A few years ago I jotted down this story from the book Aquachurch by Leonard Sweet:
"As a child in the 1950s, I heard a story at a holiness revival meeting in New York. It seems a certain missionary, home on leave, was shopping for a globe of the world to take back to her mission station. The clerk showed her a reasonably priced globe and another one with a light bulb inside. 'This is nicer,' the clerk said, pointing to the illuminated globe, 'but of course, a lighted world costs more.'
What has lighting our world cost you lately?"
I thought of that story yesterday evening when the sweet girl called me into her room after dinner. The early darkness (courtesy of daylight savings) means she is getting more dark-evening playtime after dinner, and she's taken full advantage of it the past few nights. She dresses in dance skirt and shoes, pulls the shades, douses every light in her room, brings out flashlights, and then hits the play button on the CD player. Her favorite right now is Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and she'll dance away to it, beaming her flashlights around to make spotlights. (If anyone on the hill happens to be watching the windows of our building, they probably think we're signaling some urgent message...)
But last night she came running out her room, insisting I come back and see something neat. Her inflatable globe -- not the globe on a stand we bought from mission-going friends at their recent yard sale -- would light up if she positioned her flashlight on one of the light blue ocean areas. The light wouldn't shine through the darker colored plastic of the continents, but when she pushed her little flashlight against one of the oceans, the entire world did indeed light up.
It sounds so simple, a little plastic globe lit by a flashlight, but can I tell you something? It was breathtaking. We both just stood there in awe, looking at that brightly lit sphere in the midst of her dark room. It was a bit of magic, a small, softly glowing planet seeming to hover in the dark but familiar space of her room. There was something fragile and lovely about it, like a Christmas ornament. We slowly turned it, letting it revolve as the music played. Beauty discovered. Beauty shared. I realized later that it was one of those moments that I think will stand out indelibly in my mind in years to come, as I look back on my little girl's growing up years.
Hours later, I thought of the Sweet quote. I've always liked it, not only because it's a terrific illustration ("that'll preach," as one of my seminary profs used to say) but because that final question seems so challenging. "What has lighting our world cost you lately?" helps me to think about my actions, whether or not what I'm doing or not doing helps to shed some light in dark places. And sometimes, yes, light-filled actions are costly.
But that night I found myself thinking of something different. In one sense, a lighted world costs a great deal. In another sense, for we children of God it's utterly free, a gift, the kind of gift you're not at all expecting, like when your seven year old runs toward you, her face eager and alight, to tell you she wants to show you something beautiful.
Because we don't light the world, do we? At least not in the sense that God does. God, the one who said "let there be light," the one who himself is called "the light," the one who shined light on the people who had walked in great darkness, he is the one who truly bears light to this dark world. He is the one who promised his people, when they were languishing in despairing darkness, that he would not leave them there, that he would come and rescue them, even if it cost him everything.
And it did. So in a very deep sense, you can truly say that a lighted world costs everything. It cost Jesus everything. And yet, as grateful receivers of that light that illumines our hearts, we know it is also utterly and beautifully free.
I know, of course, that we too are called to be lights, to not hide our lamps under a bushel, to let our lights so shine before others that God is glorified and so those who see our lesser lights find themselves looking to the source of light and life we reflect. Small wonder we creatures of this world love the moon, that "lesser light to rule the night," because in a deep sense, we relate to a waxing and waning satellite that has no true light of its own but can only reflect the greater light. Of course, it is still the moon's task to shine. And so it is our's. But we need to be in the right position to do so, our face turned towards the source of all radiance.
Oh Lord, make us radiant. Make your face to shine upon us so that we reflect your glory. Help us remember that you have lit the world at great, dear cost. Help us to take your light (like a small flashlight in the hand of an eager child) into those corners and heart spaces where your light has not been fully comprehended, into places where the darkness battles bitterly to try to take back ground. Help us, Lord, to do battle with courage, and not to cede an inch to the dark. For this world is so beautiful when it's fully lit by your love.