Sixty years ago, a young German girl named Barbara came to live with my family in Pennsylvania and attend school with me for a year. It was also sixty years ago that a young American boy named Larry joined a German family for a year. Thirty years ago, Larry and I and our daughters welcomed exchange students into our home. With all of them, we have created family ties that have deepened through the years. They are brothers, sisters, and daughters in our hearts. Recently, we traveled to Germany to visit them.
In Dusseldorf, brother Christian took us to an art exhibit called Mehr Licht (More Light), and I learned about early Romantic artists who fell in love with light. They saw a world that glowed with light streaming through the sky, revealing miracles of shape and color. They painted light reflecting from twisted trees and rough hewn rocks, from small brookside plants and from the tumbling brook itself.
I am not a painter, but I too revel in the beauty of light as it touches the world around me. I especially rejoice when I notice the extraordinary presence of the Light that glows within people.
Quakers speak of the Light as the Divine Light of God, and we believe each person carries this Light within them. I want to remember to focus on the Light within others when I interact with them. I want to be aware of each person as a unique expression of God’s presence. I must look for signs of loving-kindness, signs of open-hearted caring. When I see these signs in another, then I see the Light within them.
Here is an example: We traveled by train to Hamburg – immediately after a rail strike. Train schedules were in chaos, and trains were crowded and running late. But the tired travelers were patient, making jokes, and helping each other. Often those with seats offered them to those standing. Perhaps my white hair helped, but the man who gave me his seat stood for two hours!
This trip gave me many opportunities to notice the Light within those we visited. We attended a reunion of the five brothers in Larry’s exchange student family. It had been 15 years since they were together, but they gathered for a brother’s 80th birthday. They are strong-minded, busy, successful men who live all over Germany and Switzerland. Their ideas and ways of living have grown apart, and they could easily argue. But I saw them at their best.
I had the privilege of seeing the Light in the brothers. Within their laughter and sharing, I saw how they cared about each other. They would all return to their own lives, but, if there was great need, they would be there to help.
I saw the Light within sister Barbara and her family in their passion to protect the natural world. They know that the rich diversity of life in their country village is endangered. Together with others whom they inspired, they’ve preserved bubbling springs, small ponds, and the meadows around them. They have protected roadside wildflowers and small brown toads. Although there have been disappointments, they have hope for the future because young people care about the environment.
We traveled on to our exchange student daughters, to Maren and her family in Hamburg and to Anna and her family in Dresden. What joy to see them, to experience their lives and see how the children have grown! I saw how the Light in Maren is bright as she serves the teachers and children with whom she works. She is both fierce and gentle in her efforts to provide a good learning environment in spite of the twin afflictions of Covid and a construction project at her school. Anna’s patient care and nurture for her family expresses her Light within. Even her cheerful chauffeuring is an “I love you.”
Our trip ended in Munich with brother Michel and his wife Tina. As we sat over cake and coffee and shared our stories, I felt the strength of the Light within them. The suffering they’ve known has deepened their compassion. Acceptance of aging has brought them greater wisdom.
Suddenly I realized how much I’d been blessed by the Light in everyone I met on this trip. I knew my own inner Light had grown brighter as I saw the Light within others. All of us are Light-bearers; each of us carries a unique expression of the Divine.
Now I have returned home. I want to continue to look for the Light throughout my daily life. And I hope all of us will sing together:
This little Light of mine, I'm going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!