Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was a village . . .
In this village lived people of all sorts; people who saw, people who felt, and people who knew. People who sought and found, and people who helped and helped and helped and helped. People who did and people who imagined, and as is always the case, people who merely dreamed within themselves and seldom did the dream.
In this village, all times were good so long as the people loved and cared for one another, but my favorite time came when all the people came together to play and eat and learn and teach one another. These were times of laughter, hugs, giving and receiving and sharing in the best thing of all, which is love.
Darkness always fell before the people met for their evening gatherings, for the villagers were busy people. Just living takes a lot of work, and the work of living takes a lot of time. But as the sun went down, the lamps began to shine. Everyone in the village had a lamp, and everyone brought his or her lamp to the gatherings so that their love feasts would sparkle with lamplight and firelight along with the friendlight and best of all, the Godlight. The villagers loved light, and the light of God’s presence is the best light of all.
One night as the people made ready in their homes to go to the gathering, a little boy realized that he had no oil for his lamp. There had always been oil before, but it had been a long time since he had filled his lamp, and now it would only splutter a little and go out. And when it went out, nasty smelling thick black smoke curled away from the wick and made him cough.
“Well,” he thought, “It will be okay. My sister and my little brother and my mother and my father will all have their lamps burning, and everything will be fine. I will just see by their light.
And he was right, mostly. Everyone else did have light, and the little boy’s missing lamp was hardly missed at all. As As he saw that his missing light hadn’t dimmed the radiance or the joy of the gathering by much, our young friend became careless and often forgot to fill his lamp. No one really needed his light after all, and he was so busy that it seemed unreasonable to try to fill his lamp so very often.
But in fact his little brother noticed all this, although he was too polite to mention it, and young as he was, he realized that if one missing lamp had gone unremarked, two missing were hardly more likely to draw attention. He also started to neglect his lamp. One by one, most of the children began to forget about caring for their lamps. After all, nearly all of the adults could be counted on to have their lamps lit, and most of the lit lamps burned brightly enough.
Still, if you had visited the village when all the people had kept their lamps brightly burning and filled with oil, and then if you had visited the village again a year later, you might have felt sad at the loss.
For want of the children’s lamps (and also some of the adults, who were very busy, you must allow) the love feasts had grown dim in contrast to those bright and magical nights of yore. But the people still came, and many of them brought their lamps. Some even brought their lamps. Some even brought two or three lamps, to make up for the lack. Alas, this had a negative effect, for seeing this, others also stopped bringing their own lamps. Why should they trouble themselves, when others brought extras?
In time, when the villagers came together, only one or two special Light Bearers brought a lamp. The others might bring a lamp if they wished, but must not light it during the gatherings. To do so would detract from the lamps of the Light Bearers, who were after all, the ones chosen to receive special quantities of oil, trained in the keeping of lamps, and skilled at lighting the way for those who had no lamp of their own.
Lighting one’s own lamp in the meeting was considered extremely rude. Non-Light Bearers (or lay light bearers) might and indeed should burn their lamps in the outer darkness, but as everyone knew, only professional Light Bearers were qualified to illumine the gatherings.
But then one evening, a little boy, the sort of little boy who is enchanted by light and fire and all things bright, decided not to put out his lamp when he entered the gathering place. He was young and sweet of face, and so the adults chuckled indulgently when they noticed his tiny flame flickering where it should not have flickered. Other children saw this, that the flame was beautiful, and that the adults thought the little boy delightful, and slowly one by one, they also began to bring their little lamps to the gatherings. In time, the villagers grew accustomed to the lambent atmosphere of children’s lamps. It became traditional for all children to bring their lamps to the gatherings and to allow them to glow throughout the evening.
As these children grew older, it was expected that they would lose interest in bringing lamps, but in fact they had fallen in love with the light. They put off the time when they should, as responsible and mature adults, put aside the childish practice of bringing their own flickering childlike lamps to the gatherings, and instead focus exclusively on the brighter lights of the professional Light Bearers. And so the childlike lamps now lit up the faces of youthful almost-adults.
The elderly, looking on, felt the tears burn as they recalled the faintly gleaming recollections of childhood gatherings; gatherings in which every single villager had brought a lamp and kept it lit all through the evening. One very old, very childlike lady shyly asked a child to light her lamp. There was plenty of oil, for this old saint occupied herself day and night with little besides gathering oil. She hadn’t thought her light worthy to shine in the gatherings, but looking on the beautiful lights of the young people, she suddenly didn’t care.
As her light blazed up brightly, people turned and stared. Some shook their heads at this lamentable evidence of senility creeping up. However, as she was a sweet old lady, and harmless, they smiled indulgence and turned away, trying to focus on the Light Bearers. Somehow the official light had begun to seem a bit feeble, but the responsible adults disciplined themselves to attend to their leaders.
They tuned out the children exclaiming over one another’s lights and clustering around the old lady (and one or two other oldsters), to see why the grayhairs’ lamps burned so brightly and yet so softly. This went on over time as more and more of the elderly timidly lit (or failed to extinguish) their lights during the gatherings.
The teens got older and the elderly who carried lamps tended to be younger, until gradually the lights of the old and the lights of the young touched in the middle and the professional Light Bearers became what they had always wished to be; that is, just brothers and sisters sharing their light with one another and receiving light in turn.
One day, the villagers say, the One who brought about the lamp bearing in the first place will return to them. Then no more lamps will be needed, for His light, brighter than the sun in its glory, will shine from every heart and every face. But until that day, every villager; every boy and every girl, the young and the old and the middlers, the doers, the dreamers, the helpers and the knowers; those who feel and those who see, will remember and keep their lamps filled with oil and burning well. They will light one another’s paths with love and kindnesses so that the whole village will see His glory in the brightness of their oneness.
For that is the very best thing of all.