To set the stage for the present discussion, I will return to a quote from President David O. McKay:
Every person is a recipient of radiation. The Savior was conscious of that. Whenever he came into the presence of an individual, he sensed that radiation—whether it was the woman of Samaria with her past life; whether it was the woman who was to be stoned or the men who were to stone her; whether it was the statesman, Nicodemus, or one of the lepers. He was conscious of the radiation from the individual. And to a degree so are you, and so am I. It is what we are and what we radiate that affects the people around us.1
As indicated in President McKay’s statement, numerous examples could be given of how the Savior detected the radiation of spiritual light from individuals around him. It was not exclusive to the detection of the strong emission of spiritual light from righteous individuals; rather, it involved the detection of radiation from everyone, including those who were troubled, sad, or deep in sin.
The Savior’s example tells us something fascinating about the sensing of spiritual light: the soul is capable of determining so much more than just the magnitude or intensity of the light. To illustrate this, recall what we are able to detect about visible light with our natural eyes. First, and most prominently, we can detect the intensity of visible light. It is very clear to us when something is visibly bright (like a flashlight in our eyes) or when something is dark (like a moonless night). Second, we are able to detect the energy (or wavelength) of visible light. You may have never thought about it like this, but the reason we see color is because the optic nerve and brain are translating different wavelengths of light into certain hues of color. This is the extent of information we receive about the light that we see—its intensity and wavelength/color. Our brains are constantly receiving this information from light and translating it into useful information that helps us navigate the world around us.
Now think about the type of information the soul is able to interpret from the radiation of spiritual light coming from others. Just as we can feel and see some forms of light with our physical bodies, our souls seem to have similar capabilities. There are times when a person’s emotional pain is clearly perceivable, whether that person is depressed, upset, or concerned. There are powerful feelings of peace, reassurance, and comfort that we feel coming from certain individuals just by being near them. It could be said that some of these feelings are deduced from the words or actions of—or from previous interactions with—the individual; yet, there are times when these feelings are discerned by nothing more than a person’s presence. Further, there are occasions when the lack of spiritual light from an individual is so palpable that feelings of discomfort will be generated in those around them. These feelings might alert one to escape from a potentially dangerous situation.2
There are also instances when a surge of spiritual light is detected in a very distinct and memorable fashion through spiritual sight. There are countless conversion stories that begin with a person noticing something different about the missionaries that caught their attention. These first encounters with the missionaries are often described with a phrase like, “they seemed to glow.” There are also times when a member of the Church is picked out from a crowd because someone “could just tell” they were members.
► You may also like: It wasn’t the angel that converted Alma the Younger—but what did?
When my family lived in New York, the closest temple was in New York City. My wife and I enjoyed playing a little game whenever we went to the temple together. As we walked toward the temple from an off-site parking garage, we loved to find those in the crowd who were also on their way to the Lord’s house. Despite the sea of well-dressed men and women carrying small bags or briefcases on the bustling streets, it was clear who was headed to the temple and who was headed to the office. There seemed to be an unmistakable glow that caught our spiritual eyes. President Thomas S. Monson related the following story about the distinctive detection of spiritual light:
To illustrate that the light which comes from a pure and loving spirit is recognized by others, I share with you an experience of many years ago.
At that time, leaders of the Church met with officials in Jerusalem to work out a lease agreement for land on which the Church’s Jerusalem Center would be built. In order to obtain the permissions needed, the Church had to agree that no proselyting would be undertaken by our members who would occupy the center. After that agreement had been made, one of the Israeli officials, who was well acquainted with the Church and its members, remarked that he knew the Church would honor the no-proselyting agreement. “But,” he said, referring to the students who would attend there, “what are we going to do about the light that is in their eyes?” May that special light ever shine within us, that it might be recognized and appreciated by others.3
Another example occurred during the translation of the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Whitmer home in Fayette, New York. Here is the account from the Church’s history website: “Sarah Conrad, a neighbor hired to help Mary Whitmer in her kitchen, also gained a testimony during the translation process. Sarah had noticed light shining from the faces of Joseph and Oliver as they came downstairs. When she learned from her employer that the change in the men’s countenances was ‘connected with a holy sacred work,’ she believed and later joined the new church.”4
One other example that I really enjoy was related by President James E. Faust about a student nurse named Constance. She was assigned to help a woman who had been seriously injured but who was refusing to come to the hospital for medical attention. Constance’s righteous example became transformative for the woman, who eventually agreed to receive the needed medical aid:
When Constance visited her, the woman smiled as she said, “You convinced me.” Then, quite unexpectedly, she asked Constance, “What church do you belong to?” Constance told her she was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The woman said: “I knew it. I knew you were sent to me from the first day that I saw you. There was a light in your face that I had noticed in others of your faith. I had to put my trust in you.”…The missionaries met with her, and she was baptized soon after. All of this because she noticed the light in that young student nurse’s face.5
Volumes could be filled with similar examples. I’m sure you are now thinking of your own experiences when the distinct presence of your light or someone else’s was deeply influential to you or someone you know. There have actually been attempts to scientifically study this glow coming from members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with results showing a subtle, though statistically significant, propensity for members to be correctly identified.6 Because the primary mechanism for detecting light is the soul, it is certainly not limited to members of the Church. In fact, as mentioned above, it is often the sensing of spiritual light that first brings one to seek a witness of gospel truths.
It is important to note that the above is not meant to suggest that members of the Church have a monopoly on radiating goodness via spiritual light. Any good, moral person will radiate their goodness as they are influenced by the Light of Christ. As Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught, “Those who profess no religious belief can be, and often are, good, moral people.…This [does not] happen without divine influence. I am referring to the Light of Christ.”7 There does not need to be recognition of the source of radiated spiritual light in order for the light to be radiated—it is an unconscious influence defined only by who we are. That said, the more individuals learn truth and choose to believe and obey that truth, the more light they will radiate that is associated with that truth.
Lead image: Shutterstock
What if the physical light we see is actually related to the spiritual light discussed in scripture? Can we apply what we know about light scientifically to what we know about light doctrinally? In this book, engineer, chemist, and professor Aaron D. Franklin explores these questions and more by connecting principles of physical light to gospel truths about spiritual light. In so doing, Franklin provides an accessible way for us all, no matter our scientific or doctrinal prowess, to learn how we see, feel, and know truth—which is, of course, light. The Spiritual Physics of Light is available now at Deseret Book stores and at DeseretBook.com.
- David O. McKay, “Radiation of the Gospel,” in Conference Report, April 1963, 129.
- These examples of the types of information obtained from sensing spiritual light can also be understood as the presence or absence of the Holy Ghost since there is always a direct correlation between the attendance of spiritual light and the Holy Ghost. As was discussed in the preceding chapter, one possible way of thinking about this connection is that the Holy Ghost is the energy fueling the radiation of spiritual light from the Light of Christ in our souls.
- Thomas S. Monson, “Be an Example and a Light,” Ensign, November 2015, 87.
- Curtis Ashton, “Peter Whitmer Log Home in Fayette, NY,” Historic Sites, https:// history.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/historic-sites-palmyra-whitmer-farm-fayette.
- James E. Faust, “The Light in Their Eyes,” Ensign, November 2005, 22.
- Jena E. Pincott, “What Your Face Really Reveals about You,” Psychology Today,
- November 2012, https://psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201211/what-your -face-really-reveals-about-you.