This Little Light of Mine
Last night, I met with a large group of women in recovery for a little spiritual get-together – breaking bread, chatting about their appearances on Jerry Springer or working for Larry Flynt (these poor Catholics never knew what they were getting into when they invited recovering drug addicts into their midst), and a time of quiet meditation and sharing. This was to be our last big meeting together, so we focused on preparing ourselves to use what we have learned together to be a light in a dark world. We lit candles and read passages relating to light which had been taken from the Bible as well as the Big Book and the 12×12. At the beginning of this meditation we read this quote, often misattributed to Nelson Mandela:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
– Marianne Williamson in her book, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”
I love this quote… and I am scared to death of it, because it is so very, very true for me. I’ve been doing a lot of writing and thinking and talking about fear lately – about those down deep fears and the lies which are spoken into us. Our fourth step inventories always lead back to fear. All of our resentments, sexual, financial and miscellaneous harms evolve out of some insecurity within us – some fear that we will not have, get, or be enough. But that fear is something which is taught to us. We are not brought into this world believing that we are going to be left to suffer and die. We are born into love and light and nurture. Gradually, our ego begins to develop and as we rely more and more on our own power, our fallible human nature is revealed to us. Every time we fail or are rejected, that lie inside us grows – we are worthless, we are unlovable, etc. Living in a world populated by other fallible humans, we judge our worth based on worldly ideals. We measure ourselves according to the views of jealous rivals disguised as friends. We forget the image of us as beautiful bouncing babies, lovingly swaddled in our mothers’ arms. Or perhaps it is better to say that we reject that image because it proves our powerlessness.
The simple fact is that this image still accurately reflects who we are. While, yes, we have learned how to feed and clothe ourselves, eke out a living for our families and, possibly most importantly, use the toilet, we are generally powerless under our limited human means. Now, I don’t want to get into some big theological argument about who God is or if God is. For the Atheists out there, I’m talking about science – Big Bang stuff. For the Humanists, we’re talking societal evolution and “the greater good.” And for the Christians, hey, yeah, we’re talking the Creator God and His Only Begotten Son. Whatever that Higher Power is for you, let’s run with that and not get bogged down in labels. We, each of us on our own, are powerless in this life. Want to save the rain forests? One person isn’t going to get very far in that endeavor, but a group of like-minded individuals working together is a power greater than one man and that power can make a difference. Even if you don’t believe that there is some Big Dude wearing robes sitting in the clouds telepathically sending you good ideas all Inception-style while you’re sleeping, you can agree with Plato that invention is the offspring of necessity. The greatest thinkers and inventors would be powerless to think and do if there were not some greater power acting upon them – even if that power is simply increasing knowledge in the world or expressing compassion for our fellow man.
But we don’t want to look at it that way. We want to say, “Look at what I have made and bow to my superior intellect! This is my brainchild, born of the almighty me, sprung full grown like Athena from Zeus’s head.” We all drone out during those acceptance speeches at awards shows because we know it’s just people giving lip-service (I’d like to thank Hillary Swank’s husband). And even if Matthew McConaughey is legitimately delivering a heartfelt shout-out to his Lord & Savior, we’re all sitting back judging him like, “Oh, look at Mr. Big Shot” or “He really earned that award! Man, I wish I was him!” Living in this mortal, dog-eat-dog world, it’s difficult to see the greater workings of a Higher Power behind extraordinary, let alone everyday, accomplishments. When we are in competition with each other instead of cooperation, we are pulling solely from our personal resources instead of tapping into a power greater than ourselves. We fall back on those lies that were spoken into us as our egos developed – all of the limitations, all of the false pride – and we become self-fulfilling prophecies. We locate our place in our internally-created social hierarchy and we sit there, trying not to rock the boat.
Then, along comes Jesus, asking Peter to step out of his wave-battered ship & walk across the water. Bear with me, Agnostics and Buddhists, I’m not leaving you out, here. My point is that we can do impossible things when we are being led by something larger than ourselves. Just look at AA founder Bill Wilson for an example. Here’s this hopeless drunk who can’t even hold down a job on his own power. Once he tapped into something larger than himself, namely helping other alcoholics, he not only saved himself, but he created a program which has helped millions worldwide. The simple fact is that we are the ones who are afraid to rock the boat, not recognizing the fact that we’re essentially rowing around in a kiddie pool. From the outside, we look absolutely ridiculous, but when we are as helpless as infants, we are physically unable to step out into the ankle-deep water without drowning.
Which brings me to the verse I drew:
“For you are the fountain of life. Our light is Your light.”
– Psalm 36:9
No worries, Hindus and Wiccans, I’m going to tie all this in here. You see, when I get real honest with myself, I have to admit that I’ve got this “powerful beyond measure” fear that Marianne Williamson talks about. Last night, with our little candles in hand, I likened it to setting off a fire that burns the whole house down. I’ve screwed up enough to know that given any little power, I can do some serious damage. I have seen how I have hurt others, rowing around in my little kiddie pool, smacking people in the head with my oars. Nobody gives a flailing infant a candle because, yeah, you’re going to come back to flambéed homestead. I am afraid of the light in me because #1. I am still reliant upon my own power; I still see myself as the swaddled babe in Mommy’s arms and/or #2. I have trusted powers greater than myself which did not have my best interest at heart; I wound up taking candy from the man with the crazy eyes driving a panel van.
And that’s where 1 John 4:18 comes in (last verse, I promise to all my Jewish & Taoist friends):
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”
Unless I believe whole-heartedly that the power I have chosen to rely upon is benevolent even if it means I am harmed in the effort to effect a greater good (like soldiers who willingly die for their country), then I cannot trust it completely. Do I value my life above all else? Am I unwilling to sacrifice ego for a chance to step out of this boat? If so, that’s fine. There are plenty of people everywhere who go through their life sitting in their little rowboat anchored by fear to their imaginary spot in the social hierarchy. However, even if your own conscience is your Higher Power, you don’t have to be afraid of the light that power has sparked inside you. That light belongs to something far greater than yourself, so run with it!
Chances are that even the most all-consuming, overwhelming light coursing through our veins is not going to burn the house down. And if we get really honest with ourselves, that’s probably not our fear anyway. More likely, we’re just afraid of that whole “hole in the donut” thing the 12×12 talks about. We are scared to give up our egos… even though those are the very things which kept us paddling around that kiddie pool like we were yachting on the open sea. My ego tried to kill me, so I say let it burn!
If I’m wrong and the the whole world does go up in flames, though, all you Odinists know that we will be remembered forever in the halls of Valhalla.