Book Review: Listening To The Light by Jim Pym

“Quakerism has been a source of inspiration for over 300 years. Combining spirituality with the practical life, its insights have a universal appeal that is particularly relevant to today’s world. Quakers deeply value inner peace and tranquility and believe that there is “that of God” within us all. They also have a compassionate determination to alleviate suffering and a profound commitment to peace and non-violence. Listening to the Light shows us how to incorporate Quaker ideals and practices into our lives—to find our own Light, the Divine within ourselves, to realize that the everyday is spiritual, to simplify our lives and care for the planet, to bring a sense of commitment and integrity to our actions, and to learn to listen.” –

The Society of Friends (a.k.a., the Quaker faith) has only recently shown up on my spiritual radar. Like a lot of people, I’ve always associated the term “Quaker” with the past and didn’t really think of it as a modern, living faith. I vividly remember reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond when I was seven or eight years old, and encountering Quakerism for the first time in the form of a Quaker character who is accused of witchcraft by her Puritan neighbors. I remember being bummed out by this, because the lady seemed really cool — she was kind, friendly, and much warmer and more welcoming to the book’s protagonist than said Puritan neighbors. Having now done some research into Quaker spirituality in both its original and modern forms, I think this representation is not far off from what Quakers are actually all about.

It wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I learned that the Society of Friends is still very much a thing — and very evolved from the version that existed in the 1700s. After hearing a young Quaker woman talk about the fundamental elements of her faith, I was touched by how much her beliefs lined up with my own, and I was intrigued by her descriptions of worship and fellowship. I knew I wanted to learn more. The problem with that is that Quakers have no religious authority (or, rather, every member has the exact same authority as every other member) and no catechism or scripture outside of the Bible (and some modern Quakers don’t even incorporate the Bible into their faith), so finding a place to start with research can be a little bit tricky. I was able to find a “recommended reading” list on the official Friends General Conference (one of the larger Quaker organizations in North America) website, and Jim Pym’s book caught my eye. Having finished it, I’m glad I decided to start with this one, because it was the perfect introduction to Quaker faith and living.

Listening to the Light is part theology, part church history, and part personal anecdote, and was obviously a labor of love on the part of the author. Jim Pym is clearly very passionate about his religion, and it shines through in his writing. Pym is a self-proclaimed “Buddhist and Quaker” who practices both faiths in his daily life and who was raised Roman Catholic, which is an excellent illustration of the wide range of personal beliefs that can fit comfortably under the Quaker umbrella. He is also deeply sympathetic to people who are still searching for their religious identities, including those who have had negative experiences with Christianity or other organized religions. This is one of the most accessible books on religion I’ve ever read, and has a very friendly, inviting tone that makes the reader feel like Pym is genuinely trying to help you on your spiritual journey, rather than just trying to convince you to join a church.

As for the content itself, every page of this book is overflowing with spiritual insight. Seriously, my copy is ridiculously marked up — I found myself highlighting so many lines that resonated deeply with me. Pym talks about the core of Quaker faith: the Inner Light of “that of God” within each of us, and the goal of becoming more in touch with that personal divinity in order to let it act as a guide. This is accomplished through unprogrammed worship, personal reflection and meditation, and study of holy texts not only from Christianity, but from other sources. Pym also outlines some of the major Quaker “testimonies” (beliefs and/or actions that most Quakers are unified in as expressions of their Inner Light) such as equality, nonviolence, and simplicity. He talks about what personal spiritual practice might look like for the the average Quaker, while also making it clear that there is no “average Quaker” because of the great importance the faith places on personal revelation and interpretation. He answers just about every question a curious outsider could think to ask, and always does so in an eloquent way.

As this is the only book I’ve read on Quakerism so far, and as I am not a Quaker myself, I cannot speak for how accurate or inaccurate this book is to the religion as a whole. (I would assume that it’s pretty accurate, since it is recommended for investigators by the Friends General Conference and is in line with most of the information I’ve read online, but you never know.) What I can testify to is how deeply meaningful this book was for me. This was a very powerful reading experience, and one that has definitely left me wanting to read more books on this faith. I will definitely be incorporating some of Pym’s advice into my own personal spiritual practice, even if I never seriously look into joining the Society of Friends.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Do I Recommend This Book? Definitely! I think this is a book that can be of benefit to any spiritual seeker, regardless of their religious affiliation, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for new tools to build their relationship with God.


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