this little light


Sunday was a busy day.

I began with a birthday breakfast for Rachel, my mother-in-law, moved on to church (a Communion Sunday), to our congregational annual meeting, to celebratory frozen yogurt (for Rachel), to grocery shopping, then food preparation for our series on Faith and Alzheimer’s, and then home to a family dinner of chicken, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, and field peas (Rachel’s choice). And a good time was had by all.

On Communion Sundays, our children call us to worship with a song. Yesterday it was “This Little Light of Mine.” When they got to the verse about hiding it under a bushel, even the quietest kids were adamant in their “NO!”, bringing a smile to most every face. Their song was followed by our singing,

this is my father’s world, and to my listening ears
all nature sings and ‘round me rings the music of the spheres . . .

And it was a beautiful day, crisp and clear, and we were off to a wonderful morning of melody and togetherness. The lectionary text for the day from the Hebrew scripture was supposed to be Jeremiah 1:4-10, in which God says to to the young prophet:

“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

A typographical error left our liturgist reading Jeremiah 4:1-10, which took a different tone:

A lion has gone up from its thicket, a destroyer of nations has set out;
he has gone out from his place to make your land a waste;
your cities will be ruins without inhabitant.
Because of this put on sackcloth, lament and wail:
“The fierce anger of the Lord has not turned away from us.”

The reader stepped back from the microphone as we sang our usual response to the reading, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path,” trying to figure out exactly where that road was going. Then he stepped back and read from Luke 4 and the account of Jesus’ difficulty of being a prophet in his own hometown. For all he had to say, the folks in Nazareth never could see Jesus as anyone other than the carpenter’s kid and couldn’t hear the message.

I had my own struggle with hearing Ginger’s sermon because my hearing aids were no match for a bad mic. When the time came to receive the bread and the cup, I was unsettled and disquieted — not the best mood to digest the meal, still I wlucycandyas ready to eat. My mind was crammed like an over-filled book bag, with thoughts and scraps spilling out all around me. I scribbled in my Moleskin, trying to find some order, some way to remember what mattered, some way to hang on to things I didn’t want to forget. Right now, time feels like a conveyor belt and I’m right there alongside of Lucy and Ethel, trying to keep up with wrapping the candy.

Here are the questions I jotted down:

  • how do I digest a life that is offering more than I can take in?
  • how do I learn to look at life as a banquet rather than a Golden Corral buffet?
  • what do I need to hear and what can go on by?
  • what is real conversation and what is white noise?

As the questions continue to roll around in my head, I remember hearing an NPR story years ago on the convenience store craze of offering more-than-giant-sized soft drinks. Forget Big Gulps, these things were gargantuan to the point, as one doctor noted, that the containers of cola were physically larger than the human stomach. We couldn’t drink it all if we wanted to. I also recall a cartoon from somewhere in my youth minister days. The scene was a man sitting in a restaurant booth with a half-filled plate in front of him. The words, “All You Can Eat Buffet” were written on the window. An indignant waitress stood pointing at him, with a quote bubble rising beside her: “Sir, that’s not all you can eat!”

Somewhere in the creative tension between those two extremes lies our call to love God with every aspect of our beings and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Living into the call to follow Christ means keeping up with what happened in Damascus today and noticing my friend sitting on the other side of the coffee shop; it means striving to grow and learn even as I work to simply remember what I already know; it means being as acquainted with wonder as I am with grief. In Small Lives, Pierre Michon wrote of his childhood:

Entering boarding school was entering time, the only time I could identify in that it held permanent losses; I was approaching that period when nightmares come true and death exists; my appetite for knowledge would mean walking over corpses; I could not have one without the other.” (83)

Hold the truth of his words alongside those of Mary Oliver:

Foolishness? No, It’s Not

Sometimes I spend all day trying to count
the leaves on a single tree. To do this I
have to climb branch by branch and
write down the numbers in a little book.
So I suppose, from this point of view,
it’s reasonable that my friends say: what
foolishness! She’s got her head in the clouds

But it’s not. Of course I have to give up,
but by then I’m half crazy with the wonder
of it — the abundance of the leaves, the
quietness of the branches, the hopelessness
of my effort. And I am in that delicious
and important place, roaring with laughter,
full of earth-praise.
(A Thousand Mornings 5)

At the close of worship yesterday, the acolytes came forward to extinguish the candles they had lighted at the beginning. Part of the ritual is for one of them to re-light the wick even as he puts out the candle and carry that little light of his back out into the world. In all that went on around the altar yesterday, the step stool that allows him to easily reach the candle had been moved and he had to strain to complete his task. He tried once, then twice, then he paused and tried again.

Go and do likewise.



  1. Bro,
    You sound a little low in spirits, I pray for you Shalom in all its forms.
    May joy, light, energy, and abundance of every good thing be yours today.


  2. Sometimes our disquieting moments and struggles to make sense of our experiences plot to cause us to reflect God’s light to others, that they may see what they need from God through our being willing to be human and vulnerable, to not have all the answers tied up in a nice neat little package, and being willing to share that with others. Thank you, Milton

  3. To me, Milton, you don’t sound so “down” as “thoughtfully aware” of human frailty. I appreciate the reminder that we are but dust.

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