Noticing the Fireflies

Last Friday, October 24, I was honored to give the address at The Memorial Church’s Morning Prayers service. Morning Prayers is one of the oldest traditions at Harvard University, dating back to seventeenth century, and while school is in session it occurs every Monday through Saturday from 8:45-9:00am. These brief yet meaningful services involve a psalm, a hymn, a passage of scripture or an inspirational reading, an anthem by Choral Fellows of Harvard University Choir, and a 5 minute address by a member or friend of the Harvard community. As a Seminarian in the Memorial Church (aka completing my field education there this year), part of my regular responsibilities involve leading Morning Prayers once a week, and usually my days to lead are Fridays. This involves setting up the chapel in the morning, serving as a host to that morning’s guest speaker, and leading the service itself. However this past Friday the tables were turned as I had the opportunity to be the guest speaker. I’d like to share with you my short message from that morning. Truth be told, this was something that I had written a few years ago, but I just had not shared it anywhere since. (If you’d like to listen to the entire 15 minute service, you can click here. My address begins a little after 7 minutes in.)

One July night, a few summers ago, I was driving home along a rural highway in central Pennsylvania. It had been one of those summers with its fair share of wet and rainy days, especially recently. But all of a sudden during this week in July, the heat and sun and humidity seemed to remember its place, and was determined to remind everyone that it was indeed July. That night was especially warm and heavy as I guided my car across the winding two-lane highway that weaved between farmlands and sleepy towns.

As I drove, the last remaining traces of daylight were stretching themselves thin. Suddenly, my eyes were drawn past the racing yellow lines on the road into the darkening, shadowy boundaries beyond the road, where flickering lights illuminated the meadows and fields. Fireflies. Like the heads of tiny, glowing needles in long, bushy pincushions, the insects flickered and shimmered in dark places and green hideaways, seen by their temporary but ever-returning glows.

These mini spotlights accompanied me on my drive through rural Pennsylvania, all the way to my destination. I wondered why I had not noticed these friendly bugs as much on other evening drives. Had the intense heat of the week brought the firefly families forth from their hiding? Or had I just opened my eyes to the simple beauty of these creatures as they danced and beckoned me along my journey?

Like the firefly, how we must seem to an almighty God. We flicker, we shine as tiny beacons of light, of inspiration, reflecting God’s creation of light and goodness amidst our often darkening surroundings. But also, like the firefly, our light is always temporary, never constant, only in and out, on and off. We are, after all, only human; we have the small capacity to experience mere glimpses into the revealing of the beloved community and kingdom of God. A glimmer here, a flash of hope there. Our individual lights often shine at the same time as others, but more often do our lights go out only to let someone else’s shine. I am not a biologist, but I imagine that there is no algorithm or pattern for these insects to flash their lights. They simply shine, then wait their turn while their neighbor shines, then they shine again.

What a sight it would be to see a meadow or a field completely lit up with fireflies, whose light beams are all shining at once, constant and simultaneous! Though, I think, perhaps this is more beautiful: a dark, green-black field of flickering, shimmering fireflies. What if, instead of a fortissimo chorus of simultaneous lights, God prefers the view of a glittering blanket of lights on this earth, each of our bursts of light and inspirations only temporary, waiting, as we flicker on and off, for the beautiful revealing and unveiling of the Divine kingdom?

I don’t know about you, but I am now looking for fireflies. Since that July night a couple years ago, I have had to navigate the unknowns of moving to a new city, adjusting to the life of a full-time seminary student, nurturing long-distance relationships with loved ones, and being open to new connections and experiences. Amidst all of this, I must also be noticing and seeking the flashes of inspiration, the flickering lights that come in temporary but beautiful ways, assuring me that I am on the right road on this journey, heading with faith towards my destination.

Will you notice your fireflies, too?

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3 thoughts on “Noticing the Fireflies

  1. Thank you for this new way to think about why our “lights” go off and on. I like thinking of them “going out only to let someone else’s shine.”

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