February 10, 2004

I’ve got a little light

Last week, I had the good fortune to hear Maya Angelou speak at Penn State University. Some of you may remember that I quoted from Maya Angelou quite often in last year’s updates and everyday blessings. This is mostly because a very good friend sent me a little book called Words of Hope and Courage from Maya Angelou, and I found her quotes very profound and insightful. This same friend invited me to attend Ms. Angelou’s presentation last week. And I have to say that Maya Angelou is one of the most inspiring people I have ever heard speak.

Ms. Angelou started her presentation by belting out a line from an old gospel tune:

“I’ve got a little light. I’m gonna make it shine.”

She read four small parts from different poems and between each one she sang the line again.

“I’ve got a little light. I’m gonna make it shine.”

It was incredibly powerful. And I am not just trying to be dramatic here… I was moved to the point of tears. Immediately, I felt as though Ms. Angelou’s presentation was created expressly for me and for everyone who wants this world to be a better place. How is that two women, growing up in different eras, belonging to different ethnic groups, and whose experiences in this lifetime differ so greatly can have so much in common? I do not have a complete answer to that except to say that we both live for God’s love, recognize our blessings, and comprehend that our mission is to serve God by loving others. I was not let down throughout the program. Ms. Angelou made a deep connection to me, and I am sure many others, in her presentation.

The main point of Ms. Anglou’s presentation was that we should always be a light to others. We can never fully appreciate the impact that we can have on other people, and other people may never fully appreciate the impact that they have on us. If we do our best to make positive impacts on all the people that cross our paths in this journey, we leave this world a better place. One the quotes she shared that I thought was very powerful was the following:

“The most liberating and intelligent thought you can possess is the idea that you have been paid for. Our ancestors and all the people that came before you in this world have paid a price for you. Your only responsibility is to pay for someone else.”

If more of us could truly accept our lives in these terms, just imagine the world we would create.

Jesus was, of course, the greatest teacher of this principle. Remember he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31. He even told us to “love your enemies” (Luke 6:27). It was explained to me recently by our pastor that the love that is mentioned so often in the Bible is actually the Latin term agape. Agape means to think of and care for others first. And when we spread agape, we shine our light.

“I’ve got a little light. I’m gonna make it shine.” How will you make your light shine?

Will you smile at a stranger? Will you spend time with your elderly parent or grandparent? Will you play with a child? Will you give your time to help a friend with a project? Will you put someone else first, even if you do not know them?

I have heard two variations of the following story, one version was told by a Zen priest and a Christian pastor told the second version. I have paraphrased their stories in my own version below. It is a popular story, so you may have heard or read it before.

A man dies, and by mistake, he is taken to hell. When he first arrives, he sees a huge banquet table with all the finest foods and drinks. He thinks, “Wow, this can’t be all that bad.” As he gets closer, he sees that the people have no elbows. They can reach the food, but they are unable to get any of the food into their mouths. The people are very angry and unhappy and generally miserable. They are shouting at each other and fighting over the food. Finally, the angels realize that there has been a mistake, and the man is removed from hell and taken to heaven. The man is so relieved. But his heart begins to sink when he sees the same setting. A huge banquet table filled with all the delicious foods you can imagine. As he gets closer, he sees these people have no elbows either. But these people are laughing and singing. They are so happy. The only difference is they are feeding each other.

We can experience heaven on earth if we shine our light and spread agape. “I’ve got a little light. I’m gonna make it shine.” I wish there was a way to sing this little tune to you now (or much better, have Maya Angelou sing it to you-try to use your imagination). I sang it all the way home last Thursday, and I’ve been singing it since. It is helping me remember to always try to be a light. How will you make your light shine?


“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”-Matthew 5:14-15


“Regardless of your religion, you should practice being a light religiously.” –Maya Angelou


Lord, we are not perfect. But help us dust off our lampshades so our light shines brightly on all we meet. Thank you for all the lights in our lives. Thank you for all the people who have made a positive difference in our lives whether we realized or not. And most of all, Lord, thank you for your Light. Amen


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