual life. He notes that while artificial light helps us accomplish more, that very same busyness might detract us from our awareness of God's constant presence. He suggests that perhaps "We overwhelm God's lights with our own" (p. 88).
The stories and gentle "Illuminating Moment” exercises make this an accessible book for directees. It is also helpful for the spiritual director who wants to gain an understanding of Quaker spirituality, while gaining insight from sitting with illuminating moments within self and with others. A suggestion: don't just read this book straight through, but take the time to stop and reflect with each exercise in the text. Exercises are based on a traditional Quaker practice of using queries—or questions—to ask oneself or others in order to "examine our souls, seek clarity, and gain spiritual insight" (p. 4).
Bill ends the book with a discussion of some of the ways that he has found light for his journey to God, particularly in times of difficulty. For example, after a tragedy early in his ministry, he found others ministering to him. He learned that an important light in the darkness "is learning to sense God's presence coming in the form of others helping you" (p. 108).
To conclude the book, Bill offers further exercises in seeing, a resource section listing books and web sites, including one on Quakerism, and extensive endnotes. Mind the Light: Learning to See with Spiritual Eyes is a valuable resource for spiritual directors and directees.
Karen Frank is a writer, spiritual director, and photographer from Port Townsend, Washington, USA. She writes a regional column on spirituality and is working on a book addressing the spirituality of aging.