James R. Lowell, the author of the hymn lyrics, wrote a 90 line poem in 1845 as a protest against the Mexican American War. A part of the poem was put to music as a hymn. But, whatever Lowell's reason for writing these words, I think we really are at the cusp of choosing which direction to go - for the good or evil side. I don't think that you have to be a follower of Christ, or even believe in God, to appreciate the meaning of this hymn. The lyrics are:
Once to every man and nation,
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever,
’Twixt that darkness and that light.
Then to side with truth is noble,
When we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit,
And ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses
While the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue
Of the faith they had denied.
By the light of burning martyrs,
Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever
With the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.
Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own.
You can hear the hymn here.
As I said above, I truly believe that we, each and everyone of us, are at a time to choose. But I also think that the choosing does not necessarily mean that the action we take is necessarily the same for everyone. I don't expect the deeply introverted to be in the front lines of protest marches. Not everyone can write blog posts. I do hope that as many as possible of us, including myself, will speak up in when people are shamed, ridiculed or treated badly wherever that takes place. We can sign petitions, call our legislators, give money to causes as we can. I believe that it all has to happen at the local, state and federal levels.
Choosing can be letting our light shine in anyway that is meaningful to us. It can be reaching out a hand. It can be standing up and saying no. It can be camping out at the next Standing Rock. It can be signing up for a Muslim registry, god forbid it ever comes to be, whether or not you are Muslim. (I read that all the Danes showed up wearing the Jewish Star during WWII) It can be following the steps of Martin Luther King, Jr. I know someone who is on her second water blessing journey. For some it can be many things at once.
My thought is that, if we all let our lights shine in our own ways, we will create, finally, a new way of being. A way of being where we have a theology/philosophy of personhood rather than a religion of materialism. We will have a way of being where everything we do comes from a place of heart, love, compassion, kindness, and mercy rather than hate, fear and greed.
Now I just need the courage and discipline to follow through.
The first photo is by Yaoqi LAI.
The second photo is by Mike Labrum
The third photo is meditation image number 53 from Opening the Heart: Meditations on How to Be (here)