I am too old and cranky to go camping anymore, but I keep that Coleman lantern on a shelf in my study.
There are a number of recreational activities that I aggressively avoid. First on the list is parachuting. Plunging through the sky towards my probable death, with only a piece of cloth stopping me from splattering on the ground, doesn't seem like a lot of fun to me. I feel the same way about racing dirt bikes, floating on a surfboard in shark-infested waters, or skiing down a frozen mountain at breakneck speed, dodging tree branches and boulders. No thanks. Fifth on my list is camping. Something I only did a few times when our children were very young. Call me crazy, but I don’t relish sleeping on the cold, lumpy ground or on a blow-up mattress that deflates halfway through the night, about the same time the tent collapses on my head. Not to mention insect bites, poison ivy, and stumbling in the dark, stepping on snakes to take a pee.
"My ideal camping experience is a hotel suite with twenty-four-hour room service, a minibar, a big-screen TV, and a stack of good books..."
My ideal camping experience is a hotel suite with twenty-four-hour room service, a minibar, a big-screen TV, and a stack of good books. And maybe my wife is there, dressed in a sexy Grecian gown, feeding me grapes while doing a hoochie dance.
So, what brought on this fixation with camping? I found a lantern. About six months ago, I dug an old Coleman lantern out of storage from the depths of our basement. It was filthy and covered with grime, but under all that dirt was a perfectly good lantern, so I cleaned it with soap and water and Windex the glass panes with newspaper. It sparkled. And it worked. The light inside shined bright and brilliant, and I recalled the phrase: “Let your light so shine before men….” Let your light shine.
God started the whole big bang of creation with a simple statement: “Let there be light!” A pillar of fire led the children of Israel through the dark desert; a burning bush talked to Moses; tongues of fire appeared on the heads of the Apostles on the day of Pentecost; gods and goddesses associated with light are found in mythological narratives around the world. In almost every wisdom tradition, light represents spiritual illumination and intelligence and is a metaphor for truth. I read somewhere that our souls may be composed of trapped particles of light. Is the soul made up of photons? I don’t know. But if our soul, our very essence, is made up of photons, then that means we are all beings of light. We possess Divine Radiance, and that radiance spills out into the world when we are loving, kind, and compassionate.
"We are encouraged not to hide our light under a basket. We are told to let our light shine. But how do we stay clear so our light can radiate out into the world?"
And that got me thinking: If we are like lanterns, with light living inside us, then sin is anything that dirties the glass and dims the light: greed, rage, stealing, killing, infidelity, and cruelty, anything that hurts another, smudges the glass and imprisons the radiance. We are encouraged not to hide our light under a basket. We are told to let our light shine. But how do we stay clear so our light can radiate out into the world? I believe prayer, supplication, praise, and deep silence help keep the glass clean so our inner light shines forth. And, especially now, our dark world needs light to survive.
Years ago, my father took me to Cave-In-Rock, an infamous cavern in southern Illinois that overlooks the Ohio River. In the 1800’s it was a tavern and lair for the Mason Gang, who pillaged, robbed, raped, and killed unsuspecting travelers coming down the river. Later the Harpe Brothers continued the treachery before enough law-abiding citizens moved into the area and drove the river pirates away. The cave was literally and metaphorically a dark place. My father and I walked deep inside the cave, and the tour guide turned off the flashlight. We were instantly plunged into complete and total darkness. I could not see my ten-year-old hand in front of my face. Fear crept in. Then the guide lit one match, a wooden kitchen match, and the tiny flame pushed back the darkness, gradually illuminating the space around us, revealing faces and hands, stalactites and rivulets of water trickling down the stone walls—all that from one match.
"I am too old and cranky to go camping anymore, but I keep that Coleman lantern on a shelf in my study."
I am too old and cranky to go camping anymore, but I keep that Coleman lantern on a shelf in my study. When dark thoughts cloud my consciousness, when anger or negativity, fear or doubt creep in and start to dim my spirit, I look at the lantern. It’s a reminder to keep the glass clean and the flame alive.