Luminescent lightning bug
Lingering on the lawn,
Lighting up the dark of night
Until the break of dawn.
When one think of summer nights, and perhaps more so from childhood, one tends to conjure up images of those magical yellow-green flashes of light flitting around the garden or through the woods. Glow worms, we called them as children. Fireflies to many, but lightning bugs here in the South. Surely they are the inspiration for those mystical creatures, the fairies; and didn’t Tinkerbell light up in J.M. Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan’? Who hasn’t tried to capture that magic in a glass jar at some point in time? Perhaps we grabbed a dusty old jar from a shelf in the garden shed and set out in hot pursuit of the magical lights. Sadly, our efforts got us a few glowing insects and the magic was lost, but can the magic be contained in an earthly vessel? Perhaps so.
Frank Delaney, a master storyteller if ever there was one, says in ‘Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show’ that “Most men have three lives, public, private and secret.” There is a great deal of wisdom and truth to that statement. A man’s reputation is his public life – his work ethic, his skill, his standing in the community, his generosity and his attitude towards others. His private life is how he is known by his friends and family – by those who see behind the image he projects in public. Ah, but the secret life – therein lies the rub! For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? And are we not masters at deceiving ourselves? How easily we justify faults in ourselves that we would be (are?) critical of in others. Sometimes bonhomie and generosity are used to hide the true character of a scoundrel while at other times it could just as easily be the outward appearance of piety that hides a similarly wicked heart. How often gossip is cloaked in piety and called “sharing”!
As Elie Wiesel said, “We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.” Or, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote in The Gulag Archipelago: “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.”
It used to be that to describe someone as a “crackpot” was to label them as eccentric, but the truth of the matter (if we are honest with ourselves) is that we are all rather defective – we are all cracked pots, aren’t we? Notwithstanding our obvious flaws, we don’t have to remain on the shelf, so to speak. There is, as C.S. Lewis would say, a deeper magic at work in the universe. For those earthen vessels that house the God presence are like those dusty jars containing the lightning bugs. Unlike the fireflies, however, the light doesn’t flicker – it burns steadily and although the condition of the vessel often obscures the light within, still it burns.
To carry the analogy further, the private life of man is often like those fireflies trapped in a jar emitting brief sparks of magical light. We will never truly shine until we are freed from these earthen vessels and know true freedom, but in the meantime we should glow as much as we can – “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”