Friday, February 13, 2009

Unborrowed Light

I came across this phrase in a hymn a couple of Sundays ago and it near leapt off the page at me. Something about its profound simplicity, its clarity yet mystery. Just the very words themselves appealed to me in a way I’m not sure I can explain. I wondered why I had never encountered them before.

A little internet research revealed that the hymn’s author, Joseph A. Robinson, was not the first to use the phrase when he wrote “’Tis Good, Lord, to Be Here” in 1888. The same pairing of words appears in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice Told Tales more than fifty years prior. In the late 1600s, a Dr. Charles Scarborough used the term in a rather intemperate elegy to English poet Abraham Cowley and I also found the phrase in Shakespeare (Love’s Labors Lost) and a translation of an ancient Hindu text.

It’s probable that dozens, if not hundreds, of other writers have felt a similar reaction to these two simple words in conjunction and have written articles and blog entries on the idea. But I’m not going for originality here. I’m just enjoying my own astonishment. Because the point is that nothing human is truly original. No matter how brilliant or insightful or humorous something I’ve written may be, any light that shines from me is borrowed.

Now, there’s a humbling concept for you. Shakespeare got it wrong when he wrote of the stars shining with unborrowed light—even their light is borrowed. But at the same time, what a relief! To know that there is only one source of truly unborrowed light in all of existence is liberating! I don’t have to revolutionize the way anyone looks at the world. I only have to honestly examine my daily walk with God and reflect on it (no pun intended ☺). If it connects with another person, it’s because God lent me a little illumination to pass on to the world around me.  Cool.

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