But it wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t working to bring much light to
the darkness that I have been feeling these past several days and weeks.
I have been concerned for my friends and neighbors, both near and far, who feel targeted and
marginalized by the decisions and actions of others. I have hoped for some light to pierce
through, and dissipate this cloud of worry that I have been struggling under.
While I am your chaplain and teacher, I am also a mother. As a mother, I often find myself in
the early evening hours heading home to campus after a daughter’s basketball game, dance
lesson, or music lesson. It’s dark when we turn right off of Route 10 and approach the two brick
pillars that mark the entrance to our campus. As we ride up the windy path of Lamplighter
Way, I find I relish the light emanating from the picturesque lamps placed at regular intervals
keeping me on my path, reminding me I am home, and moving me forward. And I wonder, was
it a workjob in 1879 to light the lamps on Lamplighter Way? Now surely there is a central
control switch in Plant and Property that takes care of everything at just the right time every
day of the year. But in 1879, I imagine that to be a lamplighter was a tedious, arduous, but also
an obviously necessary job.
In 2017, then, I wonder what it means to be a lamplighter. Light is a metaphor used in many
religious and spiritual traditions. There is Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, and Hanukkah,
the Jewish f estival of lights. In the Quran, Allah is spoken of as the light upon light, and in
Buddhis m we speak of en lightenment. In the Christian New Testament there is a reminder that
a lamplighter puts the light in a place for all to see and not under a basket where it cannot
shine. Light and the one who shares the light are central concepts in many traditions. In fact,
trying to articulate what a lamplighter is here on this campus has been an NMH tradition. Just
a few years ago, Grant Gonzalez talked about being lamplighters in his Founder’s Day speech.
By virtue of your matriculation at NMH, you are called lamplighters. I wonder how that
impacts you and how that should impact me. Let me share some of the thoughts I’ve had about
what it might mean to be a lamplighter today. Please know I am ruminating about the symbolic
significance of a lamplighter; I’m not here to set out a new type of workjob for you. In fact, I’m
here to suggest not a chore, but possibly a lifestyle.
To me it seems that first, to be a lamplighter, you need to be courageous. In the dark of the
night, and I am speaking symbolically, when even you are not sure which way to go, and you do
not know what to say to your friend who is confused, or you do not know where to find the
paved road, you need to be courageous and find the light. Contrary to what we may feel at
times, we do not live in an absolute black hole. Find the light. Do this for your friend. Maybe
there’s a spark of light in the very compassion and solidarity that is expressed when you sit
with your friend who is in pain. You, the lamplighter, can say, “look, here’s some light, at least.
We are together. Let me hold up this spark for you and for me.”
Secondly, to be a lamplighter, you need to be ... courageous, again. You need to believe in the
light you are holding up. Maybe it’s a light that emanates from you, your past experiences, your
talents, your cultural and religious backgrounds. Yes, your light will make a difference in the
darkness, if it helps guide even a few steps forward. Your light might be the comfort that
awakens a sense of home and security for a friend. Your light might be in the words you speak
to give voice to those who are without voice. Your light might be in your willingness to use your
p rivilege for the advantage of others. So, no, you are not being presumptuous by saying that
you have light to share. If it illumines the path, or if it illumines someone’s heart, then it is
light. Be courageous and believe in your light.
Third, to be a lamplighter, you need to be ... courageous, once more. You may be very attached
to your light; it is yours, after all. And you may think your light is brighter and stronger than
anyone else’s light. You may even be tempted to crowd out the light of others by lifting yours
higher and higher so that everyone will know it is your light. But that is not what Moody
recommends we do. He says, “ We are told to let our light shine, and if it does, we won't need to
tell anybody it does. Lighthouses don't fire cannons to call attention to their shining; they just
shine.” A lamplighter does not hoard or boast about the light, but does the more difficult thing
of simply sharing it. Be courageous and give your light for others.
This is where my ruminating has taken me. It has taken me back to the dark windy path just off
of Route 10. If I were called in the middle of the night because the control panel in P and P had
malfunctioned, would I be willing to be a lamplighter? Would you join me in this work of
finding and lifting up your light for all to share? It can be a tedious and arduous job. Yet,
especially when clouds hover over us, as they will from time to time, it is an obviously
necessary job. Do you have the courage to be a lamplighter? Only you can answer that
question, but I can tell you — lamplighters are needed.