“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God in heaven.”
– Matthew 5: 14-16
You are the light of the world. So many messages from our culture tell us we’re not light, that we have to do something to become light. We should dye our hair because looking young makes us light. We need this car or that phone to really shine. The people who weigh this much or live in that part of town or wear those clothes: they are light. Do what they do, and you can be light, too.
There’s nothing wrong with dying our hair, having this car or that phone, weighing this much, living in that part of town, or wearing those clothes. But let’s not fool ourselves. None of those things makes us light.
In Tattoos on the Heart, Father Greg Boyle writes:
“Jesus says, ‘You are the light of the world.’ I like even more what Jesus doesn’t say. He does not say, ‘One day, if you are more perfect and try really hard, you’ll be light.’ He doesn’t say “If you play by the rules, cross your T’s and dot your I’s, then maybe you’ll become light.’ No. He says straight out, ‘You are light.’ It is the truth of who you are, waiting only for you to discover it…No need to contort yourself to be anything other than who you are.”
This time of year many people make resolutions to do all sorts of things, with the hope that achieving those goals will make them healthier, happier, or more this or that. And they may carry out those resolutions and become healthier, happier, or more this or that. But it doesn’t make them the light of the world. Likewise, not succeeding in carrying out resolutions does not make someone not light. They, we, are already light.
I wonder what would happen if, instead of focusing on our inadequacies, faults, and failures, we lived into the fact that we are already light.
When I taught theology to high school boys, I always started and ended the semester with these words of Marianne Williamson from A Return to Love:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we subconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Tomorrow for the second time I start teaching a class on nonviolence to college seniors. I will start class with my college seniors just as I did my high school boys. College seniors looking into the future, perhaps with some fear and trepidation, some doubts about their “enoughness,” could maybe use the reminder. High school boys could use the reminder. I suspect we all could use the reminder. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We could probably see these words every day and still forget them sometimes. And so I offer a few questions that may help us remember:
- When do you know that you are the light of the world? When do you feel the warmth and glow radiate from your center and out beyond you? Does it happen often?
- How can you “let [your] own light shine,” and thereby “give other people permission to do the same”?
These questions aren’t meant to provoke guilt or shame (“I’m not shining often enough”) but to create awareness and perhaps open up new opportunities to live into who we are. Being light is not about negating the parts we don’t like or we’ve learned to be ashamed of or we hide or think we’re hiding. Our light shines brightest when we can embrace our whole selves, when we show the same tender care for those parts that make us shrink as we do for those with which we stand tall.
- What parts of you need your care so you can “[liberate yourself] from [your] own fear”?
You are the light of the world.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
May 2018 be a year in which we recognize our light and let it shine.
May we shine brightly.