Tonight I read about how Jesus told some people listening to him on a hillside to “let their lights shine” so “that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” I remember several years ago, I thought this kind of contradicted instructions he would give a few paragraphs later, instructions about how we should “pray in secret” and not “babble on like the pagans who think they will be heard because of their many words.” Ought we to pray and serve in the public eye, or ought we to pray and serve behind closed doors?
What does it really mean to let your light shine?
I don’t know the answer exactly, but I know I’ve witnessed people who are “letting their lights shine”–people who are maybe even the center of attention– but when I’m watching them, I’m not really thinking about them at all. A pianist, a writer, a painter, an encourager. A chef, a humanitarian, a nurse, a waitress, a cashier. They captivate me, but in my captivation I’m neither jealous of what they possess nor am I ready to bow down to them– instead, I’m connected to both wonder and gratitude. I think things like, “Really, really? This talent— this song, this kindness, this hospitality– this is part of the world I find myself in? This is something that shares the small reality I take up in this moment? Really? Who engineered all this Goodness? What master electrician wired up all this Light?”
When I see one person who lets her light shine, I am reminded of how there are SO MANY GOOD PEOPLE. Everywhere. And they are not good to just be good, but– for me at least– they are beacons pointing the whole story toward some ultimate Goodness. For a long time now I’ve had this vision in my head of multiple spotlights in a darkened room coming together to produce a single all encompassing and illuminating Light. An illustration of some beacons I saw tonight:
Tonight Cohen and Sophie started karate. We were late because we went to the wrong address, and Sophie was (to put it mildly) reticent to join her class when she noticed it had already begun. And how can I describe all the little lights that shone for her this afternoon? All the beacons? All the GOOD PEOPLE? A little girl wrapped her arms around her. One little seven year old said “I used to be afraid just like you, but now I love it!” A jovial dad reassured me “she’ll get out there in no time.” Another little girl gently held her hand and led her out to join the class. And they weren’t saying and doing these things because they know they are “the things you should say” or because they wanted points on their own moral scoreboard or because they wanted me to notice them. These were just people on a cold, January Monday who were being good, and their goodness made me think about Goodness, about where the whole Story is heading.
I know it’s probably naive and silly to juxtapose big important things like goodness and love and light with things like beginner karate class. But then again, if we can’t see the light where we are– on this humdrum January Monday–how can we even attempt bring it anywhere else– especially into the darkness? Perhaps the starting point in facing all of the scary stuff– the terror, the ignorance, the racism, the death– is to see the thousands upon thousands of little lights illuminating my path on any given day. To notice all tender arms that will embrace little Soph, all the people who will say “Me too. But it’s okay. You’ll be just fine.”
I don’t know if there’s anything to this- to the belief that seeing the light is the first necessary step in bringing the light– but I do know that at the very least, I’m better for seeing it. So keep shining. I can see the Story better because of you.