On a recent Sunday morning, I attended one of the many fine local churches. This particular church follows a traditional form of worship, featuring clergy and choir in vestments along with an assortment of robed young people of diverse ages who assist in various functions.
At one point during the service, a small procession made its way into the midst of the congregation for a reading from the Bible. The first person in the procession carried a cross. She was flanked by two other participants bearing ornate brass candle holders. The person who would read the text brought up the rear.
The procession stopped at a point where one of the young people carrying a candle stood just at the end of the pew where I was sitting. He was about five or six years old. The top of his head came up nearly as high as the back of the pew.
The reading commenced, but I was distracted by this young one who was likewise distracted. He caught a glimpse of himself in the intricate swells and curves of the polished gleam of the candlestick. From my vantage point, I couldn't see his view of his reflection. But I could see him. With characteristic movements, he acted just like all children do upon encountering fun-house mirrors. He stretched, holding his head as high as he could. Then he pulled it down between hunched shoulders. He nodded and bobbed from side to side.
I could imagine the image he saw. A long skinny neck. An elongated oval for a head. Then a pinhead. I wondered if any particular angle rendered his view of himself upside down or if there were a point where his head appeared to separate from his body.
After a few minutes of head angle adjustments, he began to experiment with facial expressions. He opened his eyes wide and tested eyebrow movements and nostril flares. It wasn't long before he added an impressive range of lip curls, grimaces, and scowls.
He was testing the limits of tongue extensions when the reading abruptly stopped. After just the briefest hesitation, he resumed a dignified demeanor and marched his candlestick back to the front of the sanctuary.
I can't tell you what Bible passage was read, and the young man whose antics I had watched probably can't tell you either. Nevertheless, I think we both learned important lessons.
He discovered some elemental truths about the inner workings of light and how it reflects off oddly shaped surfaces. I hope he continues to observe the world around him, finding innovative ways of interacting with it. I hope his parents and teachers guide him in his quest to understand the shape and limits of physical reality. Perhaps someday he'll be a physicist who uncovers new dimensions of this wonder-filled creation in which we live.
I gained insight into how God's light reflects off imperfect surfaces. The Bible claims that Jesus is the light of the world, and I wondered what people see when his light reflects off me. Do my actions make it sometimes seem to others that the God I worship must be a pinhead? Or, does he somehow cast his light in a way that compensates for my foibles?
I recalled the Bible verse in which Jesus admonishes his followers to "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). I thought about the fact that if I shine any light at all it is merely a reflection of his.
At this time of year, it seems fitting to remember that many of our neighbors, fellow countrymen, and indeed many people in diverse places and situations around the globe are facing the darkest hours of their lives. If you doubt this, just watch a newscast. But even if you feel as imperfect and as small as I feel, and no matter what faith or philosophy you embrace, surely there must still be moments when even our imperfections can help bring something into focus for someone else.
This holiday season, let your light shine.