Well, my light-seeking friends, I have been pondering bushels lately – and what a curious word, first of all. If you say it out loud, you might also hear how cute it is: bush-el. The word is not used much anymore. My own association with it comes from my foot-stomping Sunday school days back in the early eighties: We used to sing This Little Light of Mine, complete with hand motions and enthusiastic shouting. I can still picture myself in a Gunny Sax dress shouting from the patchwork carpet, surrounded by pastel posters of the long, wavy-haired Jesus with sheep. I recall most fondly the bushel verse:
Hide it under a bushel?
No! (here you shout and shake your fist)
I’m gonna let it shine –
Let it shine!
Let it shine!
Let it shine!
The song gets its origins from a Biblical passage: You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do (people) light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all. (St. Matthew 5:14-16)
I think it’s the determination in the song that appeals to me – the wild fist punching the air, the vigorous “No!” and the commitment: “I’m gonna let this light of mine shine, darn it!” While it seems some people don’t require extra determination to let their lights shine (I rather envy these people), I myself have long been more comfortable beneath the bushel, safe and hidden. The only trouble with staying beneath the bushel is that you miss out on the light.
One of the ways to face our own inner darkness (whether it be fear, reluctance, old wounds, pride, low self-esteem...) is to step out into the light, even if the dark of old feels more comfortable – even if sometimes we have to drag ourselves out kicking and screaming. The Biblical passage (and the song) make it all seem so obvious and simple – as in naturally, you wouldn’t put a light under a bushel; of course you place it on a lamp stand, where it can give light to everyone. But edging ourselves out from beneath the comfort zones of our bushels is not always so obvious or easy. In fact, my own lamp stand efforts are, more often than not, very deliberate and conscious, not to mention awkward and uncomfortable. I am more inclined to ask, Why me? Why should I step into the light? But why not me? Why not you? Each of us has our own light to share.
We might wonder, why make the effort? Why not stay comfortable? What’s the harm in dwelling beneath the bushel? The answer is simple: The world misses out and we ourselves miss out – on growth, on joy, and on celebrations in our souls. The world needs more light for the countless dark corners of the world, the countless dark corners in the hearts of human beings. It isn’t merely for ourselves that we take strides into the light; it is for the benefit of our fellow human kind. We all depend on the light of others, do we not? The smallest beam of light from a fellow human being shining into a dim or dark situation has the utmost power – power to comfort, to give hope, to enlighten, to reveal truth, to accompany, to inspire, to give courage, and to guide the way. Thanks to my fellow light-sharing friends, little beams of light have even made all the difference in how I have proceeded in certain dark situations; I give great thanks for these brave and shiny souls in my life.
Being the recipient of such illumination strengthens my conviction to let my light shine. While at first, stepping into the light can feel intimidating or awkward, later I end up wondering how I ever lived without the light I so reluctantly stepped into. So I continue to take risks and try new things – like starting an Advent blog; or saying yes to a new volunteer position at church. And I continue to rock the boat, sometimes a boat that perhaps nobody else is willing to rock – like providing honest feedback about my less-than-ideal online class. I continue to step outside of my cushy comfort zone – by hosting a gathering with new acquaintances or accepting an invitation to speak in front of a crowd (not easy for me). I choose to keep lifting the bushel and stepping out because when my work on this earth is done, I want to know that at the very least I let a little light shine on the world around me.
So friends of Advent, will you let your lights shine?
*I love Elizabeth Mitchell. Enjoy this little you tube video accompanied by her singing This Little Light of Mine.