...I'm gonna let it shine!
Written in approximately 1920 by Harry Dixon Loes and later founded in 1939 by John Lomax as an American folk song,"This Little Light of Mine" has roots in biblical passages from Matthew, Luke and Mark. It has been embraced by churches everywhere as a reminder to shine God's light for all to see.
For myself, some of my happiest memories are of singing this song on stage with The Young Americans, the musical group I moved across the country to join in 1986. The number began with a lone female singer, center stage, under a singular special, sweetness and sincerity embodied. She was joined by a second girl who provided an alto harmony. More ladies entered the stage, joined by one male singer per trio on a microphone. Soon the stage was filled with rows and rows of men and women singing about their inner lights, a veritable caucophany of elated energy. The thing I loved about this number was, no matter your belief system, everyone could connect with the lyric. At timesI was singing about myself; at times God; at times someone I knew with that special inner glow.
Still, the opening solo was a coveted, unattainable role for me.
I knew I would never be cast in this spot. It was a demure, gentle, soft girl the directors wanted - more often blonde or brown than brunette - between 5' 2" and 5' 4", not too tall and not too short. Although this sounds incredibly specific, boy, could you spot a "Guiding Light" girl when you saw one. I could cast them in my head at age 19. The traits they possessed I most definitely did not. I was a 19 year old spitfire, fearless and exuberant with endless energy and a big mouth...not gentle or demure in any way.
Then it happened. A Japanese contingency came to America from Fuji film to produce a tour starring The Young Americans. Fate stepped in and my friend, Neal Jerry, was asked to drive the Japanese representatives to the airport at the end of their trip. Neal asked me to tag along. We drove to LAX in Neal's beat up brown Buick, me chattering the entire way. At one point, the Fuji translator, Jim Ota, said, "Cynthia, you MUST slow down. You speak MUCH too fast." I laughed, apologized and told him I was Italian, so I couldn't help my rate of speech any more than I could help speaking with my hands. But I promised to try and talk more slowly from then on. He laughed with me, and a friendship was born.
When more reps came to Los Angeles a few months later to film a promo for our tour, I was shocked when I was asked to be "THE guiding light girl." I said to our director, "Bill, surely this is a mistake. I'm not Guiding Light material." He said, "The Japanese people want you here." What did they see in me?!? Later I was on the Seal Beach pier, filming on the Pacific Ocean, in a white circle skirt, white blouse, and red necktie (ya' gotta love the 80's!), with all of my Young American friends around me, singing my guts out. I knew this opportunity would never come again.
In the great history of film and music videos, this moment would be considered insignificant. But in my life, it was a treasure. To say aloud:
"I've got a little guiding light, I'm gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine...
every day in every way.
I'm gonna let my little light shine"
with all of the joy in my heart shining forth was a moment I will never forget. Even when we were on our 20th take; even when it was getting overcast and I was freezing in the March coastal weather, I still wanted to summon that inner light!
Today, I know Who that light was burning in me 25+ years ago, even if I didn't always recognize Him at the time. I believe I know why I was atypically cast in that role. I think our Jim Ota was an unsuspecting conduit for Someone else. I was reminded of this moment recently during the Gospel reading at church. From John 3: "...the Light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God."
My friend, Jim Ota, a true and lovely spirit, with whom I corresponded and visited for many years has since passed on (his wife and my precious Colleen shared a birthday), but his gift to me lives in my memory. I am no longer that 19 year old exuberant spitfire with no fear and endless energy. But the purpose of one singular moment is now evident to me...and maybe more so since I am older and (hopefully?) wiser: God knew I wasn't always choosing the Light at that time. I was afraid that my lesser works might be exposed. But He was coaxing me in whatever way He could, speaking my language through song, to move me toward the Light; To share the Light; to bring forth the Light that He knew was burning deep within me. He lit that flame after all.
He got me to sing about it one overcast day in March 25 years ago. Today, He gets me to sing about it, writing in His blessedly inspired prose.
This little light of Mine - I've gotta let it shine!