STLT#118, This Little Light of Mine

This is traditionally a cheery piece – one of the few songs Unitarian Universalists feel comfortable clapping to. Everybody knows it and harmonizes to it and it feels sweet and simple and fun.

This morning, after a Saturday full of the unreasonable ban against some of our Muslim neighbors – which, despite a stay from a federal judge, is still being enforced; the dire predictions of war from China; and this morning’s news that the National Security Council no longer has any military members but only ideological sycophants… this morning, “This Little Light of Mine” is a call to arms.

It can be so easy to hide under the covers in fear, or be paralyzed by the overwhelming need, or sit back and say “my days of activism are over.” But we cannot. To quote Bernice Johnson Reagon, “we who believe in freedom cannot rest.”

And this song – again from the African American spirituals tradition – reminds us to show up. Despite the pain and fear and anger, we have to let our light shine – a light of freedom, justice, equality, openness, courage, compassion, peace, love.

Let us turn this song from a sweet, light, happy song to a song of defiant protest and resistance.

(And if you really want to get inspired, listen to this version, sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock.)

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Ev’rywhere I go, I’m gonna let it shine…

Building up a world, I’m gonna let it shine…



  1. Great point! One way to deal with this “sweet, light, happy” sound is to slow it down and give it more of a gospel beat (or what Jason Shelton calls a “funky shuffle” in his wonderful arrangement). Singing it that way makes it more powerful and a much more effective “song of defiant protest and resistance.” Also, that slow gospel style more closely resembles the way it was sung in civil rights marches. BTW, your link to the Sweet Honey in the Rock recording didn’t come through.


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