Wednesday, June 02, 2010

This little light of mine

Last night, I brought out an old favorite children's book to read to my little guys. It's called Let It Shine: Three Favorite Spirituals by Ashley Bryan. It is an incredible book in many regards. For one, the illustrations are amazing, as you can see. It is a compilation of lyrics of the three songs "This Little Light of Mine," "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," and "When the Saints Go Marching In." These are such classic songs - a part of American history, actually - and we typically sing our way through the book.

Though we love the songs, my favorite part to read to my kids is in the back of the book, on the history of the Negro Spiritual as an art form. My kids are fascinated by the fact that not long ago, it was against the law for African-Americans to be taught to read or write, and so their songs of faith were passed on orally for generations. Ashley Bryan argues that the very creation of such songs were "as the Spirit led," often morphing in tune or lyric based on the joys or tribulations of the singers themselves. I love that idea. I love that my kids and I can feel the freedom to add a verse that fits the formula: "He's got ________ in His hands..." and on we sing, as the Spirit leads. That flexibility was an inherent part of the form of the Spiritual. And so a Spiritual maintained a life of it's own, in a way, reflecting a real and personal and conflicted and desperate faith of a people group. So beautiful.

Then today, I heard something on the radio that brought this book to mind again. The pastor was speaking on the day of Pentecost found in the Bible in Acts, chapter 2. This day came a while after Jesus had been resurrected and had promised to send His followers a "Counselor" (John 16), whom we know is the Holy Spirit. The day of Pentecost is when the Holy Spirit literally descended onto the believers. The Bible describes this event this way in Acts 2: 1-3:

"On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them."

To jump ahead, the point the pastor was making is that from the day of Pentecost to today, you can't see your own fire. In reference to Pentecost, He said, "Which of the believers could see the top of his own head?" None, of course. I thought this was a great point. On the day described in Acts, don't you think everyone was looking at everyone else's head with a flame and asking, "Do I have one too?" It's easy to see everyone else's fire. It's much, much harder to remember your own, and then let it shine.

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. Back to the book. Let's remember that this Negro Spiritual did not begin as a children's song to be sung in Sunday School. It was wrought through suffering. And therefore, I'm guessing the "little light" was little not because it was a child's light. I'm guessing it was because that's all the light that was left in the soul of a slave. It was little because it was nearly snuffed out. But somehow, the slaves who sang that song knew without a shadow of a doubt that they indeed had lights, the undying, holy and powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, the living God. And they were determined to let them shine.

Wow. That is seriously convicting to me. I have relatively no suffering, and yet I forget about my light, the Holy Spirit who wants to live and move in my life. I actually believe that our many comforts insulate us from realizing just how badly we need God to work in and through our lives. My light suffers from my own complacency.

My light also suffers from comparison. I look around, admiring the lights of others - their impacts, their gifts, their beauty - and forget about my own. Really I have no business doing this. It must be insulting to the Holy Spirit himself, as God has made me uniquely designed to reflect Him.

Instead I need to remember that because I am God's daughter, I have a great light of my own. And I need to remember who gave me that light; it's not my greatness that made it appear. It's God's. His influence, His gifts, His beauty. The light is really His light, and I need to step aside to let it shine through me.

If you are a follower of God, and you have asked Him to be in charge of your life, you have a light too. You might not be able to see it, but it's there and it's amazing. That fire is God Himself, the best possible Counselor you could ever have, offering you encouragement and wisdom so that you can impact the world around you. Walk in that truth today, because for me, just acknowledging His presence is the first step. This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

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