You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly father.
Most of us are familiar with the lines from Shakespeare’s As You Like It (II, vii):
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
A central theme throughout the work of Shakespeare, as throughout all of our lives, is the difference between who we appear to be and what appears real to us and who we really are and what really is the truth. This basic experience of most of us, that we are at once both living out our lives and also performing them before the world, is what makes the call of Jesus to be a light for the world somewhat conflictual for us.
In truth, it is not easy for us to distinguish in our own behavior the difference between doing the good and attempting to look good. There is in all of us the desire to be somebody, to have significance, in the eyes of others. This is a part of our social reality. We are not isolates but, rather, we co-constitute each other. From infancy we receive form and give form to our lives in relation to what we are receiving. So, the infant responds and opens up to the attention and gaze of the other. As the child ages, he or she begins to perform in light of the attention he or she is receiving. If the behavior evokes positive responses, the child will make the performance more and more expansive. If there is little or negative response, the performance will dwindle or cease.
I am reminded of this basic human reality every time I teach or speak to a group. The amount of energy and life that I give to my teaching is largely a product of the response and engagement of my students. When they are highly responsive and engaged, my energy is greatly enhanced. When they are not, my teaching becomes increasingly perfunctory. This dynamic is a reminder of how all true learning and personal emergence is the result of human encounter. The depth of our presence and response to each other affects to a significant degree the life and the truth that emerge “between” us. However, it also raises a significant question: To what degree is my action and work done in order to evoke a positive response to myself, and how much is it doing the work that has been given me to do?
Jesus says that our light must shine before others, “that they may see [our]. . . good deeds and glorify [our] . . . heavenly father.” That is, we are called to work and to live in such a way that the world may see beyond us to God’s love and God’s work in the world. Without awareness born of the spiritual dimension of our life this directive seems paradoxical to us. Because our sense of work comes merely from the perspective of the functional dimension of our personality, we can only imagine being “transparent” in our work by having any sense of uniqueness disappear. We would sense serving God through our work as taking our place on God’s production line, so that the “product” which is the end of the work bears nothing of our uniqueness and originality.
In the spiritual sense, however, the truth is quite the opposite. Because our life is given to us as call, as a unique assignment for the well being of the world, we actually manifest God’s work and love most fully when we realize in life and work that unique call. The other day I was back at my old high school for a meeting. We met in the very building where many of my classes were held. While there, a rather persistent memory kept intruding into my consciousness. It was of a warm spring day with the windows open and my English teacher walking around the classroom, eyes turned upward, reciting “by heart” the poem “God’s Grandeur” of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Some fifty plus years later I felt in memory the power of poetry to articulate and enliven our human experience. Yes, I remembered this quite quirky yet highly effective teacher, but more than that I remembered the depth of experience of which my own spirit and soul are capable, and of the grandeur of God in the beauty of the universe.
So, when I am teaching or speaking and I become aware that I am “scanning” the group to read their reaction to what I am doing, I experience the conflict of human work and being. Insofar as that reading of the response of others is to allow my work to take the form that will best serve them, it is necessary. To the degree, on the other hand, that it becomes a “playing to the crowd,” it becomes a diversion from the true work. On the one hand, attunement to the field in which we are living increases our presence to reality. In the second case, however, it actually diminishes our presence to reality and replaces it with presence to the needs and the “alternate reality” of our own unconscious drives and impulses.
Perhaps we become ever more a light of and to the world the more we grow in awareness of this basic human conflict. We may grow as a sign of God’s love and God’s work to the degree that we realize how much we want the recognition that is due only to God. We become more the light Jesus calls us to be the more that our self-centered distortions are replaced by the truth and demands of reality. Yesterday, the cameras rolled as one by one the presidential cabinet members struggled to exalt the president who appointed them. It was a comical, when not a tragic, scene. The empty praise of sycophantic others can never fill our inner emptiness. As we become more the light of the world, it is our work not our inflated and illusory ego that is to be praised. In our work, in the faithful living out of the mysterious call we are for the world, we are a light. The more we disappear into that uniqueness of our call, the more our work manifests what St. Paul declares to the Ephesians: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.” (Eph. 3:20-1)
Lead me from the unreal to the real.
Lead me from darkness to light.
Lead me from death to immortality.
May my speech be one with my mind,
and may my mind be one with my speech.
O thou self-luminous Brahman,
remove the veil of ignorance from before me,
that I may behold thy light.
Do thou reveal to me the spirit of the scriptures.
May the truth of the scriptures be ever present to me.
May I seek day and night to realize
what I learn from the sages.
May I speak the truth of Brahman.
May I speak the truth.
May it protect me.
May it protect my teacher.