There’s a Catholic hymn I remember singing as a child during Mass, entitled “We Are The Light Of The World.” The song was essentially the Beatitudes set to music, but the refrain in particular stands out in my memory:
“We are the light of the world
May our light shine before all
That they may come to worship with us
And give glory to God.”
Light, such an empowering spiritual image. And there it is, buried in the middle of a song about being meek, humble, persecuted, poor in spirit.
“We are the light of the world.”
(Yet another reflection of “the inner light of sacred remembrance” that lies behind our stories of creation and also, paradoxically, redemption?)
Well, as a child I didn’t particularly feel full of light. If anything the complexities of duality were already swinging my existence from heights to depths. My personal path to an understanding of inner light took me down a rather long and somewhat strange road, all things considered.
This was not true for David Spangler. Not that his life wasn’t full of its own particular challenges, but even as a small child, David had already unlocked an inheritance of open-hearted sight into and clear engagement with the world that lies beyond this one. One of these engagements served as David’s awakening to the light within himself as an incarnated being.
In the following passage from David’s memoir Apprenticed To Spirit: The Education of a Soul, David shares this life-altering experience:
It was 1952, when I was seven, about a year after we had moved to Morocco. In the spring of that year, we moved to what became our permanent residence in a house on the Strategic Air Command air base of Nouasseur, about eighteen miles south of Casablanca. . .
One morning we were driving into Casablanca. I was in the tiny backseat of our car watching the scenery go by. Passing a tiny stream that flowed alongside the road in what was little more than a deep ditch at the foot of a small bluff, we saw a group of Arab women standing in the water, washing their clothes the way they had done since the days of Abraham by beating them against the rocks. As I watched them, I noticed a large billboard set into the bluff overhead and looked out the back window to see what it said. Is showed a glamorous blond woman’s smiling face next to a large bottle of Nehi, a popular orange soda.
For reasons I no longer remember, I had been thinking about the riddles of existence. Why was I here? Where did I come from? Who was I? As I looked up at the Nehi sign with the Arab women working below, I remember asking myself, “Who was I before I was David Spangler? Who am I who is looking at this sign?”
As if this question had been a key, I suddenly felt something open inside me. I felt myself swelling, as if I were a balloon and someone were pumping air into me. And I found myself floating like a balloon above our family car, looking down. Through the roof of the car I could see my parents in the front seat and my own body sitting in the back.
Then I was immersed in light, as if I had entered an illuminated cloud. I seemed to expand, taking more and more of this light into myself. I moved through layers that alternated between sensation and light. I would have moments of seeing: sometimes landscapes, sometimes just patterns of color or energy, to reenter a region of only light, which in turn gave way to different perspectives. As I went through these layers, I had an experience of expanding awareness and knowledge.
At one point I came out of the light to a place in which I was surrounded by a circle of figures, all of which were familiar to me as parts of myself. I had the impression I was seeing past and future lives. At that moment, I knew who I was as a soul and consciousness that existed before my life as David. I was filled with a sense of awakening and remembrance. I remember thinking, This is what an amnesiac experiences when he remembers who he is. This was accompanied by an intense feeling of relief and joy.
The movement returned to a layer of pure light. It felt as if I were rushing outward into an ever-larger space until the light parted, and I found myself looking out on the universe with a great spiral galaxy directly before me, pulsing with a gold light and vibrating with life and power. I felt I was not looking at stars but at a living organism, a cosmic body–a body of which I was a part. At that moment my sense of being a separate, human individual faded to a feeling of union with universal Presence.
The light closed in around me again, and I was aware of a reverse movement, of contracting and consolidating. I felt myself going through stages of becoming a particular individual again. I felt something calling me but not from somewhere outside of myself. It was coming from within me as a will and a desire that was focused upon the earth.
Again I burst out of the light and found myself looking down upon the earth from space as if from near orbit. It looked exactly as it does in pictures the astronauts have taken, all blue and white and exquisitely beautiful. I felt an outpouring of love for this planet and a sense of joy that I could become part of it. I felt a strong desire to dive into the world, as if being part of it was the most wonderful and exciting thing imaginable.
I heard someone call my name. “David Spangler!” I was filled with a will to be this unique, specific person, and in a burst of joy I leaped toward the world and found myself back in my body, looking out the rear window of our car at the billboard of the blond woman selling Nehi orange drink. In my body’s time, I had been “gone” for only a few seconds.
In some ways this was a classical mystical experience of unity with a larger state of being and an awakening to one’s eternal Self, the “I” that is within each of us. I felt I had returned to a place I had come from and then traced the process by which I came to be who I am as a physical individuality. Years later, the memory and details of this experience became the starting point from which I shaped my understanding of the process of Incarnation, an understanding that is at the heart of much of my current work.
David’s “awakening on the road to Casablanca” was the first of two significant visions that helped lay the foundation for the story of inner light that imbues Incarnational Spirituality.