Photo of Pigeon Point Lighthouse by Flickr's Photobud
"Svithe" is a word coined by Th. It means roughly "to tithe a seventh," and refers to the blog posts he puts up on Sundays. I have used it in the past and do so now with all proper homage and deference.
I spoke in Church back in February; the following is adapted from what I said then.
Matthew 5:14-16 reads,
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
This comes early in the Sermon on the Mount, just after Christ has given the Beatitudes. What does Jesus mean when he asks us to let our light shine? Certainly he hopes we will be good examples. He wants us to show the world the fruits of living his Gospel, to be living testaments of God’s plan of happiness for us all.
But Jesus is careful to add that the goal is for people to see our good works and be led to glorify God as a result. We shouldn’t want and don’t need people to glorify us for the lives we are living. Elder Jeffrey Holland recently said,
Avoid self-serving performance and vanity. Don’t try to dazzle everyone with how brilliant you are. Dazzle them with how brilliant the gospel is. (Jeffrey R. Holland, "Teaching and Learning in the Church", Ensign, June 2007)
I felt like he was talking directly to me when I heard that. It was a little painful. But I realized the truth of it immediately.
Often when I’m reading a really good book, I’ll be so transported into the world of the narrative that I actually forget that I’m reading. Has that ever happened to you when reading or watching a movie? You lose yourself entirely and become one with the story. It’s like magic.
I’m a writer, and my goal when I create fiction is to create that kind of experience for my audience, to write what is called “transparent prose.” I hope that my readers will fall through the words and into the story. The writer seeking transparency never wants to draw attention to the writing itself. But this can unfortunately occur. There are basically two ways to draw attention away from your story and toward the writing or the writer:
1) by unwittingly making technical mistakes of one kind or another; or
2) by consciously overwriting, showing off your talent at manipulating the language.
This lack of transparency can unfortunately occur when performing music as well. The performer may either be not competent enough for the piece, or may self-indulgently use his technical expertise to hijack the audience.
But when a song is sung or played with neither error nor inappropriate embellishment, the listener can fall through the notes and into the music. It is a humble and wise performer who realizes that he or she is simply an instrument through which the music flows, and not the music itself.
In similar manner, the light that Jesus asks us to let shine isn’t actually ours. It, like everything else we have in this life, has been lent to us. It is Christ’s light.
In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, the Apostle John introduces John the Baptist. He writes,
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (John 1:6-9)
The Lord Himself describes His light in Section 88 of the Doctrine & Covenants:
[I am] He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth; Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ.”(Doctrine & Covenants 88:6-7)
So we do not create this light any more than a candle creates its flame. Our job is to use our agency to create the best possible conditions for that light to flourish within us, to be as transparent as possible, and to do what we can to qualify to be trusted with even greater light.
The light of Christ within us is best nurtured by daily, even hourly acts of service and devotion. Earnest and humble communication with God through prayer and scripture study. Putting aside selfishness and tending to the needs of those around us. Repenting and forgiving. Keeping our covenants. The Lord promises that “He that keepeth [the] commandments receiveth truth and light...and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” (Doctrine & Covenants 50:24)
Elder Robert D. Hales once used the image of a boy riding a bicycle through the darkness, with only the light of a lamp that was powered by his own pedaling to guide him. He said,
Sometimes people ask, “Why do I have to go to Sacrament Meeting?” or “Why do I have to live the Word of Wisdom, pay tithing? Why can’t I have one foot in Babylon?” May I tell you why? Because spiritual pedaling takes both feet! Unless you are fully engaged in living the gospel—living it with all of your “heart, might, mind and strength” —you cannot generate enough spiritual light to push back the darkness. (Robert D. Hales, “Out of the Darkness into His Marvelous Light,” April 2002)
I love that metaphor: spiritual pedaling takes both feet. You can’t ride a bicycle halfway. It takes commitment and balance and is an act of faith.
The image of a lantern or a lighthouse is also helpful to me. The light within may be burning, but if the glass housing is not perfectly pure and clear, the light will be distorted and diminished to the eyes of those who need guidance. Again, the goal is transparency.
The problem that most frequently dirties the glass, so to speak, is pride. Pride is like a shapeshifter, taking so many different forms. Intolerance. Narrow-mindedness. Vanity. Defensiveness. Insecurity. Self-aggrandizement. Contempt. Pride pollutes everything it touches. We need to let it go and get out of our own way.
In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote,
The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first—wanting to be the centre—wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race. … What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come … the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.
But if we turn away from those fruitless searches and the Adversary’s empty offer, we realize that Jesus didn’t make up the commandments just to keep us busy. It’s not busywork to do your visiting or home teaching, or to go on a mission, or to clean the chapel, or to start work on your family history. Jesus asks us to let our light shine in these different ways because He knows that doing so is the only path of true joy and fulfillment.
When I was in Primary, the ten- and eleven-year-old girls were called the Merrie Misses. We were each given a banner with the Articles of Faith on it, and we got to earn special badges to fasten onto the banner as we completed different challenges. The Merrie Miss motto was written at the bottom of the banner: “I will radiate the light of the Gospel.” We got to embroider that motto with colors of our own choice; I decided to do mine in green and gold. “I will radiate the light of the Gospel.” I thought it looked great.
At the beginning of the atomic age, President David O. McKay used this idea of radiation to teach the concept of letting Christ’s light shine within us. He said,
Every person who lives in this world wields an influence, whether for good or for evil. It is not what he says alone, it is not alone what he does. It is what he is. Every man, every person radiates what he or she is. Every person is a recipient of radiation. The Savior was conscious of that. Whenever he came into the presence of an individual, he sensed that radiation—whether it was the woman of Samaria with her past life; whether it was the woman who was to be stoned or the men who were to stone her; whether it was the statesman, Nicodemus, or one of the lepers. He was conscious of the radiation from the individual. And to a degree so are you, and so am I. It is what we are and what we radiate that affects the people around us.
The Savior set us the example, always calm, always controlled, radiating something which people could feel as they passed. (Chapter 24: “Let Your Light So Shine”," Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay)
So: we all radiate. There is no lead-lined shelter. There is no decision I make, however private it may seem, that does not affect all of you. We are either adding to or diminishing our God-given light with every choice we make. When you obey a commandment, it strengthens not just you but also me. When I sin, I hurt all of you as well as myself. That is the power and strength of either Babylon or Zion. The question is: which city on a hill are we hoping to build?