Be a Light

I have previously posted about how everyone can be a leader. In the area of the civil rights movement, I have used the example that Martin Luther King led a movement, while Rosa Parks led in the moment. Not everyone can be like Martin Luther King, but everyone can be like Rosa Parks.

In today’s time I feel it is important that we realize how being a light is similar. Not everyone can be a light in the way of David from the Old Testament, Pope John Paul II, or even Mister Rogers; but we all can be an individual light for someone – whether we know that person or not.

When I think of individuals that are beacons of light, I instantly see nurses. Nurses are at the front line of fighting this virus as well as other natural disasters and man-made calamities. They see the darkness on the horizon and sometimes find themselves enveloped by it. If there is one metaphor that best communicates what it is to be a nurse, it is a light to shine where there is darkness. Florence Nightingale, one of history’s most famous nurses, was known as the “Lady with the Lamp.” She said, “The craving for ‘the return of the day,’ which the sick so constantly evince, is generally nothing but the desire for light.” While caring for soldiers during the Crimean War, she carried a lamp when checking on her patients in the dark evening hours.

Darkness has not won and will not win. We get rid of darkness by turning on the light. If we all lit a candle, there would be no more darkness and the world would be filled with light. We each need to shine our own light. That’s how we make a difference. We light up the world by treating the person next to us with kindness, compassion, and dignity. We light up the world by being the best and most loving spouse, father/mother, daughter/son, brother/sister, friend/mentor/colleague and even total stranger we can be.

There is a Chinese proverb, sometimes misattributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” In the face of hopelessness and discontent, it is more worthwhile to do some good, however small, in response than to complain about the situation. A candle is a small answer to a problem of darkness, but it is a worthy step in the right direction. Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “Light tomorrow with today!” Do those things today that will light our way forward in the future. Today is our opportunity to make our tomorrow better.

George Bush popularized the expression “a thousand points of light” which has since become a private, non-profit organization that delivers 30 million hours of volunteer services a year. The phrase actually has its roots in C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew, published in 1955, which was his sixth book in The Chronicles of Narnia series with the line, “One moment there had been nothing but darkness, next moment a thousand points of light leaped out – single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world.”

There are many songs that deal with being a light shining in the world. The first song that came to my mind was from the Broadway Musical, Godspell, “Light of the World.” The song is about Christ’s Light and how it shines in each person but needs to not be buried within – “You are the light of the world! But if that light is under a bushel It’s lost something kind of crucial.”

“This Little Light of Mine” is a gospel song written for children in the 1920s by Harry Dixon Loes. It was later adapted by Zilphia Horton, amongst many other activists, in connection with the civil rights movement and it eventually became a Civil Rights anthem in the 1950s and 1960s.

Obviously, “You Light Up My Life” sung by Debbie Boone comes to mind:

So many nights I’d sit by my window
Waiting for someone to sing me his song
So many dreams I kept deep inside me
Alone in the dark but now you’ve come along
And you light up my life
You give me hope to carry on
You light up my days and fill my nights with song

Most of us have gotten to where we are today because there have been people who have touched our lives, believed in us, encouraged us, and challenged us. They may not have even been in our lives for long and yet their impact was strong. These extraordinary and generous people were lights on our journey.

We need to pay that forward. Now more than ever. We all can have that impact on others, even unintentionally, just by being who we are. If we set a clear intention to be on the lookout for ways that we can contribute, we will discover opportunities to be that light. Fr. James Keller said, “A candle loses nothing of its light by lighting another candle.”

Maya Angelou describes a powerful motivating force inside us which cannot be stopped by external conditions when the desire is so intense, “Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.” This light can be our personality which cannot be disrupted by others. We can also make a difference and be significant simply by rising and shining, bringing joy and compassion into our daily life. By making a practice of maintaining connection to the light, we make a difference with our being, regardless of what we do.

Godspell is structured as a series of parables, primarily based on the Gospel of Matthew. The light of the world scripture is found in Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” There is a parallel passage in Luke 11:33 “No one who lights a lamp hides it away or places it [under a bushel basket], but on a lampstand so that those who enter might see the light.”

Jesus’ disciples are to influence the world for good. We are told by Jesus that we are not to be a lamp whose light is concealed. Nelson Mandela said it best, “We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” The fact that Nelson uses ‘we’ and not ‘you’ in this quote catches my attention. We, all of us, are the light of God. His light dwells inside each of us and if we light our own candle; others will follow, and we will dispel the darkness.

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